Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Journeyman Arrives

The day has finally come. After talking about this production for over a year, I am finally producing Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter in the Little Theatre in the Historic Empire Theatre complex. Many people have been asking "Why is he doing a show in the Little Theatre if it has been closed?" The answer to this is that I have just completed a "Journeyman's Year" where I was half-intern and half-employee. Part of my compensation for doing this year was the use of the Little Theatre. (You may remember Chase Kniffen's production of Godspell in the space. That production was done under the same agreement.) Our production was originally scheduled for February, but both David Janeski (who plays the role of Gus) and I were given the opportunity to work on Smoke on the Mountain at Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern (I as assistant director and David as Dennis, one of the twins- "he's the boy") and couldn't pass up that opportunity. It turns out for the best because now that the show is going up in August, Carl Calabrese is able to join the cast as Ben.

Carl, David, and I attended Longwood University together, Carl graduating one year after I. Though he is new to the Richmond scene, Carl is sure to be loved by all. The Dumb Waiter is the third show in which I have directed Carl; the other two being The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder and The Brute by Anton Chekhov, Carl having played the lead in both. Another interesting fact: Carl and I played opposite each other as the Antipholus twins in Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors at Longwood.

David and I have worked on several shows together over the last year including two shows at Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern: Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap and the aforementioned Smoke on the Mountain, as well as Bill C. Davis' new work, Austin's Bridge, at the Firehouse Theatre Project.

To give a brief overview: The Dumb Waiter is a time-honored classic of the absurdist theatre, written in 1960 by Harold Pinter, who would later go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. This dark comedy is the story of two contract killers waiting in a basement for their next job. Tension runs high due to decidedly contrasting personalities and it only escalates as they are sent encoded commands through an old dumb waiter. The twisting tale is sure to leave you guessing until the very last moments, and it's shocking conclusion! (Dun-Dun-Dun).

This process has been incredibly enjoyable and enlightening. Outside of the obvious duties of a director, so many other things fall onto one's plate when one decides to independently produce a show. From sending out press releases, to painting the set and rigging lights, everything comes at a rapid pace. I have been very fortunate to have many wonderful people give me and advice and help me immensely.

Thank you to Sara, Judi, Wendy, Jessica, both Bruce's, Phil, Catherine, Billy Christopher, and everyone else at Barksdale/Theatre IV who have donated their time to help with things that I could never have done on my own.

Also see the article that appeared in the August 1 STYLE Weekly.

Brad Tuggle
Assistant to the Managing Director

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Greater Richmond H S All Star Robe

Posted by Bruce Miller
What do the first two Greater Richmond High School All Star Musicals (Grease and Disney’s High School Musical) have in common? Well, lots of things. But even after noting the similarities in plot, characters and tone, one is struck by the central theme running through the final number of both shows.

“We go together,” the entire cast of Grease sings at show’s end, “Like rama lama lama ke ding a de ding a dong. Remembered forever, like shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yipitty boom de boom. Chang chang chang-it-ty chang shoo bop, That’s the way it should be!”

And from Disney’s High School Musical

“Together, together, together everyone
Together, together, come on let’s have some fun
Together, we’re there for each other every time
Together, together, come on let’s do this right

Here and now its time for celebration
I finally figured it out
That all our dreams have no limitations
That's what it’s all about

Everyone is special in their own way
We make each other strong
We’re not the same
We’re different in a good way
Together's where we belong
We're all in this together

Once we know that we are
We're all stars and we see that
We're all in this together
And it shows when we stand hand in hand
Make our dreams come true”

Last summer, the company of Grease began a tradition at their closing night party to recognize the togetherness that existed among them, and to pass that spirit of unity on to the cast of the Greater Richmond High School All Star Musical 2007. They each wrote a signed message of best wishes onto a cardboard tag, and pinned them all onto the turquoise silk robe worn by Sarah Pruden in the show.

Each member of the company who had graduated and was leaving high school behind (Tyler Adams, Deejay Gray, Claire Harvey, Andy Nestor, Emily Perkins, Sarah Pruden, Steven Ralph, Robert Watkins and Chris Withers) put on the robe and circled the cast. Finally, a pink poodle representing Grease was sewn onto the robe before it was returned to costume storage for the long cold winter.

This year, on Opening Night of Disney’s High School Musical, the Robe, now aged in a year’s worth of love and good will (thereby earning the right to spell its name with a capital R), was presented to Suzanne Spicer, the actor in the ensemble who had reached the highest grade level and enjoyed the most experience in previous editions of the Greater Richmond High School All Star Musical. Suzanne put on the Robe, and, before the show, visited each company member throughout the theatre, inviting them to connect with the Robe (and the spirit it represents) for good luck. They all did. Dave Amadee buried his face in the darn thing.

OPENING NIGHT WAS A HUGE SUCCESS! Following the final performance of Disney’s High School Musical next Sunday, the entire company will be invited again to create personal expressions of best wishes and pin them onto the Robe as a gesture of support for next summer’s cast. A three-dimensional symbol of High School Musical will be sewn onto the Robe also, so that the Grease poodle won’t have to spend another winter alone.

Then, next July, another cast of talented High School All Stars will take their turn on the stage and in the Robe.

As Stephanie Carr, last summer’s Rizzo, wrote on her tag: “Appreciate this opportunity with all of your heart. You make one-of-a-kind friends and walk away with unforgettable memories. HAVE FUN. Break a leg.”

