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


A Richmond Theatre Friend said...

As a resident of Richmond, I've enjoyed theatre here for 35 years. I, for one, am thrilled this discussion was started because I have been aware of these concerns. I think an open dialogue can only help, especially in a forum where freedom of expression is encouraged.

While I agree that those "newcomers" from various shows are now "Richmond Theatre All-Stars," it only goes to prove that giving a newcomer a chance may lead to a very successful future - not only for the newcomer, but for the Barksdale business. Newcomers also bring fresh spirit and interpretation as well as the potential of bringing scores of new audience members into the theater.

Although numerically it may go unnoticed, the reverse is true as well. As a newcomer's rejections mount, so too do the frustration and disappointment grow among their family and friends. In that case the negative publicity may be hurting a well-meaning theater, despite its all-star cast.

Yes, you're right. And yes, they're right. Now what can we do about it?

Bruce Miller said...

Barksdale is, of course, one of only several theatres in town. Looking only at the shows I've directed, which make up about a quarter of the total number of shows we've produced, 42% of our casting decisions have place "newcomers" on stage. I think that's a really high percentage, and I don't see how the percentage can get higher without a decision to discriminate against Richmond's top tier of talent. That's not going to happen.

So what are we going to do about it. A solution would be to produce more shows with larger casts. We'd like to do that, but first we must build our ticket revenues and our contributions to pay the bills. Operating a major professional theatre is not an inexpensive proposition.

Combined, Barksdale and Theatre IV operate under an annual budget of approximately $5 million--about twice the size of TheatreVirginia in its heyday. Cooperatively, we make up the largest nonprofit performing arts organization in Central Virginia. But our contributed support comprises only 28% of total revenue, placing us far behind the Richmond Symphony, the Richmond Ballet and the Virginia Opera in terms of fundraising success. The national average for a major professional theatre is 40%.

Building contributed support, particularly among individuals of means, is our foremost institutional goal. Should we be able to do this, then we would be able to do more of the great plays that demand larger casts, and therefore be able to cast more "newcomers"--be they Richmond newcomers or professional guest artists.