Theatre artists have a pretty good understanding of what would make playwright George S. Kaufman (of Kaufman and Hart fame) say, “When I was born, I owed twelve dollars.” As an artist, you’re always trying to figure out how to fund the next project, what kind of a job to get to pay the bills, etc. and you feel a bit like you’ll always be in debt. And it’s not just artists who feel that way – theatre companies have the same kind of economic challenge, but on a larger scale. Ticket prices cover only about 60% of the cost of a production, so theatres need to find another way to cover the rest of the costs. And that is where people like our next featured staff member come in. The development department at Geva raises money from philanthropic individuals and from business and corporations who see the value in supporting cultural organizations in Rochester. We couldn’t produce the work we do without the support of those incredibly important donors, and the fantastic development department that makes it all possible. So, today, I give you…
20 Questions for Mary Tiballi Hoffman
JW: Give us your basic details – who are you, where are you from…
Mary Tiballi Hoffman, previously Geva’s Development Manager for two years before becoming the new Institutional Giving Manager in June (3 weeks before her wedding- gahhh!). Hailing from the snowy city of Oswego, NY, Mary got her BA in Theatre Arts from Nazareth College in ’06 and has since been moonlighting as an actress at local theatres (including Blackfriars Theatre, JCC Centerstage, and sometimes even on Geva’s Nextstage).
JW: Mary, I like that you refer to yourself in the third person…What’s the first play you remember seeing?
When I was in 5th grade, my dad took me to see Oswego High School’s production of Guys and Dolls and it completely changed my life. I’m sure I was exposed to live performance before that time, but that was the first time I ever sat there and said “This is where I need to be. This is what I want to do.” Everything was beautiful, everything was magical and those high school kids on stage seemed like gods to me. I made a personal vow to myself, sitting in that theatre, that I would grow up and be a part of that magic. And I’m so thankful it worked out!
JW: Where did you go to school? Did you study theatre?
I went to Nazareth College and majored in Theatre Arts (though I started out as a Nursing major – because I got scared that I would never find a job with a theatre degree – that lasted about 3 weeks). I was fortunate because the curriculum at Nazareth really encourages you to explore a number of areas, not just acting. I ended up taking a lot of tech classes and found myself designing props and costumes for the mainstage productions I wasn’t acting in. Now that I work at a professional theatre, I’m so glad I have this understanding and appreciation for all the elements that go into making the art.
JW: What would you say is the best part of your job?
Meeting people in our community who are passionate about what we do here at Geva. It’s fun to get swept into the magic together and it’s very gratifying to bring people closer to all the wonderful things we are doing and see that excitement within them grow. I love talking about the art we create and its transformative powers.
JW: If you had a job in theatre that wasn’t the one you actually have, what would it be? (Talent for this role is not required…)
I wish I had to guts to try my hand as a professional actor (I doubt this is surprising to anyone). Alas, I hate living out of suitcases and I love my steady paycheck. If I could work in any other department here at Geva, I would probably most want to work as a prop artisan. I love building things and working with power tools (I often refinish furniture in my free time outside of work). I am always astounded by the resourcefulness and talent of our prop guys. I would love to work with them and learn from them!
JW: When people ask you to describe Rochester, what do you say?
I’ve been trying to convince my sister to move to Rochester for the last year, so I always point out to her that the arts scene is downright enormous (theatre, museums, live music, we’ve got everything and lots of it), that there are a ton of festivals and parks for outdoor fun, and that it’s WAY more affordable than Philly without sacrificing opportunities or experiences. I gloss over the details regarding snow.
JW: What’s your favorite Rochester-area attraction?
Geva Theatre Center, of course (that’s my “I work in Development” answer)! I love the Public Market. Also, I think that The Little Theatre is a Rochester treasure.
JW: If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only bring a playwright with you (I know – that’s sort of random, isn’t it?), who would you bring?
Maybe Neil LaBute- I feel like we would have some very interesting conversations. Maybe Neil Simon- he would make me laugh. Maybe Sam Shepherd circa 1980s (he’s dreamy but he’s pretty dark- I think I’d mostly just like to look at him from afar… otherwise, he’d probably bum me out).
JW: Is there a place you haven’t yet been that you’d most like to visit?
I’d like to take a summer trip to Prince Edward Island and ride a bicycle and sit in a row boat (and maybe wear puffed sleeves). I’ve always wanted to go to St. Petersburg, Russia and see Tsarskoe Selo and the Winter Palace. And I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a trip to Bern, Switzerland, where I would be sure to take a dip in the Aare River!
JW: I can already see the puffed sleeves in your future…What are you looking forward to most in the upcoming season?
I can’t wait for The 39 Steps. I took a course in college that focused on the films of Hitchcock and I can’t wait to see this one translated to the stage. I also really appreciate Sean’s sense of humor, so I’m excited to see his approach to the show!
JW: There’s been a rash of kitten and puppy adoption amongst the Geva staff this summer. Are you a dog person or a cat person?
My husband and I have three cats: Jill, Max (or “big fat yellow kitty”, according to my 2-year-old nephew), and Beatrice Fitzkitty. Apparently, we are very much cat people.
JW: What person from history most interests you?
Growing up, I was obsessed with the last Romanov family (Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and their 5 children) and their tragic story. I must have borrowed TSAR: The Lost World of Nicholas and Alexandra (a 230-page illustrated history, by Peter Kurth) from the library a few dozen times. It’s such a haunting history- I was, and still am, captivated by their story.
JW: Our first production of the 2013-2014 season features pie – what’s your favorite kind?
Coconut cream, for the win!
JW: Imagine you are placing an order at a restaurant, and they ask your name for the order. You don’t give them your real name. What name do you give?
Two weeks ago, I told the man at Starbucks that my name was Veronica. Sometimes you’ve got to shake it up.
JW: What would we find in the backseat of your car?
Miraculously, my backseat is currently clean (this hasn’t happened in years, folks), but my trunk features an eclectic assortment of items: a snow shovel and 3 broken windshield scrapers, one right ladies’ size 7 character shoe, numerous half-empty water bottles, a box of Christmas-themed plates, six binders bursting with sheet music and photocopied scripts, several tutus in assorted colors, an old man wig, and an overflowing bag of candelabras that has been back there for well over a year. I LITERALLY have junk in my trunk.
JW: Next time you participate in one of the new play readings at Geva, I think we’ll cast you in something that requires wearing at least two of those tutus. OK?