Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Perfect Showbiz Moment

By Scott Wichmann

Listen to Scott talk about Guys and Dolls on B103 FM.
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I was sitting backstage during this afternoon’s rehearsal for Guys and Dolls and I had a perfect ‘Showbiz’ moment, and I became impelled to reflect on my good fortune as a performer.

As I sat on a step unit in the wings just off stage right, I began to think about the historic Empire Theatre and how many performers it has been home to through the years. I thought, This old vaudeville house sure has seen its share of magic. What a tradition!!

To be a small part of that tradition is a joyous and humbling thing.

I glanced around and saw actors running lines by themselves, possessed of that slightly ‘crazy’ look, evidenced by the downward-directed muttering that we all do when we’re trying ever-so-diligently to whisper our lines letter-perfect.

Our Director, Patti D’Beck, stood in the front row of the audience, commiserating with our Stage Manager, Wendy Vandergrift, as they went over the blueprint for the set design. Wendy was probably saying what I’ve heard her say about a trillion times: We Can Do That. When she says it, she means it.

Our Musical Director, Sandy Dacus was wrapped up warmly in a cute little knit sweater as she played one of the duets for Sky and Sarah on a portable keyboard. Every now and then she’d pop a cookie into her mouth without missing a note.

As Rita Markova’s incredible singing of ‘I’ll Know’ was giving me goosebumps, I scanned the theatre some more.

I looked over to see the dance ensemble running through their choreography in the adjacent wing. Some were spinning, some were watching the action onstage. Even when they are at rest, they look graceful, I thought.

Our ‘Harry The Horse,’ John Winn, was sitting by the stage door, reading a newspaper, dressed in shorts, a T-shirt and a fedora. Two of our walking wounded, Jason Marks and Landon Nagel—one battling severe laryngitis and the other a recent arm injury—were chuckling about something mischievously while running lines together. Great, I thought, Nicely-Nicely can’t talk and Benny can’t move!! What a pair!!

Almost everywhere I looked, I saw smiles. I saw people getting to know one another. I saw friendships blossom and rare talent on display. And not an ‘ego’ in sight.

I looked out into the audience--where a few more cast members were amiably chatting and getting to know one another-- past the tech table, up into the balcony to the vast, welcoming expanse of what is truly one of Richmond’s treasures.

And I felt incredibly lucky.

Lucky to be around such great people. Lucky to be working for a class organization in a historic setting on one of the greatest of All-American musicals. And lucky to be making new friends while doing what I love most in all the world.

This group is a really fun bunch. They make me laugh. I always leave rehearsal smiling. And we’ve only really been around each other a few weeks. I’m really looking forward to this run and the time I’ll spend with my new ‘Summer Family.’

I cannot accurately describe the amount of talent, energy and enthusiasm being infused into this project. You’ll simply have to see it for yourself. Come spend some time with the cast of Guys and Dolls at The Empire Theatre this summer. I can guarantee that, you too, will have a perfect ‘Showbiz moment.’ More I cannot wish you.

-Scott Wichmann

Read more from Scott at his blog, www.scottwichmann.blogspot.com

Word of the Week - SKYLARKING

Posted by Hannah Miller
My spring plays at school and church are over; my exams and SAT subject tests are winding down. So now’s the time to get back to Word of the Week.

This week’s theatre artist is CHARLES WINNINGER, born 124 years ago yesterday, on May 26, 1884. His name may be largely forgotten today, but in theatre history, he’s someone worth noting. His Word of the Week is SKYLARKING.

From the mid-1920s until the mid-50s, Charles Winninger was one of America’s favorite character actors, especially in musical theatre, both on Broadway and in Hollywood. He began his career as a lovable vaudeville comic, and became a star in 1927 when he originated the role of Cap’n Andy in Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s landmark Broadway musical, Show Boat (pictured below and to the right). Winninger was so associated with that iconic role that he was asked to play the part again in the 1932 Broadway revival, the classic 1936 movie, and radio revivals in 1940 and 1944.

Show Boat is considered by many to be the first great American musical. Based on the 1926 best-selling novel by Edna Ferber, Show Boat was the first Broadway musical to tell a dramatic rather than comic story. This took place at a time when most musicals were actually revues and didn’t tell stories at all. Show Boat’s story was epic, taking place over several decades, and its depiction of racism and interracial marriage broke new ground for American musical theatre.

In addition to his star-making role in Show Boat, Winninger appeared in 13 other Broadway musicals. The first was The Wall Street Girl in 1912, which he also directed. Co-starring in The Wall Street Girl was another newcomer named Will Rogers.

Winninger appeared in numerous revues produced by George M. Cohan and Florenz Ziegfeld. He starred in the original cast of the 1925 Broadway hit No, No, Nanette, and starred two years later in the follow-up trifle Yes, Yes, Yvette (I’m not kidding). Luckily for Winninger, Yvette closed after only one month, allowing him to move on to Show Boat, which opened seven short weeks after Yvette went dark. Winninger’s last appearance on Broadway was the 1951 revival of another Kern / Hammerstein musical, Music in the Air.

His major role in the film version of Show Boat helped Winninger became a star in Hollywood, and he eventually appeared in 75 movies and TV shows during his long career. His national popularity grew with standout roles in classic movies such as Babes in Arms with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, Destry Rides Again with Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, and State Fair (pictured to the left) with Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews and Vivian Blaine. He also was a frequent TV guest star on I Love Lucy, playing Fred Mertz’s old vaudeville partner.