“We’re all in this together.” “That’s the way it should be.”

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Wallabies, Sing Along! Yeah, You Really Got It Goin' On!

Posted by Hannah Miller
Do a Google Image search for Wallabies, and most of what you’ll see are shoes. Oh yes, there also are the occasional musical group and rugby team. For whatever reason, the web celebrates Wallaby (or Wallabee) footwear, rockers and footballers (the Australian word for rugby players) a good deal more than it recognizes wallabies—the marsupial.

Don’t tell this to Ruby, the pet wallaby (miniature kangaroo) owned by Paul Newell and his family. Paul plays the basketball referee and other characters in Disney’s High School Musical, playing for one more week in the Cramer Center Theatre, co-produced by Barksdale Theatre and The Steward School. Ruby is a sensitive sole—ah, excuse me—soul, and we wouldn't want to hurt her feelings.

“When I was ten,” relates Paul, “my favorite animal was a kangaroo. And then one day I was playing around on line and discovered a farm in Missouri that bred wallabies, which are just like kangaroos only smaller. I started pleading with my parents to get one, and eventually they did.”

Didn’t buying a wallaby for a pet seem, well, odd to the Newells? “Not at all,” says Paul. “My mother always had a lot of exotic pets, so owning a wallaby seemed relatively normal.” Paul also is the proud owner of a cat and two flying squirrels. "Actually, the flying squirrels aren't squirrels," adds Paul. "They're sugar gliders, which are small gliding possums native to Australia. They're marsupials too."

Among this menagerie, Paul swears that Ruby is the shining light. “She’s smarter than the cat, because she knows her name and comes when she’s called. But she’s dumber than a dog, because you can’t teach her tricks.”

The Newells have been able to teach her some manageable personal hygiene habits however. “She’s paper trained,” continues Paul. “We haven’t had an accident yet. Which is more than I can say for the sugar gliders.”

Ruby is now in her teens in kangaroo years. If they choose to, the Newells could begin breeding Ruby in October. But for the time being, they seem content to allow Ruby to roam freely through their beautiful West End home.

One day during a break in rehearsals for Disney’s High School Musical, several of us stopped by Paul’s house to visit Ruby. She was shy, and hid under the dining room table. Since she stands less than 3 feet tall, that wasn’t too hard to do. But then we all noticed the telltale tail extending out between the legs of the dining room chairs.

“Better be careful,” warned Paul, as one courageous actor began to approach Ruby. “Like any kangaroo, she likes to kick and punch—but only in fun.”

We know that the basketball uniforms in our play say Wildcats, but after meeting Paul’s fascinating and unusual pet, we like to think of his Wallaby as being our alternative mascot.

Just so long as none of the Wallabies on the basketball team start to hide under the cafeteria tables, or forget to use their papers.

--Hannah Miller

In Memoriam: Paul R. Cramer Sr.

We are saddened to note the passing this week of Paul R. Cramer, namesake of the Paul R. Cramer Center for the Arts at Steward School, home of our current production of Disney’s High School Musical. The crew dimmed the lights on Friday evening in Mr. Cramer’s honor, and we will be dedicating The Member of the Wedding, our fall production at Barksdale Willow Lawn, to his memory.

We didn’t know Mr. Cramer well; we met him only once. When Barksdale Theatre and Steward School first revived the Greater Richmond High School All Star Musical last summer, Mr. Cramer attended our co-production of Grease. He told us how proud he was to see talented students from all over metro Richmond coming together to create a citywide musical in the theatre that bore his name.

Mr. Cramer came to Richmond and Steward School in 1975, leaving his Massachusetts home to dedicate the rest of his life to building and enriching the Steward School family and campus. When he arrived, Steward had one building and 203 students K – 10. After 19 years of Mr. Cramer’s exemplary leadership, Steward School is today a cornerstone of metro Richmond’s educational community, boasting an enrollment of 615 in grades K – 12, five academic buildings, a thriving athletic campus, and one of Virginia’s most impressive theatre facilities.
The first thing Mr. Cramer did when he came to Steward was to invigorate the curriculum by placing a new emphasis on the arts, music and theatre. It was in recognition of this visionary commitment that the magnificent theatre at the Cramer Center was built and named in Mr. Cramer’s honor.

Mr. Cramer’s legacy will live on at Steward for decades to come. Each summer, 30 to 50 high school theatre students from throughout Central Virginia will come together and benefit greatly from the arts programs that he fostered and sustained.

The student participants in the 2007 production of the Greater Richmond High School All Star Musical come from 20 different high schools and home school programs, and live in 18 different zip codes. Virtually all of them come from schools without theatre facilities that approach the Cramer Center’s level of professionalism. Mr. Cramer’s legacy will continue to benefit not only students like these, but also tens of thousands of cheering theatre fans, young and old, who come to see them perform.

With his family and friends, we at Barksdale Theatre mourn Mr. Cramer’s passing. We also celebrate with them the many great things that have been brought into being by Mr. Cramer’s dedication and hard work. His life has made, and will continue making, an undying contribution to the entire student body of all of Greater Richmond.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, July 27, 2007

Disney Dad Fights Global Warming in Iraq

Well, this is our 100th blog entry, and who would think that the 100th post on a theatre blog would once again take us to Iraq. But, as we all know, every person in the United States is connected with this war, including actors and other theatre artists. In case we needed more evidence of this, here’s the latest about Joe Amadee, father of Dave Amadee who plays leading man Troy in our production of Disney’s High School Musical. Dave is now a civilian, but he is nonetheless working for the Army in Iraq. The following is excerpted from Blackanthem Military News, Kuwait.

