Saturday, May 26, 2007

Shalom from Israel

Posted by Billy Christopher Maupin

I sit here on Saturday night in Tel Aviv, Israel. It is my last night in this country halfway across the world. It has been a very interesting month. I've learned a lot about Israel and well...many other things that have nothing to do with the purpose of this blog. So I will plow forth since I promised that I would blog about theatre in Israel while here.

I've also attempted the read the complete works of Aristophanes while here, but I got these really bad translations called "The New Translations," so I haven't even made it through one. Perhaps someday. I've been fairly successful with learning my lines for the new musical that I start rehearsing at the Firehouse upon my return to Richmond.

Theatre and arts here are really thriving. At first, I found it to be very similar to New York City, but without the frenetic tendencies. Things seem to be much more relaxed here.

The Theatre

I've seen four shows while here this month in Israel--all four in Hebrew, two of which I read in English translation. Watching the other two, I had NO CLUE what was going on other than what my partner was translating by whispering in my ear on occasion during the performance.

The first show I was is called The Timekeepers. It's by Dan Clancy and had a limited run last year Off-Broadway. I lucked out, since the young woman we were subletting the apartment from was a director at one of the "fringe theatres" in Tel Aviv. So I got to see this show for 5 shekels. (That's about $1.25!!!) $1.25 for a fantastic production.

The Timekeepers takes place in a concentration camp during WWII. There's a straight Jewish man and a homosexual. The Jewish man works on watches; the homosexual claims to work on watches as well, so he won't go directly to the gas chambers. It seems somewhat similar to The Kiss of The Spider Woman by Manuel Puig ( I know the play more so than the novel, the movie, or the musical [which starred Chita Rivera in the title role and later Vanessa Williams, which merited a new cast recording...umm...ok?]). Except that in Spider Woman, the straight man and the gay man become lovers at the end; it's really such a beautiful play.

Here, however, they bond over their love of opera (yes, the Jewish man really is straight) and become strong friends. It's a very touching piece. When I was talking to the director about it reminding me of Spider Woman, she pointed out that there's now almost a genre of plays, including Bent by Martin Sherman, which I find to be a not-quite-good play. Again, I found it interesting to see this in Israel, but it is a fringe theatre and Lee (the director/landlady) did point out that just like in the States, they wish there would be more fringe theatres, but there's not the audience to support them. And, just like in the States, it made me sad.

Something very exciting that I learned about theatre in Israel, though, is that more people go to the theatre than go to soccer games. That would be like more Americans going to the theatre than to baseball games!!! How cool is that!

The next show that I saw was Minchausen. There are these Israeli stories about this guy who told these crazy stories, such as discovering the 32nd of May! These stories are like Babar the Elephant or Peter Cottontail. So someone decided to write a play about this guy and his attempt to divorce his wife to marry the young girl he's in love with.

Sounds like a great idea, huh? Yes! But not so much in the execution of the show. Granted, this is one of the two that I hadn't been able to get a translation of since it's an Israeli play and not yet translated into English. I did get a little excited at the beginning though because the play had Russian! This theatre (one of the Broadway-equivalent theatres) was started by Russian Jewish immigrants. I'm told that it wasn't just the language barrier that made me think it wasn't a very good script. It just wasn't. The leading actor, though, pictured on the right, was fantastic! He's a big star of stage and screen. Many of the big actors in Israel are crossovers, much like several in the U.S. and Britain (Judi Dench, Ian McKellan, Liev Schreiber, Kevin Spacey, Julia Roberts...ouch...wait a minute). The woman playing his wife was also really incredible. Very funny! Her comedic timing would have felt right at home in the States. The actress playing the girl he was trying to marry, on the other hand, (seen in the middle) seemed like she was playing Ophelia or Antigone. "Honey, you're in a comedy for Pete's sake!" I wanted to tell her. So overall, not the hit of the season, but some fine acting from a few people.

Here, I will note that 'night, Mother by Marsha Norman is one of my favorite plays--a really fantastic Pulitzer Prize-winning piece from 1983, recently revived on Broadway with Brenda Blethyn and Edie Falco (the original starred Kathy Bates; the movie features Anne Bancroft and Sissy Spacek). I was thrilled to see that there was a production playing with English subtitles at another of the Broadway-equivalent theatres. But I got the dates confused and missed it. Heartbroken. It doesn't play anytime within the next two months. (Everything runs in repertory here in Tel Aviv.)

Then I saw another play directed by Lee Gilat (our landlady). In the original British version, the play is called The Boys of Summer, but because that has connotations in English that it doesn't carry in Hebrew, the adaptation is called The Little Green Monkey Club.

It's a comedy that takes place in a hospice about four guys with AIDS. It was one of the first successful plays to deal with the subject and one of the only ones to do so as a comedy. Great play, two of the same actors from The Timekeepers, some really fantastic actors in this production.

This brings me to the final play that I saw, just two days ago, Thursday night, another of the Broadway-caliber theatres. This play was written and directed by my friend Ravid Davara.
Crumbs by Ravid Davara was by far the most unique piece I saw the month I was in Israel. The plot involves two sisters, Carmella and Frida (played by one of the most breathtakingly brilliant actresses I've ever seen) who run a bakery and a coffee shop, respectively, and their husbands, Aharon and Aleeko.

