Tuesday, March 6, 2012

In Memoriam - Andy McCutcheon

Posted by Bruce Miller
A dear friend of Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV died on February 12, 2012, after a relatively short battle with cancer. He was 84 years young, and sharp as a tack. Although he's been very involved for at least 20 years, many of you may not know him. Not only did he not seek the limelight, when special recognition was offered to him, he frequently, respectfully declined.

His name was Andy McCutcheon, and he was an unusually active and committed Board spouse. His wife Charlotte served on the Theatre IV Board for a couple decades, and Andy was always there, by her side, at every Opening Night, every fundraiser, every Coffee & Conversations program, every trip to NYC or London ... you get the drift.

Andy and Charlotte have been subscribers and contributors for as long as I can remember. But as much as we valued that support, that's not what we loved. We loved the friendship, the genuine caring, the gazillion laughs we shared, the cards and prayers that were immediately forthcoming when one of us or one of them hit the proverbial rough patch.

Andy was a college football player, a WWII Navy veteran, and an award-winning sportswriter for the Richmond News Leader. His heartfelt, impassioned liberalism gave him an abiding interest in politics. He left his career in journalism to serve as executive assistant to two Congressmen. Catching the attention of the Kennedy family, he was hand-picked to be the special assistant to Sargent Shriver at the U. S. Office of Economic Opportunity, overseeing a vital jobs program. Then he was drafted to run for Congress himself, trying to unseat Republican incumbent William L. Scott. Believing that if you're going to do something you'd better do it all the way, Andy and Charlotte depleted their family savings to fight the good fight against their better funded opponent. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, Andy lost the election.

In the Times-Dispatch, Randy Hallman quoted Charlotte: "We knew it was coming, but it was a great experience. Andy said it was as good as getting a Ph.D."

After his brush with politics, Andy was hired by Reynolds Metals Co. as a marketing and recycling officer. He also headed their government relations department, rising to the rank of Vice President. When family scion J. Sargeant Reynolds Sr. ran successfully for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Andy took a year off from his corporate career to serve as Campaign Manager. The Reynolds family so embraced Andy's commitment, values and work that, after his retirement, he was one of the very few non-family members asked to serve on the Board of one of the Reynolds' family foundations. He also was on call as speech-writer whenever one or another of the Reynolds' clan was asked to deliver a public presentation about their family's business and political heritage.

Truth be told, we always thought Andy was all ours. His commitment and attention were so focused, he made you feel that way. It was nice to be reminded in his obituary that he had also served as President of the Metro Richmond YMCA, on the Boards of the Library of Virginia and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College Foundation, on the Screening Committee of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, as an active alum of Washington and Lee, and as a Trustee at St. Matthew's Episcopal.

We will miss Andy more that I can express in this blog. For those of you who didn't know him, he was an exceptional man--smart, kind, well spoken, a big forceful man's man with a true compassion for those less fortunate. He also loved theatre, and we loved him back.

Our hearts go out to our dear Charlotte. We will dedicate our upcoming production of Scorched Earth to Andy's memory--a perfect fit. And we will try our best to honor the legacy that he left for us and for everyone else in our diverse community.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thanks to My Fair Cast

Posted by Bruce Miller
There's an old saw that goes "Nine tenths of directing is casting"--the point being that if a director is fortunate enough to be able to cast the right actors in the right roles, everything else sort of takes care of itself. Of course, this is overly simplistic crazy talk. Yeah. But it's also kinda true.

In my own experience, I'm reminded of Do Lord Remember Me, Crimes of the Heart, The Normal Heart, The Little Foxes, Boleros for the Disenchanted, and the Smoke on the Mountain trilogy. Somehow I wound up with perfect, surprising, wonderful casts in each of those shows, and my job in rehearsals became refreshingly joyful and easy.

The same is true with My Fair Lady. Will any theatre anywhere have a more perfect cast for this irreplacable classic? I don't think so. Of course, these are the words of a lovesick director so they cannot be trusted. Most of you already know to take this and everything I ever write with a grain of salt. If you didn't know that before, you now have been so advised.

Having admitted that, here's some gospel truth you can take to the bank. Any stage director who has the privilege to work with Stacey Cabaj, Joe Inscoe, Jason Marks, Suzanne Pollard, Matthew Costello, Lauren Leinhaas Cook and Ben Houghton should count him/herself blessed. And having a supporting cast that includes Brian Baez, Andy Boothby, Dawn Hall, Robin Harris, Michael Hawke, Maggie Horan, Christie Jackson, Paul Major, Mark Persinger, Russell Rowland, Ali Thibodeau, Alana Thomas, Durron Tyre and Ingrid Young ... well, that's just an embarrassment of riches.

Not only are these people talented, experienced and smart, they're fun to be around, they expect serious and focused work from each other, and they give every moment of rehearsal and performance everything they've got.

The show is going great guns, and prompting among the most enthusiastic audience feedback (phone calls, emails etc.) that I've ever encountered. These are the first people I need to thank. And I do so, now, with a full and happy heart.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"A Year with Frog and Toad" Set to Open This Friday

Posted by Bruce Miller
Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV have been working in official strategic collaboration since July 1, 2001--just over ten years. While some may think of us as one company--both nonprofits have spent over a decade sharing a common staff--in several important ways our two theatres have maintained their individual identities throughout every day of the last 124 months. Barksdale and Theatre IV continue to operate with separate missions, Boards, seasons, budgets, assets, audits, development campaigns, and brands.

In some ways, it's hard to believe that our two theatres have been in courtship mode for over a decade and we've yet to bring our two theatres together. Chalk it up to devotion and commitment. In reality, the powers that be at Barksdale are so strongly in love with their legacy and mission to adult audiences, and the powers that be at Theatre IV are so completely dedicated to their legacy and mission to children, families and schools, everyone is still trying to find the right way and time to come together.

If and when the engagement is formally announced and the date of the wedding is set, "we" will be a new company with an unsurpassed commitment to adult audiences and an equally strong dedication to kids and education. If you look closely at nonprofit theatres around the nation, that profile is amazingly rare.

Our next demonstration of our belief in children, families and schools opens this Friday at Willow Lawn. A Year with Frog and Toad is itself unique, in that it was the first all-out children's theatre musical to be produced on Broadway, based of course on one of America's favorite series of children's books.

Arnold Lobel (1933 - 1987), creator of the Frog and Toad series, was one of our nation's greatest children's book authors and illustrators. He wrote and illustrated 30 books (two published posthumously), and illustrated an additional 42 books by other authors. His works include the beloved Frog and Toad series (1970 - 1979), plus Owl at Home (1975), Mouse Soup (1977), Fables (1980, Caldecott Medal winner), and Ming Lo Moves the Mountain (1982).

Willie Reale, who wrote the book and lyrics for the musical, is a playwright and lyricist who often works with his brother Robert. He is a major creative force behind the 2009 revival of The Electric Company on PBS. In 1981, he founded NYC's 52nd Street Project, a nonprofit that brought inner-city children together with professional theatre artists to create new work. In 1992, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship ("genius grant") for that accomplishment. In 2006, he was nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for his lyrics for Patience from the film of Dreamgirls.

Robert Reale, Willie's brother who created the music for A Year with Frog and Toad, is a composer with a long list of credits in film, TV and theatre, creating the original music heard on Good Morning America, Primetime, 20/20, and Inside Edition. In 2003, the Reale brothers received a Tony Award nomination for their score for A Year with Frog and Toad.

Arnold Lobel died when he was 54 years old, and his daughter, acclaimed scenic designer Adrianne Lobel, committed herself to extending the life of his work. She had graduated from the Yale School of Drama, where she studied with iconic designer Ming Cho Lee. While continuing her own career creating world-renowned sets for Arena Stage, the Guthrie Theatre, Houston Grand Opera, PBS Great Performances, and the Metropolitan Opera, she posthumously published the final two books in her father's beloved Frog and Toad series. She also commissioned the musical based on her father's characters. She designed the sets, basing her work on her father's original creations.

The musical was workshopped in 2000 at Vassar College, and later produced by the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis. It transferred to Off-Broadway at the New Victory Theatre in 2002, playing to good reviews and sold-out houses.

A Year with Frog and Toad opened on Broadway on April 13, 2003. The show is credited with breaking new ground by bringing professional children's theatre to Broadway for the first time. It's success enabled the Children's Theatre in Minneapolis to become the first children's theatre in the nation to receive the prestigious regional theatre Tony Award in 2003.

