Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Wear Black for Broadway??

Posted by Bruce Miller
On Facebook—yes, as many of you know, I’ve ventured recklessly into that brave new world—a “global rally” is being promoted. On Jan 4, it is suggested, any and everyone who loves theatre should show their support by wearing “Black for Broadway.” A black show tee shirt is recommended, but any black garment will do.

My friend Lizzie Holland—no one loves Broadway more than my friend Lizzie—has signed up for the event. Facebook being the fervent social secretary that it is, I was informed immediately. That's Lizzie below and to the left with Raúl Esparza.

The well intentioned ideas behind this pro-Broadway, pro-theatre demonstration are these:

Sunday, Jan 4 will mark the closing of four Broadway musicals and one comedy: 13, Boeing Boeing, Grease, Hairspray and Young Frankenstein. Closing notices have also been posted later in January for Gypsy, Spamalot, Spring Awakening, Forbidden Broadway (Off Broadway), and “many others.”

The creator of the event, which was originally listed on Facebook as a “protest” and later changed to a “rally,” believes that the closings are premature and the result of our troubled economy. I doubt that this is actually the case, nonetheless ... “This event,” he or she writes, “is just a bunch of theatre fans showing our love and showing our support for something we care about during these difficult times. It’s a day of honor.”

I'm certainly in agreement with that sentiment, and so I'm getting my black Peter Pan tee washed and ready.

As of this writing, 7,548 theatre lovers on Facebook have signed up for the event, a figure that will no doubt increase exponentially over the next few days.

One cogent commenter, Chris Leavy of Orlando FL, added, “I'm actually going to a show on the 4th. Not on Broadway, but still—the best thing we can do to rally support is to keep seeing shows—any shows we can, as often as we can. Broadway is killing itself with $120 ticket prices. Hopefully some good will come of this recession and soon many more people will be able to afford to see live theatre.”

Apparently Phil and I are on the same wavelength with Chris. Hefty ticket prices are a problem not only in NYC, but also right here in River City. When the economy tightens, people look for bargains. At Barksdale and Theatre IV we’re trying to address these current realities by launching our Entertainment Stimulus Package, announced in a news story last week on Channel 12. Click here for more information and to view the YouTube coverage of the news broadcast: http://www.barksdalerichmond.org/stimulus.html#12

So what are we up to? The truth is this—thus far, ticket sales are doing really well. We’ve exceeded budgeted goals for Driving Miss Daisy and Sanders Family Christmas at Hanover Tavern, This Wonderful Life at Willow Lawn, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at the Empire.

But as we look to the future, we’ve come to believe that additional stimulus will be needed if we’re to match projections for Children of a Lesser God and Well at Willow Lawn, the World Premiere of Mona’s Arrangements and I Ought to Be in Pictures at the Tavern, and Sideways Stories from Wayside School and Annie at the Empire. With the exception of Annie, these shows have less name recognition that our recent hits. And if any of you are wondering if name recognition is a factor in ticket sales, I assure you in all caps, IT IS.

So we are continuing to sell our best seats at normal ticket prices (appromimately $38), reducing our second best seats to a very affordable $20 (you must purchase by Jan 31), continuing our $15 rush tickets for any and all theatre lovers who don’t mind waiting until 3-hours before curtain to purchase their seats, and providing Hanover County Students with $9 (same as a movie) tickets to all shows at Hanover Tavern.

And if these prices aren’t low enough, we welcome folks to write to me, tell me how much you can afford (on the honor system), and we’ll find a way to make tickets available to you for the price you name. This has always been our policy. We’ve never turned anyone away because of inability to pay.

It goes without saying that we need to continue to sell tickets at all price ranges in order to stay afloat. And we WILL stay afloat. I say this emphatically because literally every time we announce a new fundraising campaign or ticket sale initiative, friends and supporters suspect that we’re going under. Such is the legacy of the surprise closings of TheatreVirginia in 2001 and Broadway Under the Stars in 2006.

Friends. I promise. We are in no danger of closing. We’re merely trying to address strategically the economic challenges that ever business is facing.

So, you can wear your black show tee shirt on Jan 4, or you can pull out a $20 (or two tens and a five if you want to wait for Rush) and show your support by buying a ticket. This is a time for all of us who love theatre to stand shoulder to shoulder and rally behind the art form and the several nonprofit theatres that make our lives so much more fulfilling.

All of Richmond's nonprofit theatres need your support. I hope to see you soon at one of them!

--Bruce Miller

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Losing 31 lbs and Living to Write About It

Posted by Bruce Miller
This morning I weigh 216 lbs. That’s my after breakfast weight, recorded while wearing slippers and pajamas on a 1950s bathroom scale that I suspect is only relatively accurate.

I mention my portliness because I’ve decided yet again to attempt to lose weight and become more productive by adopting a healthier lifestyle. I’m 58 years old. It’s now or never.

The other reason I’m confessing to this embarrassing heftiness is because I’m thinking that the best way to stick with my new, longed-for lifestyle may be to I write about it. I know that keeping a journal is supposed to help weak-willed weight-losers stick to their goals. Experience tells me I’m more likely to subscribe to a new regimen if I do so with friends. When I put these two nuggets of knowledge together I discover a compelling reason to blog.

There are other reasons, of course:

1 People turn out in droves to read about how to lose weight. Maybe this new, sporadic series will attract more readers to the Barksdale Buzz, which would be a good thing.

2 I like to write. Others will decide if I’m any good at it. I find it impossible to sit down and write for myself. I only write when I think it’s at least possible that someone will read what I’ve written. My main attraction to the blog is that it gets me writing. My secret hope is that one day I’ll put together some combination of these jottings into a book. Books are hard to write—impossible for me. I’d never have the willpower to sit down and write a book. But apparently I have whatever it takes to write a blog, one post at a time. And if I do enough of that, I may one day discover that I’ve written a book by accident.

3 Adopting a new lifestyle requires discipline and research. Which changes should I make and why? Writing a blog requires similar efforts. Interspersed with all my investigations into plays and playmakers, maybe I can reconnoiter the latest exercise data, learn the perfect method for brewing green tea, or crack the code for making tasty whole wheat waffles. I have lots of intellectual curiosity, but I tend to direct it only towards work-related topics. If I blog about my desired change toward a healthier lifestyle, it becomes work-related.

4 In my first baby steps into the “healthy lifestyle blogosphere,” I’ve been told repeatedly that participants in this brave new world are among the most supportive, friendly and well informed people online. Based on the many times I’ve tried and failed, I suspect that this new attempt to embrace a healthier lifestyle will “take a village,” as they say. I hope to benefit from friends who are there to offer occasional support and information. When you learn of a better way to do sit-ups after hernia surgery, I want to hear about it. And when you’re standing next to me at a cast party and Gordon Bass enters with a plate of his sausage cheese balls, you can warmly advise, “Two, you’re only allowed two.”

5 As I embark on this journey, it occurs to me that I may actually help someone—a fellow sausage ball junkie who, like me, may benefit from some encouragement and step-by-baby-step advice. I like being a helper; I really do. Knowing that the information I uncover may be of use to someone who is committed to a similar quest, and living in the sure knowledge that many of you “someones” will be seeing me at the next opening and assessing my progress (or lack thereof)—it all makes me feel accountable. I’m much better being accountable to others than I am being accountable to myself.

Succeed or fail, I figure it’s worth a shot. I’m more than a little humiliated to be sharing turf with Kirstie Alley (not that there’s anything wrong with her), but I need to try something that may make this time different.

What does any of this have to do with theatre? Everything. Ask anyone who's ever been rejected for a role (or a grant) because some director (or contributor) chose to support someone else who was more physically fit.

Stay tuned for the results of my research and the occasional progress report. My goal is to reach 185, pretty close to my ideal weight and a number I haven’t seen on a scale in about a quarter century. Anyone who wants to toss in their two cents worth along the way is much more than welcome.

