Thursday, August 30, 2007

3's a Charm

Posted by Jessica Daugherty

In the Marketing Dept. we are always looking for ways to show you something new and exciting while at the same time crafting a certain look, something that when you see it immediately says Barksdale. It's a trick to do both at once, but we have been spoiled rotten by the terrific artwork of freelance illustrator Robert Meganck for the past two seasons. He gets to know our season, talks with us, reads scripts, and then manages to distill it all down to one evocative image per show that gives you a real sense of what you'll see at the theatre.

Our newly announced 2007 - 2008 Signature Season is no exception. He's brought our titles to life for a third time, and in the capable hands of our excellent graphic designer, Kate Carpenter, our new brochure has become a thing of beauty. But don't take my word for it; see for yourself - Download the full brochure in pdf format. (It'll open in a new window). Or if you'd rather, you can have us mail it out to you the old fashioned way.

More about the illustrator:

Robert Meganck is a freelance illustrator, president of Communication Design, Inc., and a professor of illustration, graphic design and digital imaging at Virginia Commonwealth University. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Robert has received numerous professional awards and been recognized for excellence by such organizations as The Society of Illustrators (N.Y.), The Society of Illustrators Los Angeles, The Art Directors Club of New York, The Art Directors Club of Metropolitan Washington, The American Institute of Graphic Artist, and The Illustrators Club of Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia. His work has been included in a variety of national reviews including Communication Arts Magazine’s Illustration Annuals, American Illustration Annuals, Print Magazine’s Region Design Annuals, and The Society of Illustrators Annuals.

In the past 10 years, Robert’s work has been in a state of transition, moving from graphic design to illustration, from traditional media to digital media. His illustrations appear regularly in the Washington Post, The Washington City Paper, and a variety of magazines.

Born and educated in Detroit, Michigan, he has taught at California State University in Fullerton, at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and now resides with his family in Richmond, Virginia.

Jessica Daugherty
Internet Services Mgr.
Marketing Department

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Katherine Louis, playing Berenice in the upcoming production of The Member of The Wedding Breezes Through to Answer Lipton's Questionnaire

Posted by Billy Christopher Maupin

Katherine Louis, whom I love and adore, had a brief moment last week, when she came through my office for all of about ten minutes with many other pressing things on her plate, so I promptly asserted that this questionnaire is vitally important, so she sat down with me to answer the questionnaire that Proust inspired, than Pivot picked up on, and James Lipton (Inside the Actor's Studio) ripped off...OK...not ripped off...he always gives credit to Pivot...and he changed a couple of things. So it really is all very above board. If anyone is ripping off, it's really me. But we won't talk about that.

So...Katherine's repsonses...oh wait...I want all to know that Katherine, who I saw most recently in Living Word Stage Company's (now African American Repertory Theatre) African American Trailblazer's storytelling series at various venues around Richmond (very cool stuff...very educational and also very dynamic and captivating). ANYway...back to Katherine's answers...
(drum roll please...)

(are you doing it?)

(no, really, do a drum roll
on your desk right now...)

So here goes:

1. What is your favorite word?

2. What is your least favorite word?
3. What turns you on [creatively, spiritually or emotionally]?
I’m just going to say the first thing that pops into my head: When people really listen to me.

4. What turns you off?
Stupid turns me off like crazy. Stupid anything. Stupid people. Stupid comments. Stupid clothes. (Oh, that sounds so shallow.) We all know I’m so beyond being shallow like that. Are you listening to me!?

5. What sound or noise do you love?
My granddaughter’s laughter.

6. What sound or noise do you hate?
Brakes screeching. That’s the first thing that came into my head.

7. What is your favorite curse word? (have it at it. I obviously won't post it for real, but in some approved somewhat censored fashion)
It’s funny you should ask me this because I actually know the answer. My favorite curse-word is **** (think of sugar honey iced tea). It kind of hits everything doesn’t it. It’s a word your grandma can say.

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Culinary Instructor. I don’t want to be in the kitchen all day, but I can teach others how to be in the kitchen all day.

9. What profession would you not like to do?
Garbage man.

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Well done.

Stay tuned for more "interviews" with the cast, crew, and artistic team of Barksdale Theatre's production of Carson McCuller's The Member of the Wedding.

-- Billy Christopher Maupin

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Barksdale and Barter

Posted by Bruce Miller

Exactly forty years ago, Barksdale Theatre was about to wrap up its one-week run of Stop the World—I Want to Get Off at Barter Theatre. This was a history-making engagement, as Barksdale was the first guest company ever to be invited to perform on the Barter Stage.