We hope you'll join us for this delightful show--truly a holiday treat for the whole family.

Richmond is blessed to host visits from touring productions of family shows like Wicked, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King. We are equally blessed, and I believe this with all my heart, to be the home town of a major professional theatre that cares just as much about children and education as we do about national caliber productions for adults.

Using any and all criteria for excellence, The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my favorite productions of the year last season. I'm really looking forward to spending some time this holiday season with some of the most lovable and cherished animals you'll find on any Virginia stage.

Hope to see you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Jackie Jones Explains Why the Artsies Were So Much Fun

We recently received this very gracious email from veteran Richmond actress Jackie Jones. It's filled with so much of Jackie's signature joie de vivre that we asked her if we could post it here. We think the spirit of her note captured the evening's excitement perfectly. If you were unable to attend, this is what the Artsies felt like.

To my Friends at Theatre IV,

Please accept my thanks for hosting the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards 2011. Also, please pass along my appreciation to all the staff involved. I had a ball!

I was grateful that the strike after our final Cat on a Hot Tin Roof performance ended early enough for me to curl my hair. Yet all the hairspray that kept it together even with the force of Big Daddy’s hand every performance of Cat was not enough to help when a man fell into me and uncoiled my coif.

Some of my favorite RTCCA 2011 moments were:

~ The valet parking! Wow, they were expedient.

~ Being escorted to my seat by the stunning peach-satin-clad usher who only hours before had been striking at Firehouse. Annella Kaine was our Cat on a Hot Tin Roof sound tech and I forgot that she might have a life outside of a dark theatre and her crew blacks.

~ Telling the man next to me to stop texting (and he did … and then moved at intermission!).

~ Audra Honaker’s bird (see photo of Audra and Jackie at top of post). Kim Jones Clark’s golden mermaid dress. Terry Snyder’s authentic Davy Crockett scarf. Everyone’s gorgeous self.

~ Chatting with Regina Carreras before the Awards began, peeking back at her when Morrie Piersol won her necklace, and looking forward to Carol Piersol wearing that necklace to the next big soiree!

~ Bryan Harris and his amazing RTCC band. Thank you to the playbill compilers for naming Stephanie, Craig, Steve and Bryan in the playbill.

~ The script. Funny and insider and what a kick.

~ David Janeski’s imitation of John Porter!

~ Terry Snyder’s thank you song and everyone snapping with him.

~ His students’ loving tribute to Ernie McClintock and then later, J Ron Fleming’s proud proclamation that without Ernie’s inspiration, J Ron would not have become an actor.

~ Michael Gooding’s heartfelt swell and Don Warren’s fond remembrance of Jay and his laugh. During the pre-show reception, Don noted how many of us wearing purple and commented that it was Jay’s favorite color.

~ The audience response to what we thought was the end of “9 People’s Favorite Thing” (see photo of cast above and to the left) and after a forever ovation, the tag to their song--especially since [title of show] did eventually tie for Best Musical!

~ Scott Wichmann’s eloquent toast to his challenges of the past year and the new ones to come.

~ The concept of The People’s Choice Award: more Fundraising and FUN-raising.

~ 2 Men / 1 Dream - starring Jason Roop and Jack Lauterback and featuring caricatures of a few favorite Richmond directors and choreographers played by themselves. Side note: Frances Wessells was my choreographer for Youth on Stage in 1974. We toured the state; her life experience and wisdom made a profound impact on me. I realize now as I type that even then she was further along in her life than I am now in my own! Maybe I still have time to catch up.

I missed the grand promenade of the RTCC members from Artsies of old. I hope next year the powers-that-be will reinstate that segment so we can see all the critics standing together and applaud their efforts to put on this wonderful celebration of our theatre community, for bestowing nods and awards which stroke our egos, offer terrific marketing tools for the companies and individuals, most especially for supporting the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund - and of course providing a perfect “theatre prom” to don my purple sparkly dress, new rhinestone combs, and University of Richmond loan of my Big Mama necklace, courtesy of Heather Hogg.

The evening went by in a flash! My one suggestion might be to include phonetic spellings for the more unusual names to spare the presenters/hosts embarrassment. Oh, and also for the mics to be a bit louder or more well-placed--there were some presenters who were hard to hear. I mention this hint for presenters not used to hard copy scripts: perhaps they should consider either marking their cues with tabs OR carrying their scripts to follow along. (I guess that was three suggestions. Oh well, good things come in threes.)

I can hardly wait for next year.

Warmly,

Jackie Jones

Monday, October 31, 2011

Final Words of Wisdom & Friendship from Evan Nasteff

It's our farewell conversation with Evan Nasteff who plays Chris, son of the title character in Becky's New Car. Becky's continues to cruise at Barksdale's Hanover Tavern home, and will be delighting audiences through Nov 6. Pretty much everyone agrees that this is a Barksdale show you won't want to miss. And if you've never been out to the Tavern, this is a perfect introduction. The historic Tavern dates back to the 18th Century and the lifetimes of Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, but Becky's New Car couldn't be more fun and fresh. Don't miss it!

Q - Welcome back, Evan, for our third and final set of questions.

A - Fire away! I'm having fun.

Q - Okay. Lots of actor hopefuls say it's impossible to arrive new to the scene in Richmond and get cast in your first audition, and yet ... you did it. What's it been like to join the Barksdale family with this production? Will we be seeing more of you in the future?

A - I will be auditioning for as many shows as I can. Being in this play, with this awesome cast, and under the amazing direction of Billy Christopher Maupin...the experience has reignited me. As for the other part of your question, what I find appealing is how welcoming everyone in the whole community has been. In terms of our cast, I didn't know who Melissa Johnston Price was, even though she's in STYLE Weekly as one of Richmond's favorite actors. I didn't know Gordo or Dave or Daniel or Christine. I'd met Maggie because I saw her kick butt in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Dog Sees God, both directed by BC, on back-to-back nights; but I didn't really know her, or anybody. As I started to learn who these people were, and how incredible they are and how rife they are with professional theatre experience ... then I freaked out. But they were all so welcoming, so nice, that if they didn't have so many damn stories of past plays together, you'd think that they could be on their first show too.

All the new people I've met now in the theatre community, I'll shake their hand and say, "Hi, I'm Evan Nasteff, nice to meet you" and they'll say, "Oh, you're the one in Becky's New Car!" and I'm like, "How the hell did you know that?" Everybody's been so welcoming to me, and that's what's been so appealing. I was a complete outsider, scared out of my mind of these amazing actors, and now I'm a part of it and I get to act right alongside of them. And now that I'm friends with all of them, they don't impress me at all anymore. Kidding.

Q - What do you think is the message of Becky's New Car, if there is one? What does the play have to say to people in our age bracket?

A - Um, I think we all imagine that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, and that we all worry about becoming complacent and not achieving our goals and dreams; and, without spoiling anything, Becky's explores what MIGHT happen if someone decided to just hop over that fence really quick and just check shit out. Becky wonders if maybe she can attain greater things in life. I don't want to sound too corny, but Becky's message is that life is about the journey. It's not where you've been and where you're trying to get to, but it's the journey that matters, and we all find that out in this show. Hey, come to Becky's New Car! Dave Bridgewater will give you free beer! That's another message.

Q - Being new, you can see things from a fresh perspective. Do you have any constructive suggestions to offer to Barksdale or the Richmond theatre community in general?

A - Everybody seems to get along really well. I think. It just seems like everyone supports everybody else. All the different theatre companies go to see each other's shows. I met the artistic director from the Firehouse Theatre, Carol Piersol, on Opening Night of Becky's. And I read the great things Bruce said about going to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Firehouse, and I know he went out to the Mill too to see the Carter Family show. I guess I always thought the different theatre companies met in the streets and had West Side Story knife fights. That's what Maggie said in her interview, right?

Q - What does the future hold for Evan Nasteff? Any dreams you can share?

A - I'm moving to Hamburg, Germany! I'm going to go work at the Hollister store there. They have a Hollister in Germany. They speak English fluently in Hamburg, and the store is completely English-speaking! I need to brush up on my German, and by that I mean I need to LEARN German, but at least while I work I will have no communication barrier to break down. I've worked at Hollister in the past, and the opportunity arose and I decided to jump on it. I figured, if I didn't, I would regret it forever, plus Melissa Johnston Price told me I had to, so there wasn't really choice involved anyways. I'm going to give myself at least a year there, maybe more if I love it, which is likely, but as soon as I get back I'm going to dive right back into theatre and acting in general, so nobody get out of the pool while I'm gone, okay?