--Bruce Miller

Monday, December 22, 2008

"Hip" No More

Posted by Bruce Miller
I’ve taken down the meanderings I posted on Dec 19 called Addressing My Dislocated “Hip.” My intentions when I wrote that misguided effort were:
• to publicize and congratulate Bianca Bryan, the wonderful actress who played Mathilde in The Clean House and recently snagged a performing gig on Letterman, and
• to poke fun at my innate lack of “hip-ness” (David Letterman being a hipster extraordinaire).

I should have stopped there. Instead, I went on to mention how some folks never come to Barksdale because they perceive we’re not as “hip” as they want us to be. I listed Barksdale shows that I thought were “hip.” I used Bianca’s uber-hip gig on Letterman to prompt this exclamation: “So take that, you hipsters!”

I should have kept my mouth shut. I intended it all to be in good clean fun. I’ve since learned that quite a few of you thought I was being serious, mean-spirited and/or critical of other theatres in Greater Richmond.

In the comments to the post—it brought in more comments than any article in months, over 20 all told—my good friends Frank Creasy and Grant Mudge advised me that a director from Richmond Shakespeare, James Bond, also had recently been on Letterman. I thought this was great to hear—a fun news item of which I had not been previously aware. I clicked Grant’s link to Mr. Bond’s appearance and had a grand old time watching James read the Top Ten.

However, in the comment I left in response to the Creasy and Mudge comments, I replied not by saying I enjoyed the James Bond video, but by saying: “Curse you Creasy and Mudge!! Out-hipped again!!!”

I’m 100% sure without even talking with them that Frank and Grant took no offense. We’re friends; they knew, I’m sure, that I was joking around. But I know now that some of you thought I was intending to disrespect them. I wasn't.

Then Angie Shipley and I exchanged a few blog comments (good-naturedly, I thought) about what is “hip” and what isn’t. I like Angie. I never thought she was “attacking” me, and I hope she didn’t think I was “attacking” her—but some of you thought both of us were going for each others' jugulars.

I should know by now—emails and blog posts scream sarcasm and evil intent to some people, even when none of that is what the authors had in mind.

To do my little bit for peace on earth (and dispel rumors of unrest), I simply took the whole thing down. I know no one intended to offend anyone. It seems odd to me that it came off that way. But if it did, it did.

Thank you, Michael Vandergrift, for your nice comment that wisely said "Forget about it," and offered a good deal more supportive and useful advice.

To those who had fun with the post, I'm glad. To those who didn't, I'm sorry. I wish each of you, gentle readers, the Happy Holidays of your choice.

And again, congrats to Bianca for landing the gig on Letterman.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chase, Steve, Catherine, Adam and Bob

Posted by Bruce Miller
As many of you know, last spring Phil and I determined that Barksdale and Theatre IV needed to eliminate five staff positions over the next year in order to responsibly face the declining economy. Assessing financial realities and accepting that we need to lose five valued staff members was the easy part. Deciding which positions to eliminate was tough.

We looked first at attrition. Who on staff had expressed an interest in leaving in the near to not too distant future. It’s much more supportive of staff morale to eliminate a position that has been voluntarily vacated than to yank a job away from someone who truly wants and needs it.

Chase Kniffen had already decided to leave Barksdale and Theatre IV to start his own company, Stage 1. The wisdom of that decision is now easily discernible to all. So we chose not to fill his position of Special Projects Manager. Among other responsibilities, Chase had managed Barksdale’s Bifocals Theatre Project and our SOAR high school externships. It was an easy decision to put Bifocals touring and the externship program on hold, at least during the first half of 08-09. His other responsibilities were divided among remaining staff members, adding to their already full plates.

Steve Perigard had been talking about moving on to other opportunities for at least three years. In the spring of 08, Steve told me that he thought that the time may have come. Who can blame him? Someone with Steve Perigard’s intelligence, initiative, job experience, talent and skill set can do much better than serve as an Associate Artistic Director year after year. Steve asked if he could contemplate the move during the summer. I said he could take all the time he needed. In the early fall, he made it official—he wanted to move on.

I’m told that the rumor mill is now putting forth the notion that Steve was “let go” or “fired.” That rumor is in no way true. Everyone should know of the friendship, respect and admiration I have for Steve. There’s no way in this world that I would have let him go or fired him. Steve made the difficult decision to move on from Barksdale and Theatre IV because he feels like it’s in his best interests to explore other opportunities. I wholehearted support him in that decision. Being an Associate Artistic Director is in many ways a thankless job. He deserves more, and I’m confident he’ll quickly find several wonderful, fulfilling and lucrative opportunities.

It is Steve’s stated hope, and mine, that he will continue to work with our two companies as a freelance director and actor. More about that in the coming weeks and months.

We did not decide to eliminate Steve’s position because we can afford to be without an Associate Artistic Director. We can’t. But his position can now be one of the five we need to eliminate, or at least put on hold. Not filling the position of Associate Artistic Director is a better option than firing someone else.

Simply writing down the many jobs that Steve has masterfully performed here is filling up a book. During January, we will finalize the determination of who will assume each of his responsibilities. It will not be easy to make these decisions. Frankly, I’m scared to death. I know that it will be rough going without him. However, I also know that we will make it work. We are blessed with many capable staff leaders who can effectively perform any task that is put before them. Institutionally, dealing with transition can ultimately strengthen a company. In our case, it can help prepare the company for Phil’s and my retirement in 7 ½ years.

The third position to be eliminated was Catherine Dudley’s position as Marketing Associate. Catherine had just completed her course work to be an ASL interpreter. She’d been talking for well over a year about leaving Barksdale to pursue her “dream job” working as an interpreter with deaf students. In June, I asked Catherine to consider making this transition earlier rather than later. I was confident that she would find immediate work in her chosen career. Because she loved working with us, and vice versa, it was a tearful conversation. But she understood and accepted my request. Sure enough, in September she began working as an interpreter for Chesterfield County Public Schools, and from day one she’s been thrilled by her new job—and enjoying a significant pay increase.

Best of all, Catherine has continued to work for us as translator and sign instructor for Sanders Family Christmas and Children of a Lesser God. It’s been a perfect transition. Catherine’s many responsibilities have now been added to the overflowing plates of Sara Marsden, our Marketing Director, and Billy Christopher Maupin, our Marketing Associate and Publications Manager.

The fourth and fifth positions to be eliminated were Adam Tiller’s job as Office Manager and Bob Albertia’s job as Group Sales Manager. Adam has been a favorite son and valued employee at Barksdale and Theatre IV for years, in many capacities. But his ultimate goal was to return to grad school. He’s a brilliant young man, and frankly, his many talents were somewhat wasted in his part-time job as Office Manager. His major responsibilities included manning the front desk as a receptionist, and accepting, recording and depositing all incoming revenue. At the top of the new year, we hope to be recruiting volunteers to fill the first of those two tasks. The financial responsibilities have now been shifted over to other employees.

Bob Albertia is one of Richmond’s theatrical cornerstones. He is and always will be irreplaceable. Bob has now retired, a privilege and opportunity that he well deserves. His group sales responsibilities have been split in half. Tony Foley is handling the aggressive sales work. AnnaMarie Epps in our box office is handling the more passive job of taking and servicing orders. No one can possibly assume Bob’s particular panache in dealing with enthusiastic group leaders. But we’ll all do the best we can, and we'll make it through.

Our hope and expectation is that we will continue to work with Bob as a volunteer providing team leadership to our Bifocals Theatre Project and working with us on a variety of other artistic projects.

The big question in everyone’s mind is, “Do the cuts stop here?” In all honestly, I don’t know. We believe we made responsible and effective decisions in a timely manner, and it is our fervent hope that no additional layoffs will be forthcoming.

But that is not a promise. The economy will do what it will do. And we will respond responsbilty. The Boards, Phil and I are addressing proactively the various financial challenges in every way we can. We will ride out this storm. And we will honor our commitment to our incredible staff to the very best of our abilities.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thank You Governor Tim Kaine!