The following newspaper coverage is quoted in Muriel’s book. She doesn’t identify the newspaper, but I suspect it was either the Richmond Times-Dispatch or News Leader. No publication date is provided.

“Barksdalians To Do Play at Barter

The telephone lines and the mails are humming these days between Abingdon, Va., and Hanover Court House, respective homes to two of the state’s best-known theaters.

Barter Theater, the State Theater of Virginia and perhaps the most famous professional company in the nation, is located in the tiny mountain town of Abingdon. It’s an improbable site for a major theater, but no more so than founder Robert Porterfield’s original idea during the depression of exchanging entertainment for food.

Three hundred miles away is Hanover Court House, another small hamlet that never expected to claim the state’s first dinner-theater, Barksdale. On August 22 through August 29, Barter will be host to Barksdale’s highly-praised production of “Stop the World—I Want to Get Off.”
It all began last fall, when Porterfield saw the off-beat musical at Barksdale Hanover Tavern. What began as a casual suggestion that Burt Edwards and Nancy Kilgore re-create their leading roles at Barter, gradually ballooned into the entire Barksdale company, with the original sets and costumes by Lyde Longaker, guesting at Abingdon for a full week. All of the Barksdale cast will be together again for the event, with some taking leaves from other summer stock jobs in order to do the show.

Rehearsals begin this week, under the direction of Jay Lundy, musical direction of Dougee Zeno and choreography of Frances Wessells, who will also travel to Barter for two days of rehearsals on that stage prior to the opening.

With Edwards, who plays Littlechap, and Mrs. Kilgore, who appears as his wife and as several other women in his life, will be Carol and Bobbie Hamblett, Richmond twins who will again play the two daughters, and the singing and dancing chorus composed of Judy Ward, Patricia Story, Carol Rogers, Gina Vetter, Libby Jarratt, Henrietta Near and Melvina Gooch.”

The history-making aspect of all this, as Bob Porterfield would shortly thereafter explain to me himself (see the upcoming My Dinner with Bob Porterfield), was that in 1967 Barter Theater honestly was, as the newspaper article says, “the most famous professional (theatre) company in the nation.” Please remember that in 1948, Bob Porterfield received the first Regional Theatre Tony Award for his “Contribution to the Development of Regional Theatre.” The next such award was not presented until 1976, when it was won by Arena Stage in Washington, D. C.

The actors whom Barter hired included Gregory Peck (pictured to the right), Ernest Borgnine, Patricia Neal (pictured up and to the left), Ned Beatty and Hume Cronyn. When Bob Porterfield visited Barksdale, loved Stop the World, and invited Nancy and Burt to star in the same musical at Barter, it was a huge deal. And when Pete and Muriel responded by saying, to quote Muriel, “None of that, if you want them, you’ll have to take everybody,” they were taking a huge gamble.

Mr. Porterfield must have had tremendous respect for Barksdale, and he certainly was committed to the developing regional theatre movement. But no matter how you look at it, it was downright amazing that, in Barter’s 34th year of existence, founder Bob Porterfield invited Barksdale to be the first guest company ever to perform in his nationally prominent theatre.

In the next few days, I’ll interview Frances Wessells, Lyde Longaker and others about their Barter experience. Stay tuned.

--Bruce Miller

More photo credits: The two young lovelies are Carol Rogers and Julie Crump from the Stop the World ensemble. That's Nancy and Burt perched atop the Barter marquee, in their full Stop the World get-up. Can't you just hear the Abingdonians shouting, "Who are those two clowns on the marquee?!" The painting of Nancy, which regularly hangs in the Barksdale Willow Lawn lobby, dates back to that famous Stop the World run.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Wepplo, Carter Todd and Wagoner Succeed as Fools

Posted by Bruce Miller

Great news from our friends in Idaho! Richmond actress Aly Wepplo (the shy daughter in Smoke on the Mountain at Hanover Tavern and Older Patrick's wife at the end of Mame) was such a hit in this summer's Spitfire Grill in Hailey that she's been invited back for Company of Fools' Fall Season opener, Doubt by John Patrick Shanley. She'll be playing Sister James. The show runs in Idaho Oct 17 through Nov 3.

Barksdale will be staging Doubt (winner of the 2005 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize) this season as well on our Signature Season at Willow Lawn, February 15 - March 16, starring Irene Ziegler under Keri Wormald's direction.

Adding icing to the Idaho cake, the four person cast of Doubt at Company of Fools will also feature another of Richmond's talented alumnae, Michelle Carter Todd (Fairy Godmother in Theatre IV's Cinderella) as Mrs. Muller. Michelle and her husband Cliff have been living in L A for the past several years, and doing quite well. It's been a pleasure to keep up with them as their careers have continued to flourish.