“Joe Amadee (pictured above and to the left) is not the kind of man you would expect to change the United States military. Amadee is a former Army officer, but at 52, he more resembles a biology professor than a general. He carries with him a loaded briefcase, not a charged M16 rifle. His concern is not with the newest tank model, but how much mileage that tank can get out of a gallon of gasoline.

On May 23, Amadee arrived in Kuwait from Fort Belvoir, Va., to run some experiments in several American military compounds in country. Amadee is the Army’s point man on reducing use of energy from fossil fuels, and he arrived with a mandate to reduce petrofuel dependence in the Army by 40 percent. He came with ideas that test the bounds of imagination.

One idea uses cooking grease from the dining facility, using a portable distillery, to convert the oil into biodiesel. The efficiency of the conversion process – a common criticism of ethanol made from corn – will make about 100 gallons of biofuel with 100 gallons of cooking oil, using just one gallon of jet fuel to power the process. The potential for clean power generation cooking oil could be enormous. One Camp Arifjan dining facility, Amadee learned, uses 180 gallons of cooking oil a week.
The REF team’s arrival came amidst a renewed effort by the Army’s Environmental Health Safety Program in Kuwait to clean up the Army’s environmental footprint in the country. Air conditioning was a particular concern. The Army wants to reduce the need for air conditioning, which would cut down on the need for energy, which would cut down on the need for fuel, which would reduce the need for convoys, which would save lives.

The need for greater energy efficiency was evident to Amadee during an earlier visit to an American compound in Djibouti, where he found that 10,000 gallons of diesel were being used every day. Of that sum, only 1,000 went into vehicles – the rest went into generators, primarily to air condition un-insolated tents. 'Air conditioning the desert,' Amadee jested.

Amadee and his team used tents at Camp Buehring and Camp Arifjan to test an insolating foam solution, which they use to cover the exterior, giving the tent the appearance of a winter wonderland. When the foam dries, it solidifies into a protective shell strong enough to walk on. The REF team predicts that the foam shell will reduce energy use by as much as of 85 percent. Amadee will be back later this month to insolate '30 to 40 tents' at one Baghdad compound, he said.

Amadee is also researching ways to increase efficiency of solar power, a process inhibited by the punishing desert sandstorms. The desert heat and sand make the batteries less efficient, something Amadee is looking to fight.

Nobody is taking their time in implementing these changes. As best-selling magazines publish weekly reminders of global warming, Amadee has sensed an Army ready to transform. 'The people here are working feverishly to do this and looking for all the help they can get,' the REF environmental chief said. 'I sense a very great sense of urgency.' "

All of us associated with Barksdale Theatre, Steward School and Disney’s High School Musical send Joe, Dave and the Amadee family our best thoughts and prayers.

--Bruce Miller

Barksdale and Friends

Barksdale recently joined Facebook to promote free programs on offer for students and to get their feedback. Maintaining the page is giving me an education in the ease of the latest social networking applications.

I’m a Generation Xer, born in 1970. I remember downloading short movie clips at 24kb and getting excited the next morning when one was finally on my Apple2e, and I could watch a minute of grainy mush. But these days, if there’s something the younger Gen Y can’t Google in a sec, Wikipedia will at least tell them what it is. Social networking sites like Facebook allow them (and anyone else who’s game) to create a page where friends can write and add photos, video, music and more, and where their content updates so fast that a blog with one post a day looks achingly slow by comparison.

150,000 members a day are joining Facebook, and hours after Barksdale joined, we were loaded with friends who've been associated with us through the Greater Richmond High School All-Star Musicals. I added a large album of Disney’s High School Musical photos for the cast, crew, parents and fans. I started to add an event listing for HSM at The Steward School, but the cast had already done it, and they had hundreds of confirmed RSVPs responding to an exponentially increasing number of invites; word of mouth spreads quickly.

But it’s not just High School Musical information on offer at our new Facebook home. Our blog posts are imported automatically, and more importantly I get a chance to promote Barksdale Theatre Workshop events. BTW is a community-wide initiative designed to establish new connections between Barksdale and high school theatre lovers. It began in 2005 when Bruce Miller and Chase Kniffen met with a group of area high school drama teachers to find out what they thought would be of use to them and to their students.

Current high school students can join BTW for free (by emailing Chase at c.kniffen@barksdalerichmond.org) and as members, they can purchase $10 tickets to special Saturday matinee performances. Members are also invited to attend Play On!, a discussion series featuring our leading professional theatre artists - and pizza - free of charge. Both the discounted matinees and Play On! Discussions were recommendations from area educators.

Facebook gives us an extra chance to introduce this program to students, and it’s also a great place to promote local high school productions (another teacher suggestion) like Chicago, opening at Godwin tonight! The students already created the event; all I had to do was click, and it posted itself on the Barksdale Facebook page… Things are so easy these days.

Barksdale’s Facebook page (a shortened page will be visible to those who are not yet friends)

Jessica Daugherty
Internet Services

They Say the Neon Lights are Bright ...