Posted by Bruce Miller on Behalf of Alan Albert, Virginians for the Arts
This just in:

"ARTS FUNDING SPARED FURTHER CUTS IN GOVERNOR'S BUDGET PROPOSAL

We are relieved -- relieved and grateful -- to announce that Governor Kaine's proposed 2009 Budget Bill makes no further cuts in arts funding in the Commonwealth. The 15% cut applied to the present state fiscal year (FY 2009) is carried forward into FY 2010 in the Governor's proposal. This means that the total general fund appropriation for the arts will be reduced by slightly more than $930,000 over its original budgeted level for 2010 -- virtually the same reduction already put into place for the current fiscal year.

In a budget-writing season fraught with painful decisions, the arts community is enormously grateful to Governor Kaine and Secretary of Education Tom Morris for recognizing the vitally important role that state funding plays in keeping our cultural infrastructure intact during this very difficult time for nonprofit arts and cultural groups.

But our work has just begun. The Governor's proposal is just that -- a proposal -- and the General Assembly will place its own stamp on the spending plan over the next two months. It is more important now than ever that arts supporters meet with or at least write to their legislators and stress the importance of not making further cuts to arts funding. The very survival of many arts groups, already buffeted by the economic downturn, literally rests in the balance, and the outcome is far from assured.

If you have not contacted your legislators yet, please do so today. Tell them that the arts community is doing its part -- taking cuts every bit as deep as, for instance, higher education and the worst-hit of state agencies -- but cannot take further cuts without losing key components of our cultural infrastructure.

And while you are at it, please take a moment to thank the Governor and the Secretary of Education for what they have done. In the current climate, their actions are the most positive outcome for which we realistically could have hoped. Those actions are courageous and deserve our praise.

Alan Albert
Legislative Counsel
Virginians for the Arts"

Write Governor Timothy Kaine:
The Honorable Timothy M. Kaine
Office of the Governor
Commonwealth of Virginia
Post Office Box 1475
Richmond, Virginia 23218

Write Secretary of Education Thomas Morris:
The Honorable Thomas R. Morris
Secretary of Education
Commonwealth of Virginia
Post Office Box 1475
Richmond, Virginia 23218

--This message was written by Alan Albert, Virginians for the Arts

Final note from Bruce - This is really a wonderful sign of support from Governor Kaine. Please write to thank him, and Secretary Morris. Let's bury their desks in thank you notes. Remember, when Governor Wilder was faced with a less troubling recession in the early 80s, he cut the Virginia Commission for the Arts disproportionately from every other agency, costing individual nonprofit arts groups devastating cuts of approximately 65%. Governor Kaine has held fast at 15%. He gets it!!! Let's please all thank him.

--Bruce Miller

Thoughts on the "Richmond Cultural Census"

Posted by Bruce Miller
There’s an interesting discussion occurring on Dave Timberline’s blog, Richmond VA Theater.

Under A Must Read, posted Dec 9, and Some Reactions, posted Dec 10, Dave discusses the survey of Richmond arts patrons that was conducted earlier this year. A summary of the findings of this survey has been published by the independent consulting firm Wolf Brown as the Richmond Cultural Census. These findings are available online. (I stole that link by cutting and pasting from Dave’s blog. He knows how to do it.)

Within the summary, the following statement occurs:

“Attending live stage plays or musical theatre productions was cited as ‘a vital activity’ by less than 10% of all respondents and another 44% said that they ‘enjoy it occasionally’, a significantly lower proportion than expected based on previous cultural census studies in other cities.”

“The real story here, however, is the low percentage of respondents who cite going to stage plays and musicals as vital activities. In other areas, we have seen these figures as high as 20% to 25% 'vital activity.'"

I agree with everyone that this is a cause for concern, sorta. I also agree with those who suggest that the concerns should be leavened with a little perspective.

1. Wolf Brown states forthrightly that the survey is not a scientific instrument. No attempt was made to reach a statistically representative sample. Those who participated in the survey all self-selected. In other words, those who took the survey were either individuals who wanted to take the survey or individuals who were encouraged to take the survey. Please consider this statement which appears in the fine print of the Wolf Brown findings: “The reader is cautioned not to use the survey data to generalize about all residents of Greater Richmond.”

2. I’m aware that colleagues in other disciplines distributed the survey to hundreds of their supporters and urged them to indicate their sincere and vital support for and interest in the discipline they all loved. That was a smart and good thing for my colleagues to do. I failed to do the same. No one at Theatre IV and/or Barksdale emailed the survey to those who are passionate about theatre. To the best of my knowledge, no theatre leader in town blasted the survey off to the theatre community. My bad and our bad. Big time. Because of this failing, I honestly feel that theatre lovers are under-represented.

3. In every arts discipline except theatre, the survey questions defined the discipline in terms of mass media or low to no cost personal involvement. Please consider these examplies. When survey respondents were saying that the literary arts were of vital importance to them, the top category of participation was “read books, newspapers, magazines for fun.” Who among us would not agree with that? When survey respondents expressed vital interest in dance, the four top categories were “watch dance on TV,” “see praise dancing,” “social dancing,” and “make up your own steps.” Those who showed vital interest in music chose as their two top categories “listen to music on local radio” and “buy music for your own collection.” The top draw for the visual arts was “collect art for home.” The main attractions for history and heritage programs (museums etc) was “watch history programs on TV” and “read books or magazines about history.”

Only in the category of theatre was the art form defined more specifically. Respondents were not asked if they liked to “watch theatre on TV" or "see comedies and dramas at the movies.” The two top areas of “vital interest” in theatre were “attend musicals” and “attend stage plays.” In no other arts discipline did “attend a live performance of this discipline” make it to the top of the “vital interest” column.

4. When it comes to making ticket purchases as opposed to voting in a survey, theatre wins hands down. A study was conducted a couple years back to see if it made sense to establish a community-wide box office. Every major organization submitted data regarding the number of tickets sold to the general public through the various box office outlets during the previous year. Ticket sales to Barksdale, Theatre IV, Broadway Under the Stars, and theatre events at the Modlin Center represented nearly 70% of all tickets sold. In other words, theatre outsold all other performing arts disciplines--combined.

5. One can presume that a large percentage of those with a “vital interest” in theatre would subscribe to theatre. In the last six years, the Richmond theatre subscriber base has been kicked in the teeth TWICE. In 2002, subscribers to TheatreVirginia were left holding three tickets for TVA shows that would never take place. No refunds were offered. Three or four years later, subscribers to Broadway Under the Stars were left holding four tickets for BUTS shows that would never take place. Again, no refunds were offered. Had I been one of these subscribers, my “vital interest” in theatre would be considerably dampened.

6. Every study I’ve ever read—and I’ve read a lot of them—indicates that 2 to 3% of the American population cares passionately about the art form of theatre. In a comment posted on Dave’s blog, Rick St. Peter wisely quotes Jon Jory, the legendary artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, saying something like “no theatre that’s ever existed has attracted more than 2% of its potential audience.” The Wolf Brown survey says that 7% of all Richmond respondents say that “attending a musical” is “a vital activity for me,” and 6% say the same about “attending a play.” Truth be told, those figures are pretty impressive.

None of this is to say that theatre movers and shapers like each and every one of us should not take important lessons away from this survey. After a fairly careful study, here's some of what I consider to be the salient facts:

25% of all respondents said that they “haven’t but would like to try” “attending play readings.” Based on this and other observations, Barksdale will be establishing a play reading series next year.

19% of all respondents said that they “haven’t but would like to try” “taking classes.” Based on this and other observations, Barksdale will be attempting to fill this need in the near future.

24% of those people who have a history of buying few tickets to performance events indicate that they “haven’t but would like to try” “attending musicals” and “attending plays.” Through our new Entertainment Stimulus Package, Barksdale and Theatre IV have reduced prices on 10,000 tickets in the remainder of our 2008-09 Seasons to reach out to those who haven’t been attending due to higher ticket prices. We will also continue our existing $15 rush ticket policy.

