Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy Birthday to Linda and Harry!

Posted by Bruce Miller
Please join me in wishing a very Happy Birthday to two of Richmond’s greatest theatre scribes: Linda Escalera Baggs and Harry Kollatz, Jr. I’m privileged to call each of them my friend. Unlike their fellow birthday celebrant, J. R. R. Tolkien, Linda and Harry tend to base their writing on personal experience and history rather than fanciful acts of the imagination.

I first encountered Linda Baggs on a flight back from London in 2003. Phil and I had just led our first theatre trip abroad, and I was seated next to one of the maiden voyagers who had accompanied us, the wonderful Gerri Escalera. As we talked, she began telling me about her daughter Linda, who had recently left a successful advertising career to become a fulltime playwright. I remember being amazed that here was a mom talking about an adult child leaving a lucrative career to pursue a theatrical dream, and she sounded excited about it. “What a great mom!”, I thought.

And what a great daughter! One year later Barksdale produced Silent Heroes, a new play written by that daughter based on the “Marine wife” experiences of that mom.

Linda Escalera Baggs is one of Virginia’s foremost playwrights. Apparently theatre has been in her genes since her conception, but it took a while to bubble to the surface. Her grandmother was an actress born in Hollywood, but when push came to love Grandma gave up an opportunity to appear on Broadway and chose instead to marry Linda’s grandfather.

Linda’s father was a Marine, and so she spent her childhood moving frequently up and down the East Coast from one base to another. Linda wrote her first short story in the 4th grade as a present for her theatrically inclined granny, and immediately discovered that she loved to write. As she matured, Linda’s practical side convinced her artistic side that she should pursue a career in advertising, and so she did. For 18 years she earned a living, great acclaim, and a couple of ANDY’s and Clio’s writing commercials and assorted ad copy.

In 2000, she heard a funny story and her creative juices transformed it into a one-act play called Who’s Margaret?. When the Richmond Playwrights Forum selected the play for a public reading, and actors breathed life into her characters for the first time, the audience roared with laughter. Linda was hooked. She gave up advertising to pursue playwriting fulltime.

Now, three full-length plays, two short plays and three one-acts later, Linda has earned 18 nominations and awards, and 13 productions (including stagings in NYC, at Barksdale and at the Firehouse). Along with Paul Deiss, Doug Jones, Randy Strawderman, Bo Wilson and Irene Ziegler, Linda is one of the Virginia playwrights to whom Barksdale offers an on-going commitment. Hopefully we’ll see more of Linda’s work on one of Barksdale’s stages soon.

Until then, you can catch her show Silent Heroes opening next week on Jan 8 in New York City produced by the Round Table Ensemble. How cool a birthday present is that!?

Harry Kollatz Jr., I’ve decided, is my mirror image, only he looks good in hats and I don’t. And then there’s that little matter of him being more than a decade younger than me, but who’s counting?

Harry Kollatz and I are both Richmond natives. He graduated from VCU in 1986; I graduated from U of R in 1974. Harry co-founded the Firehouse in 1993; I co-founded Theatre IV in 1975. Harry married Richmond artist Amie Oliver in 1994; I married Richmond artist Terrie Powers in 1985. (Amie and Terrie are colleagues, friends, and alumnae of 1708.)

Harry earns his living writing for Richmond Magazine and publishing books; I earn my keep at Theatre IV writing plays for young audiences and grants. Harry’s most successful writing is inspired by local history (his regular column “Flashback” at Richmond Mag, his new book Richmond in Ragtime, his first book True Richmond Stories). Many of my most successful plays also are based on local history (Buffalo Soldier, The Maggie Walker Story, Arthur Ashe – Champion of Honor). Harry brought local history to life as an interpreter at the Valentine Museum; I did the same directing Do Lord Remember Me at the Valentine.

Harry was in the first acting company of the Playbooth Theatre on Palace Green in historic Williamsburg; my daughter Hannah was just accepted to William & Mary.

Harry keeps the blogosphere abuzz with The Blue Raccoon; I make my regular contributions to the b’o’sphere at the B’dale Buzz. Harry co-created the Theresa Pollak Awards for Excellence in the Arts in 1998. I won one in 2006.

All coincidence, or some twisted trick of the parallel universes? You decide.

Anyway, if you haven’t read one of Harry’s amazing books, you should. I’ve been a longtime fan of True Richmond Stories. Phil just bought his copy of Richmond in Ragtime: Socialists, Suffragists, Sex & Murder at a local book signing. I ordered mine today on Amazon.com.

Linda and Harry are invaluable assets to our Richmond theatre community. As they blow out their candles, we all wish them a wonderful 2009!

--Bruce Miller

3 comments:

HEK said...

Bruce:

Garsh. I don't know what to say.

Except for this. Back when I was at VCU, hanging out with vaguely misfit types, I came to the conclusion that though I liked being around the energy and antics of theater majors, their frequent self-absorption was off-putting. The flakiness of artists annoyed me.

So: A few years later, I co-founded a theater company and married an artist. Makers and creators are among my greatest life associations.

You just never can tell, can you, about how things will turn out?

Thanks, Bruce.

Anonymous said...

Linda's Silent Heroes has its New York premier January 8th - January 24th, 2009!

http://www.roundtableensemble.org/

MBV said...

Lest we forget, Harry is also a playwright; The Persistence of Memory, premiered at FTP in 1997 (with lots of familiar faces in the cast), and is also based on a curious bit of Richmond history.