The only actor already cast in the Barksdale production of Doubt is Irene Ziegler.

A final congratulation goes out to Debra Wagoner (Glenda in Theatre IV's most recent Wizard of Oz). After her many roles at Company of Fools, she was named a Company Artist this summer in Idaho, an honor she shares with world-famous Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, and Richmond-famous Dennis Rexroad, Laine Satterfield, Robert Throckmorton, and Joel Vilinsky.

You can learn more about the wonderful work at Company of Fools by visiting . As always, we're so happy for their continuing success.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, August 24, 2007

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Frown...

Posted by Bruce Miller

Great things are happening at the downtown Barksdale/Theatre IV office. Our beloved Sara Heifetz has come back to us to resume some of her former duties. She returns to Richmond after “a wonderful four years of personal and professional growth in the Big Apple.”

She’s come home, in part, “to grow something quite different, but hopefully no less of a contribution to the Richmond theatre scene.” Sara and her partner Carlos, a sound designer and audio engineer, are expecting their first “joyous bundle of stinky diapers and overdramatic tantrums” in mid-January, and they couldn’t be more thrilled—“nothing short of miraculous!”

Sara’s mother has been seriously ill for quite some time in Richmond, and Sara and Carlos have been traveling back and forth between NYC and Richmond every month. When they got the good news they decided to relocate to be closer to the family they both have here, and to give Grandma Heifetz “the healing energy only a grandchild can provide.”

If you ask why she moved back, Sara will unfailingly reply with a gigantic and slightly mischievous grin, “Cuz I got knocked up!” She is quite deliberate in refusing to allow me to stand on ceremony. Spunky sense of humor aside, the couple says this is a “perfectly timed blessing.”

It’s a blessing for us too, to have the ebullient Ms. Heifetz back in the office, looking lovelier than ever, by the way. She’ll be crunching numbers with a smile, assisting our new Operations Manager, Lucas Hall. Lucas took John Gotschalk’s place when John left a couple weeks ago to serve his stint as Mr. Mom so that his amazing wife, Alex, could return to her job as an architect. Sara is filling Lucas’s old position.

Welcome Sara! We can’t believe it’s been four years since you left. We’re thrilled to have you back on the team!

--Bruce Miller

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

Posted by Bruce Miller

In response to a recent blog entry (Summer Stock Memories - Part II [Aug 19]), a curious reader commented as follows: “I don’t mean to be dumb, but what the heck is Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?” The question, of course, is not dumb at all.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a game. I understand it’s now even a board game. I've never seen the board game, but the photo to the right and above, found on the internet, seems to indicate that a board game version does indeed exist.

For years it was a boardless trivia game, inspired by the career of the talented actor, Kevin Bacon, pictured to the left. It required no equipment other than a knowledge of and interest in theatre and film.

The game was originally inspired, I believe, by the brilliant John Guare play, Six Degrees of Separation, which was itself inspired by the interconnectedness theories espoused by the Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy in 1929, and the subsequent "small world" research conducted by Harvard-based American social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, in the late 60s and early 70s.

The basic idea is that everyone in the world is interconnected. If you are separated from your friend by one degree, then you are separated from your friend’s friends by two degrees. Milgram’s research suggests that when we extend this theory forward to six degrees, everyone in the world is connected to everyone else—and by a fairly short chain.

John Guare’s play is a funny, thought provoking and deeply moving examination of what this means when we look at our daily lives and social responsibilities. It’s one of my two or three favorite plays in the world. If The Little Dog Laughed works well on the 2007-2008 Signature Season at Barksdale Willow Lawn, expect to see Six Degrees of Separation appearing in a forthcoming seaon not too far down the road.

Anyway, back to Kevin Bacon. Inspired by these same theories, the game depends on the belief that every actor in the world can be connected to every other actor in the world by a chain of cast mates. The object of the game is to discover the closest connections in the shortest amount of time.

Let me give you an example: I recently mentioned Charlie Dacus, the child actor who just appeared in Bye Bye Birdie at Dogwood Dell. Can we link him to Sir Laurence Olivier, the “greatest English-speaking actor of the 20th Century”?

After about 5 minutes, here’s the chain I discovered. Charlie Dacus was in Theatre IV’s The Wizard of Oz with Jan Guarino (one degree). Jan Guarino was in Swift Creek’s Once Upon a Mattress with Phil Whiteway (two degrees). Phil Whiteway was in Theatre IV’s West Side Story with Blair Underwood (three degrees). Blair Underwood was in L A Law with Jill Eikenberry (four degrees). Jill Eikenberry was in Arthur with Sir John Gielgud (five degrees). Sir John was in Richard III with Sir Laurence Olivier (six degrees).
And yes, I have noticed that Kevin Bacon appears nowhere in the chain noted above. But he doesn’t have to, at least the way I’ve always played the game. The game is called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon simply because, as college kids were inventing and playing the game in the 90s, Kevin Bacon’s name kept coming up because he tends to have been in lots of movies with lots of diverse actors, including his wife Kyra Sedgwick. That's Kevin and Kyra in the photo to the right.

