Posted by John Steils
The good men and women of Barksdale’s Bifocals Theatre Project—our dynamic initiative for senior theatre artists and audiences—are launching a new program. During the next several months, they will be working independently and with Barksdale’s artisans to create handcrafted Christmas tree ornaments to represent each of the approximately 300 mainstage shows that Barksdale has produced since its founding as Richmond’s first professional performing arts organization in 1953.
Simultaneously, we will all begin creating ornaments for each of the mainstage productions at Theatre IV and the Virginia Museum Theatre / TheatreVirginia, the two other great stage companies whose resources and energies contribute so much to make Barksdale the powerhouse it is today.
Eventually, all these ornaments will be hung each year on the festive trees located in the lobbies of our Willow Lawn, Hanover Tavern, and historic Empire performance facilities. Christmas and Hanukkah are an ideal time to remember and celebrate all the great professional productions that have made Richmond the theatrical capital of the region. Who knows, maybe other theatres will join in the project to create memory trees of their own.
During my three months at Barksdale, I’ve had the privilege to meet and talk with many of the hundreds of theatre artists, Board leaders etc. who make up this landmark institution. Kevin Kilgore, Jacqui O’Connor, Essie Simms (she’s seen every B’dale production since 1953!) and many, many others have shared stories of the Tavern that have made the historic Barksdale come alive for me. Ford Flannagan, Gordon Bass, Terrie Powers and their pals have related stories that go back to Theatre IV’s founding in 1975, allowing me feel like I was in those touring vans myself. Did Jan Guarino really learn the entire score to Jubilee! while riding in the van on the way to a Newport News performance?
Sue Griffin, Meredith Stanley Scott (pictured with husband Alfred in the '70s to the left), Bob Albertia and dozens of others have shared their tales of VMT / TVA, keeping that company very much alive in the hallways, dressing rooms and rehearsal halls of Barksdale. Did you know that six of our current staff members, scores of our talented theatre artists, even our artistic director are all VMT / TVA vets? Shoot, the evening gown that Jan Guarino wears nightly in Swingtime Canteen was first created for and worn in Bubbling Brown Sugar at TheatreVirginia, and Jan herself starred in countless TheatreVirginia productions (in between those notorious van rides at Theatre IV).
You generous people in Richmond’s vibrant theatre community have had the good sense to combine and unite your passions to create a current company that thrives on all the strengths of the various companies that preceded it. That’s a pretty amazing achievement, and I don’t think there are many theatre communities that could pull it off. Pete, Nancy and Muriel (and Leslie Cheek, Robert Telford et al) must have been amazing people to have created the family you have become. Now, the three memory trees you are creating will represent their and your star-studded history in all its glory. You have my undying admiration.
Sadly, sort of, for me, this is my last blog entry. I came to Richmond at the end of September to be with my sister, who was seriously ill. The wonderful news is that she is now SO much better and I am able to return home. While I was here, Barksdale was kind enough to welcome me into the fold, and give this theatrical fish-out-of-water a temporary home. My part-time internship with the marketing department has been a lifeline for me during a somewhat stressful time, and I can’t thank you all enough.
So Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! I will miss you all, and I thank you for being the most amazing theatre I’ve ever had the privilege to know. Long may you thrive!