Friday, June 26, 2009

Rubbing Elbows with the Tony Elite

Posted by Lizzie Holland
This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to volunteer for the 63rd Annual Antoinette Perry Awards. Last year I attended as a paid ticket holder, and through that experience I learned that is was possible to be a thing called a “seat filler."

Many people wonder what this job actually entails. Well, there is a group of about 200 people of all ages who know someone (or know someone who knows someone who is dating someone, in my case). We all line up at 4:30 at Radio City Music Hall and are escorted into the building.

Once inside, our names are checked off of a list and we are strategically seated in the back of Radio City. Then, we wait. Seriously, we wait there for about an hour. It’s boring, but everyone is nice and chatty so you make lots of new friends.

Then, around 5:45, the “leader” of all the seat fillers gives a spiel about what our job entails for the evening. The rules include things like “Don’t ask for autographs,” “Don’t establish eye contact with the person who actually sits in the seat,” “Don’t go onstage” (seriously…). He also introduced us to his assistants who would actually send us running to fill each and every empty seat the second it is vacated.

Then, at 6:00 (when the doors open), we are split into three groups for each main area in the orchestra. Lucky for me, I was assigned to the audience left section, down front near the “special door." This door is the door through which all the celebrities pass as they prepare to present awards. Also, all the nominees and other celebrities are escorted to their seats not through the lobby and down the aisles, but from offstage right. So there was a continual parade of stars walking about a foot away from me before the show even started.

The luminaries whom I politely did NOT reach out and touch included Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, Will Ferrell, James Gandolfini, Lauren Graham, Marcia Gay Harden, Anne Hathaway, Colin Hanks, Angela Lansbury, Liza Minnelli, Oliver Platt, John Stamos, and finally Neil Patrick Harris.

Once the “pre-show” starts at 7:00 we begin to fill seats of people who have not arrived yet. I had a seat until about 7:45. I sat right in front of John Glover (nominee for Best Featured Actor in a Play). I was quietly sitting there not asking for autographs or establishing verbotten eye contact when John Glover’s partner tapped me on the shoulder. He told me that my hair was stuck on my earring, and then proceeded to help me fix it!

Then, when the real owner of my seat arrived (shoot!), I moved to the back of the line of seat fillers waiting patiently off to the side for someone famous to have to visit the restroom. Gradually we moved forward in the line as the important people exited for one reason or another. There's a veritable stampede during commercial breaks. I was personally moved into vacated seats 4 times.

Once I sat in the 2nd row near Geoffrey Rush (Winner of Best Actor in a Play), Colin Hanks (Tom Hanks' son), and Jane Fonda (don’t tell me you don’t know who she is…). At the end, I was moved into Chandra Wilson’s seat (Gray’s Anatomy), which was the best! I sat there, in the 4th row on the aisle for the Hair performance, and if you have seen Hair you know what that means--ersatz hippies climbing everywhere and practically sitting in your lap. I sat there near Angela Lansbury, Gina Gerswin, and Raul Esparza for the remainder of the show. Thank you, Chandra, for leaving early.

When the show was over and everyone was dispersing to their appropriate parties, I ran into some more “talent” as the Tony crew likes to call them. The best was when I ran into Jill Zarin from the Real Housewives of New York! Once everyone headed to the Gala at Rockefeller Center, I met up with a friend and we began our walk downtown, where we ran into a producer from Billy Elliot who looked confused. We told him congratulations on winning his Tony, and he responded by admitting that he was lost. We gave him directions, and he let us take pictures with his newly received Tony. (They are heavy but also feel cheaply made, as the silver part is not quite securely attached to its base.)

I guess it must be the recession!

--Lizzie Holland

Sunday, June 14, 2009

New Friend Grady Bowman Does the Tonys

Posted by Bruce Miller
Our college-bound theatre enthusiast, Lizzie Holland (see the previous blog entry), was not the only one whooping it up at the 2009 Tony Awards. Our new friend Grady Bowman (pictured to the right with his Tony-winning director, Stephen Daldry) was there too, performing on stage with the cast of Billy Elliot, and cheering on his company-mates as the ten Billy Tonys began rolling in and piling up.

I give the Barksdale team way more credit than we deserve when I refer to Grady as our "friend." It's certainly true that we hold Grady in high regard; he's very talented and an all round good guy. But on the flip side, I know that Barksdale and we various personalities involved are just a blip on Grady's radar screen.

When Phil and I led the annual Barksdale theatre trip to NYC last March, Billy Elliot was one of the three shows our group went to see. I had friends in the cast of South Pacific (Jerold Solomon and Christian Carter) who graciously agreed to lead a post-performance backstage discussion with our group when we went to see that show. I wanted to find someone from Billy Elliot to do the same, but I had no friends in the cast.

