Friday, February 29, 2008

Revisiting the Days...

Posted by Billy Christopher Maupin

I was just revisiting two of the questionnaires that have been posted this season and since Ms. Louis and Ms. Roop are currently appearing on the boards in Barksdale's hit production of Doubt: a Parable, I thought I might relink them for your reading pleasure!

Katherine Louis, now turning in a show-stopping cameo performance as Mrs. Muller, came by and offered her thoughts in the fall when she was working on our season opener, The Member of the Wedding. You can revisit her post here.

Maggie Roop, who provides a beautifully honest portrayal of the young nun, Sister James, answered the questionnaire more recently as she was dazzling audiences in the ensemble of Theatre IV's production of Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter, while SIMULTANEOUSLY rehearsing for her current performance in Doubt: a Parable. The bulk of her questionnaire can be viewed here on the Theatre IV blog (as well as her talking about working on both productions), but there were a couple of answers that seemed just a bit too racy for The Children's Theatre of Virginia, so the rest of her questionnaire can be viewed here on the Barksdale Buzz.

Enjoy revisiting!

Oh, ALSO, Mary Burruss has a nice post on the Richmond VA Theatre blog that is primarily about Doubt. You can see that here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How We Help ... St. Christopher's

Posted by Phil Whiteway

Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV were happy to help out St. Christopher’s School this past weekend. St. Christopher’s helps us each year with our after school enrichment program for less advantaged elementary students at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School on Oregon Hill. When our St. Andrew’s students attend a Theatre IV production in the Empire, high school students from St. Christopher’s accompany them as mentors and “big brothers.”

In January the St. Christopher’s Annual Auction Committee contacted Judi Crenshaw, our publicist extraordinaire, about the possibility of our providing historical characters to enhance their annual development event. St. Chris’s theme this year revolved around patriotism, and our partners at St. Chris were looking for actors to play George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. These were paid gigs for the actors, but St. Chris asked if we at Barksdale would donate our time and expertise, helping out with organization, casting and costuming.

We said “yes.” Judi Crenshaw (our publicist) organized the project, Ford Flannagan (our company manager) assisted Judi in finding actors who came in the same size as the costumes, Sue Griffin (our costume director) managed wardrobe, and Catherine Dudley (our marketing assistant) recorded the donation. Our costume department in particular went well above and beyond the call of duty assembling garments, wigs, hats and various Colonial and Revolutionary accoutrements.

On Saturday, Feb 23, the Auction took place and our four “patriots” mingled with the 350 St. Christopher supporters. Fun times were had by all.

Barksdale and Theatre IV donate tickets and services to hundreds of fellow nonprofits throughout Greater Richmond every year. Through this How We Help spotlight series, we hope to make you more aware of this vital part of our operation.

--Phil Whiteway

Sunday, February 24, 2008

DOUBT interview in Sunday's RTD!

Posted by Sara Marsden

Doubt interview in Sunday's RTD!

Check out this great interview with Irene Ziegler and Duke Lafoon. The performance today at 2pm, as well as next Friday at 8pm and Saturday at 2pm & 8pm are sold out, so don't delay if you want to see this show.

There is also an article about the upcoming special event at the Empire Theatre, Virginia Arts and Letters Live.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Making of Peter Pan

Posted by Billy Christopher Maupin

Catherine Dudley has posted the first in a series of "The Making of..." on the Theatre IV Blog, showing how our sets, costumes, etc. are designed and built right here in Richmond. It's really fascinating! Be sure to check it out!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

OK...Make That THREE for Doubt: a Parable

Posted by Billy Christopher Maupin

Joan Tupponce with writes about Doubt: a Parable:

"well-crafted, multi-layered play"

"the play's pace and content is so intriguing that the 90-minute production with no intermission breezes by."

"Duke Lafoon skillfully moves from..."

"Irene Ziegler gives a world-class performance..."

"Maggie Roop convincingly shows us the character's innocence, enthusiasm, confusion..."

"Katherine Louis...channels the desperation of a mother..."

"The play's lighting design by Lynne M. Hartman and scenic design by Phil Hayes are as detailed as the character's actions..."

"The superbly acted play is perfect for Acts of Faith."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Do Two Slam Dunk Reviews Make Doubt: A Parable a Hit?

Posted by Billy Christopher Maupin

If they don't, then perhaps four sold out shows in the first two weekends of performances do.

Dave Timberline's review "Nun Better" appears in tomorrow's issue of STYLE Weekly.

A few highlights:

"No need to think twice: Barksdale’s
Doubt: A Parable is a winner."
" edgy and engrossing delight."
And my personal favorite quote from the review:
"Under Keri Wormald’s meticulous direction,
the Barksdale’s cast doesn’t just do justice to
John Patrick Shanley’s
Pulitzer Prize-winning script;
it delivers a precision-cut gem of a production,
each facet sharp and sparkling."
Tickets may be reserved online through the Barksdale Theatre website or by calling the box office at 282-2620.
(The full review may be viewed by clicking "Nun Better" above or via

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Haubenstock Heaps Huzzahs

The first critic has spoken:


Fine Performance / Perfect Balance

Irene Ziegler, as the nun, and Duke Lafoon, as the priest, must dance on a razor’s edge of morality; in fact, they virtually leap and pirouette in their verbal warfare.

