Monday, April 30, 2007

A Second Great Year at Ettrick Elementary

Many theatres are arts-for-art’s-sake organizations. Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV, from their inceptions, have been arts-for-the-community’s-sake organizations. Those who knew Muriel, Pete and Nancy often tell stories about their amazing community interactions. Having worked with Bruce and Phil for the last 15 years, I’ve learned first-hand that their commitment to community impacts every decision they make.

At B’dale and TIV, we spend hours working tirelessly to find new, often non-traditional ways to serve our region, and even more hours implementing those ideas. We strive to provide not only national-caliber mainstage productions, but also exemplary service initiatives that reach out to hundreds of thousands of Virginians who never make it inside the walls of our theatres.

Last week, Brad Tuggle (Assistant to the Managing Director) and I completed a 12-week stint at Ettrick Elementary in Chesterfield County. Audra Honaker and Jen Meharg will soon complete a sister program at Beulah Elementary. At Ettrick, Brad and I have been working with about 40 students who are part of the After School Achievement Program (ASAP). Created by Chesterfield County Public Schools, this excellent program gives students an opportunity for continued instructional support in a fun after-school setting. David Leath and Antoinette House head up the ASAP program at Ettrick, and both have done extraordinary work with their students. Our theatres have been privileged to be involved in this program for the past two years, and plans are now underway for year three.

As part of this program, Brad and I worked with students to create and produce four one acts dealing directly with Virginia Standards of Learning, reinforcing what the students are working on in school. For twelve weeks, we worked with students on basic principles of theatre: public speaking, blocking, costumes, props and, above all, self-confidence. Throughout this period we saw students come out of their shells and grow into assured and accomplished young people who braved getting up in front of their teachers, parents and fellow students to bring to life the social studies “facts” they’d been learning in class. The results were remarkable.

It’s of great importance to me to foster a new generation that appreciates theatre and the many roles that the arts play in our lives. Programs such as this certainly pave the way. Just as important, programs like this help to teach the 21st Century workplace skills that these students will need to succeed on the job in the years ahead.

On May 18th, our new friends from Ettrick will be our guests-of-honor at The Wizard of Oz, and we’ll treat them to an in-depth backstage tour. I hope this will reinforce the interest and excitement about the performing arts that they developed over our twelve weeks together. There’s nothing more important than that.

chase3a--Chase Kniffen
Special Projects Manager
Barksdale Theatre/Theatre IV

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Closing Thoughts on "Smoke on the Mountain"

Tonight was the closing performance of Smoke on the Mountain at Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern. It was a bittersweet time, I suppose. We had, after all, been working on the show since January (including rehearsals), so we definitely had a healthy run of (so I'm told) around 40 performances. Several Broadway productions have run for less than that (Carrie-the musical- officially ran for 5, not counting 16 preview performances, which still only comes up to 21).

But I suppose I'm not really feeling the humor tonight. Although there was lots of humor to be had and was had during the run of Smoke, onstage and off. If you happen to run into one of the cast members, be sure to ask them about Aunt Judy, a special figment of Julie Fulcher (Vera)'s brilliant mind.

Smoke on the Mountain, I think, is quite possibly the most fun I have ever had doing any show. The chemistry in this cast was sensational. Every single one was a delight. I do hope that the Sander's Family and Reverend Oglethorpe might emerge on a Richmond stage again someday not too far away. No matter where I am, I think the call to step back into Reverend Oglethorpe's shoes would be a temptation too alluring to pass up.

The love, comraderie, and joy that was shared on that stage each night is something that doesn't come with every show. Perhaps it's something that happens only once in a lifetime. I hope that's not true, but if it is, I'm glad I was there on that stage with Aly, Julie, Drew, David, Eric, and Emily. It's an experience that I will never forget.

A much-deserved "Thank you" goes out to director Bruce Miller for allowing the seven of us to be together on that stage 40 times and to stage manager Joseph Papa for holding it all together.

And that, dear readers, is my small love letter.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Tia James Continues to Soar

Great things are in the works for an amazing Richmond woman, and our community has every reason to celebrate. Tia James, who most recently appeared in Theatre IV’s mainstage production of Lyle, Lyle Crocodile and is working crew on The Wizard of Oz even as I type, has taken a major step forward in achieving her life’s dream.

Tia is someone to watch. Read on, and you'll find out why.

For those of you who don’t know her—yet—Tia is one of the nicest, most humble, giving and talented women you’ll ever meet. She graduated from VCU with a BFA in Theatre Performance, and VCU must be mighty proud.

While a student, she performed in Breath, Boom directed by Broadway veteran Michelle Shay, and Playboy of the West Indies and The Trial of One Shortsighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae, both directed by the late, great Marvin Sims.

VCU entered The Trial… into the American College Theatre Festival, and the production thereafter received rigorous professional scrutiny from regional adjudicators. In the ACTF, the nation is divided into eight regions; Richmond is in Region Four. After viewing all the productions submitted by colleges and universities in our part of the country, the adjudicators selected the approximately 300 actors with whom they were most impressed. These 300 were then nominated for the prestigious Irene Ryan Award. Tia was one of the 300 in Region Four.

At that point, Tia and her fellow nominees were asked to pick a scene partner and then perform a scene and a monologue for additional review. Out of the 300 couples, two were selected to represent the region at the Irene Ryan finals at the Kennedy Center. Tia and her partner, Aaron Holland, were one of the two couples selected to represent Region Four.

They went to the Kennedy Center for a week, took master classes and had a wonderful time. At the end of that week, there was a night of public performance, and the 16 finalist pairs from around the nation performed their scenes and monologues. Decisions were made immediately, and many awards were given. The last two awards were Best Partner, which was won by Aaron Holland, and, finally, the Irene Ryan Award for Best Actor. In this national competition, Tia won the Irene Ryan in 2003.

