Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In Memoriam: Reid Ashe III

Posted by Bruce Miller
Our friend Reid Ashe III died on Saturday engaging in one of the many outdoor adventures he loved – skydiving. Reid was a 23-year old Georgia Tech student, studying industrial engineering. Five years ago, when he was still a student at Collegiate, Reid spent the summer with us as a production intern.

He was a hard worker, with a real interest in theatre and a noticeable talent for figuring out how to make sets fit together. He was one of our most responsible interns. Reid had a strong work ethic and a great sense of humor. He was quiet, at least in the shop, where he focused on his work. But he made friends quickly and easily, and we all grew fond of him. We had high hopes for his future. Reid was one of those kids for whom it was easy to have high hopes.

Our love goes out to Reid III's parents, Reid and Lisa, who are also our friends, and to his younger brother David. We are remembering them in our prayers, and holding them in our hearts.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Richmond YMCA's Camp Thunderbird Outdoor Center, 9300 Shawonodasee Road, in Chesterfield County.

This November, in keeping with our tradition, we will dedicate our production of This Wonderful Life to our memory of Reid’s talent, spirit and promise. With all his many friends and family, we mourn his tragic passing.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"West Side Story" Showcases Great Young Talent

Posted by Bruce Miller
My daughter and I went to see SPARC’s production of West Side Story this evening, and were once again blown away by the young talent. Standouts in the large cast include:

Jeanna Daniels who plays Maria, making her SPARC debut. Jeanna is a college student at AMDA (American Musical and Dramatic Academy) in NYC. She sings like an angel, with one of the clearest and most effortless sopranos I’ve heard in a long time. She's perfect for this role.

Chris Adams who plays Tony, returning to SPARC after playing the title role in Pippin and Munkustrap in Cats. Chris attends college at VCU and J. Sargeant Reynolds, and I continue to be completely impressed by his beautiful voice and charm.

Gianna Barone who plays Anita, returning to SPARC after appearing as Ronette in last summer’s Little Shop of Horrors. Gianna is also a student at VCU, and has the powerhouse voice and great dancing abilities to prove it.

Kate Belleman, playing Margarita, whose face and dancing light up the America number. Kate is a student at UNC-Greensboro and returns to SPARC after 2005’s Pippin (and many previous productions as well).

Christian Griggs-Drane who plays Baby John, making his first appearance with SPARC. Christian, a junior at Appomattox Regional Governor’s School, has Baby John’s wide-eyed innocence down just right.

Anna Maples who plays Anybody’s and sings the Somewhere solo. Seriously. Until I read the playbill to write this post, I had NO IDEA that the spunky, fun actress playing Anybody’s was the same magnificent singer who raised the roof with Somewhere. Anna is a junior vocal performance major at VCU, and definitely a talent I need to know.

Calvin McCullough who plays Bernardo in his SPARC debut. Calvin is in the theatre program at VCU, where he appeared in Smokey Joe’s CafĂ© and Volume of Smoke. He’s also an alum of Sycamore Rouge in Petersburg.

Robert McKenna who plays Action and is making his SPARC debut. Robert is a musical star at Benedictine High School, with a bright future ahead of him. He’s a believable tough guy who can sing and dance, and they’re hard to find. Trust me. Really hard to find.

Andrew Schappacher who plays Riff and is an outstanding alum of Barksdale’s summer musicals at Steward School. It’s hard to believe that Andrew is only a sophomore at Clover Hill High School. He’s such a talented dancer, constantly improving singer, and committed actor. You can't take your eyes off him. I’ll go see Andrew in anything and consider myself blessed.

Michael Willoughby who plays A-rab and is making his SPARC debut. Like Andrew, Michael has a lot more maturity than one would expect from a high school sophomore. He attends Powhatan H. S., and like Robert McKenna, he’s nailing the talented tough guy thing.

Grace Adams, Jason Campbell, T J Ellis, Michael Hawke, Michael Hoke, Amanda O’Toole, Zack Rogers, Andrea Ross, Liz van’t Riet and Chris Withers are all honored members of the Barksdale and Theatre IV families, and they all do us proud in West Side Story.

The show closes tomorrow, so if you haven’t seen it, please do. West Side is one of the greatest American musicals of all time, and the talented young actors in the SPARC production deserve all our support.

--Bruce Miller

Thursday, July 24, 2008

We Got a Horse Right Here

Posted by Bruce Miller
Overnight, everything changed.

Yesterday afternoon I wrote about our favorite budding sports jocks, Scotty Wichmann (or Wickman as they like to say on Sports Radio 910) and Mark Persinger (or Pershinger as they prefer to spell it on WRNL). You can read the previous post to catch up. When I wrote it, they were in the lead in the voting for Best Walk-On Announcer, and deservedly so.

Then this morning, my eyes still blurry with sleep, I noted with dismay that our Bleacher Creatures had dropped, dare I say plummeted, to a struggling second. Either luck was NOT being a lady or someone else’s fans were BUSY last night. The illustrious team of Joe Thomas and Kellen Owings—all right, I gave them a listen, they were OK, but up against Scotty and Mark? I mean COME ON!! No contest!!!—has now catapulted into first place, holding down (through nefarious means, no doubt) 27.01% of the vote. Yeah, that's them pictured to the left.

Our boys are now the brave underdogs, hanging on to 22.95% of the vote—more than 4 percentage points behind the new front runners. And to make matters worse, Michael Strange (a solo act with some appeal but still no match for de Guys) is charging forward with 19.64% of the voters, barely 3 percentage points behind Detroit/Jule and nipping at their heels. That's Michael to the right.