"A story of two sisters, Carmela and Frida, drifted apart because of an old dark family secret. Carmela, the older one, a bakery manager widow, is trying to get close to Frida, the latter does not reciprocate, solely focused on her hopes to see her son returning from his long trip to the Far East. Frida's husband, who is concerned for his wife but also for Carmela, wishes to revive the link between the sisters. Frida continues to wait for the return of her disappearing son, while the mystery around his disappearance is slowly revealed. Carmella, whose husband's death is also shrouded in mystery, is slowly collapsing under the weight of her guilt, trying to get closer to her sister, begging for forgiveness." Aharon, Carmela's husband is dead, but she still sees him and talks to him. He appears by "walking through the wall," the stage direction in the script indicates.

Ravid has melded together realism and absurdism. Carmela bakes loaves and loaves of her late husband's bread recipe and stacks them in the bakery. Sometimes she climbs up the stacks of these loaves to reach him and once collapses and lies on them. She also gifts Frida constantly with chocolate bunnies, which Frida doesn't eat, but rather uses to fill the shelves of the coffee shop.

So that's my experience with theatre in Israel. I'm very ready to be back working on theatre myself. There are so many wonderful things in Israel! So much history! And some incredible theatre! Now if only we could have more Americans going to the theatre than baseball games!!!

--Billy Christopher Maupin

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

From Over the Rainbow to An Nasiriyah

As Wizard 2007 closes, we are honored to hear from Corporal P.
J. Whiteway IV, who played a Munchkin 17 years ago in Wizard 1990, and is now serving in Iraq with the Virginia National Guard, A Company, 116th BSTB, out of Fredericksburg. P. J. was deployed in March of this year, and will be spending at least a year in service to his country. P. J. is the eldest son of Phil Whiteway, our Managing Director, and the brother of Jennings Whiteway, our Special Events, Access and Food Services Manager. I hope we'll all continue to keep P. J. and all of the men and women in Iraq in our thoughts and prayers.

May 22, 2007

Dear Barksdale Blog Readers,

Bruce invited me to write a few words from Iraq. He said the Barksdale Buzz, which I keep up with here on base, wants to receive letters from members of the Barksdale/Theatre IV family who are now working in other cities. Well, I guess you can't get much more “other” than here. I'm writing from Camp Cedar II in Taleel, Iraq, just a little ways outside of An Nasiriyah.

Originally I had hand written a letter, but I missed the send out date because I was working. It takes longer to send things out of base than it does to receive them. We can only send out on Monday and Friday, and we receive mail on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

My squad’s schedule and my job assignments are constantly changing. Last month we were tasked out to provide a quick reaction force to anything that might interrupt base security around the perimeter. Basically my squad of 14 was on standby for 24 hours waiting for a call over the radio to go and do something. We were equipped with 3 up-armored (equipped with heavy armor) hummvees, and we would often have to escort another humvee with VIPs to another nearby base (Taleel—Camp Adder). Sometimes we would actually have to go and chase off a herd of animals or Bedouins who lived in the area but were getting too close to the wire.

This month my squad is in charge of maintaining security and running the main entrance of the base. This involves checking IDs of incoming convoy drivers, sending them through an x-ray machine, and often searching the insides of their vehicles and the personnel inside them. These convoys are escorted by other military unit vehicles and they are usually just passing through our base—we are the largest refueling point in southern Iraq. We have upwards of 700-800 vehicles (semi trucks) coming in and often out throughout the course of a day. Sounds exciting, but it really just stirs up a lot of dust. We also have to deal with important local nationals coming to the front gate on foot ( i.e. a sheik of a local tribe who needs to meet with a commander).
The shifts are 12 hours long and are from midnight to noon for 2 days in a row and then we have a 24 hour break. Then the next two days we work noon to midnight and have 48 hours off. We have three squads that rotate on this schedule, thereby covering every hour of the day to allow us to maintain the security at the front entrance. The long hours are sometimes exciting but more often boring. We have to wear all 50 lbs of our body armor any time we are on duty, along with gloves and protective eye wear. And all you guys in Wizard thought the flying monkey and Winkie costumes were hot and sweaty.

I'm sure you can imagine that it gets hot here. How hot?? I measured a temp of 111 the other day in the shade, and it's very dry heat, not like VA—and windy too, so it feels like you’re standing in front of a huge hot blow dryer most of the day.

Time off is a great thing here…though you’re not actually "off" per se. At anytime you can be called on to go help out and fill in the blanks of any one of the many activities that are being completed around the base. Whether its re-dispatching humvees or filling sandbags or moving equipment, there is always something extra to be done at the last minute.

When I actually get a full day off, I spend my time cooling off in the 12 x 12 room that I share with my roommate, or I walk up to the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center). That’s where we can access the internet and phones, or work out in the gym. The place is usually pretty packed so you have to wait in line to get to a phone or computer.
Thanks to all of you who are remembering me and the rest of the troops and wishing us well. It means a lot to have people back home thinking about you. We all love to keep in touch with folks back home. It’s the best way to keep our minds away from dusty Iraq.