Since graduating from VCU in 2004, Tia has spent the last three years touring nationally with Theatre IV, and, this year, interning with our Richmond operations. Throughout the last several months, she has also concentrated on her next goal, which is to relocate to NYC. Along with 800 other actors, Tia has been working this year to gain admission to the three-year Graduate Acting Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, one of the top masters programs in the nation. Of the 800 applicants, 18 were admitted—the best of the best.

The entire staff at Barksdale and Theatre IV went nuts when, a couple weeks ago, Tia received the phone call saying that she was one of the eighteen. Best of all, they loved her so much that, in addition to her admission, she has been offered $18,000 per year in scholarship funds!

This blog entry would not be an accurate reflection of Tia if I did not immediately add, as she herself does repeatedly every time she admits to her many achievements, that she gives all thanks and credit to God.

Without taking anything away from that spiritual attribution, I give additional and enormous thanks and credit to Tia. She has worked incredibly hard and thanklessly throughout the time I’ve known her. She has kept her sights set on her dream. And, by sharing her talent and good will, she has contributed enormously to
Theatre IV, Barksdale Theatre and the audiences we serve.

We will miss Tia when she moves on next fall. But she'll always be part of the Barksdale / Theatre IV family. We CAN’T WAIT for the moment that we know is sure to come—the moment when we can turn to the rest of the country that will only be beginning to fall in love with her, and proudly say that we knew her when.

God speed, Tia. All of Richmond theatre is behind you 100%.

The Show Must Go On! Well ...

There’s a familiar slogan in our business that literally everyone knows and almost everyone subscribes to. “The show must go on!” This slogan is helpful when a performer or technician is feeling under the weather and needs an extra boost to rally the energy needed to perform. It also serves well when there is great sadness in the company or the world, and we need an injection of commitment and good will to fortify our hearts before we can bare them before an audience.

But there are instances, in my opinion, when the show must not go on if the more responsible decision is to delay an opening or cancel a particular performance.

Ticket holders, understandably, hate it when a performance is cancelled. They’ve gone to a lot of trouble to set up their schedules around a particular evening in the theatre, and then they’re asked to go back to their calendars to select a different date and plan their lives all over again. The decision to cancel a performance should always be a last resort.

So when is cancellation the best policy? I believe that a performance should be cancelled when the producer believes that:
A. doing the performance under existing circumstances would create an unsafe environment for either performer or audience member, and/or
B. the performance that could be mustered under existing circumstances falls significantly short of the artistic standards that the theatre has led the audience to expect.

This past weekend I made the tough decision to cancel the Friday student matinee and the Friday Opening Night of The Wizard of Oz at Theatre IV. As much as I am aware of and sorry for the inconvenience that the cancellation caused valued members of our audience, I still believe I made the right call.

Wizard is a huge show, and despite everyone’s best efforts, we simply weren’t ready. We faced technical difficulties that posed a significant threat to the physical safety of our cast and crew of approximately 70 theatre artists. We desperately needed several hours of additional rehearsal time to operate a show of this size safely, and the only way to get that rehearsal time was to postpone opening by one day.

Within 24 hours of my decision, our wonderful box office staff worked its hardest to personally contact every one of the 800 or so audience members affected. Most audience members were understanding; a few were furious.

The request I make of audience members is this. When informed by a reputable theatre that a particular performance has been cancelled, please know that the decision was not made lightly. And consider that being offered the opportunity to switch dates or accept a refund will always be preferable to seeing someone seriously injured on stage, or seeing a show that is simply no good because it isn’t ready to open.

When facing these difficult decisions (which I have to do once every 15 or so productions), I will always err on the side of safety and artistic quality. I think that’s the best way to serve our audience responsibly. Only when I know that the workplace is safe and that artistic standards are being respected and maintained will I insist that the show must go on.

The good news is that the extra rehearsals we had this morning and this evening for The Wizard of Oz made all the difference in the world. I'm now confident that we'll have a terrific show. And in the end, that's what everyone wants the most.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Staff Spotlight - Eric Thompson

Every couple of months we will be shining a spotlight on a staff member who really makes everything come together at Barksdale Theatre. Our first Staff Spotlight focuses on an amazing person you may not have seen on our stage, but someone who is nonetheless vital to making sure that you as an audience member get to see a first rate production.

ERIC THOMPSON, Master Electrician

As the Master Electrician for Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV, Eric is responsible for all electronics used during performances. That means maintaining and repairing equipment, and overseeing the hanging, connecting, gelling, focusing and safety chaining of all stage lighting fixtures.

One of the most interesting things about Eric is his background as an opera singer. Among the operas that he's performed in, his favorite is Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi. His dream opera is Le Villi by Puccini. We asked Eric how an opera singer ends up as a Master Electrician; his response- "Lighting is my second passion. And it helps to pay the bills."

Hopefully we’ll see Eric onstage soon, singing his lungs out.

Eric has been happily married for 14 years and has three beautiful children. As a final note, Eric says, "If you happen to be in the Newport News area check out Mitty’s Ristorante for a romantic and delicious night out."

*Information gathered by Catherine Dudley.

For more information on staff from Theatre IV go to

Hail and Farewell to

Our sold out production of Smoke on the Mountain closes this Saturday evening. I’m going to be sorry to see it go. Along with Brooklyn Boy at Barksdale Willow Lawn (another show that I loved), Smoke was our entry in this year’s Acts of Faith Festival. I couldn’t have had more fun directing (and watching) this small but heartwarming musical.

Every time you pick or direct a show, it says a little bit about you. I like what Smoke says about me. It connects two important parts of my life—my life as a theatre professional and my life as a person of faith.

I enjoy being an elder, liturgist and Sunday School teacher at Bon Air Presbyterian Church. But like many Presbyterians, I’m not particularly comfortable wearing my religion on my sleeve. To tell the truth, I’m feeling a little uncomfortable now writing this blog entry.

Religion is a personal thing to me; my faith is something I hold on to with a quiet humility. Smoke on the Mountain is not quiet, but it’s certainly humble. It takes place in a small Southern Baptist church in 1938. The central message of the play, to me, is Jesus’ teaching that we should love and accept each other rather than judge and exclude.