(Photo captions: top, middle and bottom - Evan the bartender with some of the beautiful women in his life.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Goodbye to "Becky" & "Kimberly"; Hello "Frog and Toad"

Posted by Bruce Miller
On Friday of this week, we'll open one of our two Broadway for the Holidays musicals, A Year with Frog and Toad, directed by Steve Perigard and choreographed by Leslie Owens Harrington. This is one of those times when we can shout out "Fun for the Whole Family" and really mean it. Please make plans today to treat your children and grandchildren to this joyous classic.

On Saturday evening, we will celebrate the final performance of Kimberly Akimbo, and on Sunday we'll bid a fond farewell to Becky's New Car. We hope you won't let either terrific show pass you by.
All week we'll be putting the final touches on our new lobby paint job at Willow Lawn. Many thanks to the terrific volunteers at Altria for choosing this as one of their community volunteer projects. After 15 years, our Willow Lawn lobby definitely needed a little sprucing up. In all sincerity, Altria, we couldn't have done it without you.

Olives on the Front Porch, our first Bifocals show of the season begins touring this week to senior centers and retirement living facilities throughout Greater Richmond. I'm so proud of the wonderful theatre artists who are pouring their hearts, souls and talents into this exceptional service initiative.

All told, we'll be presenting 68 live performances this week--our busiest week so far this season. Here's some of what's happening at your theatre.

Monday, Oct 31
FIELD Arts Project - 2 classes Chesterfield Co VA
Olives on the Front Porch - 3 pm Beth Sholom
Hugs and Kisses - 2 shows Westmoreland Co VA
Little Red Hen - 1 show Chesterfield Co VA
Sleepy Hollow - 2 shows Martinsville VA
Tales as Tall - 2 shows Harrisonburg VA

Tuesday, Nov 1
Kimberly Akimbo - 7 pm Theatre Gym
FIELD Arts Project - 1 class Henrico Co VA
Frog Prince - 2 shows Cedar Falls IA
Hugs and Kisses - 1 show Fairfax Co VA, 1 show Prince William Co VA
Sleepy Hollow - 1 show Louisa Co VA, 1 show Hanover Co VA
Snow White - 2 shows York Co VA
Tales as Tall - 1 show Halifax Co VA, 1 show Mecklenburg Co VA

Wednesday, Nov 2
FIELD Arts Project - 2 classes Chesterfield Co VA
Olives on the Front Porch - 1 pm Lifelong Learning
Frog Prince - 2 shows Oelwein IA
Hugs and Kisses - 1 show Prince William Co VA, 1 show Fauquier Co VA
Sleepy Hollow - 2 shows Accomack Co VA
Snow White - 2 shows Halifax Co VA
Tales as Tall - 2 shows Nottoway Co VA

Thursday, Nov 3
Becky's New Car - 8 pm Hanover Tavern
Kimberly Akimbo - 8 pm Theatre Gym
Olives on the Front Porch - 7:30 pm Cedarfield
Hugs and Kisses - 1 show Amherst Co VA, 1 show Bedford Co VA
Little Red Hen - 2 shows Vera Beach FL
Sleepy Hollow - 1 show Hanover Co VA
Snow White - 2 shows Richmond VA
Tales as Tall - 2 shows Chesterfield VA

Friday, Nov 4
A Year with Frog and Toad - 7 pm Willow Lawn (opening)
Becky's New Car - 8 pm Hanover Tavern
Kimberly Akimbo - 8 pm Theatre Gym
FIELD Arts Project - 2 classes Chesterfield Co VA
Olives on the Front Porch - 2:30 pm St. Francis
Hugs and Kisses - 2 shows Prince William Co VA
Little Red Hen - 1 show Lecanto FL
Sleepy Hollow - 1 show Loudoun Co VA
Snow White - 2 shows Halifax Co VA
Tales as Tall - 1 show Richmond VA, 1 show Chesterfield Co VA

Saturday, Nov 5
A Year with Frog and Toad - 2 pm and 7 pm Willow Lawn
Becky's New Car - 8 pm Hanover Tavern
Kimberly Akimbo - 8 pm Theatre Gym (closing)
Snow White - 1 show Dublin OH

Sunday, Nov 6
A Year with Frog and Toad - 2 pm Willow Lawn
Becky's New Car - 2 pm Hanover Tavern (closing)

Hope to see you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Evan Chews Fat on Tats & Tips to Attract 20-Somethings

We're back again with Evan Nasteff, the young but seasoned pro (college level) who is new to Richmond theatre but knockin' 'em dead nonetheless at every performance of Becky's New Car. So far our actor interviews have run veteran (Frank Creasy), 20/30-something (Maggie Roop), veteran (Jill Bari Steinberg), and 20-something (Evan Nasteff). Evan brings a youthful perspective and a lot of energy to the production. We're glad he was discovered by the director of Becky's, Billy Christopher Maupin. Becky's must close on Sunday, Nov 6. Now would be a GREAT time to call 282-2620 to buy tickets, or order tickets online at www.barksdalerichmond.org!

Q - Thanks again, Evan, for putting up with all the questions. This one's a bit cliche, but ... do you have any favorite moments or scenes in Becky's?

A - See, this is really tough. I knew you'd ask me this, but I'm still finding it hard to answer. There are so many amazing moments, and this thing is hilarious. If I had to pick one, I would say that there's a part at the end of the play where the mood is incredibly tense and somber, and Steve, played by Daniel Moore, is just completely oblivious to it. He's in his own world, talking about Pomegranate Spritzer and hiking, and it's just completely perfectly ridiculous and hysterical. When you're playing a character like that, you can't shy away from that obliviousness, and Daniel goes all the way. He gives an amazing performance, and I'm laughing in my head right now thinking about the way he says the line "Trail-friendly gorp."

Q - Bruce Miller and Phil Whiteway have been making it pretty clear that they're all about attracting younger audience members into the theatre. Becky's New Car has a lot to say, I think, to audience members of all generations. For me, it's good to look up on stage and see someone like you who's approximately my same age. Are you personally having any success convincing 20-somethings to come see you at the theatre, or do you think Barksdale in general is having any success, based on who you're seeing at Becky's New Car? Do you have any ideas on how to attract our demographic?

A - Um, it's hard. It's extremely difficult, and I know because I've been struggling with it every day. The people I've been trying to bring in are young, and some of them would rather go pay fourteen bucks to see Michael Bay blow some shit up in 3-D than see a quality theatre experience that would stick with them for a lifetime, you know? What would I do, or what should Barksdale be doing? Well, I guess I would advertise on some medium that young people are going to look at every day. We don't read the paper, we watch TV and check Facebook. STYLE Weekly is good, though: it's free, and free is pretty affordable to young people, and STYLE takes time to talk about and review theatre, which is great. That, and doing shows that young people might recognize or at least be intrigued about, like Spring Awakening, which Barksdale will be doing next summer.

Q - Are your co-workers and friends from the bar coming to see you in the show?

A - It's been tough because I've been having some issues getting some of my co-workers to come. With the Hookah staff, though, it's not an issue of wanting to come. They have all been very excited for me, and very supportive. The problem is that most of the shows fall on nights when they have to bartend, so it's been tough getting some of them out to the Tavern. Those who have come to the shows we've had on Wednesdays and/or Sundays have raved about it to their friends and the staff, so we'll see what happens here in the home stretch.

Q - One of the benefits of that towel scene--see, I'm just like that girl who talked to you on Opening and fixated on your few scantily clad moments--anyway, one of the benefits is you get a chance to show off your tattoos, which are cool I think. What are they and do they have any special meanings to you?

A - Well, I have four. On my left wrist is a Triforce, from Zelda. Yeah, a video game. It stands for Power, Wisdom, and Courage, and if you can be the master of all three parts, well, you're pretty much set. On my chest is a symbol from Super Mario Brothers. I know, I know...

My right arm is a scene of a young me and my grandfather. We're sitting on a bench near the Chesapeake Bay and he's teaching me how to play the harmonica. It's a beautiful scene of a beautiful memory, and I wanted to remind myself that, although he's gone, the lessons he taught me are not.