Hope this reaches you all soon and I hope that everyone has a great summer! And if you go to the beach, ride a wave for all of us guys too.

CPL P.J. Whiteway

If you would like to contact CPL Whiteway, you can reach him at:

CPL Whiteway, P.J.
A/116th BSTB
Cedar II

APO AE 09331

Photo captions: The top two photos are P. J. now and then. The photo of the camels was taken by P. J. just outside of his base. In the photo of the six soldiers in P. J.'s unit, P. J. stands to the left. The bottom shot from Wizard 1990 includes Donna Whiteway (P. J.'s mom, who played Glenda), P. J. himself, Jennings Whiteway (P. J.'s sister and fellow Munchkin); and Phil Whiteway III (P. J.'s dad, who played the Tin Man).

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Where Are They Now? - Michael Cole

Michael Cole was one of the truly great guys of Richmond theatre, and remains a good friend today to a great many who are still singing and dancing in the Virginia trenches. He has moved onward and upward to some pretty exciting places, and we're proud of him. The following is an article that was written about Michael by Holly Timberline for Richmond Marquee Magazine ( Holly has granted permission to post it on the Barksdale Buzz.

I Don't Think We're in Oregon Anymore
An Update on Michael Cole
by Holly Timberline

If you were a local theatregoer 15 years ago, then you saw Michael Cole onstage. During his decade in Richmond, he performed with every major theatre company in town. With his sturdy tenor voice, blonde good looks and perpetually cheerful nature, he enchanted people around him, whether he was onstage or off.

Michael grew up in Oregon and found his way to Richmond in the 80s. He moved to New York in 1993, looking for bigger acting fish to fry. What he found was a career working for someone he had long admired: composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz—the man responsible for Wicked, Pippin, Godspell, etc.

RM reached Michael on his cell phone on a recent afternoon, in the middle of his workday. He took a break to answer some questions about his busy, happy life:

How did you become Stephen Schwartz’s assistant?

When Michael got to NYC, he landed an apartment right above Schwartz’s studio. One day, Schwartz complained that the cleaning service he used was no good. The industrious—and hungry—Michael offered his services. "I started out cleaning his apartment for $50 a week," he says. At some point, Schwartz asked Michael to type a letter for him, and it grew from there. "Basically, every time Stephen offered me a chance to take on more responsibility, I said yes." Michael became Schwartz’s full-time assistant about 8 years ago.

What kinds of things do you do?

"One thing I like about the job is that it’s different from one day to the next," says Michael. Schwartz had a presence on the web before Wicked, but the volume of email he receives has expanded dramatically since the show opened in 2003. Schwartz likes the interaction with fans, and the sense that there is an actual relationship there, Michael explains, and he really takes time to respond to questions. Except when he’s too busy, which is where Michael comes in. "I manage a lot of e-mail!" he says. "All of the email comes to me first and then I deal with what I can and forward fan letters and the rest to Stephen.”

One task that falls to Michael is to keep an eye out for people who want a little too much time or attention from Schwartz. "Stephen's fans are terrific," he says, "but of course, some are, well, fanatical. I've learned to recognize this type of personality and have learned to give the potentially demanding ones just enough to make them happy."

What’s going on at work today?

Schwartz is currently writing an opera, a musical adaptation of a 1965 British film, Séance on a Wet Afternoon. It isn’t scheduled to open until spring of 2009, but Schwartz is letting people sample the goods here and there. "Today the singer who is creating the lead role is coming in to sing through some of the music. I can't tell you who she is, but she is an internationally acclaimed opera star. How cool is that?"

Does working for a "celebrity client" come with any sorts of wacky requests? Do you have to find dancing pigs for his kids’ birthday parties or anything like that?

"Well, he’s pretty normal," Michael says with a laugh. "He doesn’t send me off on crazy errands like that." Still, Michael’s role when Schwartz gets a trim may seem a little unusual: "He had a hairdresser he really liked," Michael says, "and she used to be in Manhattan, but now she lives in New Jersey. So sometimes when he needs his hair cut, Stephen has me pick him up at his home in Connecticut, drive him to New Jersey for his haircut, then take him to New York City when it’s over." Even a tri-state haircut is enjoyable for Michael, who says, "I like it because he’s captive in my car!"

What kinds of assignments are difficult?

"I don’t always fully understand the intricacies of how it all works with royalties, publishers, percentages, international rates... I have a pretty good handle on it, but when he asks me to do research on it, it’s challenging." Another less-than-favorite task is to return calls to people "who will talk forever."

What are your favorite memories of your time in Richmond?

Michael’s time in Richmond was his version of college, he says, and he still considers his Richmond friends to be among his closest. Play-wise, he will never forget performing in Falsettos at Barksdale. He says, "It’s one of those rare shows where, with the exception of just one moment in a tech rehearsal, every minute of that production was glorious. It was just a great time."

Where do you live?

Michael and his partner of 10 years, Steven Skybell (currently playing Dr. Dillamond in Wicked on Broadway), live about an hour outside of Manhattan in a town called Mahopac. From his house, it’s a short stroll down the street to Lake Mahopac, where he regularly indulges one of his passions besides theater: water-skiing. "I can ski in the morning and be at work in Manhattan in an hour," he says.