In Smoke, Eric Williams is really wonderful as a recovering alcoholic who has recently been released from prison. In Act II, he delivers a moving monologue about how Jesus shared the loaves and fishes with a multitude of men including unlikely congregants like himself. That monologue always chokes me up.

If there’s one thing I’m sure about in my faith journey, it’s this. God loves and extends his grace equally to all of us. Those Christians who choose to judge and shun rather than embrace their fellow men are missing the point.

Smoke was my breath of fresh air. I thank so much the wonderful cast: Emily Cole Bitz, Julie Fulcher, David Janeski, Billy Christopher Maupin, Drew Perkins, Aly Wepplo and Eric Williams. They lit up the stage every night with their open, loving hearts—and their great talents.

I thank our inspired designers: Bennett Fidlow, Heather Hogg, Terrie Powers and David Powers. Their church in the valley by the wildwood was a sanctuary of good will in these troubling times. More than once in the past couple of weeks have I recalled my favorite lyric from the show.

Soft as the voice of an angel breathing a lesson unheard
Hope with a gentle persuasion whispers a comforting word
Wait till the darkness is over, wait till the tempest is done
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow after the darkness is gone
Whispering hope, oh how welcome thy voice
Making my heart in it’s sorrow rejoice

I rejoice in Smoke on the Mountain. Thanks to artists and audiences alike for this opportunity.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Voice from the Past

I recently heard from Neil Lewis, who lived and worked at Barksdale in 1956 and 57, three and four years after our company's founding. Neil is the handsome young man holding the stringed instrument in this photo of the Barksdale founders from a 1957 issue of Living for Young Homemakers magazine.

In her 1984 book, Going On…Barksdale Theatre – The First 31 Years, our co-founder Muriel McAuley wrote about our stage company’s commune-like beginnings. “It was a hot bed of hot beds the next couple of years. Anyone anxious to work 18 hours a day without pay, to freeze in the winter and roast in the summer, was welcome. At various times, ‘Resident Members of the Company’ included Neil Lewis, Dorothy (“Midge”) Midgett, Sandy Wade, Arthur Burgess and Pat Pringle.” There’s also a previous mention of Miriam Simmons “moving in.”

Miriam Simmons and Sandy Wade are faithful audience members today, and we see them with some regularity. I’m delighted to have now heard also from Neil Lewis. He adds some more information about the notorious outdoor drama (To Rise One Day) that Barksdale attempted in 1957 for the 350th Anniversary of Jamestown. Here’s what he had to say.


Thanks for your note bringing me up to date on Barksdale and its people. It does seem like a long time ago.

A bit of musical trivia...the unusual instrument I'm holding in the Living photo was a guitarra Portugesa, similar to a mandolin and famous worldwide for its performance of April in Portugal a big instrumental hit in the 50's.

The outdoor drama (I remember referring to it as To Writhe One Day) was indeed a taxing debacle. One of my tasks was to do the makeup for our lone Indian, actually a British fellow who rode his bicycle to and from Hanover nightly.

My first performance of Tom's writing was in a radio drama commissioned by WTVR in which I played the manager of a ski resort. Tom got wind that Wilbur Havens, the producer, intended to pay him for a radio script and then film it for TV. Tom retaliated by setting several episodes down in a mine shaft with no light and several from atop the Eiffel Tower. The series was never aired. The compensation for this was $3.00 per episode. We would do 5 in an evening. Since I was purchasing my first car (a 1934 Dodge coupe with a rumble seat), Tom wrote me in for a word or 2 in a number of episodes in which my character was not really involved, as Havens was paying I think Tom did it just to tick him off.

During the excavation for the amphitheatre, Stu and I discovered what may have been a bone large enough to be from the age of dinosaurs. After some debate as to whether to call in experts we decided to rebury it and stay silent.

While I was a resident in the Tavern, I was doing a children's show on WRVA called Just Kids. We ran over 50 shows, but were programmed opposite the Mickey Mouse Club, and eventually succumbed.

I left the Richmond area for Arizona, returning East a few years later to work on a Masters in Communication at American University. In 1961 I moved to the Virgin Islands. I worked in radio until becoming an owner/operator of a Day sailing business.

My next trip to Richmond was to take my daughter to see RPI (by then, VCU) where she enrolled in a theater/dance program. She remained for a BS degree, then off to NYC for a career in wardrobe, several years in soap opera and ending on Broadway. She married and served as president of a dance company upstate for over 10 years, before moving with her family to New Zealand.

We visited Barksdale briefly and chatted with Nancy and Muriel.

I spent several years building a large wooden sailing schooner. When it sank some years later in Hurricane Marilyn, I used the insurance money to buy a hotel barge for luxury trips on the Canal Du Midi in the South of France. We sold the business after nine years and for the most part retired.

We currently split our time between our little village house in Le Midi and the Virgin Islands.

I have promised my wife to show her Richmond one day. Should I do so I'll let you know and perhaps I can give her a tour of the Barksdale she has heard so much about. At 73 one doesn't plan too far ahead.

I'll bet when you asked me to write and let you know what I've been doing, you didn't expect such a long ramble.


Neil Lewis”

It’s great to hear from Neil, and to have him confirm that an adventurous artistic spirit stays an adventurous artistic spirit. We wish him all the best, and will post for posterity any further recollections he sends our way. For any of you who want to learn more about the doomed amphitheatre production, I’ll reprint Muriel’s recollections in an upcoming blog entry.

If any of you other blog readers have Barksdale memories you’d like to share, please email them to me at

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Intimate" Earns Rave in Times-Dispatch

The first Intimate Apparel review is in, and everything’s coming up roses. Susan Haubenstock’s assessment appears in this morning’s Times-Dispatch (Sunday, April 15), and it begins as follows: “What an excellent synergy of writing, acting, directing and design is Barksdale’s Intimate Apparel, the Lynn Nottage drama that played off-Broadway in 2004 and won the 2004 Outer Critics Circle Award. With director Steve Perigard at the helm, Nottage’s carefully plotted tale is realized with perfectly tuned sensibility.”