My left arm is a quote from "Strawberry Fields Forever" by The Beatles: "Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see." What I take from that quote is that it's easy to get through life unaware of your full potential, but it's something else entirely to open your eyes and fully realize your true capabilities. That, or Lennon was on a lot of acid. But it serves as a constant reminder to me to pursue success in things that matter to me-- like theatre-- and to be the best me I can be.

(Part 3 coming this weekend!)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Jill Bari Steinberg - Part III

After introducing you to Evan Nasteff yesterday, today we're back for Part 3 of our interview with Jill Bari Steinberg. I guess we're testing your ability to multi-task. I'd know for sure what we're doing but I'm too confused. Anyway, in case you need reminding, Jill Bari is appearing this weekend and next in Kimberly Akimbo, the quirky comedy that is attracting new fans every day. Kimberly is produced by Cadence Theatre Company in partnership with Barksdale's Theatre Gym. Following unanimously rave reviews, its final five performances are as follows: Saturday Oct 29 @ 8 pm, Tuesday Nov 1 @ 7 pm, Thursday Nov 3 @ 8 pm, Friday Nov 4 @ 8 pm, Saturday Nov 5 @ 8 pm. We hope you'll join us for the fun!

Q - Hi Jill Bari. We're glad to have you back. Sorry we had to bump Part 3 of your interview so we could sneak in a little promo for Becky's New Car?

A - Is that what that Evan the Bartender thing was all about?

Q - Well, sort of.

A - Yuuuch. (a Yiddish noise that sounds like a shoulder shrug) I did like his joke about the top hat. (deep, dirty chuckle)

Q - Anyway, Kimberly Akimbo concerns a dysfunctional family, and your character is a major part of the dysfunction. What does this family have to say to us? Why should we spend two hours with them?

A - “What dysfunction? I’m just trying to get to Miami . I don’t understand the question. Do you have a spare $20?” – That’s what Debra would say. I have yet to meet a family that was dysfunction-free. For that reason alone people should like this play. Either they will recognize themselves, recognize their family members, they will be happy they're not as crazy as the Levacos, or probably a little of all the above. Through the Levaco’s dysfunction there is a real positive message about living life.

Q - Speaking of living life, how did you meet Steve and how does he deal with your theatre habit?

A - I met Steve because of theatre. I was in a Firehouse show and the stage manager, Kathleen Boyle, had a birthday so we took her to a place she liked called Chuggers. I had never been there. Steve's band was playing a gig there and then we got married. It only took 8 years. As a musician he understands being an artist and has only ever supported me and encouraged me. He was even in Hedwig with me at the Firehouse. He was great!

Q - Barksdale strives to be a major national theatre. Does Richmond need a major national theatre, or would our community's artists and audiences be just as well served if all the theatres were of a smaller size?

A - I think the more theatre the better, that being said I do prefer quality over quantity, that being said many smaller theatres in Richmond put out great quality shows, that being said...oh, I don't know what I'm saying anymore. These questions are too hard.

It would be great if Barksdale was a major national theatre. They already are in my mind. And it would be great for our city if Barksdale gained even more national attention.

Q - All of us at Barksdale believe we benefit from constructive suggestions. If you could change one thing at Barksdale, what would it be?

A - A year ago I would have said please bring back Theatre Gym but that's what you just did! Now I wish only for calm seas and smooth sailing, financially speaking. And I know that's not easy.

Q - What's the weirdest audition experience you've ever had?

A - Years ago I was at an audition and I was in a packed room full of actors I didn't know. I read the scene and the director asked me to read it again. That was all he said – “Read it again." I don't like auditioning in front of crowds of other actors. Auditions are hard enough and that is a lot of pressure, especially in a room full of strangers. So I was already not feeling very confident and I had only been cast in two plays in Richmond at that point and didn't know a lot of people but I read it again anyway. The director looked at me and said loud enough so everyone could hear, "When I asked you to read it again I meant with more personality, not less." I must have looked like someone punched me in the gut. I just walked out. Now that I have been in this city so long I always make it a point to introduce myself to the new guys at the auditions if I can. I remember that feeling of being sort of an outsider and it sucked.

I have never had an experience like that since then and I never auditioned for that director again. But I hope he saw The Syringa Tree.

Coincidentally that was also the day I won a Phoebe Award for A View from The Bridge. After I left that horrible audition I ran into my friend Paul James in the lobby and he said “Congratulations, Jill Bari!” I looked at him like he had two heads and said “What do you mean, Congratulations? I was just humiliated in that audition!” He just smiled and said “You just won a Phoebe.”

It ended up being a pretty good day after all.

(Photo captions: top - hosting the first RTCC Awards, with Duke Lafoon and Vicki McLeod; middle - appearing in The Laramie Project with Theatre IV; bottom - her legendary performance in The Syringa Tree)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bartender to Barksdaler--The Secret Life of Evan Nasteff

We've decided to save Jill Bari 3 to sneak in another plug for the final two weekends of Becky's New Car. So today we begin our--is it too soon to say "traditional"?--three-part interview with Evan Nasteff, the attractive young bartender who's setting aside his martini shaker Thursdays through Sundays to stir up some mischief in BNC at Hanover Tavern. When you're strategically seeking to attract a younger audience--and yes, Barksdale is making steps in that direction--it's not stupid to recruit the talents of a guy like Evan. He's young, he's hip, he's tatooed, he's completely comfortable appearing in swimwear--and at the same time, he's clean cut, polite, smart, and would make a good impression if you took him home to meet your mother. In short, he has the potential to attract a younger crowd while also pleasing American theatre's more traditional ticket buyer. Not a bad skill set--behind a bar or onstage at Barksdale. Becky's New Car runs this weekend and next before driving away and into the sunset. Everyone loves this quirky, contemporary comedy. What's the matter with you? You haven't seen it even once!?

Q - Hi Evan. Thanks for agreeing to talk with us. You're a new face in professional theatre in Richmond! Welcome. Where was your previous acting experience?

A - I'm four years out of college and thrilled to be returning to the theatre scene. Becky's is the first professional play I auditioned for in Richmond, and it will not be the last. I acted in high school, and ended up as a theatre major at Hampden-Sydney College. Hampden-Sydney has a small theatre program. As a result, everyone involved in it is completely immersed and extremely passionate. I had the privilege of studying under the amazing wife-and-husband team of Shirley Kagan and Matt Dubroff. Together they run the theatre program at H-SC, and they take turns directing plays, demonstrating their unique and contrasting styles. Because they're so different in their approaches, but equal in passion, their shows always feel fresh.

Q - What were your favorite shows with Kagan and Dubroff?

A - Playing Buckingham in Shakespeare's Richard III, which Matt set in the modern era and re-titled K-R:III. We were flying on wires, shooting each other, and fighting in slow motion. Very cool. Acting in Rashoman, a sort of murder mystery classic adapted for Broadway by Faye and Michael Kanin from an even more classic Japanese film, the 1950 masterwork by Akira Kurosawa. The film in turn was adapted from two dark Japanese short stories by Ryƫnosuke Akutagawa. Just like many Japanese film classics, the story in the play--a murder mystery told from several different perspectives--starts out quietly, the storytelling is very subtle, and then everything slowly builds momentum. There was some incredible work done in that show.

I loved performing in Noises Off!, a farce to beat all farces--just about the funniest thing I've ever read, seen, or been a part of. Shirley pulled out all the stops and we crashed over, under and through the revolving set to packed houses every night. I also flipped out over every single second of playing Marc in Yasmina Reza's Art, and every nanosecond of working with the amazing people in that show. It was my thesis. Grant Mudge from Richmond Shakes came and reviewed me. I got an A! Fun was had.

Also, in Noises Off!, I got to have my pants systematically fall down every night exactly when I wanted them to. Gotta love that.

Q - You're a much-acclaimed bartender at Off the Hookah, or so I've been told by several of your fans. Do you find any similarities between your work behind the bar and your work on stage?

A - Actually, being a bartender has a lot in common with theatre. Whether you're grinding out crushed red pepper in fine dining or slinging vodka-cranberries at a nightclub, people come expecting some kind of show. It's my job to give them that show. In fine dining, paying customers at the bar expect to be provided for, and in most cases, engaged in some sort of conversation. At Off The Hookah, we have different actors playing different roles. We have machines, bartenders who dispense drinks as fast as humanly possible; we have the girls, the eye candy behind the bar who keep the guys coming in droves; and we have the circus, the bartenders that throw bottles way up in the air and breathe 151-proof fire. I fall in the "machine" category. I would say "eye candy," but I'm not sure a sparkling sequin glitter-bra would look very good on me.