So spread the word to everyone you know. Vote now, vote often, and let’s support our Guys. Mark commented that the best address to reach the voting booth is http://www.sportsradio910.com/pages/walkonweek.html. So use it now and let’s return our home team champions to the top of the heap.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sports Jocks Prove Loesser is More

Posted by Bruce Miller
On Sunday, July 13, two of our Guys set aside their Dolls for the moment to host their own hour-long sports talk show on WRNL Sports Radio 910 as part of the station’s annual Walk on Week. Who says actors aren’t manly and multi-talented? The Guys, of course, were those sports aficionados extraordinaire, Scott Wichmann and Mark Persinger, who play Nathan Detroit and Big Jule respectively.

If you’ve ever spent more than a minute around these two nuts, you know they can talk sports with the best of ‘em. Now you can be their athletic supporters by going to http://www.msplinks.com/MDFodHRwOi8vd3d3LnNwb3J0c3JhZGlvOTEwLmNvbS9wYWdlcy93YWxrb253ZWVrLmh0bWw= to listen to all of the fine sports announcer wannabes and vote for the jocks you think come closest to hitting the jackpot. After you listen, I bet you’ll be as impressed by Scotty and Mark as I was.

What you can hear on line is the first 15 minutes or so of their banter. Scotty and Mark are so comfortable you'd swear they do this professionally. They're on a tear about Brett Favre, retiring (or not?) quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. I'm admittedly not a sports guy, but even I thought it was interesting.

The way the vote is running currently, Scotty and Mark are a full 5% points ahead of their closest competition. But let’s not leave anything to chance. Listen to all the entrants (we want to be fair after all), and then vote for your favorite.

If Scott and Mark win—and they certainly should come close—they will be given the opportunity to host again in August, which would be their second chance to live a dream-come-true.

Good goin’, Guys! You’re makin’ us all proud.

--Bruce Miller

Monday, July 21, 2008

Guys and Dolls and Children and Teens

Posted by Bruce Miller
I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday as I was watching Guys and Dolls. This was my fourth or fifth time seeing the show. I think it’s very well done, and I’m proud of it. I really enjoy watching it again and again.

The epiphany had to do with the sudden realization of all that my parents gave to me as a child.

As I looked around the relatively full house, I saw only one child or teenager. He appeared to be about 12 years old, and he was having the time of his life. He was there with his mom, or aunt, maybe his grandmother—and the two of them seemed really into the show.

I couldn’t help but remember the 50 or so times that my parents took me to shows as I was growing up. My mom is a native New Yorker. She was born and raised on Staten Island, and worked in Manhattan as a secretary before she met and married my dad when his Navy ship docked in NYC during WWII. Her mother, my grandmother, was a practice piano teacher at Carnegie Hall.

When my mom was growing up, her parents took her to Broadway, a habit she continued to nurture as a young woman throughout her twenties. When she was raising my brother and me, she apparently remembered and valued her own cultural education, because she insisted throughout my childhood and adolescence on taking us to the theatre.

Whenever she and my dad went, we went too. We went to the Virginia Museum Theatre, to Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern, and, being Chesterfield residents, we especially went to the Mill. When the Civic Light Opera company came to the Mosque (now the Landmark), we were there. We went to high school theatre productions, Dogwood Dell, the Shakespeare Players, and The Founders and The Common Glory in Williamsburg. During the summers, we’d visit family in New York and go to Broadway.

We were NOT a wealthy family—far from it. My dad was a feed salesman for General Mills and later a defense supply agent at Bellwood. My mom was a church secretary.

For whatever reason, my parents must have felt that a full cultural life was a vital part of my education. For the same reason, I suppose, Terrie and I have brought up our children in a similar manner. I doubt if a month goes by without our taking them to a play, a concert and/or a gallery opening or museum exhibition. It’s been that way since they were born, and I’m sure it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

What I can’t understand is why more families don’t feel so inclined. Guys and Dolls is a wonderful production of one of the greatest of all American musicals. I’m not engaging in hyperbole when I say I believe that Guys and Dolls means no less to American culture than Shakespeare means to British culture. It’s part of our national identity.

And yet, when I go to the show, I hardly ever see parents bringing their children and teenagers. Are tickets too expensive, or has everything fundamentally changed? Or is the theatregoing tradition in Richmond really that far behind that of major cities in the North or in Europe? Go to NYC or London, and you’ll find theatres packed with families.

I am SO thankful now to my mom and dad for taking me to all those plays. I suspect that it was mainly her idea, at least at first. By being so culturally aware, my mom passed on to me her love of theatre, the arts in general, reading, education and critical thinking. Without all that, I can’t imagine who I would be.

My mom is now 92-years-old, and she suffers from Alzheimer’s. When I visit her at Westminster-Canterbury, she sometimes knows who I am, but just as often thinks that I’m her husband or father. It’s as if all of her life is now happening simultaneously, and time has lost all relevance. I wish I could take her to Guys and Dolls—she’d LOVE it!!—but physically, emotionally and cognitively she can no longer leave her home.

If there’s anyone out there who wants to bring the children in their life to Guys and Dolls, or for that matter any other Barksdale and/or Theatre IV production, and isn’t doing so because they can’t afford it, please send me an email, let me know what you'd like to see and what would be your ideal “pay what you can” price. I’ll find a way to make tickets available to you at prices you can afford.

Every child age ten and up should see Guys to know what this classic American musical is all about. If our children stop coming to the theatre, then the future of theatre is bleak indeed.