While at the University of Virginia, a grad student named Brett Tjaden created the Oracle of Bacon website and computer program to determine if Kevin Bacon was, in fact, the Center of the Hollywood Universe. Tjaden entered data for the 800,000 plus actors listed in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) to see which actors had the closest connections to the largest number of other actors. He determined that whereas Kevin Bacon was in fact in the top 1% of all film actors in terms of his close connections to all other film actors, he was beat out by Rod Steiger (pictured to the left), Dennis Hopper and Donald Sutherland for the top three spots.

Some people play the game by giving each actor a Bacon Number. If you are Kevin Bacon himself, your Bacon Number is 0. If you have appeared in a cast with Kevin Bacon himself, your Bacon Number is 1. If you have appeared in a cast with someone who has a Bacon Number of 1, then your Bacon Number is 2.

Richmond All-Star Robyn O’Neill (pictured to the right with Pat Carroll) has a Bacon Number of 3. You can read her comment to my previous blog post (Summer Stock Memories – Part II [Aug 19]) to count the connections. The only Richmond actors who I know have a Bacon Number of 2 are John Glenn, Pat Carroll, Sam Wells and Kelly Scallion. John (pictured to the left in The Man Who Came to Dinner at Company of Fools) works in Idaho with Demi Moore, Pat was in E. R. with Noah Wyle, and Sam and Kelly were in Miss Rose White with Kyra Sedgwick. Demi and Noah were in A Few Good Men with Kevin, and Kyra is married to Kevin and appeared with him in Murder in the First. So, if you’re a Richmond actor and you’ve appeared with John, Pat, Sam or Kelly, you also have a Bacon Number of 3.

To a certain extent, my wife and daughter, set designer Terrie Powers and Hannah Miller, have you all beat. When Miss Rose White was filming in Richmond, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick and their child (children?) all lived in a rented home by Byrd Park. When Hannah was a baby, Terrie used to take her to the Byrd Park playground. One evening Terrie came home very excited, because she and Hannah had just spent the entire afternoon playing in a Byrd Park sandbox with Kevin Bacon and his son. Terrie was a huge Kevin Bacon fan, but just like I had done years before with Arthur Miller, she never let on that she knew who he was. So they sat there for a couple hours playing and talking as two parents. If she’d done the “fan thing,” he probably would have left.
All reports are that Mr. Bacon himself is not particularly into the celebrity game. When interviewed about the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, he good-heartedly replied, "I felt as if I was the brunt of some massive joke at my expense: 'Can you believe this loser can be connected to Marlon Brando and Katharine Hepburn?'"

A "loser" he certainly is not.

On a final note, if you’re a fan of The Closer starring Kyra Sedgwick (and if you aren’t, you should be), you’ll know that Kyra’s dad is now being played by Barry Corbin (pictured below and to the right), who was with us here in Richmond as a special guest star last October for Virginia Arts & Letters Live at the Empire. So if you performed in that iteration of VALL, your Bacon Number is now a 3.

All those who want to accept the challenge of discovering the other Richmond actors with Bacon Numbers of 2—I know there must be some—please do so in a comment to this blog.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Birdie's" Strouse Has Roots in Richmond

Posted by Bruce Miller
While writing the Bye Bye Birdie blog, I promised that I'd soon write about Richmond's connections to legendary composer Charles Strouse. Here goes.

In 1961, Charles Strouse made American musical theatre history when he composed the first Broadway score to be written in the rock and roll vernacular. Seven years before Hair, Bye Bye Birdie became Broadway’s first "rock musical." Of course the rock 'n' roll of Birdie is of the Elvis Presley / Bobby Rydell / Connie Francis variety, with several pop numbers and a bit of salsa thrown in for good measure.

Nonetheless, the songs in Bye Bye Birdie (including the title tune, One Last Kiss, Honestly Sincere, Lotta Livin’ to Do and One Boy) sounded a lot more like what we were listening to on our transistor radios in 1961 than had the songs from Broadway’s biggest hits of the preceding five years (My Fair Lady [56], West Side Story [57], The Music Man [57], and Gypsy [59]).

