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


Robinitaface said...

Thanks for this post, Bruce.

After Dave chatted with me for the article, I was kinda bummed to read the negative tone that came across. Not that there wasn't truth in it. Richmond is blessed with a very large (quality) talent pool and just not enough outlets to show it off. Of course people have to leave town to keep working.

What that all boils down to is that evil thing called money. But where do you start? The young Richmond audiences for which the theatre are vying right now tend to shy away from big Corporate ANYTHING. So how to you get the money you need to grow while keeping the grassroots feel that makes Richmond...well, Richmond?

That's the delicate balance that Richmond has to hold in place in order to maintain her character. She has to grow, but those who love her don't want her to sell out. That Rebel blood just won't dilute, I guess. ;-)

Thespis' Little Helper said...

Bruce, you are the man.

hoosier steve said...

Wonderful post Bruce. I would like to hear your response to the several mentions of the decline of Theatre Gym. I seem to recall the overwhelming amount of work that we all took on with the combination of Barksdale and Theatre IV being a contributing factor, but is there more to it than that?
Thanks for all you do Bruce, Richmond theatre may have weaknesses, but it also has many strengths, the work that you and Phil have done these 33 years is certainly one of the strengths.

taylor baltimore said...

thanks for the shout out bruce! i'm glad that your beef pertains only to the city of baltimore!