Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

The Finger Lakes Region’s Cultural Development Engine: The REV Theatre Co.

Brittney Mack in Beehive, 2018

Few theatre organizations have a mission statement clearer than Auburn’s REV Theatre Company: “To present classic and contemporary works, new musicals, and in-school arts education for a diverse audience, to spur social awareness and cultural development in the Finger Lakes region.”

Even fewer organizations live up to their mission with such striking results.

The REV, a multi-venue, $5 million operation, is not only beloved by the regional community for its creative programs, but also is internationally recognized as a path to Broadway for artists and shows. The REV is comprised of two principal divisions: REV Musicals and REV Education.

Education is at the Core

Brett Smock is the current Producing Artistic Director. After joining the organization as a dancer in 1992, Ed Sayles offered him positions as choreographer in 1994, and director in 1996. Brett remained a resident director/choreographer until 2012 at which time he came aboard as the General Manager / Associate Artistic Director. He worked under Ed Sayles’ inspiring leadership for many, years and assumed his current position in 2014 when Ed retired.

I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to move into this role.” he says. He is particularly proud that The REV has never drifted from its educational roots. “Education remains at the center of The REV programming, even though we now do many things.”

REV Education offers workshops and performances to students in grades K-12, reaching 80,000 students in 74 districts and 23 counties in Central New York each year. For many, this is the students’ only exposure to theatre, as the program operates predominantly in rural school districts.

The REV also partners with nearby colleges and universities to provide professional-track educational opportunities which supplement students’ intensive coursework.

Balance is the Key

Smock says the key to running a successful theatre organization is understanding the nuanced balance between art and dollars. “You can’t make a decision about financials without awareness of the art side of the story,” he explains. To that end, the organization realized it needed to diversify its audience and began to introduce programmatic changes in 2015.

I created a new and broader programmatic vision,” Smock continues. “We began to invest in shows that were central to the human experience. I want people to leave the theatre with a full experience. Light and fun with song and dance, but also share something with the next generation of audiences that is looking for something more substantial in a story.”

Ghost: The Musical, 2017

He makes sure that every season the theater does something important and meaningful. “We still keep the song and dance, but people love the wildly varied types of shows. We’ve established a foundation for understanding, and we’re really proud of that.”

The Light In The Piazza, 2015

Audiences can explore three totally different experiences on three different stages, including musicals in their earliest stage of development. The PiTCH” is The REV’s program that includes new works. “We have Broadway-bound shows coming into Auburn with a clear path for where they want to go. We are on the national map on the journey to New York City.”

He said the proximity to New York fosters opportunities for talent and shows. “Much of the talent on our stages comes from Broadway or goes to Broadway. Being close to New York is huge for us. New talent comes here and moves on to New York, and new show producers use Auburn as a safe test market for their creative vision.”

Theatre as an Engine of Growth

While curating a national reputation is important to Smock, he says The REV’s first responsibility is to the local community. “We want to be nationally recognized as a local organization that brings people together here in Auburn. That’s intentional.”

Smock believes strongly that The REV has been and will continue to be an engine of growth for Auburn and the Finger Lakes. “The rising food and beverage scene, tourism, and the addition of hotels have all created a new energy to the region,” he explains. “We help round out that cultural experience.”

This belief in the growth of the region and the theatre is one reason why the organization rebranded itself as The REV Theatre Co. “We needed a name that would honor our roots and allow us to modernize the organization in a bold way. We’re an arts force in the Finger Lakes. Right in your backyard is an internationally recognized organization for theatre. We’re really proud of that.” The organization’s expansion created a need to better brand the company. “With multiple venues, divisions, and programs it was clear that we needed a name that would be reverent to our legacy while acknowledging our incredible evolution,” says Smock.

Almost Heaven: The Songs of John Denver, 2021

Proud Past. Bright Future.

Sixty-three years is a long time for an arts organization to be continuously in operation. The organization is proud of its past and excited about its future.

Founded in 1958 as the Auburn Children’s Theatre, the original organization provided drama classes to local children. Less than 10 years later, the children’s theater was touring throughout the state and later became known as the Merry-Go-Round Youth Theatre Program.

By 1971, the first season of the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse was held and eventually evolved into a professional summer stock theatre.

Under former producer Ed Sayles’s direction, the Playhouse became nationally recognized for the excellent quality of both its musical and educational offerings. The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival was launched in 2012 with two additional performing spaces in downtown Auburn.

Today, The REV’s educational division is one of the largest resident touring youth education programs in the United States. The REV’s summer Broadway series, at its flagship venue, The Merry Go Round Playhouse in Emerson Park, serves as a magnet for audiences and artists to celebrate and intersect with theatre of the highest caliber while also serving as an economic engine for the city of Auburn and the entire Finger Lakes region.

Now, that’s what’s what we call fulfilling a mission.

The REV looks forward to welcoming audiences back to the historic Merry-Go-Round Playhouse this summer for four uniquely exciting productions. Individual tickets will go on sale in early 2022, but season subscriptions, flex passes, and gift certificates can be purchased right now by calling The REV box office at 315-225-1785. For more information about tickets and our 2022 season, please visit

The 42nd Street ballet, 2021

Maureen Ballatori is a LOCATE Finger Lakes Business Journal contributing writer and a member of the organization’s board of directors. She is founder and CEO of 29 Design Studio, a creative agency for food, beverage and agriculture brands. Ballatori’s second company, Metro Collective helps Upstate NY shared space operators activate their communities and workspaces. She also owns Port 100 Cowork in Geneva and Rochester.

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