Will you return to the stage any time soon?
"If I lived in Richmond, there’s no question I would still be performing," Michael says, "because people doing theatre in Richmond are doing it because they love it and are passionate about it... Falsettos [in Richmond] was a love fest. To me, it feels more like a business in New York." He’d like to get involved with his local community theatre, but doesn’t have the time right now. He has found time to sing with the Westchester Oratorio Society, including some solo work, which he found "interesting, challenging, scary and fun."

So things are going pretty well for you?

"I have a terrific life! I love it. I love everything about it. I’m in the right place, I love my job. Life is pretty sweet."

Bridgewater and Wichmann to Star as Felix and Oscar

The most hilarious mismatched roommates in the history of Broadway comedy are coming back to Hanover Tavern in this brand new production of one of America's favorite comedies. Directed by Joe Pabst (last seen at Barksdale in Brooklyn Boy), The Odd Couple will open June 29 and run through August 12, with extension probable.

And who will be filling Felix's shiny wingtips and Oscar's grubby sneakers? None other than Barksdale and Theatre IV All-Stars (and audience favorites) Dave Bridgewater (last seen at the Tavern in Over the River and Through the Woods) and Scott Wichmann (last seen as the Cowardly Lion in Theatre IV's The Wizard of Oz).

Other cast members include the two delectible Pigeon sisters (Jennifer Frank and Jen Meharg) and the four poker-playing buddies (Jeff Clevinger, Steve Moore, Mark Persinger and Derek Phipps). All indications are that The Odd Couple is going to sell out fast, so please call the box office to make your reservations TODAY!

Last produced by Barksdale in 1973, Neil Simon's irrestibly funny play tells the story of two friends (one divorced and the other recently separated) who decide to share an apartment … with sidesplitting results. Don't miss the sheer pleasure of rediscovering all over again the reasons we all first fell for this rousing American classic.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Stories of the Past

Posted by Robert Albertia

The year was 1963 and I was thrilled to be a member of the cast of Twelve Angry Men directed by David (Pete) Kilgore. Those were magic times at Hanover Tavern. I had not yet reached my 30th year and to work at this marvelous theatre was, for me, a great milestone. The cast was filled with Barksdale favorites: Jay Lundy, Glenn Crone, Mike Pettinger, and Pete himself.
The association with Muriel McAuley and Nancy Kilgore along with Pete was one that has remained a joyous and constant reminder of the creative individuals I have had the good fortune of working with in almost forty-five years in the theatre. I wouldn't change that for anything.
It would seem that I have lost count of the many productions I have worked on, however, there are standouts among that list: playing opposite Mallory Freeman and Edie Williams as my parents in the brilliant production of Da; the hilarious My Fat Friend with Helen Ball Williams, a life-long friend; numerous productions with Helen Levinson (too many to mention)--in fact many people thought we were married!
In most of those productions, I wore my own clothes since the theatre had almost no costume budget. I never minded because of the joy of doing a part in any Barksdale production was an opportunity not to be missed.
Even today I feel the same way and continue to accept delightful roles that continue to challenge me as an actor and feed my soul.
Barksdale Theatre is one of my great loves. Those marvelous actors I have worked opposite remain with me always.

Thinking Inside the Box: What Goes on Behind That Little Barred Window

This is a wonderful article from that goes in depth into what it entails being a box office professional. It was brought to my attention by Billy Christopher Maupin, one of our distinguished box office personel.

For more information on theatre beyond our fair River City take a peek at these websites:
Broadway World
Theatre Mania
Tony Awards

***American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards June 10

-Russell Rowland

In Memoriam: Ruth Salisbury

Posted by Bruce Miller
Few people had a bigger impact on the founding and building of Theatre IV than Ruth Salisbury, retired Associate Professor in the Theatre Department at the University of Richmond. When Phil returned from the Navy to co-found the company in 1975, Ruthie gave him free housing in exchange for a little bit of weekend yard work. After Phil and I moved into our Grove Ave apartment/office, every time we ran out of money Ruthie invited us over for spare ribs, cabbage, and gin and tonics.

Neither Phil nor I became skilled practitioners in stage make-up after taking Ruth's rigorous course at U of R--we're both extraordinarily untalented in that area. But when it came to theatre in general, Ruthie taught us more than she ever knew. Her professionalism, commitment and energy were second to none--and she demanded these attributes from her friends and students just as much as she demonstrated them herself.

Over the decades, we've seen and discussed well over a hundred shows with Ruthie--here in Richmond and also in D. C. and New York. We've spent endless evenings chewing the fat on her comfortable porch overlooking her showplace backyard. We've mourned with her over the loss of beloved pets.

Saying goodbye to Ruth Salisbury is like saying goodbye to Mr. Chips. She was for us everything an educator could and should be. We learned just as much from her life as we did from her lesson plans. She was a very dear friend. We will miss her and treasure her forever.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Backstage, It Should Always Be Safety First

Theatres can be dangerous places. We quote that adage often as a part of every safety speech. Sadly, despite all precautions, accidents happen, proving that the adage is more than just words.

Our able electrics assistant and great pal, Adam Tiller, is at MCV this morning undergoing surgery for a broken hip that happened yesterday on the job. Phil visited Adam last night, and reports that he was in good spirits. Indications are that he’s going to be fine. We deeply regret that he was injured, but we’re thankful that his injuries were not worse.