Q - I don't know. In Becky's your character comes on stage for one scene wearing nothing but a towel. And no one in the audience complains. How do you feel being exploited as a hunk of man candy?

A - Oh shit. You know, I didn't even feel that way at all, and--I haven't told the cast this, I was going to save this story for our cast party. On Opening Night, we had a party afterwards in Hanover Tavern's tap room, and... well, there was an open bar. This cute girl comes up to me, and I had never seen her before, and she goes, "So what were you wearing under your towel?" Not, "Good job!" Not, "I'd like to discuss your political stance on withdrawal from Iraq," but, "So what were you wearing under your towel?" That's one of the few times when I sorta thought, oh, maybe they are using me as a steaming hunk of whatever-you-called-it. But, the way I see it, whatever sells tickets, man. Everyone who knows me knows that I really don't have any boundaries at all, and I'm not afraid of anything--except spiders-- so it isn't an issue for me.

So she says, "What were you wearing under your towel?" and I said, "A top hat."

(Coming Soon - Part 2. Photo captions: top right - promo shot for Becky's with Melissa Johnston Price, center left - at the Artsies with his new friend Audra Honaker, bottom right, on stage in Becky's New Car)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spielberg Dolls Up the Empire for Her 100th Birthday

Posted by Bruce Miller
We're gavotte-ing into rehearsals for My Fair Lady this week, the 100th Anniversary production of the historic Empire Theatre. Our fair (and historic) theatre opened on Christmas Day, 1911! The consensus among those in attendance seemed to be that last night's read through/sing through went incredibly well. Tonight Leslie has her first choreography rehearsal. I'm excited and scared to be underway. The Empire herself must be pretty excited too. Steven Spielberg and his actors will be filming inside our landmark performance hall soon. They've completely transformed the inside of the theatre--removing seats, leveling the floor, constructing a full, beautiful period set on stage. I'm not allowed to say much more than that. But what I can say is that the design team for this film, led in part by Richmond-based art director David Crank (who also works, when we're lucky, as a Barksdale designer), is extraordinarily talented. What a nice pre-centennial birthday tribute for the magnificent Empire. Spielberg is going to make her a star!

What better way to celebrate Halloween than by going to the theatre, where people wear costumes all year long! We have two treats running this weekend: Becky's New Car at the Tavern and Kimberly Akimbo (special Wednesday matinee tomorrow at 2) at Theatre Gym. Call 282-2620 for your tickets today! Also, the restored art deco marquee is going up on the Empire this week, and we're repainting the lobby at Willow Lawn (with help from Altria volunteers!). And, we're presenting 51 live performances. Here's some of what's happening at your theatre.

Monday, Oct 24
Frog Prince - 1 show Flint MI
Hugs and Kisses - 2 shows Richmond VA
Sleepy Hollow - 1 show Topeka KS
Tales as Tall - 2 shows Henrico Co VA

Tuesday, Oct 25
Hugs and Kisses - 2 shows Caroline Co VA
Little Red Hen - 1 show Spotsylvania Co VA
Snow White - 1 show Halifax Co VA
Tales as Tall - 2 shows Henrico Co VA

Wednesday, Oct 26
Kimberly Akimbo - 2 pm Theatre Gym
Frog Prince - 2 shows in Albemarle Co VA
Hugs and Kisses - 1 show Norfolk VA, 1 show Isle of Wight Co VA
Little Red Hen - 2 shows Rockbridge Co VA
Sleepy Hollow - 2 shows in Roscommon MI
Tales as Tall - 2 shows Henrico Co VA

Thursday, Oct 27
Becky's New Car - 8 pm Hanover Tavern
Frog Prince - 1 show Dinwiddie Co VA, 1 show Chesterfield Co VA
Hugs and Kisses - 2 shows Suffolk VA
Little Red Hen - 2 shows Chesterfield Co VA
Sleepy Hollow - 1 show Euclid OH
Snow White - 2 shows Louisa Co VA
Tales as Tall - 2 shows Henrico Co VA

Friday, Oct 28
Becky's New Car - 8 pm Hanover Tavern
FIELD Arts Project - 2 classes Henrico Co VA
Frog Prince - 2 shows Chesterfield Co VA
Hugs and Kisses - 2 shows Isle of Wight Co VA
Little Red Hen - 1 show Henrico Co VA, 1 show Richmond VA
Sleepy Hollow - 2 shows Fairfax Co VA
Snow White - 1 show Hanover Co VA, 1 show Richmond VA
Tales as Tall - 2 shows Henrico Co VA

Saturday, Oct 29
Becky's New Car - 8 pm Hanover Tavern
Kimberly Akimbo - 8 pm Theatre Gym
Snow White - 2 shows Phoebus VA

Sunday, Oct 30
Becky's New Car - 2 pm Hanover Tavern

Hope to see you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jill Bari/JB - Call Her Anything 'cept Late for Casting Call

We're back for another visit with Richmond favorite (and Theatre Gym veteran) Jill Bari Steinberg. From what I've observed, most of Jill Bari's friends call her "Jill Bari" ("Bari" being pronounced exactly the same as "Barry"), although JB also seems to be popular. At least one close friend consistently calls her Jill. Jill Bari is married to musician Steve Organ.
Q - Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us. Should I call you Jill Bari, or JB, or Jill?

A - Yes.

Q - Do you have a day job, other than acting?

A - I work at the Library of Virginia. It's wonderful being surrounded by history, genealogy, and so many books. It's also nice to see people research their own family records. Corrie Barton, Jacquie O'Connor and Dan Stackhouse also work there, so one of us is always promoting one Richmond production or another. There's a group of my co-workers that comes to see most of my shows, and that group seems to be growing, so that's nice. We all have to do what we can to build the Richmond audience.

Q - You've had the opportunity to play a great variety of characters. Does any one role stand out as being particularly challenging or invigorating?

A - There's something challenging about every role and every performance. Sometimes I feel good about my work, and sometimes I fail miserably, but there is always a lot to learn from every experience and from every person you get to work with. I think I've had the chance to work with and learn from the best directors in town--Anna (who's directing Kimberly), Steve, Keri, Bruce, Scotty, Bo, Rick (St Peter--I'm new and had to ask), to name a few. The role I'm currently playing is challenging and fun because she's crazy and grounded at the same time. Luckily, I'm not alone. I have Anna to guide me, and an amazing cast of actors to listen to on stage. With Irene Ziegler, Debra Wagoner, Richard Koch and Matt Mitchell by my side, performing the role of Aunt Debra is a real blast.

Q - What's the best thing about working with Anna Senechal Johnson?

A - She's positive and supportive and wicked smart. This production is her vision of this great material brought to life. It's not easy to tell a bunch of seasoned (ie: old) actors what to do, but Anna always knows what will work best for the play. She directs with equal parts listening, problem solving, kindness and skill.

One of my favorite Anna directing moments happened during rehearsals for My Children! My Africa! (mid-90s). There's a moment in the script when the character I was playing has a complete meltdown--she screams, cries and even collapses. At the time that seemed like the scariest thing in the world to me, so I tried convincing Anna that it would be a lot stronger moment if I held back and didn't go there. She didn't agree and said something like, "That's what that moment is all about, losing all your confidence and comfort and control. Use your fear. I know you can do it." What resulted was--for me--a real breakthrough and one of my favorite moments ever on stage. That is something cool that the best directors I've worked with all have in common--they have always said something along the lines of "This is something you can do." That confidence in you from someone you admire goes a long way.

Q - If you go just by the numbers, one could say that the majority of the Richmond mass audience attends only touring blockbusters like Wicked or The Lion King, touring shows at the Landmark. What would you say to these masses to encourage them to attend a locally produced production?

A - First I'd say, "Good for you! You went to the theatre! Didn't you love it?" Then I'd gently suggest that they're really missing out if that is all that they're seeing. If they love musicals, I'd tell them to go see whatever musical is currently playing at Barksdale or Theatre IV or Swift Creek, and suggest we talk about it afterward. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Putnam County Spelling Bee, Once on This Island, Joseph, Annie, Seussical, Urinetown, The Sound of Music--the list of truly great, splashy, locally produced musicals goes on and on, and all of them were better than any bus and truck show I've ever seen. We buy local produce and goods because they are just better. It's the same with theatre. Not that I'm biased or anything.

