Friday, December 14, 2007

It's a Wonderful City -- and Barksdale and Theatre IV Help to Make It That Way

Posted by John Steils

Barksdale Bifocal’s current production of It’s a Wonderful Life is now bringing joy on tour to senior centers and retirement living facilities throughout Greater Richmond. In honor of the central plot device of this holiday classic, we found ourselves sitting around the other day contemplating how Greater Richmond would be different if Barksdale and Theatre IV had never existed?
Among the scores of answers that marketing team members yelled out, I was surprised by this one. If Barksdale and Theatre IV had never existed, there would be no Richmond Boys Choir.

If you want to hear first-ear what a loss this would be, you can attend a free concert this evening in Oregon Hill. The Richmond Boys Choir will perform their benefit holiday program entitled A Joyful Sound this evening, Fri Dec 14, 6 pm, at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church at the corner of Laurel and Idlewood. Admission is a canned good or non-perishable food item. All proceeds will go to the Central Virginia Food Bank. No reservations are required.

Both the Richmond Boys Choir and St Andrew’s have strong connections to Barksdale and Theatre IV. And in the case of the Choir, the “connection” goes beyond strong.

The current Richmond Boys Choir was founded as a subsidiary of Theatre IV in 1996. Our artistic director, Bruce Miller, apparently charged into Phil Whiteway’s office one day twelve years ago mourning the fact that the first Richmond Boys Choir had fallen into non-existence in the three years following the death of its founder. Bruce decided that Theatre IV was in a position to reinvigorate the Choir, and he convinced Phil of the validity of his idea. Together, the two men convinced the Theatre IV Board.

Billy Dye, who was at that time a staff member of Theatre IV, was assigned the responsibility of serving as the artistic director of the new Choir. As fate would have it, he’s continued to serve in that role for the last 11 years.

From 1996 until 1999, Theatre IV mentored the Richmond Boys Choir, paid its staff, built its Board, managed its finances, and raised funds on its behalf. During this three year period, the choir was housed in Theatre IV’s offices and rehearsed and performed in Theatre IV’s historic Empire Theatre.

In 1999, the Richmond Boys Choir fulfilled its strategic plan and became the fully independent nonprofit organization that it is today. Happily, our now independent companies continue to be the closest of allies.

The Richmond Boys Choir welcomes members from all socio-economic, religious and cultural backgrounds. They have opened for and/or performed in association with Wynton Marsalis, Lily Tomlin, former Supreme Mary Wilson, James Earl Jones and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Their spirit and talents have been showcased at the Governor’s Inaugural Prayer Breakfast and broadcast nationally on The Today Show, winning praise from Katie Couric.

Recently the Richmond Boys Choir was named one of 50 finalists nationwide for the Coming Up Taller Award presented annually by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Should they be selected for this honor, they will be the first Virginia organization to receive this prestigious recognition as one of the nation’s top arts programs serving youth beyond school hours. Keep your fingers crossed.

When it comes to St Andrew's, staff members from Barksdale and Theatre IV have been volunteering in their after school program since September. Our artistic director Bruce Miller works with third, fourth and fifth graders each Monday afternoon in this community-based enrichment program.

Our theatres’ partnerships with the Richmond Boy Choir and St Andrew’s School are perfect examples of the vital contributions that Barksdale and Theatre IV make throughout the community every day, often without publicity or recognition. In many ways that we frequently forget, Barksdale and Theatre IV are essential cornerstones of the life of Greater Richmond.

--John Steils

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