Sunday, August 31, 2008

This Labor Day, Celebrate Arts Employment

Posted by Bruce Miller
Today, Barksdale and Theatre IV employ 37 arts professionals working in full-time jobs. It was 39 a few months ago, but we’ve had to reduce staff by two due to financial woes associated with the national recession.

This seems like a lot of people, and it is. But when you consider all we do (33 different productions, many of them touring throughout 32 states, plus all the ancillary activities), we’re actually understaffed.

In addition to these 37 full-time positions, we employ:
· several wonderful box office workers who are paid on an hourly basis, · several talented interns who work on a seasonal basis for weekly stipends,
· several skilled part-time workers who put in less than 40 hours per week in various capacities,
· tens of touring actors who keep Theatre IV’s national tour going strong, and
· legions of freelance actors, directors, designers etc whose talents power our mainstage productions.

We also budget $15,000 per year for hourly production overhire.

All told, Barksdale and Theatre IV invest approximately $2.2 million annually in Virginia’s workforce. If that doesn’t seem like a lot to you, then you’re not one of the ones loosing sleep every two weeks worrying about how we’re going to meet payroll. There’s no grand fund set aside somewhere to cover these and other expenses. We pay out only what we bring in. To meet budget, we need to sell approximately $70,000 per week in tickets and tour shows, and raise approximately $30,000 per week in contributions. During this recession, meeting these goals has been, and will continue to be, very challenging.

That's why I vigorously support continued state funding for the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Additional state cuts will mean additional layoffs, and additional layoffs, at Barksdale and at other nonprofit arts organizations statewide, will ultimately increase rather than decrease Virginia's financial woes.

The arts are a labor intensive industry, which is good for Virginians and the state economy. On average, Virginia’s arts and cultural organizations spend 44.2% of their revenues on labor, 37.2% on other production expenses, 9.8% on facilities, 7.4% on marketing, and 1.4% on state and local taxes and fees. This is a nonprofit industry.

In 2000, Virginians for the Arts, our statewide advocacy group, did an economic impact study in cooperation with the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the Virginia Association of Museums. The study was prepared independently by The Wessex Group, Ltd., located in Williamsburg. I mentioned this study in a previous post. The findings of the study indicate that eight years ago, arts and cultural organizations comprised a major sector of the Virginia economy.

In 2000, 12,507 Virginians were directly employed by arts and cultural organizations (full-time and part-time). They were paid $157.8 million in salary and benefits. An additional 6,344 full-time Virginia jobs were financed indirectly by the economic impact that arts and cultural organizations have on Virginia’s support businesses and independent contractors. All told, in 2000, $306.6 million was paid to 18,851 Virginia workers by Virginia’s arts and cultural organizations.

Additionally, the 2000 study found that arts and cultural organizations in Virginia annually generate $849 million in revenues for Virginia businesses and $342 million in revenues for Virginia tourism businesses through spending by out-of-state visitors who come to see Virginia’s arts and cultural organizations. That’s a total injection into the Virginia economy of nearly $1.2 billion.

I know, it’s a lot of numbers, and they’re eight years out of date. But they’re important. If we don’t celebrate employment in the arts, nobody will. Many of those who make decisions about state funding simply don’t care about the intrinsic value of the arts, but they might care—they ought to care—about how the arts positively effect Virginia’s economy.

Labor Day originated in 1882 when the Central Labor Union of New York City asked the nation to take a day to value America’s workforce, the engine that always has and always will power our nation. This made sense to the U. S. Congress, and so they made Labor Day a federal holiday in 1894. Today, Labor Day is honored by all 50 states.

We who work in or care about the nonprofit arts sector need to make sure that we also get in the game. We need to remember that Labor Day not only marks the closing of our neighborhood pools, plus the beginning of the Virginia public school year and the NFL and NCAA football seasons. Labor Day is our chance to remind all Virginians that the nonprofit arts sector and its 18,851 jobs represent an irreplaceable force in the state economy. The arts are not a frill or a nicety. We are a cornerstone industry, crucial to the Commonwealth and its financial well-being.

--Posted by Bruce Miller

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Reacquainting Myself w/ Frankie's Meatloaf

Posted by Bruce Miller
About 15 years ago I was privileged to direct Terrence McNally’s lovely two-hander Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune in the Little Theatre at Theatre IV. It starred Irene Ziegler and John Moon, and boy were they great.