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know how excited we at Barksdale are about Intimate Apparel. We’re excited because Intimate Apparel is a beautiful new play by Lynn Nottage, a playwright who is now establishing her place in the top tier of favorite playwright lists all around the country. This production is a Central Virginia premiere, and the latest product of the Women’s Theatre Project we kicked off in 2001. Through this project, we commit to the production of at least one work by a woman playwright each season. Intimate Apparel is beautifully plotted and written with a real reverence for character and language. It has been a delight to produce.

We’re excited because we have been able to recruit an exceptional cast. “Adanma Onyedike’s Esther is beautifully realized, lacking in self-possession at first but growing through her difficulties to become very much herself,” says Haubenstock. “There are wonderful discoveries in the performances of Tawnya Pettiford-Wates as Mrs. Dickson, Jennifer Massey as Mrs. Van Buren, and Katrinah Carol Lewis as Mayme. Andy Nagraj is touching as Mr. Marks, and every move of Chris Lindsay’s George is charged with feeling.”

We’re excited to have the chance to again experience the organic power of Steve Perigard’s sensitive direction, the full-flavored beauty of Kim Parkin’s handsome scenic design, the magnificent period costumes created by Sue Griffin, and the spellbinding lighting of Lynne Hartman. Paul Deiss has written a wonderful rag that is performed by Katrinah and Ida (the name by which everyone knows Adanma). It sounds like Scott Joplin reborn. And, as always, Amanda Durst has created an entire world with her dialect direction.

We’re trying to live up to the standard we have set for ourselves, a standard that is appropriate for Central Virginia’s leading professional theatre. I think Intimate Apparel is representative of the artistic growth we seek. I’m proud of our production.

For the full review go to: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"Intimate" Opening Wins Hearts and Minds

I just returned from the great Opening Night of Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage. Joining in the warm reception awarded the show were past and present Board leaders Ric and Rhona Arenstein, Roy Burgess, Phyllis and Paul Galanti, and Charlotte and Andy McCutcheon; Bifocals stalwarts Carlene and Tom Bass, Vaughan Gary, Lyde Longacre and Tom McGranahan; and audience member extraordinaire Essie Simms (a painful bout of sciatica was not about to keep her away from an Opening Night).

Also making merry were beloved volunteers Bob Boyd, Jean Hartley and Elizabeth Prevatt; loyal staff members Ford Flannagan, Jackie Gann, Lucas Hall, Russell Rowland, Wendy Vandergrift, Jennings Whiteway and Ginnie Willard; and alumna of our recent London/Paris trip Anne Ayer.

As always, several of our treasured actors were at the head of the line to welcome this terrific show to its new life in Richmond, including Robin Arthur, Tony Foley, Scott Melton, Robyn O’Neill, Stacey Reardon, Jill Bari Steinberg, Eddie Tavares, Erin Thomas and Robert Throckmorton. To whomever I’m leaving out, please forgive me. It’s late.

Director Steve Perigard, Stage Manager Chase Kniffen, Lighting Designer Lynne Hartman, and Light Op Lynwood Guyton all graciously accepted kudos as the audience waited for the actors to emerge from the dressing rooms and join the party. When they finally appeared, the six actors who comprise our remarkable cast (Adanma Onyedike [Ida to her friends], Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Jennifer Massey, Andy Nagraj, Katrinah Lewis and Chris Lindsay) were showered with justly deserved praise and affection.

I will leave it to others to critique the show, but suffice it to say that Phil Whiteway and I are very proud of the production and all of the talented artists involved. We’re looking forward to a long and glorious run of this beautiful and important new play. If you enjoy great theatre, this is one you won’t want to miss.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Five Women" Leaves You Laughing at Triangle

Posted by Bruce Miller

There’s another fun show in town that you may want to see. It’s called Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, and it’s produced by the Richmond Triangle Players. A large contingent of theatre types near and dear to Barksdale's heart (Brian Baez, Sherry Burgess, Jason Campbell, Dorothy Holland, David Janeski, Billy Christopher Maupin, Robyn O’Neill, Jeanie Rule, Janine Serresseque, Brad Tuggle, Aly Wepplo and I) went to cheer on our pals Noreen Barnes (director) and Monica Dionysiou, Stephanie Dray, Amanda Durst and Jenny Jones Hundley (cast) on their Opening Night. A good time was had by all.

Noreen Barnes did a beautiful job directing a script that is an early work by Alan Ball, who went on to write the screenplay for the Oscar-winning American Beauty and the much acclaimed HBO series, Six Feet Under. Under her steady hand, this early script rolls along from one laugh to the next. The cast is terrific. In addition to the wonderfully talented quartet of women mentioned above, Chandra Hopkins and Danny Devlin deliver enjoyable performances.

The five bridesmaid dresses by Leon Wiebers are all appropriately flouncy, and the plenteous laughs were balanced by a few dramatic turns that all worked well. Personally, I’ll never get enough of Stephanie Dray and Jenny Jones Hundley on stage, and they both have major roles in this show. It’s worth the price of admission just to hear a duet of their infectious laughs.

Triangle makes a huge contribution to Metro Richmond’s cultural life. If you ever wanted to know what it was like to be an American bridesmaid in the early 90s, this is the show for you. But move fast; it runs only through May 5.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Smokin' Pinch Hitter

The cast of Smoke on the Mountain had quite a twist last weekend when Marianne Minton came in to pinch hit for Emily Cole Bitz who plays Denise, one of the twins. She’s the girl. It’s kinda fun because Emily is the annual fund manager for Barksdale Theatre/Theatre IV, while Marianne is the annual fund manager for the Richmond Symphony! I mean, come on, does it get more Twilight Zone than that! (Pause for you to listen to the theme music in your head.)