Produced with blinding clarity under the direction of Keri Wormald

Won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize in 2005

It is healthier, safer, better always to Doubt!”

--Susan Haubenstock, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Meet the Cast of Doubt on Monday Evening 2/18

Posted by Jessica

Monday night at 6:30 PM at Willow Lawn

Doubt is having an extremely successful opening, with performances selling quickly and good word of mouth. We'll end our first weekend with Meet the Stars. Don't miss this chance to come out an meet the excellent cast, including Duke Lafoon, Irene Ziegler, Maggie Roop and Katherine Louis. (NOTE: Bruce has pointed out in the comments that Duke will be unable to attend.)

At Barksdale at Willow Lawn
Cash Bar opens at 6:30 PM Panel from 7:00-8:00 PM Bar remains open after panel. Attendance is free and open to the public.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Doubt: a Parable Opened

Posted by Billy Christopher Maupin

I just got home from the opening night of Doubt: A Parable - well, the show was over around 9:30 or so, but there was a fantastic reception following. I think Joy Ross, Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV's Patron Services Manager, said it best: "This is theatre."

Go see this show.

The script, direction, the set, the lighting, the actors. This. Is. Theatre. Tonight was completely sold out. Tomorrow is sold out. I hope every single performance sells out. It was an absolutely and incredible night of theatre.

I will be there again. Probably multiple times. I want to study these four actors, Duke Lafoon, Katherine Louis, Maggie Roop, and Irene Ziegler. Each of their performances is...

Go see this production.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

We Open Tomorrow, No "Doubt" About It

Posted by Phil Whiteway
One of the most interesting things about Doubt is “what’s it about?” It’s about a nun and a priest, but not really. It’s about race relations, but not really. It’s about how much influence women had in the Catholic Church before the closure of Vatican II, but not really. It’s about child molestation, but not really. At least that’s what I keep hearing when I listen in on discussions in the Barksdale offices.

Doubt is our entry in the Acts of Faith Festival. It is about the role that doubt plays in faith, but also a lot more.

To me, if I see something on stage, what I see is at least part of what the play is about. A lot of people think like that. But Doubt is also about what we don’t see on stage and what we don’t hear. Doubt is about how we listen and process what is said to us … how we form an opinion … how quickly we lock into conviction and how comfortable we are to remain in uncertainly.

Playwright John Patrick Shanley (pictured above in front of my favorite Broadway marquee) has written a thrilling, moving and brilliant play. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, which is awarded to the play that best illuminates American culture. It also won the 2005 Tony for Best Play of the Year.

There’s an interesting interview with Shanley and the original Broadway cast on Charlie Rose. You can find it at

Watch the interview if you like, and then please come see the play. We appreciate your business.

--Phil Whiteway

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Doubt" Opens Friday - $15 Rush Tickets!

Posted by Phil Whiteway
I hope you'll make your plans now for our upcoming producing of Doubt by John Patrick Shanley. Doubt won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Play and the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Our production stars Irene Ziegler and Duke Lafoon, with Maggie Roop and Katherine Louis. Direction is by Keri Wormald. Set Design is by Phil Hayes, and Costumes come to us from our great friends at The Company of Fools in Hailey, Idaho, coordinated here in Richmond by Sarah Grady. Light Design is by Lynne Hartman.

As with all Barksdale productions, $15 rush tickets are available to one and all 90 minutes prior to each performance. You can call 282-2620 a couple hours before curtain and they'll usually know whether there will be any rush tickets available for that performance.

Opening nights are always fun. If you can join us on Friday, please do. And stick around after the show for our Opening Night party.

--Phil Whiteway

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

So Long, Farewell

Dear Readers,

The time has come for me to say goodbye to the blog. Others now can begin to fill these pages with what they find interesting. I’m going to be spending my time on other matters.

The opportunity to share my thoughts has been fun for me, in many ways. I enjoy writing. I may write something again from time to time—never say never—but I won’t be continuing to log the hours I’ve been putting in during the last eleven months. I’ve worked hard on this project—pleasing some people, angering and embarrassing others. Now it’s up and running, and it’s time for me to move on. I’ll continue to read with interest what the rest of you have to say.

Thanks to those who have read these ramblings and to those who have shared kind words with me. I wish you all the best.

--Bruce Miller

Monday, February 11, 2008

Who's Reading / How Did They Get Here?

Posted by Phil Whiteway
Ever wonder who reads about Richmond theatre on the Barksdale blog? Well, our site meter won’t tell us who, but it does provide us with this information, for all you trivia buffs.

As of 10 pm this evening, 126 people have visited the blog since midnight last night. Of the last 100 visitors:
47 were from Richmond;
11 from Glen Allen;
4 from Rochester NY;
3 each from Harrisonburg VA and Astoria NY;
2 each from Ashland VA, Juneau AL, Hailey ID, Manassas VA and Hoxie AR; and
1 each from Midlothian VA, Lafayette IN, St Paul MN, Greer SC, Spartanburg SC, Cumberland VA, Van Nuys CA, Buffalo NY, Oswego NY, Atlanta GA, San Antonio TX, Brooklyn NY, Springfield VA, Summit NJ, Palatine IL, Cumberland VA, Goochland, Montgomery AL, Elmhurst NJ and Arlington VA.