We tell his tale today for two reasons. 1 – If you know Adam, keep him in your prayers and send him a card. And 2 – As you go about your work in backstage settings, let his mishap help you to remember the importance of extra caution.

Adam was moving our Genie Lift Aerial Work Station to the Empire stage yesterday when the Genie escaped his grasp and toppled over backwards on top of him. Even when compacted, as this one was, Genies are top heavy pieces of equipment, and at least two workers should be involved any time a Genie is moved.

Tia James, who was working in the paint shop down the hall, heard a crash followed by Adam’s call for help. She ran to his side and single handedly hoisted the lift, which has to weigh several hundred pounds, off of his body so that he could crawl to safety.

For those who don’t know what a Genie Lift is, it’s a valuable piece of backstage equipment that allows electricians to elevate their work station to the height needed to change lamps in instruments, focus, etc. The Genie is actually much safer than the A-frame ladders that we used for these jobs in days gone by. The photo at the top of this entry shows the Genie in action.

As Adam recovers, please send warm thoughts in his direction. Warm baked goods are nice too. And remember to follow all safety procedures and exercise exceptional caution when working backstage. Even the strongest tech guy should always recruit help before moving top-heavy equipment.

UPDATE: I visited Adam this afternoon (Saturday) at about 4 p.m.. He's on the 11th floor of the East Wing, room 318. He went in for surgery at around 4:30 a.m. this morning, and by 4 p.m. the painkillers were starting to wear off. But he seemed in good--if slightly dazed--spirits, adjusting to a new and improved hip that now includes a plate and pin that didn't come with the standard equipment. His mom and aunt were visiting him too, so it was good to see that he was in loving and capable hands. His mom said that the docs expected him to be released in approximately two days, and that he should begin to be able to walk on crutches almost immediately. The crutches will be with him for quite a few weeks, but a full recovery is expected. Everyone is very thankful that no other internal injuries have been discovered, despite a significant amount of bruising on his upper torso. So the prognosis is good!

Bruce Miller

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Barksdale's New Zealand Office

Barksdale’s gone global! I’ve been single handedly manning our kiwi office for a year now. It’s a bit lonely at my staff meetings, but I get to eat all the donuts. That’s me in the picture helping to market Mame (from our 06-07 Signature Season at Willow Lawn) where I live on the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand… not sure how many people flew to the states to see it, but I did my part!

In the early nineties I was a touring actor with Theatre IV – something you can’t do from a distance - but for several years now I’ve been handling the websites and incoming emails for both Theatre IV and Barksdale Theatre. I’m second generation - my dad, Donny Printz, was Theatre IV’s master carpenter in the early eighties; my mom, B.J., started working for Bruce Miller and Phil Whiteway when I was in grade school, and stayed on for over twenty years. So I was thrilled that the internet and a phone with an 804 area code that rings in NZ allowed me to continue work as usual when my husband and I moved to the southern hemisphere and settled down under.

Occasionally a theatre goer is confused as to why someone at Barksdale is emailing them back at 1 in the morning… but it’s just part of our prompt and friendly global service. The kiwi office still has the lights on after the Richmond stage lights have dimmed for the night!

Jessica Daugherty
Internet Services Manager
Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Behind the Iron Corset

This is Jennifer Massey (aka Mrs. Van Buren in Intimate Apparel). I see Andy Nagraj (Mr. Marks) has set the Barksdale blog bar pretty high. He gave an excellent account of the onstage atmosphere surrounding the show, so I figured it might be fun to go behind the scenes, give a few insights into the backstage "drama behind the drama", if you will.

For starters, there's a reason we ladies no longer wear corsets. Without going into too much detail, any woman who's ever had a mammogram will have an idea of what I'm talking about. "Ow, pain... Ow!"

Not to mention that whenever I don a new corset, I burp – loudly. It's sad, but quite unavoidable. If you don't believe me – drink 13 brandies and lace yourself into a straight jacket and see what happens. As ladylike and refined as Mrs. Van Buren is on stage, she's like a truck driver behind closed doors (no offense to any actual truck drivers out there).

It doesn't help that we ladies are actually wearing old-fashioned lace-up corsets. A lot of what we wear in the show has to be physically put on us in the dressing room. It's ridiculous. I don't know how anyone got anything done back at the turn of the century – seems like they must have spent a good portion of their day just changing clothes.

Luckily, we have a wonderful woman, Renee Jones, who assists with all the wardrobe changes and other backstage hoopla. If it weren't for her, Esther would be wearing the same outfit throughout the whole show. And, I'd be wearing my costumes home every night.

Also backstage with us is Audra Honaker, who most of you know better for her fabulous onstage work than her fabulous offstage work. Suffice it to say -- if Renee isn't doing it, Audra is – everything from repatching electrical wires to setting props. That Audra is a talented gal!!

Something rather anachronistic about the dressing room is that many of us bring our laptops with us to the theatre -- which was particularly helpful during tech rehearsals (which are traditionally long and tedious). We have a high-speed internet connection at the theatre (well... sometimes) so many of us boot up backstage to go online, check e-mail, write plays of our own. It's quite interesting. We're onstage being very old-fashioned women, and backstage being very modern women. I can't speak for the men, but I'm sure they're doing interesting things, as well.

