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Seven hours on Woodbury Boulevard

We follow a Geva Theatre Center bartender through her typical shift

When Ebenezer Scrooge orders a drink, he prefers a black and tan. That’s why he gave bartender Emily Wilczewski a special tool shaped like a turtle to make the perfect layered beer cocktail.

No, this isn’t an excerpt from a lost chapter of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. As a bartender at Geva Theatre Center’s café and bar, Wilczewski is a modern-day college student rubbing shoulders with the actors who bring characters like Scrooge to life on stage. Founded in 1972, Geva Theatre Center is Rochester’s professional regional theater company, serving up to 160,000 patrons annually. 

Geva’s café and bar, located adjacent to the lobby outside the Mainstage theater, serves up a variety of soup, salads, sandwiches, desserts, and alcoholic and non—alcoholic drinks starting two hours before most performances and events.

“This job has helped me realize there are so many career options in the arts,” says Wilczewski. This is her third year working at Geva, and though the twenty-one-year-old is majoring in museum studies at Monroe Community College, she is considering a career as a stage manager. “It’s about networking. I have met so many people who travel all across the country,” she says. “It’s different than working in a traditional bar.” 

To learn more about what it’s like to serve drinks at a professional theater, we followed Wilczewski through her typical night:

5:30 p.m. Wilczewski arrives at Geva. It’s opening night for Last Gas, Geva’s latest Mainstage production. (Billed as a romantic comedy, the show is sure to attract couples looking for a date night alternative to the traditional dinner and a movie combo.)

5:35 p.m. Before heading to the bar, Wilczewski visits her boss, reviews the schedule for the evening, and collects the bar keys and money for the register.

5:45 p.m. Wilczewski unlocks the bar and takes out the liquor.

5:50 p.m. Wilczewski goes down to a storage area to fill her ice bucket and get more plastic cups, paper napkins, and anything else she might need to stock the bar.

6 p.m. The doors open, and patrons start to trickle into the lobby.Wilczewski chats casually with the patrons while pouring drinks.

7:15 p.m. Wilczewski prepares for the champagne toast (an opening night tradition).

7:30 p.m. Inside the theater, Geva’s benefactors enjoy a champagne toast alongside the creative team for Last Gas.

7:45 p.m. Most of the night’s audience arrives and enters the theater. Wilczewski takes pre-orders for intermission and provides patrons with a numbered tab to find their orders quickly during the twenty-minute break.

8 p.m. The show begins, and Wilczewski tidies up the café. If she is running low on anything, now is the time to stock up again.

8:45 p.m. Wilczewski gets to work on the drink pre-orders for intermission. She sets out the glasses in order by number, mixes drinks, and pours beer and wine.

9 p.m. Nearly 200 people spill out into the lobby, ready to enjoy a drink. Many patrons ask about the drink special of the day. Tonight, it’s white or red wine sangria, inspired by one of the play’s main characters.To stay immersed in the world of the play, the guests eagerly place orders for the refreshing beverage.

9:20 p.m. Intermission ends, and Wilczewski breathes a quick sigh of relief as the audience files back into the theater. She’s back to cleaning and getting ready for the post-show rush.

~11 p.m. The show ends and the audience spills into the lobby. Wilczewski prepares for the rush of orders after the show.

11:15 p.m. The actors come out to the bar area to meet with audience members and enjoy a drink.

Midnight The bar finally clears out. Wilczewski cleans and packs up supplies. Following a quick walk-through to make sure the theater is pristine; she heads home in the brisk night air. 

Michelle Shippers is a Rochester-based freelance writer. 

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