Monday, July 27, 2009

Chase Kniffen Named Artistic Associate

Posted by Bruce Miller
Beginning today (Monday, July 27), Chase Kniffen rejoins the staff at Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV. His new position will be that of Artistic Associate. As such, he will provide leadership to various projects. Among other things, he will supervise our participation in the Grand Opening performance at CenterStage, and direct our Spring 2010 production of The Sound of Music.

Chase first worked at Theatre IV when he was 9 years old, appearing as a Munchkin in our second production of The Wizard of Oz. Since then, he has performed in numerous shows here, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tuck Everlasting, The Secret Garden, Sing Down the Moon, and The Big Adventures of Stuart Little (all at Theatre IV), plus Olympus on My Mind, Annie Get Your Gun, Anything Goes, James Joyce's The Dead, and Mame (all at Barksdale).

Chase starred as John Darling in the Broadway production of Peter Pan, with Cathy Rigby. He later attended the professional musical theatre conservatory program at Broadway’s Circle in the Square. After leaving New York, Chase worked on our staff for several years, first as an intern and then as Special Projects Manager.

During that time, Chase began his professional directing career here with a workshop production of Godspell in the Little Theatre. He next directed our revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, followed by our two Greater Richmond High School All Star Musicals--summer productions of Grease and Disney's High School Musical, both coproduced by and performed at Steward School. He tried his hand at several tours, plus the Empire run of The True Story of Pocahontas. In 2007, he directed his last mainstage show with us, A Christmas Story, Theatre IV's holiday offering at the historic Empire Theatre.

Chase left Barksdale and Theatre IV in April 2008 to found Stage 1, the highly acclaimed theatre company that recently completed a successful season producing new American musicals. At Stage 1, he produced and directed tick, tick, ...BOOM, Children's Letters to God, Normal, and The Summer of '42. Throughout his year at Stage 1, Chase’s ties to Barksdale and Theatre IV have remained strong.

We are pleased to welcome Chase back to the team. As Richmond’s leading professional theatre, we believe it is our responsibility to provide professional opportunities to Greater Richmond’s best and brightest theatrical talents. We are glad that Chase’s artistic vision, energy and leadership abilities will help to shape the future of our nonprofit company.

--Bruce Miller

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wichmann is "Outrageously Funny!"

Posted by Bruce Miller

The first review is in, and it looks like Fully Committed is going to be another smash hit.

Under the headline "For one-man play, one word: hilarious," Times-Dispatch critic Julinda Lewis writes:

"Outrageously Funny!

Wichmann's idiosyncratic voices and gestures for each character are crystal clear and ring of authenticity.

It's heartwarming, subtle and heroic to watch Sam learn to take control of his own destiny, manipulate the system, and change subtly from underdog to top dog."

Please come see Scotty in his last Richmond show before shipping off to join the Navy. His performance is world-class, heartfelt, hysterically funny, and not to be missed.

See you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Tevye Takes His Final Bow

Posted by Bruce Miller
I just returned from Lou Rubin’s funeral and graveside service. Phil and I joined Tom Width, Jackie Jones and Glenn Crone in representing the theatre community. If others were there, I apologize for missing you.

Phil and I arrived about 15 minutes before the service, but it was obvious that the crowd that kept pouring in was not going to fit inside the cemetery facility. So the two of us and Tom Width and about 30 others gladly took our places outside and listened to the service over speakers. I'm sure Lou loved the fact that his service was SRO.

One of Lou’s favorite roles at the Mill was Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He played it at least twice to great acclaim. His family wanted to include something from Fiddler in the service, but secular music is prohibited in a Jewish funeral. So after consultation with the powers-that-be, it was decided that Sunrise Sunset would be performed as a sort of overture, before the service actually began. It was very moving.

Later in the service, a granddaughter said that Lou had mentioned that he wanted helium balloons at his funeral, to cheer things up. His daughter Claudia Biegler told him that she was concerned that a balloon launch would not be environmentally friendly, and maybe not even legal.

Lou, we were told, then suggested bubbles, and his family agreed. So small containers of soapy liquid with bubble wands were handed out to the overflowing crowd. During the graveside service, 50 or more family members and friends began blowing bubbles until the entire area around the graveside was shimmering with fragile, shining bubbles wending their gentle way toward a beautiful blue sky. It was impossible not to smile. It was a PERFECT Lou moment.

Now might be a good time to reprint an article that appeared in the Petersburg Progress-Index, and was picked up nationally by the Associated Press, announcing the Mill’s opening in Dec 1965. It’s a fitting tribute to Lou and Buddy, who died last March.

Under the headline “Old Grist Mill Becomes Weekend Dinner Theater,” the following article appeared on December 9, written by Pat Matthews. I've left all the grammar and punctuation intact.

"Three enterprising young couples, convinced Southside Virginians share their love of the theater, have converted a 302-year-old grist mill into a weekend dinner theater.