(Part 3 coming soon to a blog near you! Photo captions: as the daughter in On Golden Pond with Joe Inscoe, as the mother in Last Days of Judas Iscariot with Jesse Mattes, as the niece in How I Learned to Drive with Gordon Bass)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Theatre Gym Veteran JB Steinberg Discusses "Kimberly"

This week we're posting a three-part interview with Jill Bari Steinberg, one of Richmond's finest. JB is currently starring as the truly dysfunctional Aunt Debra in Kimberly Akimbo, by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay Abaire, running for two more weekends at Theatre Gym, the 81-seat studio theatre space in the historic Empire Theatre complex. Kimberly is directed by Anna Senechal Johnson, and produced by Cadence Theatre Company in partnership with Barksdale's Theatre Gym. Theatre Gym used to be the name of Theatre IV's initiative through which facilities and other services were shared free-of-charge with independent artists who wanted to co-produce outstanding, contemporary, provocative theatre. Today, Theatre Gym is the name of not only the initiative, but also the facility itself. The 81-seat studio space is no longer named The Little Theatre--it's now Theatre Gym. New signage will be coming soon! Jill Bari is practically a founder of Theatre Gym. The Barksdale Buzz was pleased to catch up with her to discuss present and past experiences.

Q - Thanks for talking with us, Ms. Steinberg. I'm told you grew up in Portsmouth. What brought you to our fair city?

A - I came to Richmond for VCU and stayed. My first professional Richmond production was Boys' Life, directed by Dan Ruth and produced by Keri Wormald. For a couple wonderful years Dan and Keri had a small stage company called Shadowcast Theatre Works. It was a great experience. The show was performed upstairs at what was then the Paradise Cafe-- now it's the deLux Diner & Lounge--one of the many Richmond theatre spaces that have come and gone.

Q - Has Richmond theatre changed that much over the years?

A - I think we have more theatre companies around now. That's a good thing in that it gives more people a chance to develop their craft.

Q - You've performed a lot in Theatre Gym. What's the experience like?

A - I love Theatre Gym because of its intimacy. In its early days, Theatre Gym provided a venue to a lot of actors and directors when not many other spaces were open to them, a way to produce something yourself to show the world what you had to offer. I feel like I grew up there in an artistic sense, having acted in My Children! My Africa!, How I Learned to Drive, Heathen Valley, The Cripple of Inishmaan, A Devil Inside, and the initial run of The Syringa Tree--as well as working behind the scenes on Jack and Jill and Raised in Captivity.

The intimacy of the space is great, but it also offers challenges. For some reason, people in the front row think it's OK to rest their feet on the stage. I guess it's nice that they're so comfortable there, but it drives me crazy. One night during The Syringa Tree, a gentleman's cell phone rang, which would have been bad enough but he decided to answer it, and then, while talking to his friend, he proceeded to walk across the stage to the actors' exit door. All 24 characters in my head wanted to scream at him. But I stayed cool, ignored him and continued the play.

One of my funniest moments on stage happened during A Devil Inside (pictured to the right). My character was dead after throwing herself under a moving train. Bill Blair and Bridget Gethins were playing a scene next to my decimated body. Bridget was supposed to shoot Bill at the end of the scene, and then he dies--I think just about everybody in that play died in the end. Anyway, Bridget goes to shoot Bill and the gun doesn't make a sound. So Bill grabbed his chest, started to collapse with a final death groan and haltingly shouted, "Oh! A silencer!!"

My poor little train-ravaged body started shaking with laughter and I couldn't stop. Since the audience was only three feet away, someone had to have noticed. Now if only I'd had that silencer when the guy with the cell phone walked across stage...

(To be continued... Photo captions: middle photo--Jill Bari with her husband Steve Organ; bottom photo--the cast of A Devil Inside: [back row, left to right] Steve Perigard, Bill Blair, Rick Brandt, [front row, left to right] Jill Bari Steinberg, Bridget Gethins, and an actress whose name Bruce can't remember, 'cause he doesn't think it's Donna Coghill but he might be wrong. Can someone help us please?])

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Empire Theatre's Design Firm Wins Top State Award

Posted by Phil Whiteway
Congratulations to our good friends at Commonwealth Architects. They have been selected to receive the 2011 T. David Fitz-Gibbon Award, the highest honor given by the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects. Commonwealth Architects is the firm we've contracted to design the restoration of the neo-classical and art deco facades of the historic Empire and Little Theatres, known jointly as the Empire Theatre Complex. Kjellstrom and Lee is managing the construction. The facade should be fully restored to its 1911 glory, as pictured above and to the right by Feb 2012.

The Fitz-Gibbon Award recognizes a Virginia firm that has consistently produced distinguished architecture during the preceeding decade. The award will be presented at the Virginia AIA's Visions for Architecture Gala, to take place at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on November 4. In his letter of nomination, Richard Sliwoski, director of the Virginia Dept. of General Services said, "Commonwealth Architects' ... philosophy of reinforcing communities by rehabilitating existing buildings and encouraging compatible infill development is their hallmark.

Robert "Bob" Mills, a founder of the firm in 1999, states that the Richmond-based company has built its practice around a mission of "rebuilding community." The three recent projects that helped to convince us that they were the right firm for our job included:
* the adaptive renovation of the historic Chamberlin Hotel at Fort Monroe into a continuous-care retirement community,
* the transformation of the historic Miller & Rhodes Department Store in downtown Richmond into a mixed-use project featuring condominiums and a Hilton Garden Inn, and
* the redesign and reuse of a historic locomotive manufacturing plant into Bowtie Cinema's Movieland at Boulevard Square.

Commonwealth Architects specializes in pedestrian-scaled, mixed-use urban infill architecture and adaptive use. Over the next decade, as we expand our historic Empire complex to include the property to the west, which we have purchased, and the two properties to the east, on which we hold a right of first refusal, we know that Commonwealth Architects is providing an excellent foundation upon which we can build our expansion.

Commonwealth is also highly experienced in the use of state and federal historic tax credits, a skill set that is now integral to all historic renovations. Investment tax credits can save owners like Theatre IV as much as one-third of a project's rehabilitation costs.

We're proud to know that we're partnering with such a distinguished firm as we continue to exercise appropriate stewardship of our historic treasure--the oldest major theatre in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

--Phil Whiteway

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tommy Mc, When Are Ya Comin' Back?

Posted by Bruce Miller
Our resident great guy, Tom McGranahan, showed up at work today. You just can't keep him away from the place. "I just wanted to see if any checks came in, so that I could get them to Tracy," he said. Tom does all the invoicing and check accepting for our playbill advertising. After determining that no checks had arrived, he headed home again. But all in all, I gotta say that he seemed no worse for the wear.

When I asked him if he remembered anything about passing out in the lobby, he confessed that three days of memory were completely wiped out. But he says he's looking forward to getting zapped by the gamma knife next week.

And he said to THANK EVERYONE for their cards and good wishes.

Gotta love that guy!

--Bruce Miller

"Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas" on Hardscrabble Knob

Posted by Phil Whiteway
We're pleased to announce the cast of Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas, our world premiere holiday musical at Hanover Tavern, running Nov 25 - Jan 8. Returning from our Smoke on the Mountain trilogy will be five beloved actor/musicians: Emily Cole, David Janeski, Drew Perkins, Aly Wepplo and Eric Williams, all members of Barksdale's version of the Sanders Family. Joining the fun for the first time will be Katrinah Lewis, Nick Shackleford and Anthony Smith.

Direction is by Anna Senechal Johnson, with music direction by Drew Perkins. The original script is by our artistic director, Bruce Craig Miller (he uses his middle name only as a playwright, to avoid confusion with another writer named Bruce Miller). The music is mostly traditional mountain music with English and Irish origins. All instruments (guitar, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, dulcimer, flute, piano, harp, bass, etc.) are played by members of the cast. Kelly Kennedy is offering assistance with music and choreography. Set design is by Terrie Powers, and costume design by Lynn West.

A Little Background - In 1912, a team of U.S. Forest Service employees headquartered at an inn named Mountain House, located about 20 miles outside Staunton. They walked, drove, rode on horseback, and surveyed the mountains and valleys of Virginia's Highland, Bath and Augusta Counties. Their work led to the 1913 purchase of more than 38,000 acres on and around Shenandoah Mountain--some of the first property to be acquired for the Shenandoah National Forest.