All of us who care about theatre have much to learn. That’s one of the things I love about my job. There’s something new to learn every day.

And to those of you who do love the theatre--and don't worry, we know you're out there--please know that all of Richmond’s theatres wouldn’t be here without you. If you can and feel so inclined, please buy a ticket to a play today! And ask your friends to join you.

--Bruce Miller

Monday, December 15, 2008

Matthew Costello Remembers Hutch

Posted by Matthew Costello (pictured below)
Thanks, Bruce, for inviting me to take part in this tribute to Hutch. You have spoken eloquently about this extraordinary man and he deserves the honor you give him. He was my mentor and a great friend.

Mallory Freeman once told me of his high regard for Hutch and recalled Hutch’s outstanding performance in The Royal Hunt of the Sun at the Virginia Museum Theater in the 1960’s. "He is an Actor’s Actor," he said.

Hutch was an inevitable force in the Richmond theatre community and also in the community-at-large, having served the Boys' Club for so many years and had the vision to spearhead and guide the International Food Festival. There are many other contributions for which he will be remembered. I am truly grateful that his life touched mine with such deep blessing.

I met Hutch shortly before the Experiential was formed. He was directing a production of Does the Tiger Wear a Necktie? at Barksdale at Hanover Tavern, and it included many of the young actors from the Boys' Club with whom he had worked in previous years. He asked me to fill in for the role of Tonto. We rehearsed in that basement at the Boys' Club and for the following years, as the Experiential took off, I felt it was my theatrical home.

It was indeed in 1975 that the Experiential Theater opened its doors. Hutch once shared with me his progression from Stanislavski to Grotowski and then his exposure to the "environmental" theatre ideas of Richard Schechner which led to the inception of the Experiential.

As I recall, its first production was of Of Mice and Men. Hutch’s son Jody (now deceased) played Lenny. I played George. We had the opportunity to reprise the roles a few years later in a second production. To my knowledge this was the first of only two plays that were ever repeated in Experiential’s history.

I was fortunate to appear in many shows there, among them: Hamlet ESP, The Diary of a Madman and the first Experiential production of The Seagull, where I played Treplyov to Jenny Brown’s Nina.

It was twenty years later after Hutch had revitalized the Experiential banner that he produced The Seagull again at the Windy River Winery in Beaverdam. Indeed Erin Thomas was stellar as Nina. I was Trigorin in that production and Justin Dray played Treplyov.

I also remember the early Experiential productions of Alice in Wonderland and Ubu Roi.

It was, I think, 1978 when that first incarnation of the Experiential settled into a pregnant pause. Demands of his family life and the duties with the Boys' Club were in need of his attention.

In 1996 Hutch asked me to "direct" him, that is be his "third eye," in a production of Darrow for the Defense that he performed at Firehouse Theatre under the Experiential banner.

He later produced the earlier mentioned seasons at the Windy River Winery, starting in 1998. I remember The Importance of Being Earnest (Erin was in this as well), Playboy of the Western World with Justin Dray and Tom McGranahan, and Night Must Fall with Justin (again) plus Stephanie Kelley and Sara Heifetz.

I hope I have helped to fill in some of the history here. I know I have failed to mention many of the performers who worked onstage for Hutch. My apologies.

In the late 1990’s I had mounted a website for the Experiential. It’s long been removed and I’m not quite sure where it is in the mountains of archives in my studio. It is my intention to find it and to try to assemble a better history.

--Matthew Costello

Holiday Benefit Cabaret is Postponed

Posted by Bruce Miller
The fates were not with us regarding this year's Home for the Holidays benefit cabaret. All performances have been cancelled. Reservation holders will be called today, full refunds made, and we will begin exploring plans to mount this fundraiser for the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund sometime later in the first half of 2009.

Janine Serresseque, who masterminds and organizes the cabaret, did a wonderful job as always. Nonetheless, ticket sales were sluggish, our emcee Joe Pabst called in at the end of the week with no voice, and then on Saturday, our music director and accompanist, Tony Williams, checked into the hospital with a nasty bug.

Yesterday, Sunday, Tony let us know, with great regret, that he'd be unavailable for this year's run of the cabaret. Tony has been our pianist for the Holiday Cabaret since its inception, and the party just wouldn't be a party without him. Last night, Phil and I decided to pull the plug.

Thanks to all who volunteered to sing, and to all who made reservations. If anyone wants to make a tax deductible contribution to the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund anyway, please feel free to make a check payable to that entity and send it in or drop it off at Barksdale or Theatre IV, attention Phil Whiteway. Phil will deliver all checks to the Community Foundation, which manages the Fund on behalf of the Richmond Alliance of Professional Theatre.

Please keep your eyes and ears open for other upcoming events that benefit the Fund. And thanks for your understanding regarding this cancellation.

--Bruce Miller

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Sanders" Creators Wish Sweethearts Well

Posted by Bruce Miller
It was fun to log on this afternoon and find a comment to my last post about David and Aly's onstage proposal. The comment congratulates the happy couple and wishes them well. It's written and posted by none other than Alan Bailey and Connie Ray, conceiver and writer, respectively, of Smoke on the Mountain and Sanders Family Christmas.

I love it when nationally successful theatre artists, who may well have never even heard of Barksdale Theatre, take the time to establish contact. Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn, playwright and composer, respectively, of The Little Dog Laughed, made it down to Richmond to see the show. Playwright Israel Horovitz came to Richmond last week to catch performances of his play The Widow's Blind Date at the Firehouse.

One of my favorite "contact with the big time" stories happened in the early 80s during Theatre IV's run of To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday. Emily Skinner, who is now a Broadway leading lady and Tony nominee herself, was playing the teenage daughter in our production. On opening night a letter arrived at the theatre addressed to Emily. It was a friendly and considerate "break a leg" note, warmly written and sent from NYC by the teenage actress who had originated the role Off Broadway the year before. That actress, who didn't know Emily from Eve, was relatively unknown herself at the time. But she wanted to wish Emily well and tell her how much she had enjoyed playing the same role. Today, that actress is "unknown" no longer. You all know her today as Sarah Jessica Parker.

When you get right down to it, the theatre community is a relatively small and close knit group. It means a lot to artists working in regional theatres to hear from our brethren who have made it to the big show.

Unless my Googling has led me down some wrong paths, it appears that Alan Bailey and Connie Ray (pictured in the two photos) both currently reside in L. A. In addition to their phenominal success with the three Sanders Family musicals, Bailey enjoys an active career as a stage director, and Ray pursues a busy career as an actress on television and film.

All of us at Barksdale wish the two of them well, and thank them for keeping track of our production of their wonderful musical. Alan and Connie, if you ever make it to Richmond VA, we have tickets waiting with your name on 'em. Sanders Family Christmas is going really well. It's a beautiful show, with five rave reviews, sold out houses and standing ovations at every performance. I think you'd be pleased and proud.

Thanks for dropping us a line.

--Bruce Miller

The Best Christmas Curtain Call Ever

Posted by Bruce Miller
Last night, Terrie, Hannah, Phil, Donna and I all drove out to Hanover Tavern to catch the curtain call of Sanders Family Christmas. For the Miller half of the Miller/Whiteway clan, that’s about a half-hour trek. But it was well worth it. It was The Best Christmas Curtain Call Ever.

Spoiler Alert: If you’re planning to see Sanders Family Christmas, and you haven’t seen it yet, you may want to stop reading. I’m about to discuss a significant plot point that occurs near the end of the show. It’s nothing too dramatic. No one bombs Mt. Pleasant Baptist, Denise doesn’t announce she’s pregnant with David O. Selznick’s love child … or anything like that.

But it is a significant plot point, and I don’t want to give anything away to some unsuspecting soul who’s looking forward to experiencing the show without already knowing how it ends.

OK, if you’re still reading, consider yourself warned.

