"We want to make space for everyone"

Alumnae team up to lead Blackfriars Theatre and help others take center stage.

by Robin L. Flanigan

Brynn Tyszka and Mary Tiballi

Brynn Tyszka ’08 (left) and Mary Tiballi Hoffman ’06 (right) both credit Nazareth with helping them become well-rounded candidates in a competitive industry.

Both theatre arts majors at Nazareth, Brynn Tyszka ’08 and Mary Tiballi Hoffman ’06 have become a dynamic duo at Rochester’s Blackfriars Theatre.

When Tyszka became the downtown theater’s artistic director in August 2022, Hoffman was promoted from its director of development to executive director.

“We have a lot of big ideas, and we’re trying to get them off the ground quickly,” says Tyszka, who is the first woman to lead the company in its 73-year history. “We see potential here for growth in a lot of different areas.”

That growth includes more programming, classes, additional space for rehearsals and events, and perhaps taking on another full-time staff member or two.

Tyszka and Hoffman want Blackfriars — which they characterize as a “professionally minded, artistically ambitious community theater” — to reach new audiences.

With women historically underrepresented in theater leadership positions, for example, “now we have an opportunity to create more space at this table for other underrepresented people,” says Hoffman. “It’s long overdue. We’re not satisfied just doing things the way they’ve always been done.”

Buoying that effort is a goal to raise community expectations for what nonprofessional artists, or “people who have day jobs,” bring to the stage, she adds.

Both women appreciate Nazareth, which they collaborate with, for helping them become well-rounded candidates in a competitive industry.

Nazareth’s theatre arts program brings in outside professionals to direct shows or teach workshops “so you get a perspective in addition to what the professors have experienced,” according to Tyszka, who has served as acting department chair at the Rochester Association for the Performing Arts, director of education at Actors Theatre of Indiana, and stage director. “And you get a real connection to what’s going on in places like New York City and Los Angeles.”

Those behind-the-scenes lessons have been instrumental in more ways than one, says Hoffman, who was a regular leading performer with several Rochester-based theater companies until 2015, when her first child was born. She returned to the stage in 2021 for a Blackfriars production.

“Getting a true understanding of what every person on the team is bringing to the table — and what their challenges are — has been helpful not only as we continue to be artists ourselves, but as we grow into these positions and have to make decisions for all of these people,” explains Hoffman.

Having known each other for nearly two decades, the women are learning even more about each other working side by side.

“Mary is a fiery redhead who's intelligent, not afraid to say what she thinks, and the funniest person I know,” notes Tyszka.

In describing Tyszka, Hoffman says, “I’ve known forever that she is an extremely capable artist, but it's been exciting to watch her operate as an exceedingly savvy businessperson."

Together, above all, they hope to make Blackfriars more inclusive.

“We want to let people know there's a home for them here no matter their size, shape, or race,” says Hoffman. “We want to make space for everyone.”

Robin L. Flanigan is an author, journalist, and writer in Rochester, New York.