Connecting Mountain House with Hardscrabble Knob, the second highest peak on Shenandoah Mountain, a creek called Ramsey's Draft flows freely through these high Allegheny Mountains. From its headwaters of mountain springs at nearly 4,000 feet in elevation, the stream drains the wilderness's 6,500 acres. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps build a road that roughly followed the path of the draft, allowing Shenandoah Valley residents unique and previously unavailable access to Hardscrabble Knob.

On cold December evenings in the 20s and 30s, the mostly poor Appalachian residents who once owned this land would travel in horse drawn wagons, up the new rough road, toward Hardscrabble Knob. Before reaching the peak, they'd leave their wagons at road's end, and climb through a dense stand of old growth hemlock, giant trees that had begun as seedlings at about the time that Columbus was "discovering" America. At the rocky peak, they would join as a community to perform their treasured holiday traditions, sing and play their ancestral songs, and celebrate this Garden of Eden that their English, Irish, Scotch-Irish and German ancestors had settled in the 1700s.

Historian and writer Lella Smith, who's family has lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains since before the American revolution, writes that in the 1930s, two areas in the United States were acknowledged as sacred: the Four Corners area of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada; and the mountains surrounding the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Several peaks contained "dancing grounds, sacred places where paths crossed and people gathered to dance by moonlight."

Today, Mountain House is nothing but a wayside parking lot with picnic tables. The road constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps was washed away by Hurricane Camille in 1969. The majestic hemlocks have been devastated by an infestation of the wooly adelgid, and nearly all of the 500-year-old trees now have died.

In Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas, we'll venture back to December, 1938, to Hardscrabble Knob on Shenandoah Mountain (from which you can look east to the Blue Ridge), and revisit a merry night during the Great Depression when a group of warm-hearted Appalachians gathered in joy on a cold mountaintop to honor a sacred season and celebrate a magical land that was no longer theirs.

--Phil Whiteway

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Safely Back in NYC; Missing My New Family in RVA

Posted by Nick Ciavarella (pictured below at the RTCC Awards and in Lend Me a Tenor, with Chris Stewart)
It was a very strange feeling getting off the train from Richmond back into New York City and making my way to Brooklyn, where I reside. There was a faint recollection of arriving in New York 3 years ago, suitcase in hand, for the first time. It seemed unfamiliar and exciting. I’ve been away for 2 months for other gigs before and getting back to New York always felt like getting back to the grind, but this time was different. It occurred to me that despite the fact that I had spent a mere 9 weeks in Richmond, I still felt as though I had just uprooted myself to begin anew. How, after so short a time spent in one place, could I possibly have become so attached?

I wonder if you in the Richmond theatre community realize what you have. I felt like I had stumbled into the back door of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and noticed the Oompa Loompas going about their business and I kept wanting to ask them, “Do you realize this is the greatest place in the world to work??” (I hastily add that in no way am I implying that my Richmond friends remind me of Oompa Loompas. No twisting my words, anonymous talk-backers!)

Here is a place where actors can make a living as actors while being a part of a tight-knit community of other talented artists. Every time a friend from New York asked me how Richmond was, the word that I kept using was “anomaly.” If another theatre community exists like this anywhere else I certainly haven’t stumbled across it yet.

On Day 1, walking into my first rehearsal for Lend Me a Tenor, I was literally shaking with nerves. Everyone knew each other and had worked together numerous times and here I was feeling like I was walking into someone else’s family dinner with my plate in hand saying, “yeah, I’ll have the biggest piece."

No sooner did rehearsal start than I felt embraced by everybody in the room as if I were one of them. From that point forward I felt at home.

I was so fortunate to meet so many people (and still not enough) during my time in Richmond. People were consistently warm and welcoming. I never felt like an out of town actor, but instead like someone who had just moved to a friendly neighborhood.

Not that it was all peaches and cream. Let it be known that I survived a hurricane which knocked out my power for 8 days, an east coast earthquake, and I broke down not one but two company cars. The first one broke down when my parents were in town (and in the back seat), and the second one broke down somewhere outside of Staunton on the side of the road at night where I was sure Leatherface would pop out at any moment. (The conversation with vehicle fleet manager Gordon Bass went a little bit like this: “Hey Gordon, the van is making a funny noise so I took it to a mechanic who said that if I drive it any further the back wheel might actually pop off. What should I do?” “Oh those old vans are always making funny noises. Why don’t you see how far you can make it?")

The van was pronounced dead 5 miles later, and I spent the night in Waynesboro’s ironic Quality Inn. It’s funny now and it was honestly funny then because during both breakdowns I knew people were scrambling to save me, which they did. Leatherface never caught up with me.

Now I’m back in New York and I miss everything and everyone in Richmond already. The cast and creative team behind Lend Me a Tenor were all so beyond talented and a pleasure to work with and get to know. Everyone would get their own paragraph if I started thanking people directly so I will spare the readers. But I hope they all know how much they meant to me during my time and how much fun it was to have created such a successful and zany show with them.

I do, however, want to single out Bruce Miller who saw me in a Shakespearian tragedy and thought I might do well in a modern farce. Bruce gave me a chance and I couldn’t be more grateful.

I look forward to returning to what honestly now feels like my second home sometime soon. Until then, thanks to all who made my experience so rich and meaningful!

--Nick Ciavarella

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Confessions from the Queen of Paper Cuts

Posted by Annie Hulcher
What can you learn from stuffing envelopes?

I suspect anyone who has ever interned has asked himself or herself this very question. I was asking myself this question a few weeks ago, wondering what I could possibly gain from this besides multiple paper cuts.

I'll admit that after sitting in a classroom all day learning about calculus and reading Beowulf, it's nice to come to the welcoming environment of the Theatre IV offices and do something that is relatively mindless. I get to talk to the other volunteers I'm working with, or staff members who come and take a break from their own work and chat with me for a bit. Ultimately, doing this mindless work gives a girl time to think.

A major component of my mentorship course is writing a college style research paper on a topic related to what I'm doing “in the field." I've been thinking a lot about this recently, and the topic I keep coming back to is how technology is being utilized in the theatre community, specifically marketing and development.

The letters I was stuffing contained a plea to patrons to donate money so that Barksdale and Theatre IV can keep producing Broadway caliber shows, such as this past summer’s hit Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. As Bruce has stated in previous blog posts, Barksdale is taking steps to become a nationally recognized regional theatre, and they are well on their way. Obviously, without donations from patrons this wouldn’t be possible.

Any-who, while I was stuffing, I couldn’t believe so many trees were being killed when this could all be done via e-mail, facebook, or twitter. After discussing this with Barksdale's staff, I learned that right now, research indicates that approximately 44% of Barksdale's subscribers--the people most likely to contribute--don't actively communicate via email, much less twitter. I also learned that national research indicates that funding requests sent through the U. S. Postal Service initiate 72% of all contributions made in response to a written request. Only 28% of these contributions are made in response to email requests.

As each year goes by, more people respond to email, or give Barksdale their email addresses in the first place. Still, I am slowly becoming fascinated by how theatres around the world are reaching their widest base of patrons by using both snail mail and email. Barksdale in particular has patrons who have been committed to the theatre since the 50’s. Barksdale's job is to appeal not only to them, but also to budding theatre enthusiasts such as myself, and everyone in between.

Theatres today have to consider the demographics of their audience from all angles, including:

* what shows are selected each season,

* what language, images and media are used to market those shows,

* what creature comforts add most to the theatregoing experience, and

* what technologies and/or traditional dissemination methods can be used to reach all patrons.

What a perfect concept for my paper! Not only that, but how have theatres been making the transition from doing all of their marketing via mail, to incorporating e-mail, and now facebook, twitter, four square, and a variety of other social networks. Even this blog!

I will be doing extensive research over the next few months. Right now, it seems like a mix between the old and the new is the approach Barksdale/TIV is taking. I look forward to learning much, much more about this through observation and research.

And I thought I couldn’t learn anything from stuffing envelopes.

--Annie Hulcher

Yeah, But What Are You Doing for Me This Week?

Posted by Bruce Miller
Considering the theatre work week to be Monday through Sunday, last week ended with a bang, with Central Virginia's talented theatre artists taking home 12 of the 20 Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards for their work in Barksdale productions! Our favorite moment in this year's ceremonies was when our production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels tied with Triangle Players' production of [title of show]. You gotta love it when David and Goliath end in a draw...particularly if you're Goliath. Congratulations to all the nominees for their outstanding performances.

