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THEATER: A theater town

A look at some of Rochester's niche theatrical troupes


Anyone who believes that theater is a dying art has not spent much time in Rochester; we have always offered a remarkably full range of theater, for consumption and for participation. To use a word theater people enjoy, the Rochester theater scene is very textured; there's a little of everything offered, and something for everybody to see, to try out for, or to get involved in.

Rochester's major theater institutions — they include Geva Theatre Center, JCC CenterStage, and Blackfriars Theatre, as well as Rochester Broadway Theatre League, which brings in high-profile touring productions — are justly praised and consistently good. The same is true for our larger local community theaters, such as Pittsford Musicals and Webster Theatre Guild. But our theater scene also includes many smaller, focused groups presenting a wide variety of plays.

Below find just a few highlights of these specialized groups. For more information about the many members of the Rochester theater scene, look to TheatreROCS! (theatrerocs.org) or peruse the Theater section of the calendar at rochestercitynewspaper.com.

Downstairs Cabaret Theatre
20 Windsor St. | 540 E. Main St. | 3450 Winton Place
325-4370, downstairscabaret.org

Downstairs Cabaret is definitely a Rochester theater survivor, a downtown fixture for almost 30 years now. (A few years back it also added a suburban location in Winton Place.) While its shows do include many cabaret-style shows, tributes to singers and songwriters, and seasonal fare, DCT has produced some notable serious plays and intimate musicals, including early editions of the inescapable "Nunsense" and "Forever Plaid," and a long-running production of "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change!" (set to return this year).

The Rochester Latino Theatre Company
Facebook.com/RochesterLatinoTheatreCompany; [email protected]

A fairly new addition to Rochester's theater scene, the RLTC's specialty is theater with themes relating to Latino Americans, though actors of all ethnicities are welcome to take part. The group produced its first fully staged show last spring, "The Shadows of our Faces." Its first big production will be in June: a first local showing of the award-winning musical "In the Heights."

Ray Salah in Rochester Community Players' 2011 production of “The Merchant of Venice.” - PHOTO COURTESY ROCHESTER COMMUNITY PLAYERS
  • Ray Salah in Rochester Community Players' 2011 production of “The Merchant of Venice.”

Shakespeare Players/Irish Players
234-7840, rochestercommunityplayers.org

Both of these groups operate under the wing of the Rochester Community Players, and their charges are evident: the Shakespeare Players not only do Shakespeare, including the annual Highland Park production each summer, but Shakespeare-related theater, including special abridged versions of the Bard's works for younger audiences. The Irish Players perform a range of repertoire, from modern Irish and Irish-American playwrights back to O'Neill and Synge.

Penfield Players

Sponsored by the Penfield Recreation Department, the Penfield Players have presented many crowd-pleasing shows over the years, most recently a revival of Garson Kanin's "Born Yesterday." Along with its staged productions, the group also presents readings of plays in its Reader's Theater.

Screen Plays
506-5223, facebook.com/ScreenPlaysonStage

Only a couple of years old, this company presents plays that became movies during Hollywood's Golden Age, and that showcase women in major roles. The group did this quite successfully in its last production, "Parfumerie," a Hungarian romantic comedy that is indeed best-known as a screenplay, "The Shop Around the Corner."

The Monsignor Schnacky Community Players
St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, 26 Mendon-Lima Road
624-4990, saintcathonline.com

Each year this group (named after the good Monsignor who suggested its first production) benefits St. Catherine of Siena Church with a production of a good old-fashioned melodrama, with all-volunteer help on stage and backstage.

FirstLight Players
First Unitarian Church, 220 S. Winton Road
271-9070, rochesterunitarian.org

Another very recent addition to the local theater scene, and an enterprising one at that. FirstLight Players gave its first show last spring, the touching Flaherty/Ahrens musical "A Man of No Importance." This year it was "Death Takes a Holiday," a recent Off-Broadway show by Maury Yeston, the composer of "Nine" and "Titanic."

India Community Center of Rochester, 2171 Monroe-Wayne County Line Road

The repertoire presented by Kalidas over the years has ranged from Neil Simon farces to adaptations of stories from the great Indian epic "Mahabarata." The name for the group, by the way, is derived from Kalidasa, widely regarded as the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit language.

National Technical Institute for the Deaf Theatre
475-6250, ntid.rit.edu

This group, one of the first of its kind on the country, invites both hearing and deaf actors to its ranks, and has produced a wide range of uniquely presented theater, from Shakespeare to Brecht to mainstream Broadway musicals.