Sadly, I rarely even see the men – on or off stage. Anyone who's been to the show knows that the characters in this play rarely cross paths... except with Esther (played by Adanma "Ida" Onyedike). She's our through line, and we all sort of circle around her. Even so, this is definitely an ensemble piece -- we all have a strong sense of the show as a whole, and we all feel the connection, not only with Esther, but with each and every member of the story. I reckon we love each other (as Esther says) "about as much as you can love someone you ain't seen."

I'm a little hurt that there's been no specialty drink created for our show yet. I understand that The Full Monty had the "Full Montini". And, that Mame even had TWO drinks to choose from. Where's ours?!??! Granted, off the top of my head, I can't think of a word that rhymes with "corset". But, surely there's something: Raspberry Ragtime Daiquiri, Mrs. Van Bourbon, Panama Smash... Bartender????

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Funny Femmes Fatale Fan Flames at Firehouse

Jack Welsh and I had a rollicking good time this afternoon seeing our friends Melissa Johnston Price, Harriet Traylor, John Moon and Alice Schreiner acting up a (psychological) storm in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife at the Firehouse.

About three seasons back, this raucous and ribald script from veteran Off-Broadway bard Charles Busch updated the Neil Simon style of comedy for 21st Century Broadway. Busch enlivened his comic urban phantasmagoria with contemporary situations and language that ran the risk of making the more traditional Mr. Simon blush. The play had a long and successful Broadway run.

Now Firehouse’s talented, attractive cast, under the direction of Dan Ruth, looks like they think it's a high hoot to bring this very-Manhattan tale to life in Richmond’s Fan.

Melissa Johnston Price proves once again that she can be gorgeous and funny at the same time. Harriet Traylor develops a character that is both irresistibly seductive and slightly scary--a femme fatale with a not quite fatal attraction. John Moon brings his years as a New Yorker back to the forefront as the titular allergist, proving an able match for both beautiful women. Alice Schreiner prompts one to recall the words “potty mouth.” Joey Chahine, new to me, is terrific as the fifth cog in Busch’s oh-so-modern take on one New Yorker’s search for inner truth.

Three cheers to the Firehouse for giving Richmonders a chance to catch this hip NYC comedy. Broadway laugh-leaders have changed a lot since the classic days of Neil Simon, Mary Kerr, Muriel Resnick, Bob Randall et al. It’s good for Richmonders to have a chance to feel the force of the most recent comic haymaker to knock Broadway off its feet.

If you hanker for contemporary comedy with an edgy twist, rush to the Firehouse to catch Allergist’s Wife before it closes on May 19. As always, the Firehouse is proving how indispensable it is in Metro Richmond’s theatrical mix.

Bruce Miller

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Coffee & Conversation Audio - "Intimate Apparel"

As a courtesy to our patrons who are not able to attend our wildly popular Coffee & Conversations series, sponsored by Rostov Coffee & Tea, we will begin providing links to audio recordings of highlights from these intriguing dialogues, recorded live from the lobby stage of Barksdale Willow Lawn.

Here's your chance to learn the backstage story of every onstage performance, and finally hear the answers to the questions you’ve been eager to ask. Join us on the second Tuesday of each month (with a few exceptions) for informal, moderated discussions with Barksdale’s leading actors, directors, and designers.

This first installment includes actors from the cast of Intimate Apparel - Adanma Onyedike, Chris Lindsay, and Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, moderated by Joy Corbin.

Click here to listen to the Coffee & Conversations audio

*Audio edited and recorded by Chase Kniffen

To hear the next full discussion and meet the actors and other theatre professionals join us Tuesday, May 8, 2007 for Sidekicks & Second Bananas: Your Favorite Supporting Actors from the Season Discuss their Work--Jan Guarino, moderator.

Barksdale Willow Lawn
9:30 - 10:30 AM
Admission is FREE
Free Coffee, Tea, & Pastries Provided

*All dates and topics are subject to change. For confirmation of programs, please call the Box Office at 282-2620 on the Friday prior to the discussion.

-Russell Rowland

Mr. Tuggle Goes to NYC

It is not often that you are able to say you don’t mind having dirt kicked on you, but when it’s being kicked by Kevin Spacey and Eve Best, it’s a little different. Let it never be said that you can’t find a good discount in New York, as this weekend I went to see Talk Radio and A Moon for the Misbegotten both as part of the theatres’ student rush ticket programs. For “Moon” we ended up in row AA, the row that was added on IN FRONT of the front row, specifically for student rush tickets. To give you an idea of how close we were, the stage was sitting over my legs like a desk. It was quiet an experience.

We saw Talk Radio on Friday night, and it lived up to all of its hype. I am very skeptical about “movie stars” moving onto the Broadway stage, and this was no exception, in spite the fact that Liev Schreiber (The Manchurian Candidate, The Omen) had some notable stage credentials. He of course got entrance applause when he entered onstage for the first time, which always irks me. I would prefer not to applaud an actor on his previous accomplishments and disrupt his current labors, but give them a hearty ovation once I have seen the work.