--Bruce Miller

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Singing to Help Others

Posted by Bruce Miller
A concert reading of the songs from the Tony Award-winning musical Parade will be presented tonight and tomorrow in benefit performances at Barksdale Willow Lawn. Thirty-three great singers will join together to celebrate the music of Jason Robert Brown, one of Broadway’s hottest “new composers.” The benefit concert is being coordinated by Hannah Zold, an alum of several Barksdale musicals including Into the Woods, The Full Monty and Mame. Music direction is by Damas E. Boudreaux.

The volunteer cast is comprised of many of the finest theatre voices from Richmond and beyond. All funds raised are being contributed by Zold and her performers to Barksdale’s Bifocals Theatre Project (which takes touring one-acts into senior centers throughout Greater Richmond at little or no charge) and Barksdale’s hospital audience program (which makes tickets to musicals and comedies available free-of-charge to families who come to Richmond to be with a child undergoing treatment at an area hospital).

Parade, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and book by Alfred Uhry, is one of the most acclaimed new musicals of Broadway's last decade. It opened at Lincoln Center ten years ago, and received the 1999 Tony Award for Best Book (Uhry) and Best Score (Jason Robert Brown). It was nominated for Best Musical, but lost that year to Fosse, the tribute to Bob Fosse’s legendary choreography.

Quoting from Wikipedia, “The musical concerns the real-life 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank, who was accused of raping and murdering a 13-year-old employee, Mary Phagan. The trial, sensationalized by the media, aroused anti-Semitic tensions in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. When Frank's sentence was commuted due to possible problems with the trial, he was transferred to a prison in Milledgeville, Georgia where a lynching party kidnapped him from the prison. Frank was taken to Phagan's hometown of Marietta, Georgia, and he was hanged. The Anti-Defamation League was formed partly in response to Leo Frank's trial and lynching.”

Broadway director Harold “Prince turned to Brown (pictured to the left) to write the score after Stephen Sondheim turned the project down. Prince's daughter, Daisy, had brought Brown to her father's attention. Uhry, who grew up in Atlanta, had personal knowledge of the Frank story, as his great-uncle owned the pencil factory run by Leo Frank.”

“The show was Brown's first Broadway production. His music has ‘subtle and appealing melodies that draw on a variety of influences, from pop-rock to folk to rhythm and blues and gospel.’ The plot hews closely to the historical story. The true villains of the piece are portrayed as the prosecutor Hugh Dorsey (later the governor of Georgia and then a judge) and the rabid publisher Tom Watson (later elected a U.S. senator).”

The Murder of Mary Phagan, a movie based on the same historical incident, was filmed in locations throughout Greater Richmond in 1987, starring Jack Lemmon as Georgia Gov. John Slaton and Peter Gallagher as Leo Frank.

Parade is the third in playwright Alfred Uhry’s “Atlanta Trilogy.” The first play in the trilogy, Driving Miss Daisy, will be presented at Barksdale Hanover Tavern this fall, starring Joy Williams, Jim Bynum and Garet Chester, and directed by Joe Pabst.

Jason Robert Brown's new musical 13 (pictured to the right) is set to open on Broadway this September. The entire cast of 13 is made up of 13 teen actors, and the entire band is comprised of teen musicians. The story of the musical concerns a happy 13-year-old from NYC who, weeks before his bar mitzvah, moves with his parents to Indiana where he must begin a new life.

If you love great singing, new musicals and/or stirring drama, or if you want to support this cast of magnificent performing artists as they raise funds for two worthy programs, please come to Barksdale Willow Lawn for the 8 pm performance tonight (Sunday) or tomorrow (Monday). Tickets are available at the door for $15, or you can purchase them in advance at the box office for $12.

Having listened in on two rehearsals, I can report that the singers are amazing. I can’t wait to see and hear this huge and talented cast performing these rousing songs.

See you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ashland Acclamation

Posted by Bruce Miller
Our third shimmering review for that perfect summer comedy, Shirley Valentine, has just been published in the Herald-Progress, the hometown paper for Ashland and all of Hanover County. Dan Sherrier LOVED the play, the production, and, of course, that girl with Bari for a middle name.

After penning several positive reviews over the last two and a half years, Dan apparently likes Shirley best of all! And why shouldn’t he. As the other critics have agreed, Jill Bari Steinberg is "delightful."

Here are the review quotes we’ll be pulling from his ravishing rave.

The most solid show at Barksdale Hanover Tavern
in the past couple of years.
Visually Dynamic ~ Engaging ~ A Great Job
Steinberg delivers each punchline with GREAT pacing and timing
The audience howled with laughter!!
True Talent!”

--Dan Sherrier, Herald-Progress

Sounds great, doesn’t it? And indeed it is. Why wait? For a good time, call Shirley at 282-2620.

See you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Friday, July 18, 2008

Casting and Comments - Part II

Posted by Bruce Miller
In a previous blog, I jumped recklessly into the ongoing debate regarding whether Barksdale and I (and by extension all Richmond theatres and directors) are open to casting newcomers. As I have stated, I believe that all of us are not only open to new talent, we’re downright eager to introduce new faces to our audiences.

Still, the perception persists that directors prefer to cast a disproportionate number of those whom we already know and love.

To test my belief against that perception, I decided to go back and review my casting record for the dozen shows I’ve directed at Barksdale since becoming artistic director in 2001. Here are the results.

I use the words “pals,” “friends” and “colleagues” interchangeably. If I say someone was “new to me” or “never worked with me,” I mean I hadn’t cast or directed them before, not necessarily that I’d never made their acquaintance, heard of them, or seen their work, although that is often true. In like fashion, the term “newcomer" means new to Barksdale.