Feel the need for a New York theatre weekend this fall?

The JetBlue Fall Fare Sale started today, and you can book round trip flights between Richmond and New York JFK for $49 one way, exclusive of taxes and fees. You can fly up on a Thursday morning and fly back on a Monday morning, and the total round trip airfare, including all taxes and fees, is $118.80. Or, you can fly up on a Friday morning and fly back on Sunday evening, and the total round trip fare, including all taxes and fees, is $178.80.

Either way, it’s a great deal.

The sale is valid for travel between September 5 and November 14, with a few exceptions. Mid-week fares are the cheapest; Friday and Sunday fares are the most expensive. To take advantage of the sale price, you must book by August 8.
Go to JetBlue to make your reservations on line. For detailed information about the best way to travel between JFK Airport and midtown Manhattan, click on “NYC on a Budget” in the labels listed at the bottom of this post, then scroll down to my March blog post about economy tips for NYC theatre trips.

Shows run on and Off Broadway on Thursday nights, Friday nights, Saturday matinees, Saturday nights, Sunday matinees and Sunday nights. Check schedules to see which shows run in which slots.

Phil and Donna Whiteway and their two teenage sons recently stayed at the Howard Johnson Penn Station (AKA Regency Inn and Suites) on 34th Street between 7th and 8th. It is an economy hotel - nothing fancy at all, but it's an easy and safe walk from the theatre district. It's in a safe neighborhood, has clean rooms, and is usually available. Best of all, they booked on SideStep.com and paid only $190 per night, a great rate for NYC.

Several Broadway shows now offer a limited number of "day of show" rush tickets at really good prices, usually $25 or less. Sometimes the rush tickets are limited to students with IDs (or a student and "companion" - in my case "parent"), but often they're not. Also, when shows are selling out, you can frequently get standing room tickets (SR or SRO) for similar prices. I stood in London for Guys and Dolls just a few months ago, and my 56-year old body had no problem with it. There's usually a place to lean.

You can get lots more info on all aspects of what's up on Broadway at http://www.talkinbroadway.com/ . On the home page of this great site, click On the Boards / Rush and SRO, for a PARTIAL list of what's playing. You'll find most of the hit titles. At the end of each listing, they'll tell you what your options are for rush and/or standing room tickets.
Finally, if you are going up with kids, I've saved a link to an article by Liz Pulliam Weston. It's probably 6 months old, but it includes more budget tips for families. Visit it here.
I hope some or all of this helps.

And if you make it to Broadway, remember that the late great Martha Newell asked all her Richmond theatre friends to shout out her name each time we make it up to the Great White Way.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"Into the Woods" Gives Back

As if doing a full length Sondheim weren’t enough, several of the rising young stars of Into the Woods, now playing on our Signature Season at Willow Lawn, are joining forces to produce and present a Musical Theatre Cabaret as a benefit for Richmond's Theatre Artist Fund.

Zak Resnick (one of our charming Princes, pictured to the left), Rita Markova (our lovely Cinderella) and Drew Seigla (Jack of “fee fi fo” fame) will be joined by Amy Hruska, Jackie Jones, Katrinah Lewis, Robyn O’Neill, Kim Reuter, Craig Smith and Hannah Zold as ten of Virginia’s finest theatre voices come together to present a harmonious evening of musical magic.

There will be two performances of the Cabaret on the lobby stage at Barksdale Willow Lawn. Performance dates and times are Saturday, August 4, 12 midnight (following the Saturday evening Into the Woods performance) and Tuesday, August 7, 8 pm. Patrons will sit at tables, cabaret style, and the house and cash bar will be open 30 minutes prior to curtain.

Tickets are $25 ($20 for Barksdale and Theatre IV subscribers and anyone holding Into the Woods tickets for August 4, $10 for our young company members from Disney’s High School Musical). All but $10 of each ticket price is tax deductible. Everybody who’s anybody in the theatre community will be there, and it’s going to be FUN. So call the Barksdale box office to make your reservations today – 282-2620.

All ticket proceeds will be donated to the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund, a program of the Richmond Alliance for Professional Theatres (RAPT) and the Community Foundation. The Richmond Theatre Artists Fund helps with the emergency needs of metro Richmond theatre artists who are confronted by insurmountable financial challenges due to major illness or some other tragedy beyond their control.

Prior to the establishment of the endowed fund, the theatre community raised emergency funds on a case by case basis. Over the past dozen or so years, theatre artists have raised tens of thousands of dollars to:
provide new housing for an actor with AIDS who lost his job and was thrown out onto the street when his condition was disclosed,

make mortgage payments for a lifelong theatre administrator who was about to lose her home as her husband (a theatre tech director) struggled for more than a year with brain cancer, and
pay for critical medications for a cherished actress fighting against terminal cancer.

So why not support a GREAT cause and enjoy a wonderful evening’s entertainment at the same time? Three cheers to Zak and company for this wonderful gift to our community. I hope to see you there.

--Bruce Miller

NPR offers XOXOXO to "The O C"

It took a while, but the National Public Radio review of The Odd Couple at Hanover Tavern is in, and it’s another rave! The O C runs for only four more weeks—it’s gotta close on August 19 so that we can load in Deathtrap. It’s great to see a 40-year old play come so beautifully to life—a true American classic in the making. Don’t miss it. For a good time, call 282-2620, and make your reservations TODAY!

