Posted by Phil Whiteway
When TheatreVirginia closed its doors unexpectedly in 2002, Barksdale and Theatre IV launched five major initiatives to help Greater Richmond deal with the loss.
We produced TheatreVirginia’s cancelled production of The Laramie Project, fulfilling seven actor, director and designer contracts that had been promised to some of Greater Richmond's most talented theatre artists. We brought six of TheatreVirginia’s full time employees onto our staff, allowing them to stay in Richmond and remain employed. We honored, at no additional cost to ROSMY, a fundraiser for which ROSMY had purchased and paid for 500 tickets from TheatreVirginia and received nothing when the theatre closed. We purchased the remnants of the TheatreVirginia costume collection for $10,000, ensuring that this Richmond asset stayed in town and in tact. And we honored approximately 5,400 tickets held by TheatreVirginia subscribers for the three shows that were cancelled.
We did all this out of respect – respect for the cherished institution that had meant so much to so many for over four decades; respect for the board leaders, artists, volunteers and audience members who were most directly effected by the closure; and respect for Benny Sato Ambush, the nationally acclaimed director who had come to Richmond to try his mightiest to save TheatreVirginia during its final year-and-a-half.
On July 27, The Washington Post reported that Benny had been named Artistic Director of the African Continuum Theatre Company in D. C. All his friends were thrilled for him. “I’m ready for the adventure,” said Benny. “I’m ready to get busy.”
He was to begin work fulltime last month, replacing company founder Jennifer L. Nelson who left on August 31 after 11 years at the helm. Last week, The Post reported that the African Continuum’s board had decided to postpone its fall and winter shows and present a shortened season in the spring, citing a severe “cash-flow crunch.” The board also decided to delay, perhaps until February, a full-time commitment to Benny, who has been commuting from his home in Winston-Salem to Washington for the last several months.
Quoting from The Washington Post: “’I’m clearing the deck, so to speak, of my prior commitments as a freelancer, directing and teaching,’ Ambush said. ‘But even when out of town, I still work on behalf of the African Continuum Theatre Company.’ Board Chairman Rubie G. Coles said Ambush was working on the company’s spring season ‘and we’re hoping that in the next two or three weeks, we’ll be able to announce what we’re doing,’ an expectation seconded by Ambush.”
Benny is an exemplary theatre professional and will be a great asset to the Mid-Atlantic once he makes the move to D. C. His goals for African Continuum are still taking shape, but he hopes “to build the infrastructure of the theatre, to extend its reach in the region, strengthen its relevance and solidify its essentialness in the theatrical landscape of the District.”
Benny Ambush is the perfect man for the job, and we wish him tremendous success.