In the opening scene of Show Boat, Cap’n Andy introduces the show boat stars to the locals who have come down to the dock to see what’s going on. He encourages several of his performers to present short “samples” of their acts. When a fight breaks out between leading man Steve and a rowdy member of the crew, Cap’n Andy tries to convince the crowd that the fight is also only a “sample” of the exciting dramatics that will be performed on the show boat later that evening.
“Well, folks—that was jest a sample. The boys jest showed you a scene from one of our bills. That’s the way they are, folks, always SKYLARKING, always playing pranks. Jest one big happy family!”

A SKYLARK is a bird with brownish plumage. In Old World tradition, the feature that distinguished a SKYLARK from other larks was that a SKYLARK was known for its singing while in flight. In history, the French people referred to Joan of Arc as The Lark, and in 2006 Barksdale produced The Lark by Jean Anouilh, American adaptation by Lillian Hellman, starring Erin Thomas as Joan.

The French word for “lark” is “alouette.” In Old World tradition, a lark was a game bird. In the popular childhood song Alouette, a French housewife merrily sings to the recently bagged lark that will soon grace her dinner table, celebrating how she is about to pluck his head, and then, in subsequent verses, his neck, wings, back and tail.

Having said all that, the verb “to SKYLARK” has nothing to do with the bird.

Originally, SKYLARKING described the antics of young Navy men who climbed the masts and then slid down the rigging of their ships for fun. Since the ancient word “lac” means “to play,” and since these nautical acrobatics took place against a background of sky, the term “skylacing” (with a hard c) was coined to describe such airborne hijinks. Later, popular usage of the word changed it to SKYLARKING, which became a familiar term to most sailors. Over time, the term was generalized to include all types of playful and boisterous activity engaged in by the crew of a ship—even, it seems, a show boat.

Charles Winninger died in 1969 at the age of 84 in Palm Springs, CA. During his lifetime, he became one of the most beloved and “huggable” character actors in Broadway and Hollywood history. You can view a trailer for the movie musical Coney Island at http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi1522467097/, featuring Winninger singing the first few lines of everyone’s favorite party song, Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder.

--Hannah Miller

In Memoriam: Ruan Woolfolk

Posted by Bruce Miller
Ruan Woolfolk, our good friend and a talented Richmond actor, died in a Chicago hospital on May 13. He was 36 years old. He had been pursuing his career outside Richmond for the last few years. We do not know the cause of death.

Ruan played Tom Robinson in Barksdale’s 2003 production of To Kill a Mockingbird, Jim in Theatre IV’s mainstage production of Huck and Tom and the Mighty Mississippi, and Coalhouse in Ragtime at both Dogwood Dell and the Riverside Center Dinner Theatre in Fredericksburg. He toured with Theatre IV for two years, and with the national company of Man of La Mancha. With Sight and Sound in Pennsylvania, he performed in Behold the Lamb, Noah’s Ark, Ruth, and Christmas Celebration.

On YouTube, you can find video of Ron singing in the Riverside production of Ragtime. Below is a photo of Ruan in our production of Mockingbird.
Ruan is survived by his large and loving family in Spotsylvania, Washington D. C., and Maryland. We mourn his passing. With love and respect, we will be dedicating our fall production of Driving Miss Daisy at Hanover Tavern to his memory.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, May 16, 2008

Regional Emmy Nomination for Barksdale Ad

2007 Regional Emmy Award Nomination for
the Barksdale Theatre Commercial
Produced and Directed by Joel Traylor at NBC12!

Barksdale Theatre's television ad, produced and directed by Joel Traylor at NBC12, was nominated for a regional Emmy award. The awards show will take place Sat., June 14 at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, D.C. If you don't see the ad above, click here to go to youtube.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Backstage with the Tuna Helpers

By the dressers for Greater Tuna, Dexter Ramey, Shannon McCallester and Eric Evans

Every night as two talented actors step on stage and bring the citizens of Tuna, Texas to life from little Jody Buemiller and Vera Carp to Bertha Buemiller and the Rev. Spikes, the stories are played out to the delight of the audience. However the audience is not aware of the show behind the show. The people behind the curtains that transform the actors into 20 characters using 45 costume changes. We are the Tuna Helpers.

In an often fast paced 2 hours the transformations occur in as little as 15 seconds to a leisurely 2 minutes. Working together with the actors in what can best be describe as a dance, or at times controlled chaos, we the Tuna Helpers have learned the following things through trial and error.

  1. If Stanley’s sandals are forgotten in the dressing room it is not humanly possible to run upstairs to the 3rd floor dressing room and back in the time it takes Vera Carp and Aunt Pearl Burris to say goodbye to Judge Roscoe Buckner. It’s close, but as they say close only counts in horse shoes.

  2. A sandal is just a sandal. Let Stanley wear Chad’s shoes….knowledge that would have been useful to us before attempting to set the land speed record up the back stairs of the Hanover Tavern. Lastly and most importantly….do not hit sweet Aunt Peal in the head with said flying sandals.

  3. Necessity is indeed the mother of all invention. A tube of lipstick can double as a hair curler when needed. We have to keep our LGBT (Ladies Gathered for Better Tuna) looking their best.

  4. The true power of double stick tape is in its ability to hold together Bertha Buemiller’s earring better than hot glue. 5 weeks and counting. Now if we could just get it to stay on Rev Spikes’ upper lip.

  5. Don’t let the actors see you panic….it might be contagious.

  6. Laughter makes everything okay.

I think it can be safely said that without the highly talented dressing skills of the Tuna Helpers, the good citizens of Tuna, Texas would still be there to entertain you…but they would probably be naked!

So come on y’all…come enjoy the show and as they say in The Wizard of Oz…..pay no attention to those people behind the curtain.

- Dexter Ramey, Shannon McCallester and Eric Evans