Near the end of Sanders Family Christmas, Rev Oglethorpe (Billy Christopher Maupin) proposes onstage to June Sanders (Aly Wepplo). It’s a really nice, funny, sweet scene, and the audience always gets a little teary and feels warm and fuzzy all over. When June accepts the proposal, the audience always bursts into applause.

WELL … last night David Janeski (the actor who plays Dennis Sanders) topped all that. For those of you who don’t know, David Janeski and Aly Wepplo met in Barksdale’s production of Mame, and began dating during Barksdale’s production of Smoke on the Mountain. In the intervening year and a half, it’s been pretty clear to any and everyone that David and Aly had fallen in love. And why not, they’re a perfect couple.

Yesterday, David graduated from grad school at VCU, and so his parents were in town for the graduation ceremony. Last night, his family also turned out for Sanders Family Christmas. If I’m not mistaken, Aly’s family all came down for the show last night as well.

Following David’s careful planning, our stage manager Christina Billew informed the cast that I had asked if they would all return to the stage following curtain call for an encore. With everyone in the know except Aly, they all followed instructions, danced up the aisle as always, and then came running back onto stage for the “encore” I’d requested.

That’s when David took over. He introduced himself to the audience as David the actor, not Dennis the character who is a brother to Aly’s character June. He invited the audience to sit back down, and asked them for a few minutes of their time. “My family is here tonight,” David said sincerely, “and over the years they’ve given me just about everything I have. But the one thing they couldn’t give me…” (it was at this moment he began choking up and Aly got a strange look on her face) “… is standing right over there.”

When he pointed to Aly, the light went off in her head, and she knew what was coming. David professed his abiding love, invited Aly to center stage, and then he recreated the scene we’d just seen where Rev. Oglethorpe dropped to one knee and presented June Sanders with a ring. Only this time it was real. And when Aly tearfully and enthusiastically nodded yes, the audience once again leapt to their feet applauding, providing the second standing ovation of the evening.

After heartfelt hugs and kisses, David announced, “We’re really going now. Thank you.” And the cast once again danced up the aisle and out into the lobby.

It was the perfect ending of a perfect show, and an ideal beginning for a wonderful couple.

I’m crazy about David and Aly both individually and together. It all began with the Sanders Family. The proposal was the Best Christmas Curtain Call Ever. and along with everyone who knows and loves them, I wish the newly engaged couple a Wonderful Life.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, December 13, 2008

In Memoriam: W. R. Hutch Hutchinson

Posted by Bruce Miller
There were/are a couple handfuls of great men in Richmond theatre. These men will long be remembered for extraordinary talent and for modeling selfless commitments to theatre as an art form. For them, theatre was much more than an avocation or job. It was a calling.

Richmond theatre would be nowhere without them.

These men were committed not only to the art form but also to Greater Richmond. They pursued their callings here by choice. They were leaders and servants, forward thinkers and caretakers of the past.

Among those who have died, Barksdale co-founder Pete Kilgore certainly belongs in this fraternity of honor, as do fellow Barksdale legends Fred Haseltine, Mallory Freeman, Jay Lundy and Kim Strong. (Fred and Mallory also acted extensively and provided leadership at Virginia Museum Theatre; Kim acted at Swift Creek and acted and provided leadership at Theatre IV).

William Robert Hutchinson, whom everyone knew as Hutch, died on Thursday. Attention must be paid. Anyway you look at it, Hutch was one of the few who earned the honor of being among the Great Men of Richmond Theatre.

There’s a nice tribute piece in this morning’s Times-Dispatch. Unfortunately, some of the Richmond theatre history noted in the T-D is incorrect.

Hutch’s greatest contribution to Richmond theatre history, in my opinion, was his founding and artistic direction of the Experiential Theatre, and his creation of The Empty Space theatre facility in the basement of the Boys’ Club facilities located at the intersection of Robinson and Kensington.

The Times-Dispatch says, “In 1995, three years after retiring from the Boys’ Club, he founded the award-winning Experiential Theatre in the club basement. After a short run, the group folded, but Mr. Hutchinson continued to rent the venue, dubbed The Empty Space, to other experimental groups for several years.”

I don’t pretend to have the exact dates in front of me, but I know the T-D dates are about two decades off. Hutch founded the Experiential about the same time Phil and I founded Theatre IV, which was 1975. I hope Matthew Costello will weigh in with a comment—I’ll phone him on Monday—because when Matthew was in his early 20s he was very involved with the Experiential and with Hutch.

The Experiential had a huge impact on theatre in Richmond, and then slowed down in the late 70s or early 80s. By approximately 82-83, Theatre IV was renting The Empty Space for its adult audience season.

It was during our watch, and I report this with a significant feeling of guilt, that The Empty Space was shut down by the Richmond Fire Dept. due to inadequate sprinklers and egress. The facility had stayed “under the radar” during the Experiential days, but the increased scrutiny brought about by Theatre IV’s use of the space brought about its undoing. About six years later, the Fire Dept. also shut down Stanley’s Backstage for the same reasons after Theatre IV assumed residency there.

Hutch was not retired from the Boys' Club when he founded the Experiential and created The Empty Space. He was very much large and in charge. By the time he retired in ’93, and then began new theatre ventures in ’96 (perhaps reviving the name Experiential--I can’t remember), he was producing at the Windy River Winery. I hope Erin Thomas, who was in Hutch’s production of The Seagull at the Winery, will weigh in with some accurate info. Stephanie Kelly, who was a good friend of Hutch's, may also be able to shed some light.

I’ll be writing more about Hutch, the Experiential, and The Empty Space in the next few days. I’ll try to get the facts straight. It’s important to me that Richmond theatre history is honored, or at least accurately recorded. Please feel free to pass on any and all info you may have about Hutch. He's deserves our remembrances.

Hutch was an amazing, hard working and inspiring talent. With affection and respect, we will dedicate our upcoming production of Children of a Lesser God (which Theatre IV originally produced in The Empty Space in the early ‘80s) to Hutch’s memory.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

John's Joy - "The Perfect Richmond Holiday Play!"

Posted by Bruce Miller
John Porter's rave review of Sanders Family Christmas was finally aired on WCVE-FM, and it was worth the wait. It seems to be the radio station's policy to air one review a week, so when shows open one on top of another, you have to wait your turn.

Rather than excerpt, I'll quote the entire review, since it is not available elsewhere in print. Many of you may have missed the radio broadcast.

Thanks, John, for your kind words. Here's the review!
. . . . . . . . .

"Sometimes writing these theatre reviews is easy, and sometimes it is much more difficult. This is one of those easy times, because it is my privilege to talk about Sanders Family Christmas, which is now playing at Barksdale Hanover Tavern. It is very close to being the perfect Richmond holiday play.

It’s a musical, with great seasonal tunes. It looks back at an earlier time—the United States entry into WWII—with nostalgia and reverence. The cast and crew are greatly talented and they know how to put on an entertaining show.

If you’re looking for deep truths revealed through a dark, twisted, psychological drama, you’re probably going to be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a fast show featuring good music, a little story telling, and a warm and fuzzy glow afterwards, then by all means, you’ve come to the right place.

The stellar cast includes Drew Perkins, a strong actor and great musician, as Burl Sanders, the leader of the gospel singing family, who has arrived in the snow to sing songs and witness during the holiday season. Julie Fulcher plays Vera, his equally talented wife and partner in the family business.

Eric Williams is Stanley, the brother, who despite his shady past has moved on to enjoy fame singing on the radio and in the movies. The twins, Denise and Dennis, are played with gusto by Emily Cole and David Janeski, and they manage to wring out their own separate identities despite being lumped together all the time. This may be Dennis’s last appearance with the family, as he is shipping off to boot camp right after the holidays.

The oldest child, June, is warmly played by Aly Wepplo, who despite her character’s self-professed inability to play or sing still joins in with great support and occasional sign language, if anyone needs it. Her wide-eyed innocence is heartwarming, and Ms Wepplo shows a great deal of promise in this role.