The play is about a talk radio host, and is virtually a one man show, with other actors stepping in momentarily for brief witty retorts, or to give information about their relationship with the central character, for really no other reason that to build the dynamic protagonist. All of these things lead to the fact that the “hero”, or “anti-hero” in this case, must be a very strong performer. I would not rank it amongst the best productions I have ever seen, but it was well worth the time and meager price.

A Moon for the Misbegotten on the other hand trumps virtually ever other play I have seen, in the realm of artistic merit. Taking on a Eugene O’Neill opus is a hearty task, but through their intensive energy, and conscious effort to not make it melancholy to the point of gloom, the cast and director developed a fantastic product.

The play was staged by the Old Vic Theatre, based in London, and then transported to Broadway after a great run in its home theatre. Kevin Spacey is not only one of the stars of the play, but also the Artistic Director of the theatre. He put on a fantastic performance, as would be expected, but was outshined remarkably by the shows heroin Eve Best.

Looking through Eve Best’s credits in the playbill looks more like a theatre history reading list, than a career. She has played some of the toughest roles for a modern actor, and this experience was evident in performance. Her ability to take the tough bull like qualities of Josie, which are apparent in the script, and intertwine them with humor and light heartedness is what made her such a lovable character capable of so much pathos. She moved the audience with her, from giddy child-like love, to the deep anguishes of a wasted life, without a single misstep.

Both shows, and the trip as a whole were fantastic. A Moon for the Misbegotten only has an eight-week run, so if you are in New York soon and have a chance to see it, do not pass it up at any cost. It will give you a love for O’Neill you never thought possible.

Brad Tuggle
Assistant to the Managing Director
Barksdale Theatre / Theatre IV

**Here is a great interview with Kevin Spacey about A Moon for the Misbegotten. In the interview he also talks about what an amazing experience live theatre is-not only for the actor but for the audience as well.

Kevin Spacey Interview

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Response to a Reader's Comment Regarding "Intimate Apparel"

We established this blog to enable an open conversation between Barksdale Theatre and others in the Metro Richmond family. We believe that open conversation is healthy and positive. Progress is never achieved through silence; understanding and respect come with patience and candor.

Today we received a comment from an anonymous reader responding to an earlier blog entry about Intimate Apparel. If you go to our archives and click on the “1 Comments” (sic) tab that follows the entry entitled “Intimate” Opening Wins Hearts and Minds, you will find it.

The comment reads: “Why is it that when white drama groups do plays about black people, they always show black women in their underwear and/or in sexually compromising positions with men? Living Word Stage Company, Richmond’s only black drama group, treats black women with respect. That’s why Living Word is so needed. Is this what we want our daughters to see?”

First, I agree with the opinion that Living Word Stage Company is needed. I believe that Living Word is a vital member of Metro Richmond’s cultural community, and we are all richer for their presence. In addition to working as Artistic Director of Barksdale Theatre, I’m the Artistic Director of Theatre IV, Barksdale’s sister company. Under my leadership, Theatre IV helped to get Living Word on its feet by allowing the young company to use our Empire Theatre home for free for their entire 2005-06 Season.

Second, I agree that black women have faced and continue to face cultural denigration that must be addressed. At the risk of alienating those who hold an opposing view on this complex issue, I am among those who support firing or boycotting entertainers who use their celebrity to promote misogyny and racism, whether it’s Don Imus or Snoop Dog or Nelly.

Finally, I applaud any parent who takes his or her responsibility seriously. I believe parents should always speak out when they feel like their child, or children in general, are being exposed to “entertainment” that is potentially hurtful or dangerous.

The deeply held principles that are reflected in the three paragraphs above are the same principles that make me so proud of our production of Intimate Apparel. Beautifully and sensitively written by a black woman playwright, Lynn Nottage, Intimate Apparel is, above all, a play about the respect that is due to every human being, even if an individual seems inconsequential or unimportant within the ruling social context of the day. The play is about the dignity and power of the human spirit, and the strength that can be marshaled by even the most powerless to rise above their circumstances and command their world. The play has universal themes, but chooses to focus on the power and glory of black women.

I do not know, but I suspect that our anonymous commenter has not seen Intimate Apparel. I suspect that she is reacting to photos that appear in our blog entry, depicting, as she says, women in their underwear and in positions with men that have the potential for sexual compromise.

The play uses these images and situations not to define black women as sexual objects or victims, but rather to exalt their ability to rise above the circumstances into which they have been placed by society. The play is about triumph. Is this what I want my daughter to see? You bet.

Perhaps this is a good time to mention my perspective on matters of race as they relate to professional theatres. Although I understand and respect the perspective of the commenter, I do not consider Barksdale Theatre to be a "white drama group" or a "white" theatre. I don't think theatres have color unless their mission specifically stresses a particular racial focus.

Barksdale's mission indicates a commitment to the entire community. It is this commitment that led Barksdale in the 1950s to become the first performing arts group in Virginia to admit racially mixed audiences, thereby breaking the back of the Jim Crow laws of that time. It is this commitment that led Theatre IV to become the first major arts organization in Virginia (with a budget of $1 million or greater) to elect an African-American Board President. In fact, Theatre IV has now been led by three African-American Board Presidents. Anthony Keitt, Barksdale's current Board President, is also African-American.