Artists Unlimited
219-5188, rocartistsunlimited.com

Inclusion and respect are good touchstones for any group, and they are the basis for this group, which places no limits on those who want to perform with it, regardless of physical or developmental disabilities. Artists Unlimited has recently staged large-scale productions of family-favorite fare like "Annie," "High School Musical," and "The Wizard of Oz". The group also sponsors a choral ensemble, Voices Unlimited. There is a waiting list for performers; for information contact Artists Unlimited through its website.

Bread and Water Theatre
271-5523, breadandwatertheatre.org

Bread and Water Theatre has been around since 2000. Its approach is borrowed from the "Living Newspaper" productions of the 1930's, offering new and old plays on a variety of personal and social issues, such as dealing with autism or LGBT marriage.

The Off-Monroe Players focus on producing the works of Gilbert & Sullivan. - PHOTO BY MARTIN NOTT
  • The Off-Monroe Players focus on producing the works of Gilbert & Sullivan.

Off-Monroe Players
232-5570, off-monroeplayers.org

For more than 30 years, the Off-Monroe Players have been all about Gilbert and Sullivan; it is the only local group to regularly present the work of the great Victorian musical team. Having presented the complete G&S output several times over, the group is branching out to related repertoire, including rarely done plays by W.S. Gilbert, and making many charming rediscoveries.

In This Guide...

  • Annual Manual 2014

    CITY's guide to visiting, living, working and playing in Rochester, NY
    Read articles on politics, neighborhoods, art, happy hour dining, theater troupes, a calendar of events for 2014 and more!

  • CITY/COUNTY: Know your neighborhoods

    Introductions to Monroe Avenue, Mendon, 19th Ward, and other Rochester area communities
    Monroe County is about as diverse a community as you can find: a mid-size city, rural areas with orchards and farm markets, suburbs with 20th-century tract houses and shopping malls, and quaint, Victorian villages. The Genesee River and the Erie Canal bisect the county, more or less vertically and diagonally, so geology and history are a constant presence, shaping everything from traffic patterns to architecture and public festivals.

  • POLITICS: Meet your pols

    A guide to your elected representatives
    Monroe County has a vibrant political scene, but it also has a pronounced party divide. Democrats control the governments in the city and a couple of inner-ring suburbs, while Republicans hold the power in most of the towns.

  • LIVING: Getting settled

    New to town or coming home? Some things to consider
    Up until the 1960's, Rochester's economy was dynamic and growing, and the area's major employers of the day often needed to build their management teams with outside talent. Eastman Kodak, Xerox, Bausch and Lomb, and several other firms were industrial giants, and some offered prospective executives handsome relocation packages.

  • DINING: The happiest of hours

    Six Rochester happy hours worth checking out
    Whether you've just had a rough day at the office, need a quick bite before dinner, or want to avoid the late-night crowds at the bar, happy hours are a great way to enjoy local food and drink at a discount. They are the perfect chance to try something new, or get that second drink.

  • ART: Gems from Rochester's art museums

    Connections with collections
    When people visit a museum or gallery, they are typically drawn in to view a specific exhibition, and perhaps linger a while to wander the permanent collection as well. But since most cultural institutions have neither the space nor the funds to present their entire collections to the public at all times, many objects reside in storage, and a percentage of the collection is fairly unknown.

  • MUSIC: Sing, sing a song

    Rochester is a karaoke hotbed
    Its title derived from mashing up the Japanese words "kara" (meaning empty) and "okesutora" (meaning orchestra), karaoke has been around for a long time. And some of its roots, believe it or not, are American.

  • MEDIA: The last bastions

    Where to find fading media in Rochester
    Now that Blockbuster has gone the way of the dodo, closing what remained of its stores at the start of this year, it seems the end is near for physical media. The fall of the former giant of home entertainment is just the latest reminder that the now omnipresent Kindles and Nooks, iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon Prime have had a profound effect.

  • HEALTH/WELLNESS: The Lotus Flower City

    The history and growth of Yoga in Rochester
    These days, you can't go anywhere without hearing about the newest yoga craze. Before the dawn of the Victoria's Secret yoga pants empire, though, things were a little bit different.

  • EVENTS: Mark your calendar

    Rochester's upcoming special events
    If there is one thing Rochester has an abundance of, it's festivals. Keeping track of all of them can be daunting, and we know that you wouldn't want to miss out, so we did the hard work for you.