Here are a few highlights from John Porter’s review:

“Writing a review of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, now playing at Barksdale Hanover Tavern, is a relatively simple task. I’ve just got to find ways to say, 'It’s brilliant' for the next three minutes or so.

First of all, there’s the script. This is one of Simon’s early works that shows just how much of an American genius he really is. The dialogue sparks like an electric live wire and it gives the actors a broad canvas on which to paint their characters.”

“Then there’s the cast. How do you go wrong with two very strong leads who are on the top of their game? David Bridgewater is delightful as the king-sized larger than life slob known as Oscar Madison. He feels free to let loose with an over-the-top performance that breathes new life into one of the premiere characters of the American comedy stage. His partner in crime, the always strong Scott Wichmann, is just about dead-on perfect as uberneat Felix Unger.”

“The supporting cast includes a mix of well-known performers and new faces. The veterans include Steve Moore, Jeff Clevenger, Jennifer Frank and Jen Meharg, who all turn in strong performances.”

“On the technical side, the costumes by Heather Hogg evoke the early sixties very well. No, nobody is dressed up in tie-dyed bell bottoms, this was a different class altogether. The set by Terrie Powers and David Powers has a nice touch with autographed sports pictures on Oscar’s walls, lending credence to the proper era and telling us a little bit more about his character at the same time. The lighting design is by Bennett J. Fidlow and adds well to the evening.

Director Joe Pabst shows a deft touch with Simon’s dialogue. On the surface it can seem deceptively simple, but like Shakespeare or Mamet, Simon’s words have a distinct ebb and flow. If it’s not played just right, forget it, the whole thing comes crashing down like a house of cards.

In this case, the house stays up and rocks with laughter all night long.”

“I can always use more laughter in my life, and an evening of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, may just be the perfect way to pass a summer’s night.”


It would be hard to beat a review like that! Insider’s Tip: Scott Wichmann and his wife Jen Meharg will be out of the show from August 8 through 12, replaced by the wonderful Richard Koch and his wife Vickie McLeod. Then Scott and Jen will be back for closing week. So if you’re a big fan of either couple, be sure to catch the show during the week they’ll be playing. Or if you're a fan of both couples ... come see it twice!

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Chicago Goes to Edinburgh via Short Pump

Posted by Bruce Miller

The Mills E. Godwin High School Drama Department, under the direction of Mac Damron, is taking their new production of the Broadway musical Chicago to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh Scotland this August. But before they go—and to raise funds that will help them to get there—the school is presenting two performances here in Richmond for the general public.

Now here’s the sad part. I knew the shows were this week, but I thought they were Thursday and Friday or Friday and Saturday. In preparation for writing this blog post, I actually read the fine print on their flyer. The two Richmond performances are Tuesday (tonight) and Friday.

So, it’s too late to catch tonight’s show, unless you want to hot foot it over to Godwin and enjoy the curtain call. But there’s still time to get your tickets for Friday evening’s performance!

Of special note, this Godwin production stars Caron Sinnenberg as Roxie. Caron played Fern with Theatre IV in Charlotte’s Web, and last summer appeared in the ensemble of Grease, co-produced by Barksdale Theatre and Steward School. Also featured in the Godwin production are three other Barksdale and Theatre IV alum: Grace Adams and P J Llewellyn from Grease, and Marissa Vermillera from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

The Friday performance costs $16 at the door, or tickets can be purchased in advance in the Godwin H S Commons, noon to 2 pm, everyday now through Friday. The show takes place at Godwin H S, 2101 Pump Road. Curtain time is 7:30.

It should be a great show, and a great chance to support more of Metro Richmond’s student actors. All of us at Disney’s High School Musical send a big "Break a Leg" to our friends in Chicago!

--Bruce Miller

Staff Spotlight - Amy Gethins Sullivan

Posted by Billy Christopher Maupin
At Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV we are very fortunate to have an incredibly talented and dedicated production staff. One of the wonderful individuals who works on this staff is Amy Gethins Sullivan. She is our Master Scenic Artist and has been since 2005, when this Richmond native returned to accept the call from Barksdale/TIV. She began her tour of duty with the dual setting of Barksdale's The Drawer Boy and Theatre IV's Bunnicula--on the same stage--AT THE SAME TIME! Now that is a task!

This is after Amy was "overhire" as a scenic painter for TIV's 1999 production of The Wizard of Oz and the 2001 production of Peter Pan. Greig Leach was Scenic Designer. Even after working on those ginormous shows, she came back!

Going back in time a bit (think of the Wayne's World doodle oodle time warp-not to be confused with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, mind you), Amy graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University (sotto voce) in 1984 in Painting and Printmaking. She then did what any college graduate with an art degree would do: waited tables (at Strawberry Street Cafe), worked at the Video Fan, and took classes at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Incidentally, the owner of the Video Fan while Amy was the store manager there, is now a co-owner of Artworks, where Amy just had a nice, month-long run displaying her children's portraits. That show ended this past Sunday. A large part of Amy's work outside of the theatre is painting these strikingly beautiful children's portraits (see one to the right). It kinda makes me want to run out and adopt a kid right now, just so Amy can paint a portrait of him being he or her being she.