And how did they get to us?
41 of these last 100 visitors linked to the blog from Barksdale’s homepage,
26 from unknown places,
6 from Dave Timberline’s blog,
4 from our Doubt page,
3 from Robin Harris-Jones’s blog,
2 from our Greater Tuna Guys and Dolls audition page,
2 from a Google blog search for “Studio Arena,”
1 from our Coffee & Conversations page,
1 from our Meet the Stars page,
1 from our Directions to Willow Lawn page,
1 from our Email Newsletter Sign-Up page,
1 from Windows Live Hotmail,
1 from a Yahoo search for “Michelle Shay actress,”
1 from a Yahoo search for “Alex Privatera,”
1 from a Yahoo search for “the Jane Froman Show,”
1 from a Google search for “Pernell Roberts today,”
1 from a Google search for “Gigi Galiffa,”
1 from a Google search for “Grant Mudge,”
1 from a Google search for “Emily Cole-Bitz,”
1 from a Google search for “Nina Abady,”
1 from a Google search for “Eric Williams Theatre IV,”
1 from a Google search for “Jack Cummings Richmond Virginia,” and
1 from an AOL search for “Carlton Candler.”

We normally pay no attention to this info on our site meter, and the info changes every day with no back-up. So don’t worry; your secrets are safe. But since everyone was getting so excited, I decided I’d check just to see who was looking in on our LORT conversation, and I thought some of you may find it interesting.

PS – I just checked again and our readership is now up to 133, the most hits we’ve had in one day in a while. People really care on both sides of this LORT issue. That’s a GREAT thing.

--Phil Whiteway

Coffee & Conversations on Tuesday Morning 2/12

Posted by Jessica Daugherty

Coffee & Conversations Tomorrow at 9:30 AM

Critically Speaking:

A Look Inside the Minds of Richmond's Theatre Critics

Susan Haubenstock
Mary Burrus
Dave Timberline
Joan Tupponce

Moderator: Jill Bari Steinberg

Tuesday, February 12
9:30-10:30 AM at Willow Lawn
Open to the public. No RSVP required.
Suggested $3 Donation includes Rostov’s Coffee, Hot Tea and Pastries

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Looking at LORT, Crunching the Numbers

Posted by Bruce Miller
Over the last six years, there’s been a lot of fervent discussion about whether Barksdale should become a LORT theatre. Quite a few folks have been involved in these discussions, and all opinions are welcome.

LORT stands for the League of Resident Theatres, which is a membership organization comprised of the nation’s leading professional theatre companies. LORT exists for many reasons, but one of the most important is to represent the 76 member theatres in collective bargaining with the three artist unions: AEA for actors and stage managers, SSDC for directors and choreographers, and USA for designers.

It takes money to operate as a LORT theatre. To super-generalize, LORT regulations require higher ratios of union (AEA) actors than Barksdale uses currently. This would make it more difficult, at least philosophically, to hire non-union locals.

Those ratios are one big issue. Barksdale has a long standing commitment to Richmond-based theatre artists. Money is another.

TheatreVirginia was a LORT theatre. TheatreVirginia went out of business in 2002. There are lots of reasons why, but a fundamental reason was that as ticket sales and funding failed to grow, TVA could no longer meet the expenses of its LORT obligations.

The STYLE report card implied that Richmond’s current lack of a LORT theatre was one of the reasons for actors moving on to larger markets. As I've mentioned earlier, I'm not convinced that artists are leaving at a greater rate than before, and I'm even less certain that the lack of a LORT theatre is the reason for the departure of the ones who are choosing to move on. But we're very open to everyone's input as we continue to analyze the pros and cons of such a major decision.

The global view is this. I think there are at least ten metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) that are larger than Richmond and don’t have a LORT theatre: Sacramento, CA (#26), Orlando, FL (#27), San Antonio, TX (#29), Las Vegas, NV (#31), Columbus, OH (#32), Charlotte, NC (#36), Austin, TX (#37), Nashville, TN (#39), Jacksonville, FL (#40) and Memphis, TN (#41).

And there are plenty of great theatres that we all know and love that aren’t LORT. In Chicago, of the 55 AEA theatres, only three are LORT. And the 52 that are not include Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, Chicago Shakespeare and Lookingglass. Closer to home, neither Signature Theatre in NoVA nor Wooly Mammoth and Studio in D. C. work under LORT contracts.

Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn’s current SPT contract allows for a higher ratio of non-union locals (the union uses the term non-professionals). Currently our seasonal contract requires that we issue AEA contracts to 60% of all cast members and 100% of all stage managers, with a cap of six AEA actors required for shows with casts of ten or more.

So what does LORT really mean? Well, for one thing, it gives you a seat at the adult table in terms of national standing. As Dave Timberline mentioned, David Leong at VCU would love to see us join LORT, because it would add more prestige to the resumes of his students who work with us.

You would not be off the mark to say that, in terms of “professionalism” and "national standing," SPT is one notch below LORT, and one or more notches above several of the other options that are out there. Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn is Richmond’s only SPT. Prior to 2001, Barksdale used AEA actors only in rare instances and employed them under Guest Artist agreements. Barksdale at Hanover Tavern still uses Guest Artist agreeements.