People remember it as a Theatre Gym production, but it wasn’t. It was back in the days when Theatre IV staged full fledged adult seasons of its own in the Little Theatre. Frankie and Johnny was a part of these seasons, as were our productions remembered with equal fondness: Crimes of the Heart, A Shayna Maidel, our first Shirley Valentine, Gary Hopper's Hamlet, and Stand Up Tragedy.

One of the many fun aspects of Frankie and Johnny is the cooking that happens onstage. Just as in Shirley Valentine, every night the actress playing Frankie makes a Western omelet, and the actor playing Johnny makes a meatloaf sandwich. One of my jobs was to make the meatloaf that emerged each night from the fridge and was sliced for the sandwich and devoured on-stage.

I relied on the old tried and true meatloaf recipe that my dad gave me when I went off to college. It’s quick and easy to make, it’s relatively cheap, it freezes well so you can make a large batch and save some for later, and it tastes wonderful.

Roy Proctor apparently had a Pavlovian response while watching John Moon slice the meatloaf, slather it with ketchup, slap it between two slabs of bread, and then slowly slide it down his gullet. With saliva flowing, Roy asked me for the recipe. He later ran it in the T-D using the name my father gave the entree when he first presented me with the recipe card. My father had passed several years earlier, so I let the slightly embarrassing name stand in his memory.

Miller’s Mighty Meatloaf

2.25 lbs ground beef—as lean as you can get
4 slices whole-grain bread
1 large sweet onion, minced
1 green pepper, minced
2 medium carrots, minced
2 stalks celery, minced
1 egg
½ cup 2% milk
1 can condensed tomato soup
2 tsp salt
½ tsp oregano or Italian Seasoning
¼ tsp pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced

Cube the bread slices (the older the bread the better) and dry them for about 10 minutes in a warm oven (100°). Mince the onion, pepper, carrots and celery. Remove the bread and preheat the oven to 350°. Crush the dried bread cubes into crumbs. Mince the cloves of garlic. In a medium-large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and kneed them until they are thoroughly mixed. Lightly coat the interiors of two 5” x 9” glass loaf pans with vegetable oil spray. Press the mixed ingredients into the two pans. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Insert a knife between the sides of each loaf and the pan. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Remove each loaf using two pancake turners, and place the loaves on paper towels to drain. Each loaf serves 4 hearty appetites, and can be cut in half and frozen if desired.

Now that times are lean again and Barksdale is facing some significant recession-driven cutbacks (including my salary), I pulled out the old recipe card today and whipped up a pair of meatloaves for the two omnivores in my family. At least it made me feel like I was being proactive. We're eating half a loaf tonight and freezing the other three halves for later. At a cost of about $1.25 per hearty serving, it’s still a great deal.

And now when I cook it and eat it, I remember not only my dad but also that delicious production of Frankie and Johnny. Meatloaf by the light of the moon. What could be better?

--Bruce Miller

Student Opportunities in the ARts

Posted by Bruce Miller
No, it’s not a typo. The reason the R is capitalized in the word ARts in the headline flying jauntily above this post is because we’re making an acronym. SOAR. I know, I know … it’s a bit forced. But Creative Residency with Arts Professionals wasn’t really working for us.

SOAR is an interactive externship program for high school juniors and seniors with a serious interest in the performing arts. Students who enroll in this after-school initiative have the chance to meet and talk every two weeks with Central Virginia’s top performing arts professionals, from actors/ dancers/ musicians/directors to marketing gurus to scenic designers to fundraisers et al. Each colloquium takes place in a different location—complete with a behind-the-scenes tour. We meet at the Firehouse one week, Richmond Ballet two weeks later, then the Modlin Center, the historic Empire, etc. etc. etc.

The program used to be called an internship, but after receiving some guidance from our friends in education, we now call it an externship. An internship happens when a fully trained student has the opportunity to put her/his training to practical use in a professional environment. An externship happens when an interested student has the opportunity to interact with professionals in the field of interest, providing the student with the insight s/he will need to make an informed decision about her/his future education.

Students who complete the course, which includes attending the sessions and maintaining journals throughout the experience (a grand total of 75 hours of work), receive academic credit from their home high school. It’s pretty cool.

SOAR began under a different name a few years ago as a program of the Carpenter Center. From the beginning a lot of the energy that powered the program came from Barksdale. Most of the funding that has enabled the program in the past came from the Markel Corporation’s donation to the Carpenter Center. On behalf of Greater Richmond’s arts students, we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

About three years ago, the program was featured as a national model in Time magazine, including a photo of a Richmond public school student exploring the light board at our historic Empire Theatre.

Last year the SOAR program became an official partnership between Barksdale Theatre and CenterStage, the new name for the expanding Carpenter Center. Barksdale provided the design and management of the program; CenterStage did the fundraising and served as liaison with the schools.

Last spring, CenterStage completed a strategic planning process with Mitchell Korn, a national arts-in-education consultant. They have now announced that their future arts-in-education programs will focus on in-school activities. Consequently, this year, SOAR will be the responsibility of Barksdale Theatre alone.

Information and applications for SOAR 08-09 will be distributed to all Central Virginia high schools, public and private, in October. If you know a teacher or a student who would like to have more information about SOAR, please encourage them to email Janine Serresseque.
Our other SOAR job this fall is to find funding for the program, which is made available to Central Virginia students free-of-charge. If you or some entity you know would be interested in talking with us about this funding opportunity, please encourage them to email Emily Cole.

SOAR is one component of the BTW (Barksdale Theatre Workshop), our comprehensive program designed to connect Barksdale with Greater Richmond's high school drama students and teachers. SOAR is a valuable and nationally-recognized way in which Barksdale Theatre can work with Central Virginia’s many exemplary performing arts organizations (and freelance arts professionals) to meet the needs of our community’s students and schools.

Please help us spread the word about this little known program with your colleagues and friends.
--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Importance of Being British

Posted by Bruce Miller
One of the things that make producing a show like Shirley Valentine such fun for me is the chance to dip my toes in the waters of another culture. Shirley is a very British play. Too bad I didn’t have the sense I should have had after so many years of toe dipping. Had I been smart, I would have recruited a “British consultant” to advise us on all aspects of the production. But I wasn’t and I didn’t. Consequently, I received this very nice and constructive (and slightly embarrassing) note from a friend of our theatre.

In the end, I think this correspondence is informative, very positive, and kinda fun. So I’ll share the constructive note first, and then our responses.

Here's the nice constructive note...

Dear Barksdale,

I saw the performance of Shirley Valentine last night at Hanover Tavern and while the acting was quite good, the set and prop designs were completely inappropriate. I understand designers and directors often reset plays in different eras than the action was originally set---Shakespeare in modern dress etc.--but the presence of a bottle of Fairy Liquid and a couple of boxes of Weetabix led me to assume the action was indeed still supposed to be set in an English kitchen.

Apart from those props, however, everything else was completely wrong for an English kitchen--from the huge refrigerator to the curtains, cabinets, faucets, and even a cookie!!! jar. The English do not eat cookies; they eat biscuits. It may be nit-picking, but even the color of Shirley's passport was wrong. While it is true that today's passports are a burgundy color, in Shirley's time it would have been navy blue.

And no respectable English person-of-the-period would serve ketchup with egg and chips--it has to be HP Brown Sauce--in a bottle of course!.

I am a subscriber to Barksdale Theater and both my husband and I have really enjoyed all the plays at Willow Lawn. I understand you work with a tight budget, but a little more effort at authenticity would have been appropriate.

But then again, being English myself, maybe I am the only one who noticed these things and the only one who was bothered by them.



Here's the first response from Jessica Daugherty, our webmaster who receives all emails first and lives in New Zealand…

Dear Ms. xxxxx,

Thank you for taking the time to write. I currently work from New Zealand and have learned some of the things you spoke about while living over here, where they also use slim refrigerators and say biscuits instead of cookies. I'm sorry you were disappointed with the set and props, but glad that you still enjoyed the acting.

I'm forwarding your message on to our Artistic Director, Bruce Miller, so that he can see your comments.

Kind Regards,
Jessica Daugherty
Internet Services
Theatre IV and Barksdale Theatre

And now here's the response from me…

Dear Ms. xxxxx,

Thanks for your support of Barksdale Theatre, your thoughtful letter, and your valuable constructive criticism. May I keep your name and contact info on file to use as a "British consultant" in the future? Your points are all very well taken, and I appreciate the constructive input. We certainly could use your help.

All the matters you mention regarding inaccuracies in our depiction of Shirley Valentine's home and its contents relate to my responsibilities. I manage props, furniture and set decoration for all Hanover Tavern shows. I did a fair amount of research for Shirley, but clearly not enough.

