Longtime Geva Theatre Center Artistic Director Mark Cuddy announced Thursday that he will be leaving the regional theater in July 2022, after its 49th season.
“It felt like the right time to kind of turn the page,” he said. “I want to get everything open. I want to get season 49 produced, well, and get our audiences back.”
Cuddy said three factors played heavily into his decision: the pandemic, the theater closing in on its 50th, and his age. Cuddy is 66 and said retirement was on the horizon.
“The sort of combination of, gosh, this year was hard, and thinking of the 50th anniversary season,” Cuddy said. “And thinking of how to make the best transition.
“I think everyone’s thinking of something new.”
Something new is what Cuddy brought to Geva when he arrived there in 1995. The Boston native had previously headed the Sacramento Theatre Company in California, and recalled being recruited to Rochester with the explicit instructions to resurrect a company that was in the midst of mediocre offerings.
Over the next 27 years, Cuddy personally directed more than 55 productions, and led Geva’s commissioning of “Revival: The Resurrection of Son House,” a biography of the bluesman who lived in Rochester for many years.
He also oversaw the addition of a second stage to Geva Theatre Center, the intimate, 180-seat Fielding Stage. More recently, there were renovations to the venue’s lobby, café and apartments for actors performing in the productions.
Geva now ranks in the Top 25 for regional theater attendance in the country.
“It is hard to imagine Geva without Mark,” Maggie Symington, the chair of Geva’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “However, he is leaving us in a strong position.”
Symington added that a search committee to find Cuddy’s successor is currently being formed and that Cuddy is working to ensure a smooth transition.
Cuddy said he believes his biggest accomplishment of his tenure lies in less-glamorous aspects of regional theater.
“I think it’s integrating everything we do into the lives of the residents in our region,” he said, pointing in particular to Geva’s extensive programs for education and new play development.
As was the case with most live entertainment, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Geva to shut down in the midst of the 2020-21 season. That forced Cuddy — who has no specific plans for his own future — to rethink what the theater meant to him.
“Something that I found that I took for granted, in our work,” he said, “were the rituals of working on a production, opening it and closing it and moving on to the next one.
“We were sort of stuck in this place where we were incomplete. A place of transition. A place of uncertainty. Theater people like to work hard on something, make a new production, and open and close it. We didn’t have that. And that rhythm of theatrical life, I think caused, you know, a big hole in our life, our collective theater psyche.”
That hole closes with rehearsals beginning July 13 for the resumption of the pandemic-interrupted season and “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash.” Directed by Cuddy, and performed outdoors on what Geva is calling its “Six String Bandstand,” it opens Aug. 3.
The shows for the 2022 season, Cuddy’s last, will run from January through July and are expected to be announced next month.