Thursday, August 2, 2007

Happy Birthday Barksdale! - Part II

Muriel McAuley continues her account of the founding of Barksdale Theatre. Our official birthday is August 1, the day that the six founders signed the deed to Hanover Tavern and, with no heat, no plumbing and no money, officially moved in.

“We moved in on a Saturday, and on
Sunday morning dressed up and marched ourselves down to the little country church, St. Paul’s, to introduce ourselves to Hanover. (An idea we shamelessly stole from Robert Porterfield who had led his troupe to his Abingdon, Virginia church when he started Barter Theatre in 1933.)

From the beginning, this tiny community welcomed ‘those crazy actors from New York.’ Mary Taylor offered her swimmin’ hole and for a week we carried soap and shampoo to Taylor’s Pond while Stu struggled to get one bathtub working. From our new neighbors came food from their gardens, home-made goodies, muscles and encouragement. And their kids. In a village where you had to be able to drive a car just to get to a movie or ice cream shop, the Tavern suddenly was where the action was. Many a parent concedes that his children were partly raised at Barksdale.

Their initial friendship, we think, was because of the Tavern. Once it had been the heart of the community, middle-aged people remembering their wedding reception there and neighborhood parties. For the past ten years, it had been neglected and abused, rented out only for wild Saturday night dances that left behind a glitter of smashed whiskey bottles and beer cans. For these dances the entire English basement had been painted red, white and blue, and the brick on 18th century fireplaces painted red and white like Santa Claus chimneys.

We put a stop to the dances and spent every moment away from our jobs scrubbing, painting, repairing. By September we had the downstairs presentable: broken windows replaced, peeling paint scraped off and a warm brown painted on (though it would be a couple of years and three more paint jobs before the red stopped bleeding through), the public johns wallpapered with covers from Theatre Arts Magazine. The Hanover Community League gave a big party, their first at the Tavern in many years, and at the end of the evening we found a note in the men’s room: ‘Thank you for a clean restroom.’ Those ‘crazy actors from New York’ were cleaning the place up.

In December, we were hired to do the Christmas program for the Hanover Woman’s Club, and performed an original one-act Tom had written. Our first paid job.”
--Bruce Miller
Photo captions: St. Paul's looks something like this little white church, but I'll insert a real photo of St. Paul's as soon as I drive out and take one. This pic of Bob Porterfield, legendary founder of Barter Theatre (and good friend of Barksdale), is the oldest one I could find. It dates from the mid-60s. Bob is the gentleman on the left.


Jacquie O. said...

What wonderful posts Bruce! Now we need to write the next book called "The move to Willow Lawn". My chapter would be "How I almost died hauling a 10,000 pound wooden bar up a staircase" Sub-title..."Why I should now get free drinks for the rest of my life at Barksdale Theatre".

So many fun moving stories, so little time!

Bruce Miller said...

Honestly, Jackie, I hope you will write just such a post. There's so much Richmond theatre history out there that is unrecorded except in the memories of individuals like the two of us. One of our goals with this blog is to record at least some of the stories. So if you'll write the story about moving the bar, I'll transcribe Muriel's story of the bar's origins. I'll post whatever you'll write; just email it to me, and if you have any pics, email those too.

Now as for the free drinks, hmmmm.