Emily deserted…er…left for a time for Arizona, a trip planned long before Smoke. We did miss her terribly, but did have an absolutely fantastic time with Marianne in her short time with us. Below you can see how much fun Marianne was having with Reverend Oglethorpe (Billy-Christopher Maupin) in the dressing room (3 flights above the onstage action)!

Ruby Red Robbery

Posted by Russell Rowland

I enlisted the help of Gordon Bass to take us back to the turn of the century and the stolen slipper epidemic that swept the country in the subsequent years. Let's hope this sordid past is behind us forever. I warn you this is a first hand account and it may be disturbing to some readers.

"During the last run of The Wizard of Oz in 1999, we had very large slippers made of styrofoam, all decked out in red glitter and mounted and wired up on the top of the marquee. One morning, I arrived at the theatre to find that one of the shoes was missing! I could not believe that anyone would have the intestinal fortitude to pull off the theft of the symbol of one of the most popular movies of all times. I called the police and after some careful investagative work, they followed the glitter trail up the sidewalk and up to an apartment above the street. There, they found the pieces of the shoe and after talking to the college age occupants of the apartment, found the rest of the ruby slipper in the dumpster out back. We were able to piece it back together and back up it went. We could not have bought all the press that the theft got us! Something good out of something bad..."

Gordon Bass
Tour Manager
Theatre IV

ps. You can see the new ruby slippers in the previous blogs slideshow.
pps. For any further First Friday, Theatre IV, and sundry other Empire info check out our NEW THEATRE IV BLOG at

For info on the hoodlums who took the REAL slippers from the movie check out theses sights

--Russell Rowland

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

First Friday Fun at the Empire

You really missed out on something great if you weren’t braving the slight chill on Broad Street this past Friday for Theatre IV’s first time participation in the First Friday Artwalk. The event is held on the first Friday of each month, rain or shine. This unique cultural event showcases Richmond's thriving arts community, focusing on the diverse arts and cultural venues located along the Historic Broad Street Corridor. The Empire got dressed in it’s best for the event which featured The Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra, which resides in Richmond, Virginia, where members grow gourds, make instruments and create music. They really drew in the crowds with their unique sound and dramatic look. I was behind the bar serving up drinks with another familiar face to local theatre-goers, Eddie Tavares.

In front of house giving tours of the inside of the theatre was Catherine Dudley (who also designs the sites slideshows), explaining its history and taking care of our featured artist Robert Meganck, who had his wares on display and for sale. You may recognize his name as the award-winning illustrator of the last 2 seasons of Barksdale Theatre show posters. The Empire has come under the spell of The Wizard of Oz and has sprung 2 huge ruby red slippers on top of the marquee. If you haven’t driven by recently it’s really a cool sight. Let’s hope they remain here this time (see the ps). We were servin’ up some libations behind the full bar which spotlighted the Ruby Red Slipper Sipper in honor of the night. Unfortunately we won’t be able to participate in May’s Artwalk, but we are excited to be using the space for our huge production of The Wizard of Oz. We will be back in June stronger than ever with all new artists and performances. More to come on that next month. We hope to see you there.

ps. If you’re interested in what happened to the slippers back in the day look back here for a future post explaining their mysterious disappearance.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Meet the Cast of "Intimate Apparel"

During a recent focus group that was a part of our marketing research, I was surprised to hear a Broadway Under the Stars subscriber say that she always went to BUTS (that’s the acronym, sorry) and never to Barksdale because she liked knowing that “all the BUTS actors were on Broadway last week, and the Barksdale actors are local amateurs.” Her comment, of course, could not be further from the truth. Many of the BUTS tours featured not a single Broadway actor; many of them were non-Equity tours produced in Maryland. On the other hand, Barksdale’s Signature Season features many of our nation’s top professional talents, veterans of Broadway, Hollywood and America’s leading regional theatres.

The acting company of Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage is a perfect example. This wonderful show is up next in our Signature Season at Willow Lawn, and it features an amazingly talented cast of professional actors working at the top of their game. We’re proud to include each of them in our Barksdale family. Intimate Apparel is written by Lynn Nottage, one of the most popular playwrights working in our country today. It's the latest show in our Women's Theatre Project. Richmond theatre lovers of both genders would be crazy to miss it.

Adanma Onyedike plays the leading role of Esther. She last appeared at Barksdale in To Kill a Mockingbird. She is a brilliant actor at the beginning of her professional career; her performance in Intimate Apparel will uplift your heart. She is a member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the U.S.A. Adanma’s other stage credits include Luminosity at UVA, The Tempest with the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, Northstar Light with the Carpenter Science Theatre, and Tribute 9/11 with Sycamore Rouge. Adanma is now an MFA Theatre Pedagogy candidate at VCU, where she teaches Black Theatre. She also teaches at the Henrico High School Center for the Arts.

Chris Lindsay plays her love interest, George. Chris is making his Barksdale debut after just starring in the national tour of I Have a Dream – The Life and Times of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., produced by Theatre IV. Chris is also a member of AEA. Based in Florida, Chris played Valentine in Twelfth Night, the Apothecary in The Imaginary Invalid, and Shere Khan in The Jungle Book—all for the Orlando Shakespeare Festival.

Tawnya Pettiford-Wates is also making her Barksdale debut as Mrs. Dickson, but she brings to our stage the wealth of experience she has gained during a stellar international career. Dr. T, as she is known by her students, is the Head of Performance on the faculty of the VCU Theatre Department. She appeared on Broadway in For Colored Girls … before moving to the West Coast to appear on stage at Seattle Rep, the Intiman Theatre, and ACT, and on film in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Life or Something Like It with Angelina Jolie, and Under One Roof with James Earl Jones.