There are currently 76 major professional theatres that are members of LORT. Of these, 61 are located in MSAs larger than Richmond/Petersburg. One, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, is located in the 42nd largest MSA, only slightly larger than Richmond/Petersburg, the 43rd largest MSA (if you separate Washington D. C. and Baltimore into two MSAs). Fourteen are located in MSAs smaller than Richmond/Petersburg.

These 14 professional theatres, listed in order of the size of their MSAs, are:

Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, CT, the 44th largest MSA;
Hartford Stage Company in Hartford, CT, also in the 44th largest MSA;
Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, NY, the 46th largest MSA;
Geva Theatre Company in Rochester, NY, the 49th largest MSA;
PlayMakers Repertory Theatre in Chapel Hill, NC, the 51st largest MSA;
Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, NY, the 57th largest MSA;
Clarence Brown Theatre Company in Knoxville, TN, the 77th largest MSA;
Arkansas Repertory Theatre in Little Rock, AR, the 79th largest MSA;
Syracuse Stage in Syracuse, NY, the 80th largest MSA;
Portland Stage Company in Portland, ME, the 97th largest MSA;
McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, the 134th largest MSA;
Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, AL, the 135th largest MSA;
Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA, the 152nd largest MSA; and
Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, MA, the 301st largest MSA.

In an effort to compare apples to apples, we’ve been looking at these 15 professional theatres to see how they are able to afford LORT membership in communities similar to or smaller than Richmond/Petersburg. I encourage you to investigate these theatres yourself and join in our strategic planning.

More to come.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, February 8, 2008

Richmond's Role in American Theatre

Posted by Bruce Miller
To clarify one thing from my last post … A couple folks thought I was intending sarcasm when I said “maybe after I retire, Terrie and I will be so lucky” as to hang with Dave and Holly Timberline. No sarcasm was intended. Terrie and I like the Timberlines a lot.

And for whatever it's worth, here’s another thought on the STYLE “report card.” This one relates to actors leaving town for larger markets. Call me a glass half-full kind of guy (I am), but may I suggest that the fact that Richmond theatre artists sometimes move on to greener pastures is a testament to the strength of the Richmond theatre scene, not the weakness.

Throughout my 33 years, there has always been a percentage of talented theatre practitioners who start their careers in Richmond and then move onward and upward. From where I stand, that percentage hasn’t become noticeably larger or smaller in recent years. It’s pretty much stayed the same. That’s healthy.

Talk to Woody Eney. He left Richmond many years ago to seek the opportunities available in larger markets. So did Hansford Rowe, Blair Underwood, Steven Furst, Emily Skinner, Joe Inscoe, Dianne Pennington, Rusty Wilson, Burt Edwards, Denise Simone, Dee Slominski, Bev Appleton, Jeri Cutler, Sean MacLaughlin, Duke Lafoon, Jason Butler Harner, Skip Harris, Joe Doran, Michael Cole, Tom Hewitt, Foster Solomon and Susan Sanford, Kathy Halenda, Scott Wichmann, Maury and Yvonne Erickson, Cliff Todd and Michelle Carter, Lynn Keeton and Alan Flannagan, Laine Satterfield, Eddie Pierce, Kris Koop, Tia James, Scott Nogi, Chris Evans, Sara Heifetz, Robert Easter, Walker Jones, Brad Greenquist, David Winning, Michael Kingman, Jake Mosser, Jerrold Solomon, Michael Hersh, Larry Shue, Jack Cummings, Corey Bradley, Susann Fletcher, Andy Umberger and countless others whose names didn't immediately come to mind in the 30 or so seconds it took me to type this sentence.

Others like John Glenn, R. L. Rowsey, Denise Simone (the second time she left), Rick St. Peter and Jack Parrish left Richmond for full time opportunities in smaller markets, and they’re doing great.

Some of those who emigrate return; some find success on Broadway and/or in Hollywood; some switch careers. It’s all good. It's sad to see each of them move (really sad for me in a couple cases because they were close friends). But their departures were and are a fact of life—nothing less, nothing more.

Richmond is not New York, Chicago, L. A. or Philadelphia. It never will be.

But for those who appreciate the many wondrous things that Richmond has to offer, it’s better than a major market. It’s home. Ask Joe Inscoe.

What I don’t understand is why anyone would look on this as some sort of negative blot on the profile of Richmond theatre. It doesn’t make us look bad, it makes us look good. We should wear it like a badge of honor. Many of those whose names appear in the list above have established major careers; a few have achieved national recognition. Would any of them have done so well in the national spotlight were it not for the experiences, opportunities, successes and failures they encountered here in Richmond? We are and should be proud of our artists who move on, and proud of ourselves for ably filling the niche that Richmond fills in the national theatre scene.

Robin Harris-Jones (my friend who is quoted in STYLE and on this blog) and the others who have moved on most recently (Chris Steward, Hannah Zold, Andy Nagraj, Jonathan Spivey, Christopher Clawsen) will continue to be in the Richmond theatre family until they decide to cut the tie. And you know what? Most theatre artists who move on don’t cut that tie. They stay in the family forever.

The world is a small place and getting smaller every day. Richmond plays a vital role in the national theatre scene. The artists who leave town to pursue opportunities elsewhere are not gone, forgotten or unreachable. Many of them return to Richmond for a show every now and then, and are welcomed back with open arms. Ask Duke Lafoon.