Lastly, the Rev Oglethorpe, who has arranged this evening, is delightfully played by Billy Christopher Maupin. His portrayal is of an earnest young man who will do anything to keep his church open, and who is very sincere in his affection for one special member of the Sanders Family. Don’t worry; it becomes very obvious very quickly.

Director Bruce Miller has once again made his job easier by putting together a winning cast and a very capable design team. The old country church that has been created by set designer Terrie Powers and David Powers is comfortable, cozy, and gives you the feeling of a landmark held together more by love and prayer than by brick and mortar.

Lights are by Slade Billow, and costumes are by Sue Griffin, who once again does a terrific job with her creation.

Sanders Family Christmas is solid family entertainment from beginning to end, and features some of Richmond’s best talent performing in an intimate space in the country.

For this critic’s money, you just can’t go wrong with that combination.

For WCVE Public Radio, I’m John Porter."
--Bruce Miller

Please Attend the Holiday Cabaret!

Posted by Bruce Miller
Whether you are one of Greater Richmond's theatre artists, theatre attendees, or a blog reader sympathetic to theatre in general, I hope you will join us this holiday season in our vital efforts to raise money for the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund. The RTAF is an endowment fund managed by the Community Foundation and the Richmond Alliance of Professional Theatres.

Our annual Home for the Holidays benefit cabaret begins this coming Sunday evening, Dec 14 at 7 pm; with subsequent performances at 7 pm on Tuesday Dec 16; 11 pm on Saturday Dec 20; 7 pm on Sunday Dec 21; and 7 pm on Monday Dec 22.

Nineteen of Central Virginia's best musical theatre performers--including Larry Cook, Corey Davis, Georgia Farmer, Jan Guarino, Robin Harris-Jones, Michael Hawke, Kelly Kennedy, Lauren Leinhaas Cook, Katrinah Lewis, Jason Marks, Billy Christopher Maupin, Robyn O'Neill, Derek Phipps, Maggie Roop, Janine Serresseque, Angela Shipley, Debra Wagoner, Chloe Williams, and Tony Williams on piano--are volunteering their time and talent to raise money for the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund.

This important charity provides emergency financial assistance to members of our own community when, through no fault of their own, they face impossible financial challenges and need our help.

I believe in the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund with all my heart. I have known its recipients--the challenges they faced before receiving help and the great joy they experienced when they realized that someone actually cared enough to assist them during their time of crisis.

I hope each and every one of you will make a point to attend one of the cabaret performances this season. I hope you will twist the arms of all your friends, relatives and neighbors. We really need to sell tickets if this once-a-year fundraiser is to be a success.

I've attended every previous performance of the cabarets, and I can assure you that they are lots of fun.

Regular tickets are $25 each. Barksdale and Theatre IV subscriber tickets are $20 each. All of you who are active members of the Richmond theatre community can reserve tickets for whatever size contribution you can afford, no questions asked.

The box office will list these pay-what-you-will tickets as comps, and you can donate whatever works with your budget. 100% of your contribution will go to increase the principal of the Fund. The Fund currently stands at approximately $21,000, and yields approximately $1,000 in emergency relief each year. Over time, we'd like to increase the Fund's principal about tenfold. The important thing is to support your friends and colleagues by attending and making whatever contribution is within your means.

It's also important to make reservations, so that we know how many people to expect.

Please help us spread the word. I honestly can't understand why every performance isn't sold out. All performances are held in the Barksdale Willow Lawn lobby, and all seating is cabaret style at tables. The bar is open throughout the event.

I count on seeing you and all of your friends there.

Thanks. Happy Holidays!

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Drama at the Drive-Through

Posted by Bruce Miller
I hustled home a few minutes ago after restoring order to our Willow Lawn lobby following our latest edition of Rostov’s Coffee & Conversations. Eric Williams from Sanders Family Christmas did a terrific job of moderating. Scott Wichmann and John Moon (actor and director, respectfully, from This Wonderful Life) answered all questions and waxed lyrical about the behind-the-scenes process that led to our current hit production.

For those of you who are unable to make our Tuesday morning C & C events, I’ll be posting the full discussion on YouTube in the coming days, and I’ll provide links to the digital recordings through this blog.

Anyway … on the way home I pulled into Hardee’s to get a Mushroom Swiss ThickBurger—so bad for me, I suspect, but so tasty!

When I reached the drive-though ordering station, this deep African American male voice came from the speaker, doing his best over-the-top sexy Barry White imitation. “Welcome to Hardee’s. Would you like to try our absolutely delicious Frisco Melt," he purred, getting really slow and deep on the “absolutely delicious.”

I almost laughed out loud. Call me crazy, but it’s a little off-putting to hear some guy sound like he’s coming on to you while he’s trying to sell a hamburger.

“No,” I said, a little nervously. “I’d like one Mushroom Swiss Burger. That’s all.”

To my relief, a cheery female voice responded. “That’ll be $4.31,” she said, without a hint of Barry White. “Drive up to the second window.”

While she was taking my money, I asked if the first guy’s voice I heard was a recording. “Yeah,” she said, rolling her eyes. I’m not sure if the eye-roll was a response to me or the recording—or both. “They’re pushing the Frisco. Your thickburger’ll be ready in a minute.”

This parting phrase prevented me from dropping my voice an octave to ask if the Frisco Melt was really “ahhhb-sooo-loooot-leeee deee-lihhh—shusssss.”

What struck me then—what strikes me still—is that Hardee’s has determined that it’s in their best interest to hire an actor to emote the heck out of a sales pitch for “the Frisco” and broadcast it to each customer over the drive-through squawk-box. Adding a little drama to so mundane a business transaction must be good for business.

Barksdale and Theatre IV add a little drama to so many facets of our daily lives in Central Virginia (and beyond) that it’s nearly impossible to recount them all. With the privilege of being Greater Richmond’s leading professional theatre comes a huge responsibility, and we try our best to fulfill it.

During any given year, our two nonprofit companies will present approximately fourteen mainstage productions in our three venues—Barksdale at Willow Lawn, Hanover Tavern, and the historic Empire Theatre—serving over 80,000 single and group ticket buyers and subscribers.

We provide full or part-time employment to, at this moment, 53 of our community’s foremost theatre artists and administrators. In addition, we offer per-show employment (over $400,000 worth each year) to another hundred or so of Central Virginia’s leading actors, directors, designers, technicians and playwrights.

Each year we tour 17 to 22 professional plays for young audiences to schools throughout Virginia (we’re the only company in history to have been booked by every school district in the state). We're also very popular nationally, earning fans in major performing arts facilities throughout most of the United States. We’re the largest producer of touring African American history programs in the nation.

Our company reaches out in innumerable ways to help our colleague theatres—providing free rehearsal and performance space, rushing over with a loaner light-board when emergencies occur, serving as paymaster for AEA actors, partnering on individual productions and festivals, donating over 500 free tickets a year to charity auctions, finding and securing a last minute scenic artist when a set hasn’t been finished and the show opens tonight! Etc etc etc.

As a matter of principal, we donate approximately ten percent of our tickets and tour shows to less advantaged audiences that otherwise couldn’t attend. We innovatively serve through our outside-the-box hospital audience initiative. We offer sign interpreted performances for a growing deaf audience. We partner with James River Writers on Irene Ziegler’s wonderful Virginia Arts & Letters Live (the major annual fundraiser for the READ Center). We raise thousands each year through our holiday cabaret for the lifesaving Richmond Theatre Artists Fund.

Our time-honored child sexual abuse prevention program, Hugs and Kisses, is now in its 26th year of caring for Virginia’s children. Our universally acclaimed Bifocals Theatre Project takes smiles and fellowship on tour serving hundreds of senior citizens connected with countless retirement living facilities and senior community centers.

And our fun and informative Coffee & Conversations programs add extra luster to our productions and to the lives of a significant body of retirees.