Jennifer Massey returns to Barksdale in the role of Mrs. Van Buren, after starring with us previously in Fifth of July and Light Up the Sky. Jennifer’s other regional stage credits include performances with The Alliance Theatre (Atlanta), Flat Rock Playhouse (NC), and for the new playwright’s project at Arena Stage (Washington D. C.). In Los Angeles, she appeared in numerous productions with the acclaimed Deaf West Theatre. Her extensive film and TV credits include The Wedding Crashers, One Tree Hill, The Practice, 7th Heaven, and Melrose Place. Since moving to Richmond, she has also appeared with the Firehouse Theatre Project in Dinner with Friends and The Secret of Madame Bonnard’s Bath.

Andy Nagraj is pleased to be playing the Jewish fabric merchant, Mr. Marks. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Professional School in Chicago, Andy has performed in concert in France, Italy, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and, most recently, Spain. Previous Virginia credits include one of the titular roles in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Theatre IV, Forever Plaid at Swift Creek Mill, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Virginia Shakespeare Festival in Williamsburg.

Last in this cast listing, but near and dear to our hearts, Katrinah Carol Lewis returns to Barksdale after starring as the Girl in our smash hit production of Crowns. A BFA performance grad from VCU, Katrinah also studied at the Levine School of Music in Washington, D. C. She was a featured soloist at the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain with the Children of the Gospel Mass Choir. With the same group, she sang at the Kennedy Center and at the Inauguration of President William Jefferson Clinton. This summer, she will be singing with Barksdale again in Into the Woods.

In an upcoming blog entry, I’ll discuss the non-actor members of our award-winning company of Intimate Apparel. Please support Barksdale Theatre and our wonderfully talented professional cast by buying your tickets today. You’ll be glad you did.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Mission of Barksdale Theatre

Everything we do at Barksdale is connected to our Mission. The Mission Statement that follows was adopted unanimously by Barksdale's Board of Trustees in 2002. It is built upon practices and principles established and sustained by Pete and Nancy Kilgore and Muriel McAuley during the first four decades of Barksdale's life.

It's important to put our Mission Statement out there from time to time so that everyone, including those of us who work here every day, can remember and reflect upon what we're all about. Mission Statements are designed to guide a theatre over the long haul--decades, not months or years. They are, by design, somewhat broad, allowing for each succeeding artistic and managing director team, and each succeeding Board of Trustees, to interpret and flesh out the mission as they see fit. They are designed to allow the theatre to adjust to changing times while maintaining it's core values.

Our particular Mission Statement includes three guiding principles that our Board felt so strongly about that they chose to include them in the Mission. Over the next few days, I'm going to add comments to this blog entry, attempting to identify and lend my interpretation to the eight commitments that the Board of Barksdale Theatre has made in our Mission Statement, commitments that I believe chart a course for Barksdale that is both unique and vital to the cultural life of our community, the Commonwealth and the nation. As always, your additional thoughts and comments are most appreciated.

Mission Statement of Barksdale Theatre
Founded in 1953, Barksdale Theatre presents in Central Virginia national caliber productions of the great dramas, comedies and musicals—past, present and future. With equal enthusiasm, we explore the classics, contemporary works and world premieres, always seeking to demonstrate the unique power of theatre to engage, enthrall, educate and inspire.

Barksdale is committed to artistic excellence and professionalism. We nurture and support outstanding local, regional and national artists, and pay them at professional standards.

Barksdale is committed to community. We connect with and continually seek to expand our audience through a wide array of innovative programs and initiatives that promote both access and inclusion.

Barksdale is committed to sound management. While remaining focused on the cherished ideals of our past, we seek to maintain the responsible and sustainable balance between artistic excellence and fiscal accountability that will enable our future.

Executive Summary

Barksdale Theatre presents in Central Virginia national caliber productions of the great dramas, comedies and musicals—past, present and future—with a special emphasis on establishing and maintaining close community connections.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Meet the Woman Behind "Intimate Apparel"

All of us at Barksdale are excited about the next play in our Signature Season at Willow Lawn, Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage. Introducing this beautiful new drama to the Richmond audience doesn't exactly make us trailblazers. Intimate Apparel was America’s most produced play in 2005-06. It won the American Theatre Critics New Play Award and was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize in 2004. And Nottage was first presented to Richmonders in Benny Sato Ambush’s lovely production of Crumbs from the Table of Joy at TheatreVirginia in 2001-02.

Nonetheless, Lynn Nottage is a brilliant, fresh and inviting voice in American theatre—a playwright whom Richmond theatre artists and audience members need to know. Last year, she was one of three women pictured and identified on the cover of American Theatre Magazine as America’s most impressive emerging female playwrights.

I’m told that Nottage rhymes with “cottage.” It’s revealing that when I first encountered this amazing African-American playwright, I mispronounced her name with a continental élan, guessing incorrectly that you put the emphasis on and softened the second syllable, rhyming it with the visual art term “collage.” It’s quite true that Nottage finds eloquence, poetry and zest in everyday lives. She explores the extraordinary exuberance of individuals who would otherwise almost certainly appear to be lost in the mundane. But I fear that what was revealed by my mispronunciation was not my enthusiasm for her joyous and poetic language or the acute sensitivity of her character studies. More likely it was the subconscious association I made between “African American woman playwright” and the exotic and rare.

Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun), Suzan-Lori Parks (Top Dog / Underdog) and Regina Taylor (Crowns) notwithstanding, African American woman playwrights are still struggling to find their well-deserved place in the front ranks of American arts and letters. In fact, women playwrights in general find themselves in a similar boat.

But here’s where Richmond can step forward with pride and say that Barksdale Theatre is ahead of the pack. Not only have we produced the plays of Hansberry, Parks, Taylor, and now Nottage, but we’ve included the works of women authors in every season since Barksdale and Theatre IV began working cooperatively in 2001. In fact, if you count our soon-to-be-announced seventh season (2007-08), the new Barksdale will have produced 14 plays and musicals written by women authors in half that many years. No other theatre in Virginia and few theatres nationally, can equal this record of commitment and inclusion.

Many if not most theatres produce seasons on a regular basis that include only works by male writers. In Barksdale’s ten years prior to the 2001 connection with Theatre IV, five of the ten were all male.