Or better yet, come see him in Doubt, opening at Barksdale Willow Lawn on Feb. 15, and see for yourself what he's up to. And will Duke's performance in Doubt be all the better because of the experiences, opportunities, successes and failures he’s encountered since moving to NYC? You tell me.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Random Thoughts on Blogs and Baltimore

Posted by Bruce Miller
I try to keep up with the several interesting theatre related blogs in Richmond, most notably Dave Timberline’s posts on I enjoy reading what Dave writes. Also, the comments posted by other readers are often informative, challenging and fun. Reading Dave’s blog is a good way to keep up with what fellow theatre types (Richmond and beyond) are thinking and saying.

I recommend his blog to you. Once there you can find links to lots of the more personal blogs written by Richmond theatre artists, several of which are also consistently interesting.

On the Barksdale site we offer links to all the theatres in town, but we don’t offer links to the blogs. Since many of the writers/owners of these blogs frequently review, audition for and/or work on our shows, we maintain a respectful, professional distance.

For the record, I like, admire and respect both David and Holly Timberline, and I’ve known them professionally for over two decades. I was there when they met. But I don’t hang with them. Maybe after I retire, Terrie and I will be so lucky.

If these ramblings are starting to make no sense, it may be because I’m bouncing off of recent comments in his blog.

I seldom post a comment on Dave’s blog because the world now has more than enough opportunities to hear my point of view. I’ve become one of those the press turns to for quotes. For the first 25 years of my 33-year career, that was not the case. But things change with time.

There’s been a robust blog conversation at Dave’s place recently regarding STYLE Weekly’s “report card” on Richmond theatre. My main beef with the “report card” was the whole Baltimore thing. (Not Taylor Baltimore--love her!) Baltimore the metro area. I think it’s clear to almost everyone (except, apparently, the editors of STYLE) that implying that Richmond’s population is larger than the population of Baltimore is … let’s say “misinformed.”

Baltimore and Washington are considered frequently to be one Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA); so are Richmond and Petersburg. And that's as it should be. Go to MapQuest and you’ll find that Barksdale at Hanover Tavern and Sycamore Rouge are 2 miles farther apart (43 miles separate the two) than are Arena Stage in D. C. and Center Stage in Baltimore (41 miles).

The US Census Bureau defines an MSA as “one or more adjacent counties or county equivalents that have at least one urban area of at least 50,000, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties.”

The Washington/Baltimore MSA is the fourth largest metro area in the nation, with a total population, based on the most recent census figures, of 8,211,213. The Richmond/Petersburg MSA (which includes the cities of Richmond, Petersburg, Hopewell and Colonial Heights, the town of Ashland, and the counties of Amelia, Caroline, Charles City, Chesterfield, Cumberland, Dinwiddie, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, King and Queen, King William, Louisa, New Kent, Powhattan, Prince George, and Sussex) is the nation’s 42nd largest metro area, with a total population of 1,194,008.

In other words, according to the U S Census Bureau, the MSA population of Washington/Baltimore is nearly seven times larger than the MSA population of Richmond/Petersburg.

MSA populations indicate not only the number of potential ticket buyers available to a theatre. They also almost always correlate with the number and strength of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in each MSA, and the number and strength of private foundations. Larger cities like Baltimore tend to provide more local government funding to their major arts organizations than do smaller cities like Richmond. And those states that include the larger MSAs almost always provide more state government funding to their major arts institutions.

Leading professional theatres in larger MSAs therefore have access to more donated funds, and typically derive 40 to 50 percent of their total revenues from contributions.

Leading professional theatres is smaller MSAs have significantly less access to funding. Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV derive 28% of total revenues from contributions. Based on our combined annual budget of $5 million, the difference between 28% and the national standard of 40% is $600,000 per year. Imagine how much more we could do, how much better we could be with an additional $600,000 per annum.

“Report cards” are good when they recognize and reward your strengths while challenging you to be aware of and work toward addressing your weaknesses. “Report cards” are not-so-good when they measure your acheivements against unreasonable expectations and wind up demoralizing a community to the point where people no longer have the will to address those weaknesses.

There is absolutely no reason for anyone involved in Richmond theatre to feel demoralized. Don’t get me wrong—Richmond theatres (especially Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV) need to continually identify weaknesses and work to make them better. There is great need and opportunity for improvement and growth.

But by most reasonable measurements, Richmond theatre is now stronger than ever. Best of all, our theatres are uniquely Richmond, as they should be. We do everyone a disservice by insinuating that we could or should be more like theatres in Baltimore.

That’s my opinion. More to come.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Race - Parts III and IV: From Darwin to Ota Benga to the Barksdale Stage

Posted by Bruce Miller
Part III
There are those who believe that Barksdale doesn’t do enough to promote racial equity, and I hear from them on a regular basis. We’ll talk about those issues soon.

There are more people who write to me alleging that Barksdale does too much.

My first production as artistic director was the musical comedy They’re Playing Our Song (2001). Director Jan Guarino cast two African Americans among the three men and three women who function as the alter egos of the leads, played by Robyn O’Neill and Steve Perigard, both of whom are white. “If they’re supposed to be alter egos,” a frustrated patron wrote, “why make them black. Please don’t follow the path of the Theatre of Virginia and try to force political correctness down our throats.”
Similar objections were filed when Susan Sanford and Jerold Solomon appeared opposite each other in Olympus on my Mind (2002), when Jan Guarino and Billy Dye exchanged flirtations in Annie Get Your Gun (2003), when two racially mixed couples headed the cast of Where’s Charley? (2004), and when we cast black actors among Beauregard’s extended family in Mame (2006).