So I went into research mode and quickly learned that I was, in three ways, only one degree of separation away from actor/singer/dancer Grady Bowman, whom I had yet to meet. I immediately friend requested Grady on facebook, mentioning that:

1. I was pals with Jerold and Christian, two Theatre IV and Barksdale alums, both of whom had been Grady's castmates before he, Grady, left South Pacific to go into Billy Elliot;

2. I was friends with and a professional colleague of David Leong, Chair of the Theatre Department at VCU--David is also fight director for Broadway's Billy Elliot and Grady is the fight captain; and

3. I was friends with and a longtime collaborator of Ron Barnett, who composed the scores for a great many Theatre IV musicals and has, for the last several years, been working at the Fulton Opera House, where he once music directed Grady in Crazy for You.

Grady's had one of those careers that most young professional performers would give their left tapshoe for. He graduated from North Carolina School of the Arts in 2005, worked the regional theatres briefly before being cast on Broadway in The Pirate Queen, South Pacific and then Billy Elliot--one right after the other. In South Pacific he also served as assistant dance captain, and, as mentioned before, in Billy Elliot he leads the troops as fight captain.

When he heard from me out of the blue, Grady thoughtfully accepted my friend request. I responded by asking if he would speak with our group backstage after the Billy Elliot performance. He graciously agreed.

When the big day came, we 40 Richmond theatre lovers waited in the house until the audience cleared and Grady came back on stage. He invited us all down front, and answered everyone's questions for about 20 minutes. There was no practical reason for him to be so kind; he just was. And for that I will be forever in his debt.

Billy Elliot is a great show, and Grady Bowman is a talented and generous theatre artist. He is also, now, an official friend of Barksdale. He and I spoke about his interest in choreographing some day soon, and it's my hope that we at Barksdale will be able to work with him someday in that capacity.

Congratulations on all your hard work, Grady, and on Billy Elliot's many accolades. All of your new Barksdale friends cheered you and your team on while watching from our TVs. We're proud of your success, and hope to work with you again in the future.

Additional photo credits:
(all photos are the property of Grady Bowman, and used here with his permission)
photo #2 shows Grady in front of the massive Tony set at Radio City Music Hall;
photo #3 is, of course, Grady with Sir Elton John, composer of Billy Elliot;
photo #4 includes Grady in his Billy Elliot costume and hard hat, with fellow cast members including the three young Tony-winners for Best Actor in a Musical: David Alvarez, Kiril Kulish and Trent Kowalik (the three Billy's);
photo #5 is Grady with Gregory Jbara, who won the Best Supporting Actor Tony as Billy's dad;
photo #6 shows a scene from Crazy for You at the Fulton Opera House, with Grady to the far right and Ron Barnett, playing a real bass, to the left;
photo #7 is Grady (in his Billy Elliot wig) with Vice President Biden (ah, the people you'll meet when you're in a hit Broadway show); and
photo #8 is Grady with the woman in his life, Autumn Hurlbert, who many will remember as the talented musical theatre actress who should have won (my opinion) the Legally Blonde TV casting show.

--Bruce Miller

Monday, June 8, 2009

And the Tony for Best Whooper Goes To...

Posted by Bruce Miller
Like many of us, Lizzie Holland—a rising freshman at Dickinson and one of the more enthusiastic theatre lovers in the Barksdale / Theatre IV family—watched the Tony Awards last night. Like many of us, she whooped and hollered when a particular performance or show biz moment met with her approval. Unlike any of the rest of us, her whoop has been preserved for posterity on the Tony broadcast.

While the rest of us kept adjusting the volume on our TVs, Lizzie was there at Radio City Music Hall for the second year in a row! (See her archived post about last year’s Tony Awards: A Richmond High School Theatre Lover Takes Her First Trip to the Tonys, Saturday, June 28, 2008.)

And last night, when Luci Arnaz said, “Maybe one day, who knows, we might see one of you up here on stage at the Tonys,” and an unseen, wide-eyed starlet in the audience let out a cry of approval, prompting Luci to point into the crowd and shout “Yeah!” … that whooping starlet-to-be was none other than our own Ms. Holland. (You can relive Lizzie’s immortalized fervor by clicking

Lizzie, you see, isn’t shy. She’s kind of like Princess Fred in Once Upon a Mattress. She’s a whooper from way back. In fact, this year at the Trinity High School graduation, they gave a special award for passion for the theatre, and Lizzie won hands down. (That’s Richmond theatre pro Brian Phillips, Lizzie’s teacher, in the photo to the left, giving Lizzie a hug during the Trinity awards ceremony.)

This year, not only did Lizzie attend the Tony Awards, she was one of the approximately 200 theatre aficionados signed on as “seat fillers.” You can read the article from the New York Daily News to learn more about this prestigious appointment:

And what seats did Lizzie wind up filling? One in the second row, one in the fourth, and one in the sixth. That’s our Lizzie.

I know little more than what I’ve been able to read on her facebook. When she returns home, I’ll try to persuade Lizzie to write another blog post about her '09 Tony experience. Till then, I’ve scattered a few photos throughout this post: Lizzie in front of the Tony poster, Lizzie holding a Tony (don’t ask cause I don’t know), and James Gandolfini trying the avoid the passionate lady with the camera.

See you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller