Thursday, October 9, 2008

Appearance of Theatres Fails to Pass Muster

Posted by Bruce Miller
I received the following unsigned letter in my office this morning. It’s worth sharing.

“Oct 2, 2008

Dear Mr. Miller:

I write to you without including my name in the interest of simplicity, and hope that I do not offend.

I have found much to love and enjoy in the numerous Barksdale productions that I have seen over the past few years. My first was The Full Monty; the most recent was Guys and Dolls. Doubt was, for me, the most powerful.

When attending Barksdale productions, I feel you should know what a big impression the atmospherics of the Willow Lawn and Empire venues have made on me, and I do not mean in a positive sense.

The Willow Lawn lobby cries out for re-modeling. It puts one in mind of a neglected moose lodge. Its current appearance is jarring and does not do justice to, or reflect, the level of excellence on stage. This is not an expensive proposition and could be solved with some cans of paint and a few trips to Ikea. It needs light colors, modern lighting and sleek, updated furniture. You have talent on your technical staff who would no doubt do a fabulous job of re-modeling.

The Empire Theater is obviously a treasure and beloved by Richmond. I remain mystified, however, by the abject and, frankly, embarrassing appearance of the outside presentation of the theater. It looks abandoned and neglected. The marquee must be lit up! The front of the Empire Theater needs to be lit up to look alive and welcoming! Right now, it looks like it is closed and waiting for demolition. The presentation window boxes which face the street are not lit and do not feature the posters of the show that is currently playing. I cannot understand this. It’s as though what is going on inside the theater is beside the point based on what the outside of the theater is telling the public. One of the presentation windows has broken glass. This makes a very bad impression of neglect.

I realize that keeping a theater in running order is very expensive. The solutions to the above problems, however, do not require huge investments of money.

Best of everything and keep up the otherwise very good work.”

I agree with much of what is included in this letter, and appreciate receiving it. I’ll respond in a subsequent blog posting. Please feel free to offer your opinions.

Hope to see you at our rundown theatres!

--Bruce Miller


Steven Koehler said...


We have all known for a long time the deep need for work on The Empire Theatre. The Marquee is a rusting heap that seems to defy laws of physics by staying up every year. I do recall a time though that we were able to light it, but that was when the shop was across the street. I also remember all to well hating the lose of a precious lighting instrument.
Overall the appearance of the window displays is poor as well. I also know all too well how tight monies are in theatre. I of course no longer know the specifics of Theatre IV's finances but can only assume that the belt is even tighter than it was 5 years ago when I stopped working as Operations Manager. While I agree with the letter writers feelings of the Empire, I do not agree with his proposed solutions. The cost of some repairs for the Empire would be minimal, but they would at best be a meer band aid on an aging building. Is there any chance that there could be a capitol campaign in the near future? With the sickening economy and the massive expenses of the performing arts center and the various projects associated with that project is it even feasible to think about it at this time?
As for Barksdale, the letter writer is also correct that the lobby could use some work. I seem to recall you addressing though the basic plans of renovating the space a few weeks ago. I also winced at the suggestion that the tech crew handle the work. Well yes the staff has the talent without a doubt. However Bruce Rennie's staff is already stretched so thin, I felt for them just reading the letter.
On another note I want to thank you for this Blog, it has really helped me to stay connected to the company that I still consider in many ways my family.

debra said...

My other thought was, isn't there even more red tape involved around fixing the marquee, and the exterior of the Empire due to it's status as a historical landmark?