There’s more that I’m leaving out. Lots more. We work with tens of scout troupes each year, participate in over 40 school career days, and perform live in various prisons and detention centers. We provide award-winning educational workshops—lots of them—mostly for free as afterschool activities in under-achieving, less-advantaged schools.

We own and maintain the historic Empire Theatre.

With confidence, I assert that no other nonprofit arts organization in any arts discipline does more to make Greater Richmond a vibrant and vital community. None of this work comes free, or even cheap. Our joint operating budget exceeds $5 million annually (approximately a cost-effective $5 for every person we serve during a given fiscal year).

To deal with the current economic challenges, we’ve eliminated five fulltime staff positions, spreading the work out among those who remain. Phil and I began accepting a 7% salary decrease last June 1 (before the cut we were paid salaries equal to high school principals in Richmond Public Schools). We eliminated company payments to our retirement funds about six years ago. We’ve tightened the belt in every way there is to tighten.

Barksdale and Theatre IV are in no danger of going away. We’ll weather this storm just as we’ve weathered others over the last 55 years. But if you can help with a financial tax deductible contribution of $10, or $30, or $50, or $100 or more, please know that your gifts are genuinely needed, will be wisely spent, and greatly appreciated.

Bringing drama to everyday life is what we do. And few if any do it better. I hope you and all of your friends and family will continue to support Barksdale throughout the current recession.

Hope to see you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Galeski Foyer - Part II

Posted by Bruce Miller
Our foyer at Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn may not be as elegant as the foyer of the National Theatre of Prague (see Progress Continues on Galeski Foyer, posted below), but it’s becoming more impressive bit by bit. Our thanks go out for:
* the hard work, leadership, and financial contributions of Barksdale Board leader John Moon;
* the volunteer design support of Emmy-winning art director David Crank; and
* the major sustaining operational support of Carrie Galeski.

In no small part, these three are leading the charge forward as we continue to build an inviting and exciting entryway to our theatre at Willow Lawn.

That's our friend Carrie Galeski in the photo above and to the right. She's the one holding the award she earned for her work with the Executive Women's Golf Association.

In my last blog report on efforts to spruce up our Willow Lawn facilities (see The Clean Lobby, Sept. 23, 2008), I commented on the fresh crimson paint job, the new hanging lights outside the box office, the sparkling track lighting, the “etched logo” on the glass of our front door, and plans for several more improvements. Now that several of the “several more” have been completed, it’s time to take another look.

Foremost among the recent improvements is a flat screen TV (pictured above and to the left) that constantly runs a video loop of our Emmy Award-winning Barksdale commercial (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5Pmj8iFxp0) preceded and followed by stills from currently running shows at Hanover Tavern (Sanders Family Christmas) and the historic Empire (The Best Christmas Pageant Ever). John Moon not only created the video montage, he also bought and contributed the flat screen TV and the professional grade digital player.

Now anyone waiting in line at the box office will have something interesting to watch.

Equally impressive, our tech director at Hanover Tavern, David Powers, has custom designed and built two bench/storage units to provide seating opposite the door of our elevator. Each bench is designed to store the various pieces of hardware employed by our new photo display system. There’s even a hand-crafted logo built into the benches, making them unique works of craftsmanship.

Our photo display area is still somewhat under construction, but it's coming along nicely. We’re continuing to try out various component parts during the runs of The Clean House and This Wonderful Life, determined to find out which components work best. Cast headshots now are hung individually from vertical rods in handsome new frames. We’re also in the process of replacing the large photo display units that ultimately will house the show shots of each production.

We’ll soon be adding headshots of all the volunteer members of our Board of Trustees, and activity shots portraying Barksdale’s various service initiatives that add so much to the cultural life of Central Virginia.

The vintage Barksdale sign is hanging proudly once again just inside and to the right of the front door. Soon there will be an informative plaque explaining the sign’s history. There’s a new rug inside the front door that bears the Barksdale logo in shades of gray. And there’s a new wooden rack card display unit mounted next to the box office window, better enabling us to promote upcoming productions in all our venues.

In an effort to improve accessibility, two bright overhead lights have been added directly over the box office windows, shining straight down, enabling customers to see clearly the paperwork that is presented to them at the box office. Two mini-blinds have been added to the interior of the box office windows, making it possible to secure our ticket center more effectively during non-business hours.

A museum-quality dedication display has been installed to the left just inside the entry door, recognizing the many contributions of Carrie Galeski and her late husband Ed. Carrie Galeski provided the generous gift that made it possible for us to construct the foyer in 1996. Her steadfast support continues to sustain our operations.

The dedication reads as follows:

Barksdale Theatre’s Entry Foyer is Dedicated to Edward Whitlock Galeski and Carrie Taylor Galeski.

Ed Galeski was born in Richmond and graduated from M.I.T. with an aeronautical engineering degree. During World War II, he was an Army Air Force flight instructor and was instrumental in testing the B-28 Super-Fortresses which did so much in winning the war in the Pacific.

After the war he went into the photo processing business where he established Galeski Photo Center. Ed showed his intellectual and mechanical aptitude becoming one of the first companies good enough to receive the first color processing machines from Kodak. He continued to expand his business to such a high degree of efficiency that it was sought after and finally purchased by a national chain.

In 1971 he married Carrie Taylor. They enjoyed a deep and binding relationship as they worked together for mutual goals. 'Eddie and I moved to the Hanover Courthouse area in 1980, and there we forged a lasting friendship with Pete and Nancy Kilgore along with Muriel McAuley. This was the beginning of our relationship with Barksdale
.'

Ed died in 1986, but Carrie continues to be one of Barksdale Theatre’s strongest supporters. We are eternally grateful.”

Indeed we are.

--Bruce Miller

Progress Continues on Galeski Foyer

Posted by Bruce Miller
Until a few minutes ago, this post was going to be about the great work that John Moon is doing to upgrade the entrance to our theatre. Most of you know John as an actor in The Clean House (see photo above and to the right) or as the director of our current, brilliant production of This Wonderful Life.

What some of you may not know is that John is also on our Board. In fact, he’s a former President of the Barksdale Board of Trustees. To our great benefit, John has assumed Board leadership of our commitment to improve and upgrade our Willow Lawn performance facilities.

Sometimes, when I'm writing for this blog, my meanderings don't go the way I think they will. In this instance, I wrote the title, and as I typed the word “foyer,” my mind began to race. I knew that “foyer” was the word selected by the Barksdale powers-that-be in 1996 to indicate the lower lobby I intended to write about. Nonetheless, before I could stop myself, I began Googling to make sure that "foyer" was the right word. Thankfully it was, and is.

But Google can be a harsh mistress. The deeper I followed her into lingua-land, the more questions I had, and the more discoveries I made about this slightly out-of-the-ordinary word, "foyer."

How would readers pronounce it?--I asked myself. How would I pronounce it if I weren’t thinking about it? Why is the correct pronunciation open to debate? Where did the word originate? What does it actually mean?

I know. I’m a freak. I’m sorry. But first things first.

This post is now going to be all about the word “foyer” and how it relates to theatre history. I’ll get to John’s wonderful upgrades soon. I promise.

“Foyer” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an anteroom or lobby especially of a theater; also, an entrance hallway.” Adding more fuel to the fire—a little foreshadowing here—Answers.com posts this definition: “a lobby or anteroom, as of a theater or hotel; an entrance hall; a vestibule.”
Dictionary.com weighs in with a similar theme: “the lobby of a theater, hotel or apartment house; a vestibule or entrance hall.” That's a photo of the "foyer" of the National Theatre of Prague to the right.

"Foyer,” therefore, seems like the perfect word to indicate the lower lobby of Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn. After all, our upstairs lobby is our official “lobby,” and the lower lobby is the “anteroom” or “entrance hallway” through which one must pass if one is intent on reaching the “lobby" proper. From all accounts the word “foyer” seems to conjure up images of theatre. So, “foyer” it is.

But … actually, the phrase selected in 1996 to serve as the moniker for this illustrious space was “entry foyer.” The official name of this room is the “Galeski Entry Foyer” (more on “Galeski” soon, I promise, when I actually begin writing about John’s upgrades).

