New Plays vs. Superstorm Sandy

You know how absurdly proud we can be of our difficult weather? I’m sure it’s happened to you – you’re in a conversation with someone about your hometown, and the topic of weather comes up, and immediately you’re locked in a fierce competition over who has bested Mother Nature under the most extreme conditions. I’ve only lived in Rochester for a year, and I find myself torn between bragging about difficult winters here (which, to be honest, I haven’t really experienced yet), extreme conditions from my 11 years living in Brooklyn (including city-wide power outages, blizzards, Hurricane Irene, etc.), and my childhood growing up in Michigan.

Superstorm Sandy (nee Hurricane) has ravaged New York City and New Jersey, as we all know. Here in Rochester, we can’t even imagine how difficult it is to get around in Manhattan and the length of the lines of stilled cars is nothing short of disheartening. I’ve been amazed at the reports today about the gas shortages in the area. And my Facebook feed is full of updates on my friends’ conditions. While I’m so grateful to know how they are, it pains me to think of how heavily they’ve all been impacted by this storm. Sandy blew mightily, and took with her so much of what makes life – especially in a place like New York City – possible. Electricity, hot water, transportation, communication with the world…

Yesterday, when it became clear that the artists for the third workshop in this year’s Festival of New Theatre – Chat, by Tanya Barfield – would not be able to get onto planes and fly out of New York City to Rochester, we hatched a plan. It was a little crazy, but we hoped that it would be just crazy enough to work. We tried to rent cars for them, but there were none available – and we called, and called, and called…So yesterday at about 3pm, two intrepid Geva staff members – productions operations manager Nils Emerson and maintenance supervisor Kris Stengrevics (both titles that essentially amount to “jack of all trades and provider of solutions”) took the keys to our two minivans and drove INTO New York City. They arrived last night at a hotel in New Jersey – it was so dark that they could hardly find the building. And at 6am, they drove across the George Washington Bridge so they could be in Manhattan before the Mayor’s rule went into effect requiring 3 people in each car crossing the bridge.

While they were driving, our company management team, Julie Madonia and Kelly Mahoney, and I worked to get in touch with all of the artists and arrange a meeting place. We did our best to help them arrange for transportation to that meeting place, and when it was announced that the subways would resume minimal operation again, it was like the heavens had opened up and the sun had peeked out from behind the clouds. Or so we thought. It turns out that it would still be incredibly difficult for anyone from Brooklyn to get to Manhattan, where our guys were waiting with the vans. And this morning when the car service scheduled to pick up playwright Tanya Barfield and actor Marc Damon Johnson said that they would be two or three hours late, we sent Nils, armed with a GPS and Primary Stages’ literary manager Tessa LaNeve, into Brooklyn to find them. (It’s not as random as it seems – this play was co-commissioned by Geva and Primary Stages, so both theatres have a vested interest in the play.) They left Brooklyn by way of New Jersey to pick up Steven Barker Turner in South Orange, and are now en route to Rochester. I just saw Tessa’s facebook update. She writes: “While in van to Geva: ‘That’s a bear! Walking down the highway! A bear! I see a bear!’  ‘There was never a bear dude. Go back to sleep.'”

While Nils was making his way through Brooklyn and Jersey, Kris waited for director GT Upchurch and 3 more actors, and one actor’s family, traveling with her from Long Island to Rochester. When his van was full, Kris headed back across the George Washington Bridge and out of Manhattan.

Now, here’s what is amazing to me – every single one of these artists, when faced with this very challenging task – said, “Yes, I’l be there.” “I can do it.” “A six hour drive to Rochester? Sign me up!” (OK, maybe the last was a tiny bit of an exaggeration…) The point is, they picked up the gauntlet Superstorm Sandy threw down, and found a way to get here, to help develop a new play and to pursue the art form that they are all dedicated to. I am humbled by their determination, and thrilled to welcome them to Rochester when they arrive this evening.

And I hope you’ll join us here at Geva on Friday evening at 7pm and on Sunday evening at 7pm, for a reading of this new play in process (click here to reserve a spot for either date). This entire experience demonstrates just how much of a collaborative art form the theatre is – and it’s not complete until you’re in the room with us, and we all experience the play together. Tickets are free – and I know you’ll want to meet this incredible team.


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