The partners in the Swift Creek Mill Playhouse are Wamer Callahan, a high school teacher and the only member with professional theatrical experience; Dr. Louis Rubin, Petersburg optometrist who has appeared in numerous amateur productions; and Wesley Richardson, operator of a drive-in restaurant in Petersburg.

They are being assisted by their wives, each with her own special skill to contribute.

Sally Richardson is not only acting in the opening production of “Carnival”, but she has also been the innovator of many of the decorating schemes for the historic old mill.

Betty Callahan has worked with her husband on many amateur productions in the past and specializes in coordinating the rehearsal schedule.

Fran Rubin is assisting her husband in public relations and is also handling the important jobs of reservations and make-up.

The couples have already encountered enough obstacles to discourage most new business partners. Contractors, looking over the building believed to be the oldest grist mill in this country, found it sound but needing a great deal of renovation.

The 2 1/2 –foot thick walls of the foundation and first floor were solid, but the floors were lopsided. To even the floors, the huge structure had to be jacked-up five inches.

Then the opening had to be delayed two months because the mill was built partly on granite, and this had to be removed before work could progress on a kitchen addition.

The partners say that the mill plays will be of like caliber with the operation similar to other theaters in the state. There will be buffet style dinner for guests before the play on two dining levels.

The theater will seat 250. The stage is slightly elevated in the manner of a Greek amphitheater and there is no curtain."

More commentary to follow.

--Bruce Miller

In Memoriam: Lou Rubin

Posted by Bruce Miller
In my 20s, I acted a lot in Richmond’s theatres. My first “professional” gig was at Barksdale Experimental, a one-season-wonder that spun off from Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern and took place in the vacated Massey, Wood and West offices on Lombardy St. Barksdale Experimental lit up the Richmond theatre scene in 1969-70, and then closed, due to lack of financial resources, just before launching their second season.

Some things never change.

My second acting gig outside the University of Richmond, where I was a theatre student, was at Swift Creek Mill Playhouse. “Theatre” now; “Playhouse” then. I was called at around 3 in the afternoon and asked if I could drive out immediately, rehearse for about an hour, and play the small role of the Russian tenor that night in Fiddler on the Roof. The actor who had been playing the role had been in an accident and they needed to replace him for the run of the show. Apparently I fit the costume and rumor had it I could hit the high notes.

Rehearsal went great. I can’t remember whether it was with Wayne or Jane Batty, the two of whom shared the responsibilities of musical director. I learned the song and the simple choreography and agreed to work my way into other scenes during upcoming performances. At least the bottle dancers would have a tenor that evening to accompany their dance.

When showtime came, it turned out that the other Batty was conducting. In performance, the tempo for the song was, I swear, about twice as fast as what I’d rehearsed. The lyrics were in Russian. I totally botched the number.

I tell this story today not to criticize the Battys, whom I love. It wasn’t their fault; it was just one of those things—and they were very kind to me. I tell the story because it was immediately after my botched number that I met Lou Rubin for the first time.

He was playing Tevye, one of his three classic roles at the Mill, and he certainly had no time to spend with the new kid whom he’d never met. Nonetheless, he had heard, perhaps even witnessed, my tongue-tied performance, and as soon as we both were offstage at the same time, he ran up to me, gave me a big hug and said, “You were very good. No one out there speaks Russian. They didn’t even notice. Oh, I’m Lou Rubin, by the way. Good to meet you. I play Tevye.” Then he ran back on stage.

Today at 2, I’ll be going to Lou Rubin’s funeral. He died on Thursday at age 87. A sweeter man never lived.

The Mill was founded by two great couples: Buddy and Betty Callahan and Lou and Fran Rubin. When Buddy died earlier this year, Phil and I were in New York and we missed his funeral. I continue to be heartsick that I wasn’t there.

I loved and benefited greatly from my long association with Buddy and Betty, Lou and Fran. We dedicated our recent production of Annie to Buddy’s memory. We will be dedicating our upcoming production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee to Lou.

I’ll write more soon about both incredible men and the huge impact they had on Richmond theatre in general and the founding of Theatre IV.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Come to the Cabaret, Old Chum!

Posted by Bruce Miller
Tonight’s the big night! Broadway Today, a cabaret benefiting the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund, opens in Barksdale’s living room tonight at 8. Tickets are still available, so by all means, COME!

When I say "living room," I mean the loft-like lobby of our intimate Willow Lawn theatre. Audience members will sit in comfortable chairs pulled up to our vintage tavern tables, enjoying some of Richmond’s finest musical theatre voices. The bar will be open throughout the evening, and a fun time will be had by all.

The program is a benefit for the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund. All of the performers are volunteering their time to raise funds for the endowment, which is administered by the Richmond Alliance of Professional Theatres and managed by the Community Foundation. Barksdale is contributing the space, cabaret license, etc., and the goal of the cabaret is to raise around $2,000, which will take the Theatre Artists Fund from its current corpus of approximately $22,000 much closer to the benchmark of $25,000, which we hope to reach prior to Christmas.

