Arts & Entertainment » Theater

Blackfriars Theatre announces 2020-21 season

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The Blackfriars Theatre house was packed on Monday evening for the 2020-2021 season announcement, hot on the heels of a successful 70th anniversary season that yielded a higher-than-ever subscriber base, the largest opening show in BT history ("Guys and Dolls" in September 2019), and a quadrupled donor total (nearing $170,000) since 2015.

Development Manager Mary Tiballi Hoffman and Communications Coordinator Danielle Raymo emceed the evening, with Artistic Director Danny Hoskins making brief opening remarks and then "getting out of the way" and crediting much of the year's success to the duo. Board members took turns at the mic as well, which kept the hour-long program moving swiftly through a lot of brand new information from the Blackfriars team.

In addition to the season, several repeating and new events were announced, including a May 2020 fundraiser weekend of shows from comedy troupe EstroFest, the Blackfriars Theatre Summer Intensive for high school and college-age students with "Godspell" in July 2020, a family friendly, inclusive storytime hour "Imagination Station with Mrs. Kasha Davis," and the Hourglass Play Reading Series. The Conservatory, an educational series in partnership with Rochester Brainery, will continue to offer classes for all ages, and Blackfriars will also be a KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival venue again in September.

From a bare stage outfitted with two widescreen TVs on tables flanking a lone podium, Tiballi Hoffman announced that this year, Blackfriars would do what the Oscars couldn't (or, wouldn't): each of the six mainstage season productions will be directed by a woman. Each director -- with the exception of one who was out of town -- introduced their respective shows, and many are familiar faces at Blackfriars.

The season opens in September with the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history, "Smokey Joe's Cafe," featuring more than 40 mid-century hit songs. It's one of two musicals in the season, the other being "The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes" (February 2021), about a "normal" man who hates musicals and wakes up one day to find his entire life has become just that (expect encounters with green witches, cats who sing, and more satirical references).

For Christmastime, there's a cheerful alternative to tradition with "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley" (December 2020), which theoretically takes place two years after "Pride and Prejudice" and centers on the character of Mary Bennet, the bookish middle sister. It's penned by young playwright Lauren Gunderson, who also wrote "Silent Sky" (opening in the current BT season on March 27).

Half of the season leans toward heavier themes, ranging from depression in the new one-man play "Every Brilliant Thing" (October 2020) to darker adolescent themes in the hit coming-of-age soccer play, "The Wolves" (March 2021). Interesting notes include pre-casting of Hoskins in the solo role of "Every Brilliant Thing," and a partnership with the Nazareth College Department of Theatre and Dance for "The Wolves," which will be completely cast at Nazareth and with the school's students. The season closer, Sam Shepard's classic "True West" (opens May 2021) will run two productions concurrently, or in rep -- one cast of brothers, one of sisters -- and feature the season's only male director behind the brother version. It's the first time this has been done locally, and patrons are encouraged to see both versions of the production.

Season subscriptions to Blackfriars' 2020-21 season are now on sale by phone at 454-1260, or online at blackfriars.org.

Leah Stacy is a freelance writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to becca@rochester-citynews.com.