Regarding the appliances, I contacted Biasco - The Kitchen Specialists, a major English wholesaler and retailer of refrigerators and washers. I asked them what brand of mid- to low-price refrigerator and washer would have been installed in a British flat in the 1950s, about the time we imagined Shirley's 1985 kitchen to have been constructed. Among the brand names they suggested as meeting that criteria were a Frigidaire refrigerator and a Bendix washer. Our Tech Director for Hanover Tavern, David Powers, searched for, found and purchased a 1950s Frigidaire refrigerator and a 1950s Bendix washer. The refrigerator is small by contemporary American standards and appears to be the same size as the refrigerator used in the West End production of Shirley Valentine. The script says only that the refrigerator must have a built-in freezer and this one does.

I'm glad you noticed the Fairy Liquid and Weetabix. The Fairy Liquid was a generous loan from a friend of our director, Amy Berlin. I bought the Weetabix along with every other British-seeming grocery item I could find at Ukrops. Several of the other pantry stuffers (King Arthur Flour, Old London Melta Toast, Wellington Toasted Sesame Crisps) were less visible on the set but nonetheless there. We had British beer in the fridge, purchased from Total Wine and Beverage. We re-covered the Biz laundry detergent box (too American) with blow-ups of the British detergent logos for Daz. We printed can labels for Harry Ramsden's Mushy Peas and Batchelors Bigga Marrowfat Processed Peas (the most mid-80s British-looking labels I could find on the Internet) and covered over the Food Club labels that were too recognizable, too American and too 21st century. These counterfeit cans were among the items that filled the shelves.

Regarding the condiments to accompany the chips, I went to Icons-A Portrait of England online (, and found this: "Who can bear the thought of the perfect, soft-centred chip without a generous splash of malt vinegar to provide an extra burst of flavour? No self-respecting chippy is without the obligatory bottle of malt vinegar on the counter, along with salt and perhaps tomato ketchup." So I purchased a jar of malt vinegar and replaced the American-looking label with a computer-generated mock-up of the authentic British label (London Pub Malt Vinegar). When Shirley served her "chucky eggs and chips," she salted them first and then placed glass bottles of London Pub Malt Vinegar and Heinz Ketchup (that's the brand all the British grocery sites carry) on the table with the chips, in keeping with the instructions found on

Regarding the cookie jar, you got me! That was sheer stupidity on my part. I know better and appreciate the constructive criticism.

Regarding the British Passport, I Google Imaged "British passport 1985," and literally every photo of a British passport that appears on the Internet in response to that search shows a burgundy passport with the gold British crest. All the U. S. passports from that period are navy blue. So I photocopied the burgundy passport cover with gold British crest, did away with the words "European Union," and applied the forged cover over my mother's navy blue U. S. passport from the 80s. I'm sorry my research on passport color and appearance wasn't exact enough.

My research indicated that British Airways was the most likely carrier to transport Shirley from London to Greece, so I found some vintage photos online and created the fairly authentic British Airways ticket you saw in the show.

Curtain fabrics, window treatments, cabinet and faucet design are the work of our set designers, Terrie Powers and David Powers. They tell me that the curtain fabric and treatment were inspired by "Ironing Hopes in a British Kitchen," a Flickr photo found via Google Images online after searching for "British kitchen." The cabinets and faucets were modeled after images found on

All of this is meant to show that there was a significant "effort at authenticity" even if the results of those efforts didn't pay off. In the end, the lesson I need to learn is that all the Internet research in the world can't replace the input we can receive from someone who actually lived there.

Thanks again for your support of Barksdale and for your excellent input. We'll try to do better in the future.

All the Best,

Bruce Miller
Artistic Director
Barksdale Theatre

Note: There were two sets in Shirley Valentine, occupying opposite sides of a turntable. The first was Shirley's tiny British kitchen, the second was a Greek Island cliffside adjacent to the surf. Both are pictured above.

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Guys and Dolls" Lights Up Downtown

Posted by Bruce Miller
The figures are in for total attendance at Guys and Dolls this summer at the historic Empire, and if I were a bell I’d go … well, you know.

11,421 people came streaming downtown to catch our sizzling summer hit. In comparison with other recent winners, 11,307 rushed out to get a peek at The Full Monty, and 10,418 believed that Mame charmed the husks right off of the corn. Both of those musical blockbusters were at Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn.