OK, so back on the timeline (think again of Wayne's World doodle oodle time warp, still not to be confused with The Rocky Horror Show, mind you): after doing these "jobby-job" things moved to Northern Virginia, where she heard about Scena Studios needing a painter. So she hopped into her red Volkswagen Bug with paintings in tow, not even having a proper portfolio at this point (I love this image...actually...I love it so much, I think I'll say it again:) She hopped into her red Volkswagen Bug with paintings in tow, not even having a proper portfolio at this point and landed herself a job painting with a brilliant group of artists ("the best," Amy calls them), led by Diane Hackler. With Scena she painted for the Boston Ballet, the Washington Opera, and Disney on Ice (among others)! Oh, and my favorite: she painted the King Kong ride/exhibit for Universal Studios in 1990 that retired just last year. It was up for 15 years! It was a 3/4 scale set that was built and painted in NOVA and then shipped down to Florida. How cool is that!
Then Amy decided to be a stay-at-home mom with her four children until that call from Barksdale/Theatre IV! And we are so glad she came back!!!

So come on down for First Friday's next week where you can see Amy's artwork on display in the lobby of the Empire Theatre!

--Billy Christopher Maupin

Monday, July 23, 2007

We're All in This Together

Posted by Bruce Miller
I just returned from Opening Night of Disney’s High School Musical and I'm proud as a peacock. I’m proud of Chase Kniffen (Director), K Strong (Choreographer) and Sherri Matthews (Music Director) who’ve done such a fantastic job assembling a talented cast of 38 actors from 20 different schools (and home schools) and turning them into such a cohesive ensemble.

I’m proud of my talented wife, Terrie Powers (set design), and my equally talented colleagues and friends Sarah Grady (costume design) and Lynne Hartman (light design). The show looks terrific, and moves without a hitch. OK, maybe there were two tiny hitches tonight, but who noticed? These three artists make the show look like a million bucks, on a budget less than 2% that size.

I’m proud of our unsung heroes, and let me first mention our amazing Tech Director, Bruce Rennie. And as I mention his name, I want to say the word “hero” three more times. In show after show, Bruce makes miracles happen behind the scenes. The company doesn’t provide him with nearly enough support staff or expertise. Still, somehow, he always gets the job done. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think there was magic involved. Theatre IV and Barksdale simply could not exist without Bruce Rennie.

The company may not provide Bruce with enough support staff, but the ones we have provided are exceptional in their commitment, talent and hard work. Derek Dumais (Sound Engineer), Adam Tiller (Electrician and Light Board Op), and Wendy Vandergrift (Assistant Tech Director) are invaluable members of the staff. Amy Gethins Sullivan, Kim Parkin, Tia James and Terrie Powers (Painters); Nathan Meadows, John Valerie, and T J Spensieri (Carpenters); and Joe Bock and Virginia Varland (Electricians) have worked tirelessly to create the eight to ten different locales that the show requires.

Most important, I’m proud of our talented kids. But more about them later. In this post, I offer my most heartfelt thanks to the amazing adult leaders noted above. Every cast and audience member owes you a standing ovation.

They’re flying; they’re soaring—and to quote a cliché, you are the wind beneath their wings.

I thank you all for a job well done.
--Bruce Miller

Majesty, Magic and Mayhem at Agecroft Hall

Word on the street is that Henry IV, Part I may be Richmond Shakespeare Theatre’s best effort to date. I know plenty of theatre lovers who would fight for their own favorite, but it's good to see that this new entry is so clearly joined in the competition.

I’m ashamed to say I haven’t seen enough RST productions to assert which one may or may not be the best of all. But I can say this. Henry IV offers pleasures to spare, and if other productions have been better, then they must have been pretty sensational.

I love seeing theatre at Agecroft. I loved Henry IV, Part I.

I wish I were smart enough, or educated enough, to be able to watch Shakespeare and actually understand all the language. That’s a criticism of me, not of Shakespeare or any particular production—certainly not this one. Truth is, I fully understand about 50%—particularly if we’re talking about the histories and the tragedies.

In my youth, I used to hang on every word, trying to cogitate my way through each sentence. I learned long ago that that was just too exhausting. Now I let the language flow over me like beautiful music and through me like red wine, understanding all the words I can and feeling fulfilled by following the characters, emotions and story. That is fulfillment aplenty.

With this production, I was captivated. I still couldn’t understand every word, but I certainly understood the story. And the rest didn’t matter. There are four reasons why.

In alpha order, they are Phil Brown, Jack Parrish, Daryl Clark Phillips, and James Ricks.

I don’t want to take away from the many other fine actors on stage, or the capable direction and fight direction, or the beautiful setting, or Grant Mudge’s growing expertise as a producer, etc etc etc. But I don’t think I’ve ever before seen four such capable actors in a Shakespearean play in Richmond, VA. Unless maybe it was an As You Like It at VCU in the early 70s that may have starred, now that I think of it, Jack Parrish. Forgive me, Jack, if I’m wrong. The main thing I remember about that gorgeous production was a radiant Roxanna Prosser as Rosalind.

Anyway, all four of the gentlemen noted above knocked my socks off. Anyone who loves theatre in Richmond is CRAZY to miss their performances.

Phil Brown came over from England to play Prince Hal and I wish he would stay in Richmond forever. Are there any other roles you’re dying to play, Mr. Brown? Have your people call my people.