I suspect I’ve made a mistake or five. A fair amount of this was done from memory. As you notice that I’ve left someone out, screwed up the math, misspelled a name, or mislabeled a “newcomer” or a “veteran,” please let me know and I’ll fix it.

I’ll leave it to you to determine what, if anything, this casting history suggests.

The Little Dog Laughed – Cast of four. I brought veteran Susan Sanford back from LA, and I cast Laine Satterfield, who had been in one Barksdale show previously but was new to me. I also cast two newcomers, John DeBoer and Matt Hackman.

Swingtime Canteen – Cast of five. I cast Vilma Gil, Jan Guarino, Audra Honaker, Katrinah Lewis and Debra Wagoner, all of whom had worked at Barksdale before.

Smoke on the Mountain – Cast of seven. I cast Julie Fulcher and Eric Williams, who were Barksdale veterans and longstanding friends of mine. I cast David Janeski who had acted at Barksdale in two previous shows, but had never worked with me. I cast Billy Christopher Maupin and Aly Wepplo, both of whom had acted once previously at Barksdale, but had never worked with me. I also cast two newcomers, Emily Cole Bitz and Drew Perkins.

Over the River and Through the Woods – Cast of six. I cast Dave Bridgewater, Jolene Carroll, Matthew Costello, Jackie Jones and Stephanie Kelly (Dray), all of whom were Barksdale veterans, and four of whom had worked previously with me. I also cast newcomer Christopher Clawson in the lead.

No Sex Please, We’re British – Cast of nine. I cast Dave Bridgewater, Dave Clark, Larry Cook, Jan Guarino, Cathy Shaffner and Erin Thomas, all six of whom were Barksdale veterans and longstanding pals of mine. I cast Jeff Cole and Chris Stewart, both of whom had worked with me and with Barksdale on one show prior to this one. I also cast newcomer Monica Dionysiou.

The Lark – Cast of 15. I cast Andy Boothby, Rick Brandt, Dave Bridgewater, Larry Cook, Matthew Costello, Debbie Gayle Taylor and Erin Thomas, all seven of whom were Barksdale veterans and prior colleagues of mine. (Allow me to note that Debbie Gayle hadn’t done a show at Barksdale in more than 20 years.) I cast Stephanie Kelly (Dray) and Roger Gregory who were new to me, but who had done one Barksdale show previous to this one. I also cast five newcomers: Pam Arkin, Jeff Cole, Jeff Hendrickson, Stephanie O’Brien and Chris Stewart, three of them in leading roles.

The Man Who Came to Dinner – Cast of 24. I cast Larry Cook, Lauren Leinhaas Cook, Matthew Costello, Thomas Cunningham, Robyn O’Neill, Joe Pabst, Derek Phipps, Susan Sanford, Jill Bari Steinberg, Jody Strickler and Joy Williams, all 11 of whom were Barksdale veterans. I also cast 13 newcomers: Brett Ambler, Josh Bufford, Jeff Clevinger, Sam Cook, Frank Creasy, Barry Ellenberger, Jonathan Hardison, Leigh McSweeney, Scott Melton, Curt Miller, Daniel Strickler, Kim Weeda and Lynn West.

Anything Goes – Cast of 24. I cast Larry Cook, Heather Fox, Jan Guarino, Jennifer Hammond, Robin Harris, Audra Honaker, Chase Kniffen, Richard Koch, Mollie Meagher, Robyn O’Neill, Jack Parrish, Derek Phipps, Russell Rowland and Cathy Shaffner, all fourteen of whom were Barksdale veterans and had worked with me before. I cast Matt Shofner, Jonathan Spivey and Alex Teachey, all three of whom were appearing at Barksdale for the second time, but had never worked with me. I also cast seven newcomers: Brandon Becker, Liz Blake, Charlie Chan, Ryland Dodge, Alexis Goldstein, Travis Kendrick and Eddie Tavares.

Fifth of July – Cast of eight. I cast Steve Perigard, Jody Strickler and Scott Wichmann, three Barksdale veterans who’d worked with me before. I cast Riley Koren, who had done one show with me and Barksdale previously. I cast Chris Evans and Jennifer Massey, both of whom had acted in one Barksdale show previously but had never worked with me. I also cast two newcomers: Peter Schmidt and Jill Bari Steinberg, plus a third newcomer Kristen Swanson, who replaced Jen Massey when she had to leave the show for a prior commitment.

Annie Get Your Gun – Cast of 24. I cast Dave Bridgewater, Billy Dye, Robert Fix, Jan Guarino, Michael Hawke, Chase Kniffen, Robyn O’Neill, Steve Perigard and Susan Sanford, all nine of whom were Barksdale veterans and old pals. I cast Crystal Bailey and Annie Hulcher, both of whom had done one show previously at Barksdale, but were new to me. I also cast 13 newcomers: Gray Crenshaw, Heather Fox, Emily Gatesman, Josh Lane, Craig McFarland, Andy McLeavey, Mollie Meagher, Juli Robbins, Russell Rowland, Gavin Waters, Cory Williams, David Winning and Tamia Zulueta.

The Crucible – Cast of 19. I cast Dave Bridgewater, Matthew Costello, Lou DiLalla, Richard Koch and Jack Parrish, all five of whom were Barksdale veterans who had worked with me before. I cast Kelly Kennedy, who was a Barksdale vet but was working with me for the first time. I also cast 13 newcomers: Pat Anthony-Aleman, Amy Barrett, Dale Church, Jamme Coy, Stephen Coy, Kady Fleckenstein, Chelsea Franges, Arthelia Gatling, Audra Honaker, Riley Koren, Joe Mattys, Alice Schreiner and Dan Summey.