In 2001, we established our Women’s Theatre Project, committing ourselves to producing great plays by women authors. Many of our biggest hits have been produced as a part of this project: The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Crowns by Regina Taylor, Annie Get Your Gun co-authored by Dorothy Fields, The Exact Center of the Universe by Joan Vail Thorne, The Syringa Tree by Pamela Gien, and our current Hanover Tavern hit, Smoke on the Mountain by Connie Ray.

We’re very proud of Intimate Apparel, and in the next few weeks we’ll be discussing it in greater depth in these blog entries. I hope you’ll do yourself the favor of coming to see it. Until then, please help us spread the word about Barksdale’s Women’s Theatre Project, and read more about Lynn Nottage and her important work. You can find terrific interviews with the playwright at:

The Joint is Jumpin' at VCU's "Smokey Joe's"

I had the greatest time last night at the opening of Smokey Joe’s Café at TheatreVCU. Everywhere I turned I bumped into another longstanding friend (notice I no longer use the word “old”). David Leong (VCU theatre chair) and Patti D’Beck (director and choreographer extraordinaire) were practically bursting with pride as their talented students brought back to life the era of my very early youth (notice I use the words “very early”). David and Patti are two national theatre treasures whose abundant talent is surpassed only by their friendliness.

Patti’s clever and joyful direction and choreography showcased all of her young performers’ many strengths. The unending highlights included:
· You’re the Boss, featuring the stylish vocals of Gerron Atkinson and Joy Newsome—two dynamos who have everything it takes to perform this show on Broadway tomorrow;
· Ryan Murvin’s channeling of Elvis’s spirit in Jailhouse Rock, while avoiding an outright impersonation;
· the powerhouse and performance-savvy voices of Jaci Camden and Calvin McCollugh;
· the blond bombshell shimmy of Katie Bradley;
· the read-his-face-like-a-book attractiveness of Joshua Boone;
· the gentle giant tenor of Joshua Grace; and
· the knock-it-out-of-park determination of Margie Mills, even as her mic decides to take a break at the outset of her biggest number.
Be sure to catch this terrifically entertaining show during it's three-week run. Tickets are only $18—what a bargain for a first rate musical! Richmond’s theatre community is immeasurably enriched by the contributions of the great theatre programs at VCU and U of R, and more Richmonders should take advantage of these wonderful resources. When they produce a crowd-pleaser as rousing and beautifully performed as Smokey Joe's Cafe, you're crazy to miss it!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Special Hotel Rates in NYC

I received a lot of response regarding cheap hotels in NYC. Thanks.

One anonymous respondent passed on this offer, which I know nothing about but I’m happy to relay. If you’re interested, the offer apparently can be accessed through

The centrally-located Radisson Lexington in midtown Manhattan (near Rockefeller Center) is offering rooms at $135 to $179 per night, which is a great deal for NYC in the Spring. Travel is valid on select dates through July. Some sample travel dates and rates are:

Rooms at $135 per night – May 13, 28; June 17; July 2 – 4
Rooms at $143 per night – April 8
Rooms at $152 per night – June 24, July 5
Rooms at $161 per night – April 29
Rooms at $169 per night – June 10, July 1 and 6
Rooms at $179 per night – April 9, 15; May 6

Like I said, I know nothing about this, but you can check it out for yourself at Good luck!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Good Side of Being Big: Dan Ruth to Direct "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" for Firehouse

Working collaboratively, Barksdale and Theatre IV have an annual operating budget of about $5 million. To put that in perspective, we’re about the same size as the Richmond Symphony, and about two times bigger than the former TheatreVirginia in its prime. In fact, we’re the largest professional theatre in Virginia history, in terms of both annual audience and annual budget.

The downside of all this is workload. If you don’t count the two weeks a year when we take vacation, we have to raise $30,000 in contributions during each of the remaining 50 weeks. That’s what it takes to raise the $1,500,000 we need each year in order to meet budget.

Equally daunting, we have to sell $70,000 per week in tickets and tour shows in order to reach our earned revenue goal of $3,500,000 per year. Needless to say, it takes a lot of work on the part of a lot of people to meet these goals. For 32 years, my workload has been about 80 hours a week. That's the challenging side of working for a large and successful organization.

But being big is good in that it gives you artistic opportunities. For recent and current productions, we were able to spend what it takes to bring in the likes of Harrison White, Dave Winning and Jay Lustig for The Full Monty, Liz Mamana for The Constant Wife, Kathy Halenda and Amy Prothro for Mame, Drew Perkins for Smoke on the Mountain, and Dan Ruth for Brooklyn Boy.

When we bring these seasoned pros into town, it helps not only Barksdale Theatre and the particular shows in which they appear, it also helps the entire Richmond theatre community. Richmond’s finest theatre artists benefit from having the chance to work and network with talented professionals from outside our community. Nothing stunts artistic growth more than working in a closed environment.

And sometimes, the artists we bring to town are then able to work for other local theatres as well. As one example, Dan Ruth (pictured above with Joe Pabst in Brooklyn Boy) began directing The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife for Firehouse Theatre Project while he was still performing in Brooklyn Boy. Now that Brooklyn's over and Allergist's Wife rehearsals are in full swing, Dan is still living in the house of Barksdale staff member Bob Albertia, and Barksdale will still be paying for his transportation back to New York, once Allergist’s Wife opens.

It was great to be able to bring Dan back to Richmond this season, and to see his wonderful work again in Brooklyn Boy. It will be equally great to see his directing expertise back in play at Firehouse. Richmond will enjoy two artistic efforts from Dan while only paying once for his housing and transportation expenses. This double-header represents an efficient use of limited community resources, and an excellent example of cooperation among two Richmond theatres. We’re proud to be a part of it.

