"There's nothing to do in this city."
Whenever I hear someone say something like that, I want to beat them about the head and shoulders. Rochester is not New York City. Rochester is not Washington, D.C. Rochester is not Los Angeles, or any other booming metropolis. But for a city its size, Rochester is practically bursting with arts and entertainment. There is almost always something to do in Rochester.
These activities might not be available 24/7, right when you're drumming your fingers or scratching your head. But opportunities abound for anyone willing to do even a little bit of research. Below you'll find a collection of reliable sources for local entertainment. This is by no means comprehensive; to get a better sense of what's happening on a given day, consult City Newspaper's weekly calendar. For a list of our plentiful cultural festivals, turn to page XX.
Rochester is home to two art museums. The MemorialArtGallery(500 University Ave, 276-8900, mag.rochester.edu) is part of the University of Rochester, but has its own campus in the Neighborhood of the Arts. In addition to its permanent collection, which includes a number of important works and prints, the museum's galleries are usually filled with a variety of rotating exhibits. Shows in the past year have focused on Latin-American art, art quilts, and the best work from the Rochester-Finger Lakes region. The museum is open Wednesday through Sundays, with extended hours until 9 p.m. on Thursdays, so you have no excuse not to go.
The George Eastman House (900 East Ave, 271-3361, eastmanhouse.org) is devoted to the history and preservation of film. Named after the Kodak founder and based in what was his gorgeous East Avenue mansion, the museum houses numerous film artifacts - one of the cameras used to shoot the 1939 "Wizard of Oz" musical, for instance - as well as rotating exhibitions, including recent shows on Mexican wrestlers, the genocide in the Sudan, and the work of Ansel Adams. Its Dryden Theatre screens a mixture of contemporary, classic, and obscure films most nights of the week, often with introductions by visiting filmmakers. Check out dryden.eastmanhouse.org for a full schedule.
The Genesee Center for the Arts (713 Monroe Ave, 244-1730, geneseearts.org) isn't a museum, but with all of its various galleries and workspaces it might as well be. These include the Community Darkroom and its photography gallery; Genesee Pottery, a ceramic studio with its own gallery for artisan stoneware; and the Printing & Book Arts Center, filled with antique presses and paper-making machinery. In addition to its many exhibitions, the Center offers a variety of classes that are open to the community.
For a crash course in the Rochester art scene, head to a First Friday (firsfridayrochester.org). Recently launched by the Rochester Contemporary Art Center (137 East Ave, 461-2222, rochestercontemporary.org) - a modern art destination in its own right - First Friday is a monthly citywide gallery night when a dozen or so local art spaces stay open late, many of them hosting receptions for their shows. On certain months the Art Bus even runs between galleries.
Geva Theatre (75 Woodbury Blvd, 232-GEVA, gevatheatrecenter.com) is the big theater dog in town. During its regular season (September-June) it produces roughly seven mainstage shows a year. The 2007-08 season ranged from intimate fare like "The Piano Teacher" to bombastic musicals like "Cabaret." Its smaller Nextstage is home to edgier works and Geva Comedy Improv, so the theater typically has a show running most nights of the week (except Mondays).
For a reliably good time, check out Downstairs Cabaret Theater (325-4370, downstairscabaret.com), which usually runs three to five shows in repertory in its three different downtown locations. DCT's productions usually feature lots of comedy and song; examples include the long-running relationship comedy "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" and the office-mocking "The Watercoolers."
Rochester Broadway Theatre League (885 E Main St, 222-5000, rbtl.org) brings touring productions of big-time musicals like "Wicked" and "Avenue Q" to the Auditorium Theatre. The shows typically last about a week, and the group also brings in a variety of comedy and music shows throughout the year.
The Nazareth Arts Center (4245 East Ave, 389-2170, naz.edu/dept/artscenter) is a major arts hub, bringing in a wide range of touring acts including internationally recognized musicians, theater productions, and dance copmanies -- the 07-08 season included visits from Ballet Hispanico, Parsons Dance Company, and local luminary Garth Fagan's troupe. It is also home to the Rochester City Ballet and Rochester Children's Theatre's several annual productions. The Arts Center is currently undergoing major renovations, which are slated to be completed in spring of 2009.