I thank and respect the opinions of all those who choose to comment on our blog entries. I encourage you to see our work, particularly Intimate Apparel, and hope that our plays will prompt continuing conversation.

Note: Subsequent to this posting, Living Word Stage Company changed it's name to African American Repertory Theatre. We have amended the labels to reflect this change and link this post with future posts for African American Repertory Theatre.

**Please be aware that some of the following comments contain spoilers. Some people who have not yet seen the show should be aware that comments discuss the show's ending.

Getting "Intimate" with Andy Nagraj

Hi everyone, this is Andy Nagraj, aka Mr. Marks, from the cast of Intimate Apparel. The venerable blogmaster asked if I would share some of my thoughts on this production. I thought about it for a while, and finally realized that I could take this opportunity to discuss what (for me) has been the most intriguing and thrilling aspect of this show – the audience.

Now, at the risk of sounding like a complete dummy, I’d like to clarify: yes, I have previously been onstage, and yes, I have been aware of the audience. They’ve even laughed and applauded on occasion. However, when the word “Intimate” is half of the title and every scene in the play is between just two people, the work quickly takes on a certain sense of privacy, particularly in the rehearsal process when the only people in the room are you, your scene partner, the director, and the stage manager.

So you can imagine how surprising it was on opening night to notice people audibly reacting to and participating in the show. Once we got past the initial shock, it became completely invigorating and infused the show with a whole new energy. The audience of Intimate Apparel has consistently been a living, breathing entity that shares the stage with us and makes our jobs as actors very easy every night. I don’t want to give anything away from the plot, but during every performance Chris Lindsay and I sit back in our dressing room and eagerly listen for a specific audience reaction, and it never fails to produce an intake of breath from everyone in the theatre! It is extremely rewarding to know that the audience is so willing to give themselves over to the story and participate with us on stage. I salute you, I thank you, and I look forward to seeing you at Willow Lawn!


-Andy “Blog”-raj
(I can’t tell whether that’s clever or annoying…)

Hiatus in Hanover

The question I’m being asked most frequently this week is, “Why is Barksdale taking such a long break at the Tavern.” And every time someone asks it, it’s easy to hear the concern in their voice.

Please be assured that nothing is going wrong. In fact, everything is going right. It’s quite true that Smoke on the Mountain closed this past Saturday, April 28, and that The Odd Couple will not open until Friday, June 29. That’s a break of two months—pretty unusual for a resident theatre.

But the reason for the hiatus could not be more “usual” in the nonprofit sector. We’re taking a two-month break from Hanover Tavern because of money.

You see, Hanover Tavern is itself a nonprofit organization, and Barksdale Theatre is a separate nonprofit organization. From 1953 until 1990, Hanover Tavern was owned by Pete and Nancy Kilgore and Muriel McAuley. The Tavern was their home, both literally and artistically. They raised their children and their pets there, and they worked tirelessly and selflessly to save the historic Tavern for future generations.

In 1990 they made a difficult decision. They realized that the 18th Century Tavern that they loved needed millions of dollars of work if it was to remain standing into the 21st Century. They also realized that their job was making great theatre, and that they wanted to turn the responsibility of raising the millions that were needed over to a broad-based community foundation.

And so they sold their beloved Tavern to the Historic Hanover Tavern Foundation. They used the proceeds of the sale to fund a meager retirement account—the only pension they ever received from their lifetime of work at Barksdale Theatre. In 1993, Pete, Nancy and Muriel retired after 40 years of exemplary service. And in 1996, they lent their support as Barksdale Theatre, under the staff leadership of new artistic director John Glenn and the Board leadership of Carrie Galeski, Ted Linhart and Neil November, moved theatrical operations to the beautiful new space at Willow Lawn that we occupy today.

When Barksdale returned to the Tavern in January 2006, we did so as a rent-paying tenant. We are one of three major tenants of the Tavern. The other two (our partners, so to speak) are:
· the Historic Hanover Tavern Foundation, which not only owns the Tavern but also presents numerous historical programs and interpretations year round, and
· Michelle’s Restaurant.

As the Historic Hanover Tavern Foundation seeks to fulfill it’s fiduciary responsibilities for the Tavern’s finances and future, it works with its two partners (Barksdale Theatre and Michelle’s) in an attempt to maximize earned revenues. Let’s face it, 18th Century Taverns may be cool, but they're not inexpensive to maintain.

One of the things that the Foundation has learned is that a major revenue source for the Foundation and Michelle’s is the income received from weddings and wedding receptions held at the Tavern during the months of May and June. Due to sound issues, plays cannot be presented in the theatre at the same time that weddings or wedding receptions are taking place elsewhere on the property.

And so the Tavern has asked Barksdale Theatre to forego theatrical programming during the months of May and June, so that they and Michelle’s can maximize the revenue they receive from springtime weddings. We are happy to oblige.

So, during the next 60 days, please come visit us at Willow Lawn for Intimate Apparel, or visit our sister company, Theatre IV, for The Wizard of Oz at the Historic Empire Theatre. And plan now to join us on or after June 29 for The Odd Couple at Hanover Tavern.