I recently heard from a man who was offended because “the colored girl” in Swingtime Canteen (my wonderfully talented friend Katrinah Lewis) asked a white man in the audience to dance with her. His comment centered on the fact that Swingtime was supposed to be a re-creation of a USO show from 1944, and that no “colored female during the war years would ask a white soldier to come on stage and dance with her.” Hopefully it shows how far things have come in the last few decades. When I cast Katrinah in the role, it never even occurred to me that anyone would object.

Sometimes offense is taken from the other direction. I heard from four women, three of whom I believe were African American, who were offended by the fact that Jill Bari Steinberg played all the black characters in Syringa Tree as well as all the white characters.

I don’t want to overstate the problem. For every person who is offended, there are thousands who love what they’re seeing on stage and cheer us on.

Barksdale has a commitment to colorblind casting. This is not in an effort to be “politically correct”; it is simply our policy to cast each show based on talent rather than race. For many people my age and younger, interracial romance is barely noticeable. What I’ve come to realize is that a lot of our older audience members were brought up in a world where being colorblind was not even an option.

In South Pacific, the great American lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II got it right when he caustically commented on how racial prejudice had become so pervasive in American society. “You’ve got to be taught,” he said, “to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made, of people whose skin is a different shade—you’ve got to be carefully taught.”

The eminent British naturalist Charles Darwin may be the father of evolutionary theory, but he is also, perhaps inadvertently, one of the world’s foremost “teachers” of racism. In his 1859 masterwork, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (yep, that’s the full title), Darwin inferred that the “favoured race” was European and white. He stated that the Australian Aborigine and the African Negro were located on the evolutionary ladder somewhere between Caucasians and apes.

Today, the Human Genome Project has proven that Darwin’s racial suppositions were just plain wrong. Genetically, there is only one race—the human race. As Robert Lee Hotz reported in the L. A. Times, our conception of race is merely “a social construct derived mainly from perceptions conditioned by events of recorded history, and it has no basic biological reality.”

Lee Dye, science writer for ABC News, reports that scientists have found that the basic genetic differences between any two people anywhere in the world is around 0.2%, whether they come from the same “race” or different “races.” “More and more scientists find that the differences that set us apart are cultural, not racial. The so-called ‘racial’ characteristics that people think are major differences (skin color, eye shape, etc.) account for only 0.012% of human biological variation. There is more variation within any group than there is between one group and another. If a white person is looking for a tissue match for an organ transplant, the best match may come from a black person, and vice versa. There are differences among us, but they stem from culture, not race.”

Sadly, the racial attitudes of many Americans were forged more by Darwin than the Human Genome Project. That will change overtime, but not overnight. To understand the pervasive impact of Darwin, consider this story which ultimately brought Darwinism to our home state of Virginia.

(Those of you who need a break during my overly long blogs may take one here. Go enjoy a nice bowl of popcorn or a trip to the gym. Ota and I shall be ready and waiting for you should you elect to return.)

Part IV
In 1904, a 30-year-old explorer, anthropologist and missionary named Dr. Samuel Phillips Verner was hired to sail to Africa to acquire pygmies willing to move to Missouri for the upcoming World’s Fair. Once there, the Africans would join other native people, including Eskimos, American Indians and Filipino tribesmen, and be put on display in replicas of their traditional dwellings and villages. (Think of that next time you hum Meet Me in St. Louis.)

Ota Benga, one of the pygmies Verner acquired, had survived a massacre carried out by the Force Publique, a notorious armed band employed by King Leopold of Belgium to bring his Congolese colony under control. Ota Benga’s wife and two children had been killed in the massacre, and Ota Benga himself had been spared by their killers only so that he could be sold into slavery to another tribe. Verner purchased him at a slave market because he was fascinated by his teeth, which had been filed to sharp points in accordance with tribal custom. (The photo of Ota Benga above and to the left was taken at the World's Fair.)

When the World’s Fair was over, Verner took all eight pygmies back to Africa as free men. Ota Benga had nothing to return to, so he befriended Verner and assisted him as he pursued his anthropological work. In 1906, he returned with Verner to the United States.

Verner was not a wealthy man. Not knowing how to pay for his charge, he took Ota Benga and his other African “collectibles,” including two chimpanzees, to Hermon Bumpus, director of the Museum of Natural History in New York. Bumpus said he would store the cargo, including Ota Benga, while Verner tried to raise funds. A makeshift bedroom was created in a maintenance area. Ota Benga was fitted with a white suit and allowed to roam the museum at will.

As might be expected, he had difficulty assimilating to this new life. At one point he threw a chair at Florence Guggenheim, one of NYC’s most prominent philanthropists. When the situation became untenable, William Temple Hornaday (pictured to the right), director of the Bronx Zoo, agreed to take custody of both Ota Benga and the one surviving chimp.

