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The Company Theatre makes its debut in Rochester theater scene 

click to enlarge (Left to right) Kate Duprey, Carl Del Buono, Erik Wheater, and Sean Britton-Milligan founded The Company Theatre to be accessible to new audiences and new performers alike. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • (Left to right) Kate Duprey, Carl Del Buono, Erik Wheater, and Sean Britton-Milligan founded The Company Theatre to be accessible to new audiences and new performers alike.
Shakespeare’s play “Richard II” is known for its 14th-century political intrigue, with the titular king and Henry Bolingbroke vying for the throne. The drama is not known, however, as a rivalry between former lovers with punk-inspired fashion sense.

But that’s exactly what The Company Theatre gave its audience in October during its rendition of “Richard II,” the opening production of its inaugural season. The actors wore combat boots and dark eyeliner while reciting iambic pentameter on the concrete floors of the Temple Theatre Loft.

While The Company Theatre thrives on taking plays most likely to be found in high school English classes and turning them into memorable experiences for unsuspecting audiences, its members don’t want to limit themselves to just Shakespeare. Its official debut as a company was at this year’s Rochester Fringe Festival with “Cell Outs,” a new comedy about two prisoners trapped in a medieval dungeon written by Rich Steele, who also starred as the king in “Richard II.”
click to enlarge Rich Steele as a glam-punk King Richard in "Richard II." - PHOTO BY MICHELLE BLAKE, MBLAKE PHOTOGRAPHY
  • PHOTO BY MICHELLE BLAKE, MBLAKE PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Rich Steele as a glam-punk King Richard in "Richard II."
“We want to be the ‘does everything’ place,” says Carl Del Buono, one of The Company Theatre’s four co-founders. “It’s not just for adults, not just for kids, not just Shakespeare or oratorio or opera or musicals.” Nothing’s off the table for them.

The Company Theatre’s big dreams are starting to pay off. The organization has a board with 10 members, a Kickstarter campaign that surpassed its goal of $2,500 before the end of the run of their opening show, and an ambitious first season of rich, challenging plays.

In addition to Shakespeare, their first season includes well-known plays like the iconic “The Seagull” by Anton Chekhov, the 1939 Kaufman & Hart farce “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” and the Tony-award winning 2006 musical “Spring Awakening.” The most obscure piece is “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr, which was the basis for the Bette Davis movie “All About Eve.”

Del Buono and co-founder Kate Duprey first met in 2015, while working on an anachronistic version of the 1613 play “The Duchess of Malfi,” staged by the WallByrd Theatre Company. Del Buono acted in it, and Duprey was a production manager, and they bonded over their love for making old plays fresh and relevant to contemporary American audiences.

WallByrd’s founding director Virginia Monte has left Rochester, but The Company Theatre seeks to pick up where Monte left off in producing centuries-old British plays, especially Shakespeare, in quirky and contemporary ways.

Duprey’s passion for the Bard is clear: “Because of the language, people get scared away from it,” she says. “They don't understand that a lot of it is really funny, a lot of it makes perfect sense. I want people to see that.”

Both Duprey and Del Buono have been active in the Rochester theater scene for several years. Del Buono’s local acting and directing credits over the last decade include productions with the JCC’s CenterStage Theatre, Blackfriars Theatre, and Rochester Shakespeare Players, among others. Duprey wears several hats, working as a stage manager, scenic artist, and lighting designer. People ask her why she doesn’t move to a city with a larger theater industry. Her response?

“I’d much rather build something to be proud of in Rochester,” she says.
click to enlarge PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
The four founders — who also include Duprey’s fiancé, technical director Erik Wheater, and Duprey’s fellow collaborator, director Sean Britton-Milligan — are dedicated to building a theater company that will invite artists who are new to theater, or who have been unable to perform for the past few years due to the pandemic.

Del Buono fears many actors think theater opportunities in Rochester are limited, and develop a “Geva or bust” mentality as a result.

“No,” he says. “There are other small regional theaters, there’s other community theaters, there’s church groups.”

The Company Theatre has already succeeded in bringing in at least one member who never considered himself a Shakespearean actor. Christopher Conway, a Texas transplant who moved to Rochester in 2018, has quickly involved himself in the theater scene with productions by the JCC, Blackfriars, and Out of Pocket, Inc.

After acting in “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed by Del Buono for Rochester Shakespeare Players, Conway’s a convert.

“I relish the opportunity to play with that language,” he says.

click to enlarge The cast of "Richard II" performs in the Temple Theatre Loft. - PHOTO BY MICHELLE BLAKE, MBLAKE PHOTOGRAPHY
  • PHOTO BY MICHELLE BLAKE, MBLAKE PHOTOGRAPHY
  • The cast of "Richard II" performs in the Temple Theatre Loft.
When The Company Theatre was first announced at a “Much Ado” cast party, Conway was eager to get on board — literally. Not only was he in “Richard II,” he’s also a member of The Company Theatre board.

Future plans include finding a permanent home. Duprey says finding venues has been the most challenging part of starting this company. The company also hopes to soon offer educational workshops that would touch on every part of theater, including preparing for auditions.

“A lot of places ask for five years professional experience when you're right outside college,” Duprey says. “You don't need that with us. Come learn, keep learning.”

Katherine Varga is a freelance writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to Daniel J. Kushner, CITY's arts editor, at dkushner@rochester-citynews.com.
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