Convincing all of Barksdale’s large and vibrant audience, many of whom live in the suburbs, to venture into downtown without a parking deck was not without its challenges. We offered valet parking (free to subscribers, $5 per car to everyone else), hired an off-duty policeman for each performance, and engaged in a LOT of positive and proactive communication.

It worked! Not only did a great many suburbanites make the trek back to the heart of our city, even better, they had a wonderful experience! To the best of our knowledge, there was not a single frown-inducing moment during the ten-week run.

Now I know, a lot of you come downtown all the time and are sitting back now saying, “What’s the big deal? Who doesn’t love downtown?” I’m with you. I’ve been down here on Marshall (my office) and Broad (our theatre) pretty much every day since 1986.

But the perception persists among many of those who have yet to become downtown denizens that once you cross Belvedere all hell breaks loose. Shoot, a lot of folks misperceive that all hell breaks loose once you cross the Boulevard.

Thankfully, this summer, a wonderful time was had by all. That bodes well for Barksdale Theatre and next summer’s Empire run of Thoroughly Modern Millie, for our many downtown neighbors, and for the CenterStage facilities set to open a little farther downtown only one year from now.

Our good neighbors at Tarrant’s Cafe and Bistro 27, two of the eight outstanding restaurants that have opened within two blocks of the Empire, wrote us letters to express their appreciation for our bringing the big summer musical down to the Arts District. “In one summer,” wrote Ted Santarella, owner and chef at Tarrant’s, “Barksdale Theatre has single handedly brought thousands of new faces to our neighborhood. Speaking with other merchants, particularly restaurant operators, we have not only seen an increase in foot traffic into our businesses, but felt the positive impact on our bottom lines. Barksdale has brought a new market of customers who ‘haven’t been down here in years,’ and may now return on their own to enjoy another evening out.”

Carlos Silva, owner and chef at 27 (pictured to the right), agrees: “I have been enjoying the benefits of your play (Guys and Dolls). Every weekend my restaurant is full between 5:30 and 7:30. Normally on a Saturday the crowd doesn’t start to grow until 8:00. Thanks to you, I have a full turn of tables before my usual crowd arrives. My revenue has increased across the board.”

When we joined the first urban pioneers and invested $2.3 million in the historic Empire way back in 1986—and gambled our future—this is exactly the type of neighborhood transformation and downtown revitalization we imagined. It’s been a long time coming, but the Richmond Arts District, which runs for five blocks along Broad and Marshall from Henry Street on the west to Art 6 on the east (just a few steps beyond Foushee), is now one of Greater Richmond’s hottest neighborhoods.

We’re proud to have been here from the beginning, and to be contributing still to the vitality of this community. We now know that nothing but great things are on the way for this upbeat corner of downtown Richmond!

--Bruce Miller

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Governor's Award for the Arts

Posted by Bruce Miller
Referring to the various theatrical activities that have held my attention since 1975, friends sometimes graciously suggest that I must be proud of all that’s been achieved. Due to brain chemistry or personality type, whatever you want to call it, I don’t think I know what that kind of pride feels like.

Looking back over 33 years, I’ve never quite made it to that mountaintop view. Intellectually—yes; emotionally—not so much.

I comprehend … I live, breath and dream Theatre IV and now Barksdale not as successes that can be wrapped up with a bow. To me, Theatre IV and Barksdale feel like tomorrow’s To Do lists—and three quarters of what’s on each list needs to have been knocked off last week.

I know what it feels like to be proud of my parents, my wife and children, and my friends.

I know what it feels like to be proud of a show—particularly a big show that represents the work of lots of artists. Watching the final performance of Guys and Dolls, I felt exactly like the parents and teammates in the stands looked when their children or pals turned in gold medal performances in the Olympics. I had tears in my eyes from “Fugue for Tinhorns” onward.

I know what it feels like to be relieved when people think that my work is OK. I’m mostly a happy, content, glass-half-full kind of guy. On the other hand, I’m also well acquainted with shame and guilt and defensiveness. I know how to worry. The weight of responsibility is a constant companion. And I’m all too familiar with righteous indignation.

Maybe it’s a combination of the hope of overall optimism, the pressures of guilt and responsibility, and the challenge of indignation that push accomplished people up the mountain. What it all feels like, honestly, is that I’ve been blessed to be in the car with so many talented people as we jointly experience an amazing adventure.

I know what love feels like. That’s what I know most of all. The best thing about my job is that I love the people I work with. I don’t imagine that bankers feel like this, but maybe I'm wrong. The second best thing about my job is the variety. The third best thing is the challenge. Challenge can be very motivating.