Phil is a good looking guy, and he fits the rake to champion character to a tee. He and Jack Parrish, who plays King Henry IV, have a wonderful father son chemistry, and he and Daryl Clark Phillips have an equally wonderful Hal / Falstaff chemistry. It starts out with Falstaff being the dominant force, leading Hal down the rosy path of debauchery, but then reverses in a really moving role-playing scene, when Hal begins to mature into the princely presence he will so fully inhabit by play’s end.

And then there’s James Ricks. I was prepared to be in a snit with James, because as I read the playbill before the show I noticed he failed to mention in his bio that he first came to Richmond to work at Barksdale, and that’s just how petty and persnickety I am. But about five sentences into his performance, all was forgiven.

In an ideal world, Hotspur should be a strapping lad, a physical equal to Prince Hal. At least in my ideal world. And James is not what one would call physically imposing. But once he started speaking, who cared. For my money, he completely mastered the language and, even when I couldn't instantly translate a 17th century sentence into my 21st century vernacular, I could read his inflections and his face like a book.

All four of these guys were terrific, and I selfishly hope they all four work at Barksdale sometime really soon. Three of them have in the recent past, and it's time for their return.

Before going, I want to say that the final fight between Hal and Hotspur was really well staged. It was gasp-worthy. If you don’t believe me, ask Jackie Jones.
I know how hard it is to assemble four such expert actors in one production. Thanks to Grant and everyone on the Henry IV team for a wonderful, rejuvenating evening.

--Bruce Miller

Photo captions: top center - James, Phil, Jack, Daryl, Grant; first right - Agecroft Hall; second right - portrait of King Henry IV

Sunday, July 22, 2007

SPARC's "Little Shop" Ignites Firehouse

With Little Shop of Horrors, SPARC is trying something different—a small, Off Broadway style musical performed by actors identical in age and experience to those actors used by many of Richmond’s other producing theatres. Watching this fun production of Little Shop is like watching Austin’s Bridge, Bat Boy or any of the other terrific Off Broadway musicals that the Firehouse has produced. It’s like watching Little Shop at the Mill, or Olympus on My Mind at Barksdale.

Let me amend that, slightly. The only difference I can see is that those other shows used a live band, or at least a live acoustic piano, and SPARC hasn't chosen to go that route. But Blanton Bradley is a great music director, and his “accompaniment track” adds real energy to this production. The accompaniment sounds very much like the original cast album.

SPARC’s current production of Little Shop is very different from Cats, Pippin, Grease or Disney’s High School Musical. I’m not sure why I wasn’t expecting that difference, but I wasn’t.

So welcome, Jenny and Larry, to the relatively small circle of Richmond theatrical producers. A lot is being written and said about Henley Street being the new theatre on the block. But with Little Shop, SPARC is clearly staking its claim to being a new, adult-audience producer, which is somewhat different from being the educational theatre producer that SPARC has been in the past.

Welcome, welcome, welcome!
If you haven’t seen Little Shop, by all means race down to the Firehouse to catch this production. The cast is great, and SPARC’s powerhouse team of Width, Bradley and Turner are at the top of their form.

And Jason Marks! Good grief, Jason. You get better and better with every show. Jason is simply one of the best Mr. Mushnik’s I’ve ever seen, and I’m old enough to have seen the original Off Broadway production—twice.

And then there’s Audrey. Lovely Audrey. Hayley Roberts is dynamite in this hilarious and heart-breaking role. She has a wonderful singing voice and great acting chops. You never know whether to laugh or cry. I loved her.

David Watson as Seymour and Elliott Lau as Orin (he of the rusting drill) are two young men to watch. Hayley, David and Elliott are all students at VCU, but they’re apparently not theatre majors. Who would know? All three have vocal and acting talent to spare, and I hope they continue to swim in the Richmond talent pool for years to come.

Word has it that Hayley's even married to a dentist in real life.

The three doo wop girls have big voices—I particularly liked the two with Meadowbrook H S connections. And T. J. Ellis as the Voice of Audrey II is ready for his recording contract. He has a wonderful and expressive voice—look out American Idol. Eric Stallings as the Audrey II manipulator also does a great job.

Mercedes Schaum makes the most of Firehouse’s tiny stage; Kym Mincks creates a real environment with her evocative costumes; Joe Doran continues to be a master of lights—and about the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.

So, for a little summertime fun, why not dive in to the Firehouse for Little Shop from SPARC.
Congratulations one and all. I hope you have the most successful run ever.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, July 21, 2007

"High School Musical" Megamix

I know I’m beginning to wear out my welcome, if there ever was a welcome, with these endless blog entries about Disney’s High School Musical. It’s a big show, and it’s important to me to give every kid his or her due. So, with respect and appreciation, I’m going to zip through the final ten actors who make our “megamix” of a cast so mix-worthy.

T J Otey is a rising junior at New Kent H S—quite a few of these kids have been dealing with a loooooong commute to be a part of this show. T J is the one who gives a quiet and slightly tone deaf audition in the audition scene, prompting Ms. Darvus to admire his tennis shoes and suggest that he help out with costumes.

Amanda O’Toole is a rising junior at Atlee H S, and she studies dance at Shuffles Dance Studio. She appeared in Pippin with SPARC, and is rallying pep as one of our cheerleaders.

