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Open call: Geva Theatre Center discusses outreach

by Margaret Stewart - Managing Editor
Tue, Nov 5th 2019 09:00 pm
Dawn Kellogg (right) and Skip Greer (left) came to The College at Brockport to speak to students
in the Black Box Theatre about Geva's future and engagement with the community.
Dawn Kellogg (right) and Skip Greer (left) came to The College at Brockport to speak to students in the Black Box Theatre about Geva's future and engagement with the community.

 Rochester’s own Geva Theatre is defying the national trend that is seeing the decline in local theater subscription. While most other theaters are seeing a lack of subscribers, Geva continues to see a steady amount of people regularly subscribing and attending performances. 

Theater continues to develop and change, reflecting the events and atmosphere of present society. Geva Communications Manager Dawn Kellogg explains that to accurately portray current and consistent issues the theater needs to be open to the whole community, not just the “55-year-old women from the Eastside.” 

“We work really, really hard to make sure everyone feels welcome,” Kellogg said. “We’ve done a lot of outreach into the inner city.” 

Not only is Geva trying to reach out to the Greater Rochester area, the shows are welcoming audience participation and theater etiquette is beginning to see a shift as a result. Artist in Residence and Director of Education Skip Greer compared the theater audience to those attending other communal events. 

“When talking about, this engagement with the audience, and how the audience affects we actors, there’s something very analogous about that with momentum for sports teams, so on and so forth,” Greer said. 

Greer reflected on a recent performance of “The Niceties,” and its impact on the audience. 

“Two nights ago during the performance, there were people talking out, there was a person speaking out in the performance saying things that were not things other people wanted to hear around them,” Greer said. “They were disturbing the politics in the show and they were calling folks names and they were getting underway. That caused us to go back yesterday morning and have a long conversation and reestablish how we’re handling our audience.” 

It is possible the increasing involvement of audiences in theater could be a way to keep the audience’s attention. 

“I see a relaxation overall,” Kellogg said. “I’ve seen a lot of Shakespeare and a lot of three-act plays that go on for three hours, and nobody writes plays that long anymore because people’s attention spans aren’t that long.” 

Due to the audience occasionally being more vocal or more active, Geva is relying on its staff to help provide another level of security and communication to those both backstage and onstage. 

“So now we’re making sure that all of the volunteers and ushers are the eyes and ears in the house,” Greer said. “That they are at five points around the audience to make sure that nothing ever gets dangerous. They relay back to the front of the house, front of the house to the stage manager, stage manager [relays] backstage in case anything happens.” 

Additionally, Greer also discussed the importance of keeping the actors’ safety a top priority and Geva’s support in their breaking character should danger arise. 

“If you know performers, and if there are any actors in the house, you are inside of your own head and you’re trying to keep this illusion this live searching for the truth alive. You don’t want to let that go,” Greer said. “You don’t know at what point something might become dangerous. It was important for us to let them know if anything like that happens [the actors] have our complete support and permission to walk off the stage. Now they know that, but they need to know that in the back of their minds in case something happened.” 

The role of both theater and theater-goers is changing with the younger generations. Though some practices have been modified, Kellogg believes it’s purpose has remained the same over time. 

“The purpose of theater is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” Kellogg said. 

The goal is that when and audience member leaves the show, they are left thinking critically about the world around them, allowing for a reinterpretation and new perspective on how the world operates. 

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