Twice since my father’s death in 1983 I’ve felt like maybe I’m doing OK. Maybe I’m coming close to being the man my father wanted me to be—someone who makes a difference. The first time was when STYLE Weekly included Phil and me in the "100 Most Influential Richmonders of the Century" in 1999. The second time was learning last month that Phil and I and Theatre IV were to receive the Governor’s Award for the Arts.

I know … I REALLY know … that awards and recognition are earned not by individuals but by ever expanding teams of thousands of people. I feel guilty to be the one from the team who’s invited to the reception and whose name appears in the press release.

But for someone who’s never been able to look down from the mountain, receiving the Governor’s Award feels like hearing from someone else who’s made it to the summit, who’s surveyed all there is to be seen, and who’s written back to say that things look pretty good. It’s almost like being there, experiencing the mountaintop view myself, standing next to Phil Whiteway and being able to see what the last 33 years look like from a distance.

It feels good.

To the thousands who have made this recognition possible and who deserve this moment just as much as I do … thank you. I'm so lucky and grateful that you've let me come along for the ride.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, August 15, 2008

RTP Announces Move to New Home

Posted by Bruce Miller
Three cheers and more for the Richmond Triangle Players. In the latest edition of their newsletter, Playergram, they announced that the rumors we’ve all been bandying about are true. RTP is acquiring a new home!

“A fabulous opportunity has been made available,” the article begins. “Following our Gala last September, Robb Moss came to us with the offer to make available a building for a new home. During the past eight months, the RTP Board has worked to make sure this would be the Next Stage for RTP. Architects, engineers, as well as legal and financial advisers studied the details to ensure a viable project. We have also received encouragement from some funding sources to help us get started.”

“We have now signed a lease for space that will become a 4,000 square foot performing arts facility. The plans call for a 90-seat theater, a graceful lobby, a generous bar, catering capability, and comfortable restrooms. The location is centrally located at 1300 Altamont Avenue, in historic Scott’s Addition, at the corner of W. Marshall Street, one block from Broad, and two blocks west of the Boulevard. The theatre will accommodate a stage that is double the area of the old one, with a high ceiling for proper lighting and technical equipment, backstage space and large dressing areas.”

“What we need now is to raise the necessary construction funds. Total cost is estimated at $500,000. In addition to capital costs, we hope to get commitments for $180,000 over the next three years to cover the additional costs of operating and maintaining the building.”

The first two shows in Triangle’s 2008-09 Season will be presented in a cabaret setting at Highwater Restaurant at Toad’s Place downtown on the Canal. The third production, Altar Boys, is searching for a “church setting in the Fan,” exact location TBA. Builders are telling the Triangle Board that their new facilities could be ready in “less than a year,” so the locations for the third show, opening in March, and the fourth show, opening in May, are yet to be determined.

Theatre IV purchased the historic Empire Theatre in 1986, a couple months into our 12th year of operations. Triangle has just celebrated its 15th season of successful operations. The time is right to move into a new home. Nothing energizes a Board of Directors more than an enthusiastic capital campaign, and nothing puts a nonprofit theatre company on the map more than new and improved facilities.

We wish our friends at RTP nothing but the best as they take this important and impressive step forward. Barksdale and Theatre IV will be happy to help out in any way we can.

--Bruce Miller

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Standing Up for the VCA

Posted by Bruce Miller
This morning's Times-Dispatch contains a regrettable editorial. At the top of the column on the left of the Editorial Page, under the heading "State Budget - Hard Times," the scribes at the T-D outline Virginia's currently woeful budget projections (a direct effect of our nation's recession). In response to these financial challenges, the editors write:

"Spending cuts are problematic: Much of the (Virginia) budget is driven by mandates and necessity. But there are agencies whose functions are not crucial to the commonwealth. Some possibilities:

--The Virginia Tourism Authority;
--The Virginia Economic Development Partnership;
--The Virginia Department of Business Assistance;
--The Virginia Department of Minority Business Enterprise;
--The Virginia Commission for the Arts;
--The Virginia Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station;
--Assorted museums."

I'll let others speak for the agencies they know about. I cannot fail to step forward for the Virginia Commission for the Arts. I know first hand how well this agency is managed, and what vital and essential support it provides to all the nonprofit arts organizations in Virginia.

