The Downstairs Cabaret Theatre (DCT) is a small, not-for-profit professional theatre located in Rochester, NY. The theatre tends to feature a wide variety of different productions, including popular musicals, new works, and solo performances from unconventional artists. It is particularly famous for developing the musical comedy Nunsense and producing the world premiere of Forever Plaid, and has a penchant for giving non-traditional, first-time works a shot at a real audience.
The theatre really resembles a small cafe that just happens to contain a medium-sized semicircular stage toward the front of the main room. The seating consists of plain padded kitchen-chairs and a couple of couches set up at a series of tables surrounding the stage in a 180 degree arc. Three or four waiters and waitresses make rounds of the place before the show and during any intermissions, offering a selection of desserts and alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages to show-goers.
I’ve only visited the DCT once, and that was just two days ago, but I loved the place immediately. There are only about 100 seats, and sell-outs are not uncommon; however, the staff at the cabaret are incredibly helpful to meandering college students who only thought to try to go to a performance the night before. The theatre sells stand-by tickets with no assigned seating, but a guarantee of two seats together and a good view of the stage or your money back. When we went for a (fantastic) production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, we were the fifth couple on the stand-by list to arrive and we still got excellent seats, validating their claim that there isn’t a bad seat in the house.
The actors and directors at the theatre use the intimacy of the venue to its utmost, staging situations where characters emerge from the audience and through doors in the back of the cafe. Because of the wide arc of the stage, every actor in the play must contend with being examined by audience-members from just about every angle, and they all sing/speak/dance to different parts of the theatre at different times to excellent effect. The production that I saw was vibrant and lively; the sound system was superb, and the costumes were incredible for such a small-scale theatre.
In order to make all of this happen, however, the DCT is dependent on donations from members as well as from local businesses, and I understand that ticket sales only amount to about half of the operating costs for the theatre. Every program for every production comes complete with a double-sided list of patrons of the theatre, and the back page of my program listed advertisements for at least one-and-a-half dozen local businesses and national corporations who are active in supporting the DCT. I think that the passion and zeal of its members coupled with the overwhelming support from the Rochester community were some of the most wonderful things I noticed about the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, as well as some of the most inspirational.
The DCT’s main location is at 20 Windsor Street in the East End's Cultural District of downtown Rochester, though it has recently opened up a satellite location (which I have yet to visit) at 172 West Main St. The Windsor Street theatre is right off of East Main St, near the Eastman Theatre. Among other bonuses, it features free evening parking in the nearby East End Garage on Main St. Tickets seem to go for about 20-25 dollars apiece, but there are discounts for students and seniors. I can’t make any recommendations about the menu, but everything looked wonderful and the coffee smelled fantastic, so I’m inclined to recommend it all regardless. Everybody I’ve talked to has loved every production they’ve seen there, making it a real highlight for downtown Rochester culture, and a great place to visit if you’re in town.
Sources: My program from I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, as well as the DCT website at http://www.downstairscabaret.com