The Little Foxes – Cast of ten. I cast Matthew Costello, Jack Parrish and Jody Strickler, all three of whom were Barksdale veterans and longstanding colleagues of mine. I cast Kweli Leapard and Robbie Winston, both of whom had been in one previous Barksdale production. I also cast five newcomers: ‘Rick Gray, Daniel Moore, Erin Thomas, Timothy Thomas and Harriet Traylor.

Total Actors Cast – 156
Total Newcomers – 65 (42%)

Among the “newcomers” – Brett Ambler, Frank Creasy, Audra Honaker, Heather Fox, Daniel Moore, Russell Rowland, Jill Bari Steinberg, Chris Stewart, Erin Thomas, Harriet Traylor and David Winning – all of whom would now be considered Barksdale Theatre and/or Richmond Theatre All-Stars.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Burruss's Bravo in Brief

Posted by Bruce Miller
Our second review of Shirley Valentine came out today. It’s written by Mary Burruss and I think she liked it. But it’s really short—only two paragraphs. It’s paired, I imagine at her editor’s suggestion, with her four paragraph review of There Goes the Bride at the Mill.

Because of its brevity, it’s simpler to encapsulate than to pull quotes. Here it is:

“Barksdale Theatre’s Shirley Valentine at Hanover Tavern also inspires thoughts of escape. Jill Bari Steinberg is very good in this one-woman show—maybe too good. Steinberg’s characterization of Shirley, a middle-aged British housewife bedraggled by life, is so acute it runs the risk of nearly being drab at first. Funny lines get a bit lost in Shirley’s sad monotone, but director Amy Berlin’s decision to downplay the character nicely sets up the metamorphosis to come. Shirley decides to escape her dreary life to spend a holiday in Greece, and so begins the transformation that leads to her adventures.

The beauty of this play is in the message that new challenges are necessary in our lives to keep us vital. Shirley sums up the key to her transformation: ‘I’d fallen in love with the idea of living.’ And Steinberg convincingly takes us from middle-class life to a Mediterranean swim with a stranger. The play is an adventure worth taking.”

So, if you want to enjoy Jill Bari’s life affirming (and funny) adventures in the Greek Isles, call the box office today to order your tickets for a mini-vacation with maximum merriment.

See you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Casting and Comments

Posted by Bruce Miller
As I’ve mentioned before, I read and appreciate Dave Timberline’s informative blog, http://www.richmondvatheater.blogspot.com/. A lot of important theatrical issues and perceptions are raised and discussed on his electronic bulletin board.

Recently Dave hosted some interesting and well intentioned chat about casting in Richmond theatres. It all began when an anonymous commenter reported on remarks made by an unnamed director at the start of an unnamed audition. In his remarks, the director asserted that his unnamed theatre was open to newcomers. The anonymous commenter suggested that these remarks were somewhat disingenuous, noting that when the auditions were over, a well-known Richmond star was cast in one of the leading roles and a talented newcomer was overlooked.

This initial comment was followed by a lot of dialogue about whether or not the anonymous commenter should have stated these opinions anonymously since they could be perceived as being critical of the director, the theatre, and/or the actor cast.

It’s all good.

Now I’m going to pull a Warren Beatty. At least I’ve always heard it’s a Warren Beatty. When in 1973 Carly Simon wrote and sang, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you,” Warren Beatty, one of Ms Simon’s former romantic interests, called to thank her for the song.

After reading all the chat about the unnamed director, I’m pretty sure it’s me and that the unnamed auditions being alluded to were the recent auditions for Shirley Valentine and Driving Miss Daisy. If I’m wrong, I’m sorry. If I’m right, then I guess I am that vain. Now, if I only looked like or had the talent of Warren Beatty.

Before the auditions for Shirley V and Driving Miss D, several actors called to ask if roles had been pre-cast. When I told them “no,” they expressed disbelief. Several had heard from the “best of sources” that Irene Ziegler was playing Shirley and Betty Ann Grove was playing Daisy. It’s no surprise to anyone that I love Irene Ziegler and Betty Ann Grove, and both women have ably owned these roles in the past. But I assured all comers that the roles had not been pre-cast for the 2008 productions.

That can’t be true, some actors intimated. No theatre would pick shows like these without having someone in mind for the demanding roles of Shirley and Daisy. There are some actors we’re interested in seeing, I intimated right back, but no roles have been pre-cast. Everyone has an equal shot. Please come.

That was the truth.

Before the auditions began, I was pleased to see a large turnout and several new faces in the crowd. I’m humbled by large turnouts and new faces.

I made a few welcoming remarks and thanked people for coming to the auditions, particularly the new people. I reiterated that all roles were open. I stated what I believe to be the truth, that Barksdale theatre and every other theatre in town welcome newcomers, and frequently cast newcomers. I acknowledged that we also cast Richmond’s best actors on a continuing basis, because of their talent.

When the auditions were over, four actors were cast. Two of the four (Jill Bari Steinberg and Jim Bynum) will be acting at Hanover Tavern for the first time. The third actor (Garet Chester) will be appearing at Hanover Tavern for the first time since 1976. The fourth (Joy Williams) will be reappearing at the Tavern after a starring gig there two and a half years ago.

All four were cast because I thought they were the ones best suited to the roles. I feel really blessed to have these four wonderful actors in the two shows.

The anonymous commenter on Dave’s blog notes that there was a very talented actor from out-of-town who auditioned for one of these four roles, and that there was considerable buzz about this actor’s talent. That is completely true. That actor’s talent did not go unnoticed. And let me extend that thought, if I may. There were several very talented actors there, all of whom were top contenders for the parts. None of their talents went unnoticed.