What frustrates me the most is that these misguided words from the editors of the T-D come after a year in which all of Virginia's Non-State Agency Funding was eliminated entirely. Non-State Agency Funding is the political pork that was traditionally awarded to arts organizations and other nonprofits above and beyond the objective funding of the VCA. Eliminating Non-State Agency Funding reduced total arts support in Virginia by hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Barksdale and Theatre IV received a total of $45,000 in Non-State Agency funding in 2006-07, and $0 from the same pot in 2007-08.)

Cuts of this size are devastating, even for a nonprofit organization of our size. It's not like we have $45,000 sitting around unused. Exacting additional cuts to our and other's VCA funding seems unthinkable to me. I believe it would be exceedingly reckless--perhaps even life-threatening to many nonprofit organizations.

Currently Barksdale and Theatre IV each receive $112,500 annually from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, representing about 2.5% of our overall budgets. Our two nonprofit organizations currently receive $44,455 from the Greater Richmond Consortium, which allocates support from the localities of Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover, representing considerably less than one percent of our overall budgets.

For the sake of comparison, let's look at our neighboring state of Maryland. In the Old Line State, major nonprofit arts organizations expect to receive approximately 7.5% of their budget from the state, and an additional 7.5% of their budget from local governments. If Barksdale and Theatre IV were located in the Baltimore area instead of in Richmond, our public funding would equal approximately $750,000 per year, or roughly $480,000 more that we currently receive in public funding from the Greater Richmond localities and the state of Virginia.

All the other nonprofit theatres in town fare worse than we do in terms of actual dollars received in public support, but, in most cases, better than we do in terms of the percentage of their budget that is covered by public funds.

One of my favorite Theatre IV Board members, Phyllis Galanti, has an email address that begins with "NoWhining." I'm ashamed to admit that I can be an inveterate whiner, and so I keep Phyllis's email address hanging above my desk, just to remind me to keep a stiff, and frequently buttoned, upper lip.

But I believe that editorials like the one that appeared this morning do the public an injustice by suggesting that the activities of the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and, by extension, the work of all of Virginia's artists, are not "crucial" to the people of Virginia. Trying not to whine, but nonetheless determined to present forthrightly the facts of the matter, I've written the following Letter to the Editor. The letter may or may not make it into the venerable T-D, but I think it's important for all of us who love the arts to know the facts and fight for the survival of essential, objective arts funding in the Virginia budget.

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

Like you, I believe Virginia’s “hard times require hard choices.” They also require informed thinking. In your discussion of possible budget cuts, you list the Virginia Commission for the Arts as an agency “whose functions are not crucial to the commonwealth.” I disagree. For the people of Virginia, the VCA is not only crucial, it’s a conservative investment.

The Virginia taxpayer contributes only 81 cents per capita to the VCA, making Virginia 33rd in the nation in terms of state arts appropriations. This taxpayer support earns for our state $719,000 in matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. With these limited resources, the VCA provided essential funding in 2007-08 to 743 grantees, sustaining over 500 nonprofit arts groups and bringing arts education to 3.3 million Virginia students. In 2000, an independent study found that the economic impact of the arts in Virginia exceeded $1 billion per year.

Not everyone enjoys theater, music, dance, the visual and/or literary arts. But those who don’t appreciate the
value of the arts must not be doing the math. The arts build community. They also attract major corporations to Virginia; provide thousands of jobs; make possible Virginia’s principal child sexual abuse prevention effort; bring free-of-charge smiles to legions of Alzheimer’s patients; enhance the instruction of science, math, English and social studies in our schools; and infuse the Virginia economy with millions of dollars from out-of-state touring.

Because of historically low funding, Virginia’s arts industry has been in a precarious state for decades. Like parks and libraries, arts organizations are irreplaceable threads in the fabric of a healthy commonwealth. Cutting funding for the VCA would not help balance Virginia’s budget. It would decrease overall revenues and make Virginia’s financial challenges even worse.

Bruce Miller

Artistic Director, Theatre IV and Barksdale Theatre

I hope all of you will join me in standing up for the Virginia Commission for the Arts. I'm not engaging in hyperbole when I say that, should the state decide to make additional cuts to the VCA, many nonprofit organizations, including Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV, would find it difficult to survive.

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hail and Farewell to John DeBoer

Posted by Bruce Miller
Hail and farewell to our good (and new) friend, John DeBoer. (That's John pictured to the far right with Matt Hackman in Little Dog.) John left Richmond yesterday morning to make his merry way to Missoula. Montana’s gain – Virginia’s loss.