This week we begin rehearsals for our World Premiere of Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas, we open our first Bifocals production of the 2011-12 Season, Steven Spielberg and company move into our historic Empire Theatre, and we welcome Henley Street back to Willow Lawn for their annual Bootleg Shakespeare adventure--this year, a free showing of Troilus and Cressida! All told, we're offering 52 performances this week. Here's some of what's happening at your theatre.

Monday, Oct 17
Frog Prince - 2 shows York Co VA
Hugs and Kisses - 2 shows Cumberland Co VA
Little Red Hen - 1 show Culpeper Co VA

Tuesday, Oct 18
Hugs and Kisses - 1 shows Spotsylvania Co VA
Little Red Hen - 1 show Harrisonburg VA
Sleepy Hollow - 2 shows Belle Glade FL
Snow White - 1 show Halifax Co VA
Tales as Tall - 2 shows Chesterfield Co VA

Wednesday, Oct 19
Frog Prince - 3 shows Aurora IN
Hugs and Kisses - 1 show Richmond VA, 1 show Henrico Co VA
Little Red Hen - 1 shows Fairfax Co VA
Tales as Tall - 2 shows Henrico Co VA

Thursday, Oct 20
Becky's New Car - 8 pm Hanover Tavern
Kimberly Akimbo - 8 pm Theatre Gym
Olives on the Front Porch - 1 pm Willow Lawn lobby
Frog Prince - 3 shows Aurora IN
Hugs and Kisses - 2 shows Roanoke VA
Little Red Hen - 1 show Hanover Co VA
Sleepy Hollow - 1 show Chesterfield Co VA
Snow White - 2 shows Louisa Co VA
Tales as Tall - 2 shows Spotsylvania Co VA

Friday, Oct 21
Becky's New Car - 8 pm Hanover Tavern
Kimberly Akimbo - 8 pm Theatre Gym
Olives on the Front Porch - 1 pm Willow Lawn lobby
Hugs and Kisses - 2 shows Prince William Co VA
Little Red Hen - 3 shows Wayne Co NC
Snow White - 1 show Hanover Co VA, 1 show Richmond VA
Tales as Tall - 2 shows Chesterfield Co VA

Saturday, Oct 22
Becky's New Car - 8 pm Hanover Tavern
Kimberly Akimbo - 8 pm Theatre Gym
Bootleg Shakespeare: Troilus and Cressida - 7:30 pm Willow Lawn
Sleepy Hollow - 2 shows Troy OH
Snow White - 2 shows Phoebus VA

Sunday, Oct 23
Becky's New Car - 2 pm Hanover Tavern
Kimberly Akimbo - 7 pm Theatre Gym

Hope to see you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bootleg Shakespeare

Posted by James Ricks, Artistic Director, Henley Street Theatre
I’ve been invited by Barksdale to say a few words on the subject of the upcoming Bootleg Shakespeare Project to be performed for its third year at Barksdale Willow Lawn. Before I go into all that, I have to say that we at Henley Street Theatre are truly blessed to have such good friends at Barksdale to welcome us into their space and present something as special as an evening of free theatre to the community. It’s always an amazing experience and we couldn’t do it without 'em. Thanks again guys!

So...what is Bootleg Shakespeare?

Bootleg: v.tr/n - an audio and/or video recording of a performance that was not officially released by the artist, or under legal authority. The process of making and distributing such recordings is known as bootlegging.

This kind of production has taken various forms across the U.S. at some of the larger Shakespeare companies, but the term ‘Bootleg’ was coined by my good friends in Washington, DC at Taffety Punk Theatre who host their annual Bootleg Shakespeare at the Folger Theatre. Taffety Punk is a company comprised mostly of classically trained actors who froth at the mouth at the idea of taking on some of Shakespeare’s lesser known works and kicking it around in a free and friendly environment. That is exactly what the Bootleg shows are designed to do. I took part several years ago playing Henry in their production of Henry VIII and I can describe it as nothing less than a transformative and magical experience. It’s also the kind of theatre that I knew Richmond audiences would love.

Yes James, but you haven’t told us what it is yet…
Right, so here it is…

A cast of actors are given their roles 30 days before the day of the performance. Those actors are responsible for learning their lines on their own and assembling their own character, right down to all their props and costumes. On the day of the performance, this cast of lion-hearted actors meet at 7:30 am at Barksdale Theatre where we stage the show as thoroughly (and quickly) as we can. We repose for dinner and then mount the production at 7:30 pm, to a free and usually full house.

This project is awesome for three reasons:

1. The actors that take part in this project take their preparation quite seriously. Their primary direction from me during those 30 days of homework is to bring in strong choices. It’s only one night after all. Why just come in and recite lines? It’s always exciting to see what actors bring in.

2. These actors come into a performance environment where they don’t have the benefit of repetition and the comfort of getting familiar with those that are on stage with them. This can strike fear into the hearts of modern actors who are comfortable with a long rehearsal process. This project forces them to not only rely on their own devices and creativity, they also have to be hyper-aware of everything that’s going on around them within each moment. They don’t necessarily know what another actor is going to send their way. For me, it’s a perfect demonstration of what makes theatre magical: Actors that are truly living in the moment and listening to all the new stimulus around them, saying words with a freshness and vitality that feeds directly off the energy coming from their fellow actors.

3. The audience is complicit in this type of performance because they are aware of the rules of the exercise. They charge the air with their excitement and anticipation over any potential train-wreck. Interestingly, when a train wreck does occur, the audience rewards the actors with a kind of love you’d never see in a rehearsed production. Most importantly, they are even more energized by all the beautiful moments that actors find, even without the benefit of rehearsal. This energy creates a form of communication between actor and audience that is fearless and loving. I think that’s the kind of relationship we all strive for in life. To experience it on stage, even if for only a couple of hours, is pretty special. If you come to the show, you will see that this dynamic is palpable.

I kept the name ‘Bootleg Shakespeare’ because it lends itself to a feeling of illicitness and irreverence. This is not museum piece Shakespeare. While these actors are highly trained and come in tremendously prepared, there is a youthful, almost child-like approach to the work. Usually with the Bootlegs we produce the plays of Shakespeare that are not very well known. This prevents actors from falling back on their preconceptions of how it is ‘supposed to be done’. Rather, it gives them permission to dive into the deep end of the creative pool. As long as it tells the story, the actors are free to make as bold a choice as possible. It’s only one night after all – and it’s free. No worry of setting off some punctilious reviewer and no worry over the box-office take. It’s a celebration of theatre and it’s actor driven.

At the end of the night, we hope people are galvanized by the fact that they saw a play by Shakespeare they will likely never see, even at a professional Shakespeare company. They will see actors perform a production that is very often much better than many main stage productions, simply due the energy that can only be found at a ‘one-night-only’ performance. They will feel the playfulness that actors bring to the text, thereby giving them permission to listen and react in a way that they might not at a ‘proper’ production where they might feel more self-aware. And at the very end of the night, they will be introduced to the final member of the cast, Phil. Phil, the bucket. I don’t think I need to go into detail about Phil. But I will say that he is hungry to help us keep doing what we do.

I highly encourage you to come out and experience what is truly a memorable evening of theatre. It really is enormously fun, it’s full of great talent and hey, it costs you nothing to attend. What more could you ask for in this economy?

Here are the artists involved in this year’s production: Daryl Clark Philips, John Mincks, Zoe Speas, Foster Solomon, Joe Carlson, Liz Blake White, Kerry McGee, James Rees, Brendan Titley, Jeff Cole, Emma Mason, Ryan Bechard, Adam Mincks, Dean Knight, Matt Hackman, Zach Page, Stan Baranowski, Chris Yarbrough and Cynde Liffick.
Music by: Beggars of Life & Drawn a Blank

The performance is on October 22 at Barksdale’s Willow Lawn theatre. The box office opens at 6:00 pm where people can grab their tickets. There is a two ticket limit per person, so get there early!

There is a preshow performance in the lobby at 7:00 by Beggars of Life, where you can sit and enjoy the offerings of Barksdale’s bar.

For more information, check us out at:
HenleyStreetTheatre.org

Thanks for reading and thanks for supporting live theatre!

--James Ricks, Artistic Director – Henley Street Theatre

All photos courtesy of Henley Street Theatre