As several folks mentioned on Dave’s blog, there is a lot more involved in a casting decision than what may be perceived listening to three audition speeches.

Scripts call for specific physical types, which some actors meet and others don’t, no matter how well they may read.

Budgets allow for certain expenditures that enable the employment of some actors and discourage the employment of others, based on their financial requirements.

Ticket sale goals encourage the casting of actors who have earned positive name recognition in the Greater Richmond marketplace—and I stress the word “earned.”

Barksdale accepts its responsibility to professional actors who have earned (there's that word again) their place in Greater Richmond’s top tier, and who may not stay in Richmond if they can't find professional employment opportunities.

To me, all of this supports my contention that:
1 newcomers are welcome and frequently cast
2 Richmond’s best actors are cast over and over again because they are Richmond’s best actors

If newcomers fail to come to auditions because they think they have no chance, Richmond theatre will suffer. If our most talented veterans leave Richmond because they can’t find enough employment, Richmond theatre will suffer. In an attempt to address these conflicting realities, producers juggle to the best of their abilities.

As a final note, Guys and Dolls is currently employing 26 actors. Thirteen of them are acting with Barksdale for the first time.

--Bruce Miller

Monday, July 14, 2008

Susie's Satisfaction

Posted by Bruce Miller
Our thoughtful new comedy, Shirley Valentine, just opened at Hanover Tavern, and it's already prompting gales of satisfied laughter. The first review appeared in the R T-D this morning, and it brought a burst of sunlight to today’s otherwise rainy dawning. Based on Susan Haubenstock’s positive reactions, it’s looking like we may have another hit on our hands.

All right, Ms. H didn’t love everything. She thought the set change was a little “cumbersome,” one wig was a little "silly," the lights were a little “dramatic,” and the original incidental music a little “thin.” We’re working on it.

But she LOVED lead actress Jill Bari Steinberg, director Amy Berlin, set designers Terrie Powers and David Powers, and costume designer Sue Griffin.

And even more encouraging than Haubenstock's glowing review, the Opening Night audience gave the show a standing ovation, something we usually don’t see at Hanover Tavern.

So if you want to spend a warm, funny and “DELIGHTFUL” evening in the theatre, don’t miss Shirley Valentine. It’s a perfect “girls night out.” And Jill Bari Steinberg, as she so ably proved in The Syringa Tree, is the perfect actress for a joyous and meaningful one-woman triumph.

Here are the quotes we’re pulling from Susie’s favorable review:

Quiet Power, Impressive, Just Right
Steinberg deftly connects us with Shirley’s yearning for life.
Amusing and Touching
Authentic evocations of 1986 Liverpool
Wins Laughs!”

--Susan Haubentock, Richmond Times-Dispatch

And don’t forget about our discounted RUSH tickets. Call the Barksdale box office three hours or less before curtain, and purchase whatever tickets remain for that evening’s performance of Shirley Valentine at the bargain price of only $15. (Guys and Dolls RUSH tickets are $20.) It's your super-cheap passport to an evening of pure pleasure.

See you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Final Thoughts on the Word "Ass"

Posted by Bruce Miller
As I and others have mentioned previously on this blog, the word "ass" and its appearance in Peter Pan seem to be causing increasing consternation these days. On Monday of this week I received what I hope will be my last letter from a disappointed patron. I responded (it is my practice to respond to every communication) with this iteration of the letter I wrote to address the controversy.

It's about the 50th response, so I might as well share it with the world.

"Dear xxxxx,

Thank you for your support of Theatre IV, for purchasing tickets to Peter Pan, and for writing to express your concern. I appreciate your bringing your grandson to our shows. We work very hard on behalf of the children, families and schools of Central Virginia. I hope you and your grandson have enjoyed our work and will continue to attend. We want and need you both in the Theatre IV family.

I value and respect your concern, and appreciate your sharing it with me. In your letter, you state that you are “very disappointed” in Theatre IV and in me because the word “ass” was spoken during Peter Pan. It was not my intention to disappoint or offend you and your family. I apologize for having done so. I offer the following to explain my thinking. I’m not trying to change your mind. I’m offering another point of view.

You are correct in noting that the word “ass” occurred in our production of Peter Pan two times. I didn’t cut the word for three reasons.

1. The word “ass” is not inherently vulgar. I do not deny that some people, perhaps many people, hear it and use it in a vulgar way. But children, throughout their lifetimes, will hear it also in its correct usage. I believe I would be betraying the trust of countless parents and educators if I were to treat a generally acceptable word as vulgar only because it is sometimes used in a vulgar manner.

2. It’s inappropriate and ill advised for me to rewrite the words of great writers. Again, I believe I would be betraying the trust of parents and educators if I were to presume to do so. Perceptions of some words do change over time. I believe this makes it all the more important to preserve the words of the great writers, so that students of all ages can know and understand the true meanings of words that are going through periods of transition.

3. It is illegal for me to rewrite or omit this word, or any other word, from the play. Had I done so, the good people at Music Theatre International who represent the estate of J. M. Barrie would be legally entitled to shut down our production of Peter Pan, and sue Theatre IV for breach of contract.

In support of the above three points, I offer the following.

I don’t mean to overstate the obvious, but it’s good to remember that the word “ass” is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “any of several hardy gregarious African or Asian perissodactyl mammals (genus Equus) smaller than the horse and having long ears; especially an African mammal (East asinus) that is the ancestor of the donkey.” That is the first and only proper definition of the word. All subsequent definitions are preceded by the phrase “sometimes vulgar.”