Now that I know what “foyer” really means, saying “entry foyer” seems akin to saying “entry entrance hallway,” which I think we all can agree is redundant. So, at least for me, this room will henceforward be the “Galeski Foyer”—the word “entry” being ... silent.

Now's when the fun really begins. How do we pronounce it? Here’s what I thought I knew.

There’s the American pronunciation: foi'ər ( http://www.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/audio.pl?foyer001.wav=foyer ). Go ahead. Click it. It’s cool. It rhymes with “lawyer.” Well, almost.

And there’s the French pronunciation: foi'ā' ( http://www.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/audio.pl?foyer002.wav=foyer ). It rhymes with Charles Boyer, except you’re probably not old enough to remember who Charles Boyer is.

So, based on what I thought I knew, I figured if you wanted to sound like “Joe Sixpack” you could use the American pronunciation, and if you wanted to sound like “the cultural elite” you could use the French pronunciation. To me, it was Red State Blue State simple.

Of course I was wrong.

If you really want to sound like an Ahtistic Directah, you would use the real French pronunciation: fwä'yā' (listen for the third pronunciation after clicking http://www.howjsay.com/index.php?word=foyer&submit=Submit ). But if you really went around saying that, not only would you sound snooty, you'd also run the risk of sounding stupid.

In French, the word “foyer” doesn’t mean what it means in English. In modern French, the word “foyer” means “home” or “hostel.” The most common use of the word “foyer” in modern French is in the phrase “femme au foyer,” which means “housewife.”

You see, “foyer” meaning the entrance hall that leads one to the lobby of a theatre is not a French word at all. It’s an English word. Who knew? The correct English pronunciation is foi'ā' ( http://www.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/audio.pl?foyer002.wav=foyer ). Don’t take my word for it. Go to London and ask anybody.

Here's where the theatre history kicks in. In days of yore, early London theatregoers of means enjoyed a social meeting room that they could adjourn to when they wanted to warm up during intermission. The common feature of these rooms was a large, roaring fireplace. The theatres themselves were not adequately heated, being relatively cavernous spaces, so social rooms with hearths were provided for the upper crust. They were located off the lobby and you went there to get nice and toasty before you returned to your seat for Act II.

The English chose the word "foyer" as the name for these rooms because, at the time, referencing a little French every now and then was cool among the socially elite. And the Old French word "foier" meant "fireplace" or "hearth."

As more theatres were built, designers began to open up the "foyers" to everyone, not just the wealthy few. In more and more theatres, audiences began entering the "foyers" from the street. They'd enter, warm up, then proceed into the lobby, and finally into the theatre itself. Check out the fireplace to the right, located in the "foyer" of the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway.

Today, in modern French, the word for “fireplace” is “cheminée," the Old French word “foier” no longer exists, and the modern French word "foyer" means "home" and has nothing to do with theatres. So when we correctly pronounce "foyer" as foi'ā' ( http://www.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/audio.pl?foyer002.wav=foyer ), we do so because that's how they say it in England, not because that's how they say it in France.

Of course, we're in the United States of America, and you can pronounce “foyer” anyway you want. All American dictionaries list the American pronunciation first and the English pronunciation second, indicating that both pronunciations are perfectly acceptable. I guess it's just another case of po-tay-to / po-tah-to.

But wait a minute. Isn't there a large fake fireplace in the upstairs lobby of Barksdale's Willow Lawn facility? Doesn't that mean that the real “foyer” at Barksdale is the upstairs lobby, and the downstairs lobby is more appropriately called a …

Fogetaboutit.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, December 5, 2008

Carol Meese Shares Her Paintings

Posted by Bruce Miller
There’s no intermission in This Wonderful Life, so when you come to visit Scotty in Bedford Falls be sure to arrive a little early or stay a little late to take in the work of Petersburg artist Carol Meese, now on display in our lobby. Carol is an artist whose paintings I’ve enjoyed when I’ve visited her Richmond gallery space at Crossroads Arts Center, located near Willow Lawn, just north of the intersection of Broad and Staples Mill.

I’ve always found her work to be “dramatic,” and so I wasn’t surprised when I met her to learn that she has a background in theatre. Carol has graciously leant nine works from two recent shows, Runway and Color and Light Revisited.

Her artist statement for Runway reads as follows:

“I have long been enamored by high fashion. As an art form that embraces fantasy, fashion is at once sumptuous, voluptuous, celebratory, transformative and fragile. Growing up around theatre, I fell in love with costumes and their magical ability to transform. I had my favorites: red cowboy boots, pink rabbit fur slippers, a ruby brocade smoking jacket, six inch silver heels, long red gloves, a black squash velvet hat I wore in Paris, a silver cigarette holder and case (I never smoked), my strapless blue chiffon prom dress, black combat boots.

Designers like John Galliano and Christian LaCroix are over the top and lead us to possibilities unimagined. Many of these paintings are inspired by The Runway Shows. Oh if only I could paint like these designers manipulate fabric!

Color, texture, pattern, swirls and folds—all tasks I like to do with paint. I take off, abstracting when I can, offering more permanence than fabric, these works on canvas are meant to delight. They were fun to paint. Hope you enjoy them.”

Her two paintings from Color and Light Revisited are landscapes inspired by views from rooftops in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Other works from this show will be displayed in our lobby next fall, when we kick off our Latino Theatre Festival in partnership with the Latin Ballet.

Thank you, Carol, for sharing your talents with us.

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dan's Declaration - "Talent to Spare!"

Posted by Bruce Miller
Dan Sherrier of Hanover’s Herald-Progress has added his voice to the chorus of approval for Sanders Family Christmas, now playing at our historic home. Under the headline “Sanders Family makes successful return to Hanover Tavern,” Sherrier applauds ever member of the ensemble, calling the show “perfectly cast.”

Here are the review quotes we’ll be pulling:

“Great News!
A fine way to start off the holiday season
Excellent pacing and comedic timing
Wonderfully Played ~ Talent to Spare ~ Especially Fun
Warms your heart and keeps you laughing
Perfect!”

--Dan Sherrier, Herald-Progress

There are still a handful of tickets left to see and hear the Sanders clan between now and Christmas, so if you want to add some joyful noise to your advent celebration, please call today.

Or if you wind up waiting until after Christmas to visit Mt Pleasant Baptist (the setting for SFC), know that you'll be in good company with the likes of ... say ... William Shakespeare and the Virgin Queen.

In Shakespeare's time, Twefth Night was a vital part of the Christmas celebration, and Twelfth Night was a four week festival that began on Jan 5 and continued into the beginning of February. The premiere of Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night ended England's Christmas celebration in 1602, and it most likely took place on February 2. (Visit our archives for January 2008 if you'd like to reread Celebrating Twelfth Night, posted earlier this year on Jan 5.)

So if Shakespeare can celebrate Christmas through early February, we can certainly run Sanders Family Christmas through Jan 25. Most of the show focusses on the early days of WWII and other pressing issues in 1941, so the production should play well even during the "extended" season.

See you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Julinda's Jubilation - "Christmas Classic"

Posted by Bruce Miller
The critic has spoken, the box office phones are ringing, and it looks like This Wonderful Life is poised to be the smash hit it deserves to be. Julinda Lewis, Susie Haubenstock’s pinch hitter at the T-D, wrote a glowing assessment of this classic Christmas story and Scotty’s remarkable performance.

Here are the review quotes we’ll be pulling:



“Enchanting!
A Christmas classic ~ Energetic ~ Endearing
A fast-paced, humorous theatrical tour-de-force
A one-man wonder
A holiday package all wrapped up in Scott Wichmann
Superb!”

--Julinda Lewis, Richmond Times-Dispatch


So book your passage to Bedford Falls soon. I know I’m always trying to hawk tickets. So shoot me; it’s my job. But over and above all that, this really is a show and a performance you won’t want to miss.

--Bruce Miller