If Charles Strouse had stopped with Bye Bye Birdie, he would have earned his place as a significant Broadway composer. But he didn’t stop. He went on to write ten more Broadway musicals since Birdie, and several musicals that never made it to Broadway. Best of all, he’s still going strong.

All of this is important to Richmond because, to a degree that can be applied to no other major Broadway composer, Richmond has some strong connections to Charles Strouse. To a certain extent, we can honor him as one of our own.

Since Birdie, Charles has written diverse and amazing musicals, collaborating with impressive co-creators:

1962 – All American, starring Ray Bolger, with a book by Mel Brooks. It was Brook’s second Broadway musical, preceding by nearly four decades Brooks’ masterwork, The Producers, which won more Tony Awards (12) than any musical in Broadway history.

1964-66 – Golden Boy, starring Sammy Davis Jr. in Broadway’s first musical to feature an inter-racial marriage. The book was written by none other than the great American agitprop playwright from the 1930s, Clifford Odets, who died during the Detroit tryout, prompting the engagement of “co-writer” William Gibson.

1966 – It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman, starring Jack Cassidy and Linda Lavin, produced and directed by Hal Prince. Considered by many to be ahead of its time, the campy, pop-art sensibility of It’s a Bird was obviously copied in the hit ABC-TV series Batman, which began to air only months after It’s a Bird closed. Moreover, Robert Benton and David Newman, co-authors of the It’s a Bird book, went on to co-author the Superman movie with Christopher Reeve.

1970-72 – Applause, starring Lauren Bacall, with a book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green

1975 – The Member of the Wedding, featuring incidental music by Strouse, with Virginia’s own Glenn Close understudying Mary Beth Hurt in the role of Frankie Addams!!

1977-83 – A little something called Annie. ‘Nuff said.

1980 – Charlie and Algernon

1981 – Bring Back Birdie, featuring Richmond’s own Porter Hudson, who, as John Hudson, choreographed Theatre IV’s production of Cabaret at the Empire Theatre only months after Bring Back closed

1983 – Dance a Little Closer, featuring Richmond’s own Diane Pennington in the role of Shirley, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

1986 – Rags, starring Teresa Stratas and Larry Kert, with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

1991 – Nick & Nora, starring Barry Bostwick, Joanna Gleason and Christine Baranski, with book by Arthur Laurents and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr.

2005-06 – Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, featuring songs by many composers including Strouse

In addition to the two Richmonders who performed in Strouse musicals on Broadway, one of Richmond’s powerhouse talents, Katherine Tracy (pictured to the left in the title role of the Mill's 1980ish production of Mame), served as Charles Strouse’s personal assistant in NYC for a couple years later in the 80s. After her tenure with Strouse, Katherine returned to Richmond to work as Marketing Director of Theatre IV, and then Managing Director of Barksdale. At least partially through Katherine’s contacts, Barksdale produced in 1993 the Strouse revue, By Strouse, and the world premiere of the new Strouse musical, Bojangles, based on the life of Richmonder Bill Bojangles Robinson, with a book by Richmond playwright Douglas Jones.

On the Theatre IV side, I asked Charles if I could adapt his musical teleplay of Lyle Lyle Crocodile for live touring, and he graciously agreed. For several years, Theatre IV produced the national tour of Lyle Lyle Crocodile, with music and lyrics by Charles Strouse and book by yours truly. During one of the first trips I made to New York to work with Charles on my tour adaptation, he invited me to a backers’ preview of Nick & Nora. It was so cool to sit in the studio with all these Broadway types, listening to Barry Bostwick, Joanna Gleason, Christine Baranski and Debra Monk stand around Charles at the piano, singing his Nick & Nora songs for the first time.

Sometime in the mid-90s, Charles and Bernard Waber, author of the Lyle books, had a parting of the ways. Thereafter Theatre IV had to negotiate with Waber’s agents directly. The version of Lyle that we perform today no longer benefits from the Charles Strouse music and lyrics. Now I’m the sole author of all three – book, music and lyrics. Which is cool. But I certainly enjoyed my years in the sun as a partner of Charles Strouse.

There’s one reason why working with Charles, albeit on a limited basis, was so much fun. Despite being the composer of two of the “Top Ten Most Frequently Produced Musicals in America” (Bye Bye Birdie and Annie), Charles Strouse is about as nice, genuine and generous a guy as you’ll find. I’ll always treasure our too brief association.

So, the next time anyone does a Charles Strouse musical in Richmond, all Richmond theatre aficionados should take some pride in knowing that on several occasions, Charles has been down here and Richmond artists have been up there to collaborate on new musicals. In some significant ways, Richmonders can claim Charles Strouse as an honorary member of River City.

--Bruce Miller