Theatre IV Alum Nabs Maytag Spokesman Gig

This may sound too good to be true--at least for Clay Jackson--but it is NOT an April Fools story. We have learned on good authority that Theatre IV alumnus Clay Jackson (Papa in the national tour of Hansel and Gretel, and Clement Moore in the national tour of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas) has been selected as the national spokesperson for Maytag. You know the Maytag Repairman--the one who's so lonely cause no one ever needs him--well, from this point forward, this national icon will be played by one of our own.
Clay is not one of those who toured with Theatre IV and then disappeared. He's kept in touch since. His wife, Janna, is chairing the children's activities section of our Fairy Tale Ball this year, just as she has for the last couple of years. So, in our mind, this "dream come true" could not have happened to a better guy. It's always GREAT when a hometown boy makes good!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Those Pesky Tricksters (A Small Tangent of Those Pesky Theatre Terms)

Yesterday being April Fool's Day, leads me to branch out a bit from our standard, enlightening "Theatre Terms Series" into a new realm, just briefly. (Have no fear; more theatre terms will be on the boards of the Barksdale Blog very soon.) But today: Tricksters! (And I promise there will be no mention of Equus...oops...I just did it...sigh).

Side note: I was very excited to see that Artistic Director Bruce Miller saw Spring Awakening recently. It really is a tremdous production. (John Gallagher, Jr. as Moriwitz) in Spring Awakening, who was a member of the stellar cast of David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole last season)

Speaking of Bruce Miller...and tricksters. These are your choices for today. Below you will find three pictures of infamous tricksters. Your task is to name each of them and submit to the blogmaster. Out of all the entries a winner will be drawn randomly and win...well...the joy of knowing that you knew all three and that somehow the universe aligned and your name was drawn! Isn't that terrific!!!

So! Here they are! Submit your answers by Friday, April 6!!!

Aren't they all so adorable! But don't be deceived!!!

(Especially by the brilliantly faux Strindberg season)

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Barksdale Plans All Strindberg Season for 07-08 - An April Fools Fantasy

Well, after typing quite a few blog entries (and not knowing if anyone was reading), I've now learned that, in fact, people are reading. They may not be reading the whole thing, but they're reading snippets, and, as we all know, snippets can get you in trouble. The following is the original text of my April Fools blog, which appeared on April 1 without benefit of any April Fools disclaimers in the headline or the opening paragraph. To make a long story short, people read snippets, believed every word, and I got in some hot water. So, read on at your own risk--or perhaps it's at my own risk--knowing that none of the following will appear in Barksdale's 07-08 season. Now as for 08-09 ... hmmm.
~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~

In celebration of the 100th Anniversary of The Ghost Sonata, one of the acclaimed plays that helped most to earn for August Strindberg the title "Father of Naturalism," I’m pleased to announce that Barksdale is planning an all-Strindberg season for 2007-08.

We will open in September with The Dance of Death, produced in association with the Sonya Bjornsen School of Dance. In this riveting drama, Edgar (the Captain) and his wife Alice live in a granite fortress on a desolate island. Bored and embittered, they torment each other with petty intrigues and well-worn accusations. When Kurt, an old friend and Alice’s cousin, arrives to visit, they draw him into their vicious marital games. The Dance of Death is often cited as the inspiration for Edward Albee’s masterwork, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. With this in mind, we will spotlight the connections between these great plays by having the students of the Sonya Bjornsen School appear as dying wolves in the titular dream ballet.

For our holiday offering, we are proud to present the world premiere of a new musical, Hello Julie!, adapted from Strindberg’s immortal Miss Julie, one of the greatest plays of modern drama. With an ebullient score by Gustaf Riksdag and book and lyrics by Carl Olof Reinfeldt-Klempt, Hello Julie! promises to be of interest to the international press. First published in 1888, Miss Julie shocked early reviewers with its frank portrayal of sexuality. Although it was privately produced in Copenhagen in 1889, the play was banned throughout much of Europe and was not produced in Sweden, Strindberg's native country, until 1906. Britain's ban on public performances of the play was not lifted until 1939. Strindberg's drama focuses on the downfall of the aristocratic Miss Julie, a misfit in her society (the author refers to her in his preface as a "man-hating half-woman"). Julie rebels against the restrictions placed on her as a woman and as a member of the upper-class. Her antics result in her social downfall, a loss of respect from her servants, and, ultimately, her suicide.

Songs include Put on Your Mourning Clothes, I Put My Knife in There, Before the Funeral Procession Passes By, and, of course, Hello Julie!

Just in time for Richmond’s Acts of Faith Festival, we will produce the 100th Anniversary production of The Ghost Sonata in January 2008. Strindberg creates a world in which ghosts walk in bright daylight, a beautiful woman is transformed into a mummy and lives in the closet, and the household cook sucks all the nourishment out of the food before she serves it to her masters. The play relates the adventures of a young student, who idealizes the lives of the inhabitants of a stylish apartment building in Stockholm. He makes the acquaintance of the mysterious Jakob Hummel, who helps him to find his way into the apartment, only to find that it is a nest of betrayal, sickness and vampirism. The world, the student learns, is hell and human beings must suffer to achieve salvation.

Faith discussions will follow all Thursday evening performances.

To herald the beginning of Spring, we will feature Strindberg’s seldom produced 1902 comedy, Swan Blood, a Swedish iteration of the classic tale of the ugly duckling, only in Strindberg’s version the duckling is vivisected by his fellow barn animals when he grows into a handsome swan. You’ll laugh yourself silly at the crazy goings-on in the land of the midnight sun.

Finally, providing a delightful cap to a delightful season, we will produce a second world premiere musical—Strindberg in the Park. Inspired by the famous quote from the 1982 film Tootsie, in which Dustin Hoffman’s character talks about playing “Strindberg in the Park,” this new musical will focus on an aging NYC actress who is actually a man but finds career success, finally, reading aloud the complete works of Strindberg to the addicts in Needle Park.

To reserve your season tickets today, call the Barksdale Box Office at 1 (277) 453-6657, that’s 1 (APR) ILF-OOLS! By all means, as Danny Newman would say, SUBSCRIBE NOW!