Other notable local theater groups include Blackfriars Theatre (28 Lawn St, 454-1260, blackfriars.org), with shows that range from the dramatic (Stephen King's "Misery") to the whimsical ("A Year with Frog and Toad"); Shipping Dock Theatre (31 Prince St, 232-2250, shippingdocktheatre.org), which stages edgier, more experimental plays; JCC CenterStage(1200 Edgewood Ave, 461-2000, jccrochester.org), which stages general interest productions; and Everyone's Theater Company (everyonestheatre.com), which puts on plays, musicals, and murder mysteries.
Rochester has not one, but two major museums with major family appeal. The Strong - National Museum of Play (1 Manhattan Square, 263-2700, nationalmuseumofplay.org) is the second-biggest kid's museum in the nation. If the kids are bored, there's undoubtedly something to catch their attention here, between the massive Reading Adventureland, featuring 3-D exhibits inspired by various kiddie-lit genres; Field of Play, stuffed with interactive games; the National Toy Hall of Fame; and the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden.
The Rochester Museum & Science Center (657 East Ave, 271-4320, rmsc.org) is packed with hands-on science- and history-based activities that are as fun as they are educational. The recently expanded "Expedition Earth" exhibit includes a full-size wooly-mammoth replica and hands-on fossil excavation pit, a mock volcano and earthquake, and an undersea diorama showing what Rochester looked like 350 million years ago, when it sat at the bottom of a tropical sea. Also make a trip to the adjacent Strasenburgh Planetarium for giant-screen nature films and star shows.
The Seneca Park Zoo (2222 St. Paul St, 336-7200, senecaparkzoo.org) is open 364 days a year (it closes just once, for its Zoobilation celebration in June). Tigers, polar bears, elephants, otters, and orangutan all call the zoo home, so there's never a dull moment.
Other family-friendly options include Rochester Children's Theatre (rochesterchildrenstheatre.org, 385-0510), TYKEs - Theatre Young Kids Enjoy (tykestheatre.org, 723-6080), and A Magical Journey Thru Stages (mjtstages.com), which put on a variety of kid-centric plays and musicals throughout the year. Area libraries (www2.libraryweb.org) are a good bet, too, as many branches offer story times for little kids, craft or book groups for pre-teens, and teen centers with games and activities for the older crowd.
Bookish types have no excuse for boredom in Rochester. Writers & Books (740 University Ave, 473-2590, wab.org) regularly brings in nationally recognized authors for readings and signings; hosts book groups, open mics, and poetry readings; offers writing classes for youth and adults with multiple sessions a year, and organizes the If All of Rochester Read the Same Book program (this year's selection: "Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits" by LailaLalami).
Local libraries and book stores also host reading groups and signings. LiftBridge Book Shop (45 Main St, Brockport, 637-2260, liftbridge.booksense.com) regularly holds author events and book groups, including specific programming for kids. Central Library (115 South Ave, 428-8350) holds the popular Books Sandwiched In series, which features community leaders reviewing topical books during lunchtime on the first Tuesday of the month, October-May. Rochester Arts & Lectures (Downtown United Presbyterian Church, 121 Fitzhugh St, artsandlectures.org) brings in big-name authors like Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket), Michael Chabon, Amy Tan, and Elmore Leonard to speak to its typically sold-out crowds.
Rochester is a sports town; no matter what kind of ball playing is your pleasure, you can find it here. In the winter the Rochester Americans - Amerks, to the faithful - hockey team (amerks.com, 232-1900) and the Rochester RazorSharksbasketball players (razorsharks.com, 232-1900) take over Blue Cross Arena. Come spring the Rochester Raiders (rochesterraiders.com, 232-1900) play football while the Rochester Knighthawks(knighthawks.net, 232-1900) play indoor lacrosse in Blue Cross Arena. In summer the Rochester Red Wings (redwingsbaseball.com, 423-9464) baseball fans flock to Frontier Field in High Falls, while the Raging Rhinos (rhinossoccer.com, 232-1900) soccer team and Rochester Rattlers (rochesterrattlers.com, 232-1900) lacrosse team set up camp in Paetec Park.