Being a man of great character and conscience, J. M. Barrie was not writing a vulgarity in 1904 when he created Peter Pan. When Peter translates Tinkerbell to Wendy, after Tinkerbell has called Wendy “a silly ass,” both Peter and Tinkerbell were referring to the donkey-like animal.

The same can be said for the authors of the Bible. The word “ass” appears in the King James translation of the Bible as follows:

GENESIS 22:3, GENESIS 22:5, GENESIS 42:27, GENESIS 44:13, GENESIS 49:11, GENESIS 49:14, EXODUS 4:20, EXODUS 13:13, EXODUS 20:17, EXODUS 21:33, EXODUS 22:4, EXODUS 22:9, EXODUS 22:10, EXODUS 23:4, EXODUS 23:5, EXODUS 23:12, EXODUS 34:20, NUMBERS 16:15, NUMBERS 22:21, NUMBERS 22:22, NUMBERS 22:23, NUMBERS 22:23, NUMBERS 22:23, NUMBERS 22:25, NUMBERS 22:27, NUMBERS 22:27, NUMBERS 22:28, NUMBERS 22:29, NUMBERS 22:30, NUMBERS 22:30, NUMBERS 22:32, DEUTERONOMY 5:21, DEUTERONOMY 22:3, DEUTERONOMY 22:4, DEUTERONOMY 22:10, DEUTERONOMY 28:31, JOSHUA 6:21, JOSHUA 15:18, JUDGES 1:14, JUDGES 6:4, JUDGES 10:4, JUDGES 12:14, JUDGES 15:15, JUDGES 15:16, JUDGES 15:16, JUDGES 19:28, 1 SAMUEL 12:3, 1 SAMUEL 15:3, 1 SAMUEL 16:20, 1 SAMUEL 25:20, 1 SAMUEL 25:23, 1 SAMUEL 25:42, 2 SAMUEL 17:23, 2 SAMUEL 19:26, 1 KINGS 2:40, 1 KINGS 13:13, 1 KINGS 13:13, 1 KINGS 13:23, 1 KINGS 13:24, 1 KINGS 13:27, 1 KINGS 13:28, 1 KINGS 13:28, 1 KINGS 13:29, 2 KINGS 4:24, JOB 6:5, JOB 24:3, JOB 39:5, JOB 39:5, PROVERBS 26:3, ISAIAH 1:3, ISAIAH 32:20, JEREMIAH 2:24, JEREMIAH 22:19, HOSEA 8:9, ZECHARIAH 9:9, ZECHARIAH 9:9, ZECHARIAH 14:15, MATTHEW 21:2, MATTHEW 21:5, MATTHEW 21:5, MATTHEW 21:7, LUKE 13:15, LUKE 14:5, JOHN 12:14, JOHN 12:15, and 2 PETER 2:16.

None of these Biblical references are meant to be vulgar. As children encounter the word “ass” in the Bible, in classic literature, or in timeless Christmas carols like The Little Drummer Boy and Good Christian Men, Rejoice, I believe it is important for them to know that the word has a proper usage as well as a vulgar one.

Regarding legal issues, I offer this explanation. U. S. Copyright Law and all international copyright laws require theatres to produce plays exactly as written. We (and every other theatre and publisher) have no legal right to rewrite the great (as in the case of Peter Pan) or the not-so-great works of stage literature. When I signed our contract to produce the musical Peter Pan, I signed a legally binding document and promised that Theatre IV would “not alter any line of dialogue or omit any words or phrases” from the script as written by the author.

Copyright laws are written in this way to ensure that producers will respect the language that was purposefully selected by the author. It is illegal for producers to amend the language as they see fit. Every professional production of Peter Pan, including the Mary Martin productions broadcast nationally on television in the 1950s, used the lines as written.

When we first produced Peter Pan in the 1990s, we received only one or two comments about the word “ass.” When we produced it again just after the turn of this century, we received maybe ten comments. Today, in 2008, we probably received 50 or more complaints.

The “zero tolerance” language police are in full force today, and I respect their (and your) motivations. None of us like for children to be exposed to vulgar language. The tricky part with the word “ass” is that it is not a vulgar word. Are we therefore well advised to join with those who would like to turn it into one? Or should we continue to respect the word as it has been properly used in classic literature, in beloved Christmas carols, and throughout the Bible?

When I took my children to Peter Pan in the ‘90s, it presented a wonderful teachable moment. My wife and I had the chance to talk with our son and daughter about the word “ass,” about what it meant when we heard it spoken from the pulpit or the stage or sung by Julie Andrews on our Christmas albums. We also had the chance to talk about how some words can mean one thing to people who use them correctly, and something else entirely to people who use the words incorrectly. Unless that is explained to them, how are children to understand?

Again, I thank you for writing. I honestly mean it when I say that I value and respect your opinion. I take my responsibilities seriously, and try hard to contribute positively to the cultural life of our community. It’s not always easy.

Thanks for your consideration of my thoughts, and for your support of Theatre IV.


Bruce Miller
Artistic Director"

Monday, July 7, 2008

Coffee & Conversations - Guys & Dolls

Posted by Janine Serresseque
Rostov’s Coffee & Conversations, Barksdale Theatre’s free and fun series of behind-the-scenes panel discussions, will take place tomorrow morning (Tuesday, July 8, 9:30 a.m.) as originally scheduled. Please join us!

The topic will be “Behind the Scenes of Guys and Dolls,” and the guest panelists will be Rachel Abrams (Adelaide), Jodi Ashworth (Sky) and Scott Wichmann (Nathan), with artistic director Bruce Miller moderating. Doors will open at 9 a.m. with free coffee and Danish to accompany the delicious backstage banter, which will begin at 9:30 a.m.