Johanna Reckenbeil is in the a cappella and show choir at Godwin, and she studies dance at Richmond Dance Center, but this is her first theatrical production. She plays one of our “brainiacs,” and adds persuasive hand motions to that section of Counting on You when they sing about Rosa Parks.

Kristin Ricca is back for a second summer, having played Cha Cha last summer in Grease. There’s a really great photo of Kristin dancing with Robert Watkins, last summer’s charming Danny Zuko, about six blog posts back. Kristin is a rising junior at Deep Run H S, and a proud alum of Christian Youth Theatre and the Latin Ballet of Virginia.

Zack Rogers is also a returnee from Grease, and a rising junior at Thomas Dale H S. He has two stand-out moments in the show. He gives an ear wrenching vocal performance in the audition scene, and he finds surprising depth in the movements of a worm.

Andrea Ross is our third Grease alum in a row. She is a rising sophomore at Henrico H S’s Center for the Arts. In the audition scene, she belts out the song like a soulful American Idol contestant.
Hali E. Russell just graduated from Varina H S, and is pleased to be in her first musical. She appears as the “brainiac” who loves hip-hop.

Ariel Spagnolo is a rising junior at Deep Run H S, where she recently played Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. She’s one of our beautiful cheerleaders, and lends her acrobatic skills to several musical numbers.

Suzanne Spicer was the one that we wanted last summer, playing Sandy in Grease. She just graduated from Godwin H S, and credits much of her theatrical success to her twelve years as a student at HATTheatre.

Molly Underwood will soon be a senior in the Math and Science High School at Clover Hill. So of course she’s playing a skater babe in DHSM.

As Porky Pig would say at the end of a Looney Toons cartoon, “Th – th – th - that’s all folks!” Since I’m feeling pretty loony myself right about now, I’ll leave it at that. All of us at Barksdale and Steward are proud of everyone associated with Disney’s High School Musical. I hope you’ll make it a point to stop by in the next two weeks and take in their show.

--Bruce Miller

Another Ten Bop to the Top in "DHSM"

My daughter and I just returned from seeing SPARC’s summer production of Little Shop of Horrors at the Firehouse Theatre. A large group from Disney’s High School Musical went to today’s matinee and had a terrific time. SPARC has pulled together a GREAT cast—9 impressive actors with exceptional talent! Five are VCU students, two are current or recent students at Meadowbrook H S, and two are adults. These great actors deserve their own blog post, and I’ll try to write one in the next few days.

In this entry, let me continue recognizing the exceptional high school students who sing and dance their hearts out in Disney’s High School Musical.

Alex Godschalk just graduated from Steward, so in DHSM he has the home court advantage. He makes the most of it. Alex plays one of the "brainiacs," and he has a great moment when the character of Chad congratulates him with a high five, compelling Alex's character to transform from an up-tight academician to a hip-hop savvy homeboy. It’s one of the biggest laughs of the evening. Next fall Alex will be beginning his tenure as a theatre major at Elon.

Julia Greer is one of our wonderful cheerleaders. Chase, K and Sherri have done a great job creating a cheerleading unit that functions as a team, not as a group of individuals. So it’s hard for me to help you pick out Julia from the rest of her clique, all of whom pretty much dress, move and smile alike, just like they're supposed to. Julia is a rising freshman at Collegiate, and appeared with SPARC last summer in Dear Edwina.

B J Gruber is our heartthrob skater dude who secretly longs to play the cello. He participates in the drama program at Godwin H S, and is the only cast member to start the show off on wheels.

Christie Jackson just graduated from high school and is looking forward to beginning her theatre studies next fall at Madison. If you take note of the skilled acrobat with red hair, you’re noting Christie.

Charles Johnson is a rising senior at Highland Springs H S and received his vocal training with The Greater Richmond Children’s Choir. He’s on our basketball team in DHSM, and enjoying all that dribbling in Getcha Head in the Game.

Kouryn Lupino is a rising senior at Godwin H S, and attended the Center for the Arts at Henrico H S for two years in the musical theatre program. She’s pretty irresistible on stage, and you’ll recognize her as the one who wears a knit cap over her long dark hair.

Hannah Miller is a rising junior at Trinity H S and a returnee from our cast of Grease last summer. She recently appeared in The Wizard of Oz at Theatre IV, and takes dance at the Richmond Dance Center. You’ll spot her in DHSM as the one who is directed to “be the bear” in drama class, and has a beaming smile throughout the ensemble numbers.

Dylan Moon is a proud member of our second pair of siblings, a distinction he shares with his big brother Zac. Last summer, Dylan played the son, Nathan, in The Full Monty at Barksdale Willow Lawn. Last winter he was a floating head in Flowers for Algernon at Swift Creek Mill.

Na’imah Nelson spent her freshman year at the Center for the Arts at Henrico H S, and will soon be a sophomore at Hermitage H S. She received additional training from the Richmond City Dance Theatre, and is pleased to have joined the cheer squad in DHSM.

Paul Newell is a rising junior at Deep Run H S and is a proud alum of Christian Youth Theatre. You can identify Paul as the referee in the climactic basketball game at the end of our show.

And that brings me to the end of this entry. There’s more to come soon regarding the final ten talented teens in our High School Musical entourage. Each one is worth applauding, and we're blessed that all of them have agreed to be in the show.

--Bruce Miller