Officially, Ota Benga was “employed” by the zoo, but records indicate that he was never paid. He was free to travel throughout the zoo as he pleased, and he frequently assisted the zookeepers with minor jobs. A good deal of his time was spent in the Monkey House, where he assumed personal responsibility for the care of Verner’s chimpanzee and became attached to an orangutan named Dohong. (The photo at the top of Part IV portrays Ota Benga with Verner's chimp.)

Prior to his second weekend in his zoo home, Hornaday had his staff encourage Ota Benga to hang his hammock in a cage within the Monkey House. They gave him a bow and arrow, which he seemed to enjoy shooting at a target. They made a sign and posted it outside the cage, listing Ota Benga’s height as 4 feet 11 inches, his weight as 103 pounds, and his age as 23. At the bottom of the sign were these words: “Exhibited each afternoon during September.”

When visitors to the zoo stopped by the Monkey House on Saturday, Sept 8, 1906, they were fascinated by their first glimpse of the Ota Benga “exhibit,” and encouraged to think that what they were viewing was an in-the-flesh example of the "savages" that Darwin had described as being halfway evolved between ape and man. To create atmosphere, a colorful parrot was released in Ota Benga’s cage and dried bones were scattered around the “jungle” floor.

On Sunday, under the excited headline “Bushman Shares a Cage with Bronx Park Apes,” the New York Times stated, “Few expressed audible objection to the sight of a human being in a cage with monkeys as companions … and there could be no doubt that to the majority the joint man-and-monkey exhibition was the most interesting sight in Bronx Park.”

The zoo was mobbed that day as thousands of readers ventured out in the afternoon to see the new attraction. From all accounts, Ota Benga played to his crowds, just as he had learned to do at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. He practiced with his bow and arrow, and wrestled enthusiastically with the orangutan Dohong.

An immediate outraged response came from the Colored Baptist Ministers’ Conference. Rev. James H. Gordon, superintendent of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn, wrote, “Our race, we think, is depressed enough without exhibiting one of us with the apes.” He noted that the exhibit “evidently aims to be a demonstration of Darwin’s theory of evolution. ... We think we are worthy of being considered human beings, with souls.” A few white churches concurred. “The person responsible for this exhibition,” wrote the white pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, “degrades himself as much as he does the African. Instead of making a beast of this little fellow, we should be putting him in school for the development of such powers as God gave him.”

The ministers sought support from the Mayor of New York, George McClellan (pictured to the left), and were denied. Zoo director Hornaday later applauded the mayor for refusing to meet with the ministers. “When the history of the Zoological Park is written,” Hornaday assured, “this incident will form its most amusing passage.”

Nonetheless, in a belated effort to avoid controversy, the “exhibit” was disassembled on Monday afternoon.

Later that week in an editorial, the New York Times wrote: “Not feeling particularly vehement excitement ourselves over the exhibition of an African ‘pigmy’ in the Primate House of the Zoological Park, we do not quite understand all the emotion which others are expressing in the matter. Still, the show is not exactly a pleasant one, and we do wonder that the Director did not foresee and avoid the scoldings now aimed in his direction. … As for Benga himself, he is probably enjoying himself as well as he could anywhere in his country, and it is absurd to make moan over the imagined humiliation and degradation he is suffering.”

Despite the dismantling of the formal exhibit, the public was not about to relinquish its fascination. Everyone, it seemed, had heard of Ota Benga, and they all wanted to see him personally. On Sunday, Sept 16, 40,000 New Yorkers came out to the zoo. Ota Benga was no longer constrained in the Monkey House (the entrance of which is pictured to the right). As he roamed the zoo’s grounds, great mobs followed him, according to the New York Times, “howling, jeering and yelling. Some of them poked him in the ribs, others tripped him up, all laughed at him.”

Within two more weeks, Ota Benga was moved to the children’s orphanage managed by Rev. Gordon in Brooklyn. Fifteen months later, in 1910, Ota Benga was transferred to the Virginia Theological Seminary and College, an all black school in Lynchburg, VA. (Civil rights icon Vernon Johns would serve as President of the fiercely independent Seminary for five years in the early ‘30s. Their catalogue from approximately this period is pictured to the left.)

While living in various private homes throughout Lynchburg, Ota Benga had his teeth capped and changed his name to Otto Bingo. He was befriended and tutored by the world renowned poet and civil rights activist, Anne Spencer, who lived in Lynchburg. Anne Spencer was the first Virginian and the first African American to have her work included in the Norton Anthology of American Poetry. She figured prominently in the Harlem Renaissance.

Through Anne Spencer (pictured to the right), Ota Benga met W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. After three years of study, Ota Benga abandoned his formal education and went to work in a tobacco factory, where his duties included climbing into the rafters to retrieve tobacco leaves without benefit of a ladder. He was most at home discarding his American clothes and living more freely in the woods.

On March 20, 1916, Ota Binga went into the forest, built a ceremonial fire, burned all his clothes and knocked the caps off his teeth with a stone. He was 32 years old. We’re told he performed a dance native to his Congolese homeland, and then, on the vernal equinox, shot himself with a borrowed pistol.
The obituary in the Lynchburg paper read as follows: “For a long time the young negro pined for his African relations, and grew morose when he realized that such a trip was out of the question because of the lack of resources.” Dr. Verner wrote that Ota Benga “probably succumbed only after the feeling of utter inassimilability overwhelmed his brave little heart.”
Today, efforts are underway to locate Ota Benga’s remains and return them to the Congo. The life mask above and to the left was made of Ota Benga when he lived at the Museum of Natural History, and is labeled only PYGMY.

In 2006, in commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of Ota Benga’s experience in the Bronx Zoo, NPR interviewed Carrie Allen McCray who lived as a child with Ota Benga in Lynchburg, and Phillips Verner Bradford, grandson of Dr. Samuel Phillips Verner who first brought Ota Benga from Africa to the United States. This 9-minute recording from All Things Considered can be accessed at

When reading letters from those who are offended by interracial romance on stage, I always try to remember that the world we live in today is, thankfully, very different from the world in which their personalities were formed.

--Bruce Miller

Maggie Roop Does Double Duty

Posted by Billy Christopher Maupin

Maggie Roop is currently appearing as Lady Vennesse/ Granny/ Ensemble in Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter with Theatre IV (running at the Empire Theatre through next Sunday, while rehearsing the role of Sister James in Barksdale Theatre's production of Doubt: a Parable by John Patrick Shanley, both productions being part of the Acts of Faith Festival. Here she fills out the questionnaire and then talks about pulling double-duty in these productions.

Two questions that I felt I couldn't post the complete answers to on the Theatre IV blog are listed below:

Least favorite word: I think my new least favorite is "wimple"!! I really don't like "panties" either.

Must-see TV show: LOST!!!! Sex and the City is awesome over and over. My new fave is Life.

To view Maggie's complete questionnaire and to read about her experience working on two productions simultaneously, visit the Theatre IV Blog at

Friday, February 1, 2008

Theatre IV Added to Boycott Lists

Posted by Bruce Miller
Since we're discussing things that offend audience members, I thought I'd share one of today's letters. I've left out the name to protect the privacy of the sender.

"Dear Sir:

I am writing to inform you that I am participating in Life Decision International's boycott of Theatre IV because it funds Planned Parenthood, an immoral organization which has murdered a staggering number of unborn children. Planned Parenthood seeks to promote sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility while attempting to turn children away from their parents. It gains support mainly through deception of the public. It claims to save society from the "costs" of "overpopulation" when in fact there is plenty of evidence proving that abortion and birth control programs, in addition to being severely unethical, actually undermine the economy. For example, the ever-increasing costs of Social Security place larger burdens on each individual laborer in the working population due to the low birth rate of the United States.

Those who respect all human life cannot in good conscience do business with Theatre IV as long as it remains on LDI's boycott list. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact LDI.

Please do the right thing and make Planned Parenthood ineligible for funding from your company."

Here is my response, which went out it today's mail.

"Dear xxxxx:

Thank you for your letter of Jan 29, 2008. We regret that you have made the decision to boycott Theatre IV. We respect all those who follow their conscience and take a stand in the pro-choice / pro-life debate. We do not believe it is appropriate for Theatre IV to support one side of that debate over the other.

Your letter was addressed to a Board President from several years ago. We are aware of the website that posts the outdated contact information that you have used. Despite their claims to have updated their lists recently, most of the information included on those lists is at least six years old. I am Theatre IV's Artistic Director. I hope you'll allow me to reply.

In my experience, I have not found Planned Parenthood to be an organization that “seeks to promote sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility while attempting to turn children away from their parents.” In fact, my limited experience with Planned Parenthood has convinced me that they work to reduce sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility and encourage healthy communication between children and parents.

I also must disagree with your assertion that Theatre IV “funds Planned Parenthood.” Planned Parenthood is one of 635 community-based nonprofit organizations that requested and received a voucher for two free tickets to Theatre IV in the last two years. Several nonprofits that promote pro-life agendas were also among the 635. It is quite possible that any of these nonprofits auctioned off their vouchers at a fundraising event.

Our association with Planned Parenthood is correctly described as follows. Several years ago, Theatre IV produced an adolescent pregnancy prevention program entitled Dancing in the Dark and toured it extensively to Virginia's middle schools. Dancing in the Dark was co-produced by Theatre IV and the Department of Pediatric Medicine at what was then the Medical College of Virginia.

While creating Dancing in the Dark, we worked with a broad cross-section of nonprofit organizations associated with efforts to reduce adolescent pregnancies, including pro-choice organizations such as Planned Parenthood and pro-life organizations such as Central Virginia’s Crisis Pregnancy Centers, the Catholic Church, etc. Our purpose in assembling this broad-based group of advisors was to represent the issue of adolescent pregnancy prevention in its entirety, rather than from a single point of view.

Our advising organizations found common ground in recommending that we create a pro-abstinence program for middle school students. We followed their recommendation and Dancing in the Dark received national recognition when we performed the play as the keynote presentation at the national conference of NOAPP (the National Organization for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention).

Conservative political committees such as Life Decisions International placed us on their boycott lists because we invited Planned Parenthood to sit at the table as we developed our pro-abstinence program. We also welcomed the Crisis Pregnancy Centers and other pro-life groups to that same table. We are well aware that there are those who insist that we limit our research to only one point of view. We choose to have a broader perspective.

As a matter of policy, we do not make decisions based on boycotts or threats. Like you, we make decisions based on our conscience. Our conscience is clear. We respect your decision not to attend our productions.


Bruce Miller
Artistic Director"