Six months ago, I hadn’t a clue who John Kenneth DeBoer was. Then, when the leading contender for the starring role of Mitchell in The Little Dog Laughed removed himself from consideration, several friends suggested I go see “the new guy” in Visiting Mr. Green. I went, I was impressed, and I called John to ask if he’d be interested in reading for the show.

And, oh yeah, if he got the part, there was this little matter of a gay nude scene. Not knowing John from Adam—and vice versa—it made for an interesting first conversation.

Since then, John and I have become fast friends. He not only starred in Little Dog, he played Damon Runyon in Guys and Dolls, and provided dialect direction for Peter Pan, Guys and Dolls and Shirley Valentine. That’s five contracts in five months. Talk about starting out with a bang.

And now, with lots of hugs and “I love you’s” following his final performance in Guys (and his last hurrah at Club Dacus), J. K. is excitedly off to face his future as a new professor at the University of Montana-Missoula. We couldn’t be happier for him. His new boss, as fate would have it, is noted Virginia theatre expatriate, Jere Lee Hodgin. Jere, a talented theatre artist and all round great guy, was artistic director of Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke for something like the last two decades of the 20th Century. Now he heads the theatre department at UM-M.

John promises to stay in touch with us, and we with him. We will miss his talent, his beaming smile, and his good humor.

Chris Stewart will be stepping into John's shoes for the final week of Guys and Dolls, but no one will take John’s place in our hearts. It was great getting to work with you, Johnny. Thanks for your fearlessness, good will, and all the laughs. We’re looking forward to hearing great things about you in the future.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, August 8, 2008

My Summer Internship

Each summer, Barksdale offers a limited number of administrative internships to university students. These positions allow theatre majors to get hands-on experience in the day to day operation of a professional theatre. They also provide Barksdale with enthusiastic helping hands and some fresh ideas. (More information about interning with Barksdale is available on our website.) Tamika Sayles from Longwood University has been an intern in our Marketing Department this summer, and this is her account of the experience...

By Tamika Sayles

Whenever I walk through Barksdale Theatre I see family, friends and people with whom I feel like I’ve spent my entire life instead of only eight short weeks. Interning at Barksdale has been the greatest experience in my life. Little did I know I would actually be good at marketing or better yet box office sales. I’ve always been an actor at heart - still am - but it was interesting to finally see the fundamentals of what goes on behind the stage and to find that I now consider it my career goal for the future.

When my professor at Longwood University first told me about the Arts Administration program I didn’t quite know what to think. I was the only theatre student majoring in both business and theatre, an oddity in nature, but none the less driven. I took Dr. Gene Muto’s advice and gave it a shot. A year or so later I decided that maybe this was the time to test this new major; when the interning position became available I jumped on the opportunity, not fully comprehending the true expectations, but thinking maybe it was a start in one direction or other. Couldn’t hurt to try, could it?

When I heard I had gotten the internship at Barksdale I remember feeling excited yet worried about being in corporate America. Heaven only knows why I thought it would be like corporate America. My mind got the best of me, but as the days went on I began to develop a new interest in marketing and design, and I asked Sara Marsden, Barksdale’s Marketing Director, to teach me everything she knew about designing posters. This led into an entirely new direction to my studies, and soon I began to decipher the variations of marketing designs, deciding what worked and what didn’t.

I started experimenting with a design program called Abode InDesign, which wasn’t easy. I’ve been working with computers since I was in the sixth grade, and there were moments where even I was stumped. Day after day, I practiced and came up with new ways of creating different designs to everyone’s liking. Then one day Sara told me about a website needing a logo. The site was, and I was more than eager to create one for them. I remember barely sleeping that night contemplating new ideas and colors, and I was even more excited to finally see it posted on their website with a shout out to me and my college.

I am more than thankful for the opportunity both Sara Marsden and gave me, but most of all I’m ecstatic, because I finally found my place in the world - that place is with the theatre. I plan to continue to act, design posters and advertisements and to work in the Arts Administration field. The ultimate goal is to someday run my own theatre company.

This is my last week at Barksdale, and who knows what direction life will really take me. One thing is certain though; I will never forget the friends I’ve made at Barksdale Theatre, and I want to say thank you to the Marketing Department, Box Office and all the great staff I’ve worked with for the past eight weeks for making this an extra special opportunity for me.