Thursday, July 19, 2007

Greater Richmond H S Musical Returns

During the first year of Theatre IV, 1975-76, our nonprofit company took in either $14,000 or $17,000 during the entire 12-month fiscal year. For some reason I can’t remember which of those two figures is correct. What I do remember is that every penny of that gross revenue went to pay bills, including very meager salaries for everyone except Phil and me. Phil and I didn’t earn any salary from Theatre IV for the first three years.

We earned our living during those salad days waiting tables and acting (I mention waiting tables first cause that’s where the money was) at the Haymarket Dinner Theatre and Swift Creek Mill Playhouse. We talked about waiting some at Barksdale, but, if memory serves, we never actually did. We acted there, but I don’t think we waited there.

We also worked the midnight cash control shift at King’s Dominion during the summers, collecting and counting money, mostly late at night. And I worked as the Drama Director at Collegiate Schools. I didn’t teach any classes, but I directed Barefoot in the Park, Carousel, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, As You Like It, No No Nanette, and Seven Keys to Baldpate. Phil and Lynn Keeton helped with choreography on the two musicals.

There were several wonderfully talented students who played major roles in more than one of those plays, including Page Bauder, Beth Freeman, Meg Hardt, Bill Hickock, Tommy Kastenbaum, Steve Kelly and Mary Lloyd Sinnott.

I remember all of them loving theatre and wishing there were some summer opportunities. In 1977, the Richmond Department of Recreation and Parks provided just such an opportunity. They produced the Greater Richmond High School All Star Musical at Dogwood Dell. In ’77, it was Kismet. It starred Steve Kelly. I remember that Phil and I went to see it, and we were so proud of Steve we could hardly stand it.

Immediately after that summer, I stopped working at Collegiate (my Theatre IV responsibilities were getting to be too much), and the Dell stopped producing the Greater Richmond High School All Star Musical. The two stoppages were not related.

Throughout the nearly 30 years that followed, Phil and I wanted to start once again a summer program that allowed high school drama kids from throughout the entire community to have the chance to audition for and work together on a summer musical that would showcase all their talents. We wanted to revive the Greater Richmond High School All Star Musical, that terrific community-wide program from the past.

Until last summer, the only similar opportunities that existed were available only to those kids who could afford to pass on a summer day job to attend daytime rehearsals, and, in most cases, pay several hundred dollars in tuition to be in the show. And many of the leads in the shows that existed were actually played not by high school kids, but by adult professionals and/or college theatre majors.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with the programs that existed, and everything right with them. They were terrific programs. But they weren’t free, community-wide programs like that fondly remembered production of Kismet at Dogwood Dell.

In the fall of '05, Chase Kniffen and I met with a group of high school drama teachers from throughout Greater Richmond and asked what Barksdale Theatre could do to support their students. No surprise, the number one unfilled need mentioned by these teachers was this: as Metro Richmond’s major professional theatre, wouldn’t it be great if Barksdale could produce a musical every summer in which high school kids could all act together free-of-charge, with evening rehearsals so that kids who needed to could hold down day jobs.
Two days after this meeting, Craig Smith and Andy Mudd, who head the great theatre program at Steward School, called Chase to ask if Barksdale would be interested in filling this unmet need by starting exactly such a program in partnership with Steward School. Barksdale would fill the production responsibilities, and Steward would provide the facility.

That’s how Greater Richmond’s High School All Star Musical came back into being. Last summer we produced Grease at Steward’s fantastic Cramer Center--show photos are included above. This year we will be producing Disney’s High School Musical, opening day after tomorrow, with a cast of 38 wonderfully talented high school students from 20 different schools. Two supporting roles will be played by adults—Kathy Halenda and Michael Hawke.

We hope you’ll support this vital, community-wide program. In many ways, it’s a dream come true. We’re proud to be partnering with Steward School, and we hope you’ll join us at the theatre to see many of Richmond’s finest kids in action.

--Bruce Miller


Anonymous said...

Coming from a cast member of "Grease" last year, this program is just what the community needed. I know I could never afford to do a program in the summer that charged. I did one year, but I had a lot of financial help that just stressed me out. Thank goodness "Grease" came along. Not only did I have the opportunity to do a show without paying an arm and a leg, I also got the actual chance to be a part of the show instead of just another face in the crowd. I really hope this program runs for a long time, and I'll keep supporting it every summer!

Chris Withers
aka Roger from 2006's "Grease"

Anonymous said...

I took two ten years old to see High School Musical last night and they loved it. The cast of such great young talent should be proud of what they do along with all the behind the scene crews. I loved the musical myself and wish I had the chance to see it again. Those kids made you believe that the story was true not just acting. I live in the Northen Neck of Virginia and our kids don't have access to the programs that the city kids do., but it gives them hope that they can be anything they want to be. that was my first play in the city so I know I'll come back again. Keep up the Good Work, Plays like the Musical keep kids interest in the theatre. and make them want to go back again.GREAT JOB TO EVERYONE INVOLVED