But which doors will be opening? Isn’t Barksdale’s and Theatre IV’s Stage Explorers Summer Camp in full swing this week?

Indeed it is. Forty-five elementary students grades 1 – 6 will be racing up the stairs at 9:30 a.m. all too eager to tackle the days curricula and each other. So what is the more demure Coffee & Conversations crowd to do?

Not to worry. Thanks to the generosity of our Willow Lawn landlords, Coffee & Conversations has been moved, for this one day only, to the spacious, comfortable Willow Lawn Community Room. The Community Room is located inside the Mall. Just walk toward the mall past the Barksdale entrance, enter the Mall adjacent to Victoria’s Secret, turn right and pass the Food Court on your left, almost immediately go through the glass doors on your left into the South Tower (all right, it’s only two stories, but a Tower is what they call it), rise up to the second floor on either the elevator or stairs, then follow the arrows to Room 500.

A fun and informative time is guaranteed for all, so please join us for the final C & C of the season.

See you there!

--Janine Serresseque

In Memoriam: Liz Marks

Posted by Bruce Miller
Leave it to that all too familiar Circle of Life. July 5 brought us the sheer joy of the birth of Sophia Elizabeth Foley and the marriage of Tom and Carmela McGranahan. And then on July 6, all of us in the Richmond theatre community lost a fun, fabulous, dearly beloved friend.

Liz Marks (casting director, singer, actress, producer, jane-of-all-trades and master of quite a few) died yesterday morning, July 6. Her family's note to friends said it well:

"She was beautiful, talented, happy, and unstoppable, mother to Elizabeth and sister to Bob, Kathi, and Tracy Marks and their families. She fought her long brave battle with breast cancer with all she could. She will forever live in all our hearts."

Many of us have been touched personally by Liz’s largesse, and have been served professionally by her dedication to Uptown Talent. Prior to focusing on her work representing others, Liz was an actress (Fanny Brice in Funny Girl at Swift Creek Mill, The 1940's Radio Hour at Barksdale, Agnes in I Do!, I Do!), a producer (two seasons of dinner theatre at the former Captain George’s Seafood House in the same Broad Street building that now houses off track betting), and a notable cabaret performer.

We will be dedicating our upcoming production of Shirley Valentine, which opens this Friday at Hanover Tavern, as follows:

With love and respect, we dedicate this production of Shirley Valentine to the joyous memory of Liz Marks, who starred here at Hanover Tavern in The 1940’s Radio Hour. Throughout a long battle with cancer and all the other ups and downs, Liz never lost sight of the beauty and exuberance of who she was. She will be greatly missed.

The following information appears on Liz's page of the CaringBridge website:

"Services will be held in Richmond, VA. Please join us.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Private Family Viewing at 4pm
Family will receive friends between 5-8 pm.

Wednesday July 9 at 12 noon.
Funeral & Celebration of Liz's Life

Bliley's Funeral Home
3801 Augusta Avenue
Richmond, VA. 23230

Graveside Service - everyone is invited to join us.
Berea Baptist Church
15421 Pouncey Tract Road
Rockville, VA 23146

Immediately after the ceremony, the family will receive friends:

Tracy Marks Residence
4309 Northwich Court
Midlothian, VA 23112"

Many, many thanks to John Moon, Irene Ziegler and Jackie Jones who, in cooperation with the Theatre Artists Fund, helped to raise the over $10,000 that enabled Liz to keep body and soul together during her final weeks. And many thanks to the countless generous hearts in our theatre community and beyond who contributed to the cause.

And let none of us forget, as Liz sang to us so many times, "you gotta ring dem bells!"

Liz certainly did. And we're all a little richer for it.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Cinco July-O

Posted by Bruce Miller
For many years, Lanford Wilson’s Fifth of July was my favorite play. And now I have two glorious new reasons to love this particular box on the summer calendar:

Tom and Carmela McGranahan were married today, and
Sophia Elizabeth Foley was born at 5-something this morning.

How can things get any happier than that?!

Tom and Carmela’s wedding was nothing short of wonderful. Saint Benedict’s Catholic Church was beautiful; Carmela and her daughter/Maid of Honor looked beautiful; the Reverend Michael Renninger delivered a beautiful (and funny) homily; shoot, even the grin on Tom’s face was beautiful.

Lots and lots of Barksdale friends were in attendance. And when the service was over, everyone adjourned to the lobby of Barksdale Willow Lawn, where the reception was beautiful.

It was one of the nicest weddings I’ve ever been to, which is appropriate, since Tom is one of the nicest men I’ve ever known. Everyone at Barksdale wishes Tom and Carmela nothing but joy.

And then, to know that on the very same day, Erin and Tony Foley (or is it Erin Thomas-Foley and Tony Foley? – I’m not sure) … anyway, to know that Erin and Tony welcomed their beautiful baby into the world only hours before Tom and Carmela shared their first kiss as man and wife … these two blessed events make Cinco July-O cause for unending celebration.

Sophia Elizabeth Foley was born at the crack of dawn, two weeks early, healthy and happy and weighing in at 5 lbs. 9 oz.--or, as Andy Boothby told me, 5 ft. 9 inches. All of us wish nothing but the best for this beautiful new family.

Tonight I visit the tech rehearsal of Shirley Valentine, and if those proceedings can be one one-hundredth as beautiful as the morning and afternoon, we’ll be in great shape! I can’t wait.

My camera was dead today, so if anyone has additional photos of the nuptials, email ‘em to Jessica Daugherty and she will post 'em. Thanks.

--Bruce Miller