Broadway Today is masterminded by that most energized of impresarios—Billy Christopher Maupin. The guiding theme is this: from July through December 2009, Barksdale is running three (count ‘em) new American musicals, all of which originated in the 21st century. The three new shows are Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Empire, Souvenir at Hanover Tavern, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Willow Lawn.

Mr. Maupin has assembled stars from the casts of these three new musicals to sing other songs written in the last few years for today's Broadway. Nancy Crawley (actor photos appear in the order listed), Timothy Ford, Zak Resnick and Ali Thibodeau from the cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Audra Honaker from the cast of Spelling Bee, and special guest star Debra Wagoner from the cast of Souvenir will lead the audience on a whirlwind tour of these other 21st Century Broadway hits: Avenue Q, Curtains, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Spring Awakening, Urinetown, Wicked and more!

Maggie Marlin, Millie herself, was to have appeared in the cabaret, but due to last minute vocal strain, she has been replaced by Robin Harris Jones.

The program is conceived and directed by Mr. Maupin, with musical direction by Sandy Dacus and Paul Deiss.

The Richmond Theatre Artists Fund provides emergency relief to local actors, directors, designers and theatre artists and administrators in all disciplines when, through no fault of their own, accident or ill health places one of them in an untenable financial situation. Recent recipients have included Liz Marks, who was able to pay her mortgage during the final months of her life because of support from the Fund, and one of our leading directors who recently was able to avoid having his electricity turned off when the Fund covered his electric bills in the two months following his stroke.

There will be two performances: Sunday (tonight) at 8 and Monday (tomorrow) at 8. Only overflow seating remains for Monday evening’s performance, so why not come tonight. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $15. Barksdale subscribers, students and RAPT Card holders can purchase tickets for only $10.

Hope to see you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

"Fully Committed" Indeed

Posted by Bruce Miller
We had a GREAT Opening last night for Fully Committed, the hip and hysterically funny comedy that will be playing through August 30 at the historic Hanover Tavern, directed by the very talented Steve Perigard and starring the one and only Scott Wichmann (pictured in the Eric Dobbs photos above).

In attendance for the auspicious Opening, laughing their socks off, were Barksdale / Theatre IV All-Stars including Tom and Carlene Bass, the production’s wonderful light designer Slade Billew and his wife and the production’s soon-to-be stage manager Christina Billew, Traci Coogle with Empire Theatre portraitist Pat Cully, Judi and Bill Crenshaw, Catherine Dudley, Tony Foley, Phyllis and Paul Galanti, and the production’s masterful costume designer Sue Griffin accompanied by Wayne Shields.

Also serving in the guffaw brigade were invaluable ushers Bev and Danny Hobson, Audra Honaker, Jeannie and Christina Kilgore (our house manager and ticket taker extraordinaire), Tom and Carmella McGranahan, Marie McGranahan and Gayle Turner, the production’s sound op Andrew Montak, Steve Perigard (of course) and Robert Throckmorton.

The production’s terrific scenic designer Terrie Powers (accompanied by yours truly and our two kids: Curt Miller, now working as Theatre IV’s groundsman and Hannah Miller, now working in our group sales dept) further filled out the ranks, joining the irreplaceable Essie Simms, Jill Bari Steinberg (or is it Jill Bari Organ these days?), and Wendy Vandergrift (the production’s stage manager) accompanied by her husband Michael.

Thanks to one and all for coming.

I always scoff at theatregoers who leave a show saying things like, “How did he ever learn all those lines.” For those of us who’ve done this a few times, 99 times out of a hundred learning the lines is the easy part.

Not so with Fully Committed.

The play takes place in the subterranean bowels of one of the snobbiest four-star eateries in Manhattan. Scotty plays Sam Peliczowski, the looking-for-work actor who mans the reservation hot line. Usually Sam shares his basement “office” with the reservations manager and a second phone operator. Today, both co-workers fail to appear, and Sam is on his own.

The hit script by Becky Mode, who by the way is an old college classmate of Robert Throckmorton’s, requires the show’s sole actor to portray 42 different characters—everything from a very soft spoken and polite Japanese woman to a boisterous lounge singer who’s been banned from the restaurant forever. So Scotty is changing characters every few seconds.

But the dazzling part—the unbelievable part, to my mind—is that in many, many instances each of the individual lines that Scotty has memorized has virtually nothing to do with the lines that precede it or the lines that follow. The phone to the outside world is constantly ringing, as is the direct line to the chef’s office AND the intercoms connecting the reservations dept to the maitre d’hotel, the business manager, and the kitchen. Scotty shifts from one disconnected conversation to another with such precision, I’m honestly in awe of the brainpower that must be involved. Because of the lacks of connection, I can’t even imagine how difficult these lines were to learn.

But with Scotty’s capable cognition, it all comes off without a hitch, managing to be both hilarious and heartfelt at the same time. If you love theatre, this performance is simply not to be missed.

The non-theatre question on everyone’s lips is this. Is Scott really joining the military? Answer: Yes, the Navy Reserves. Follow-up question: Is he really leaving Richmond theatre for an extended period of time? Answer: If he gets his way, yes.

Knowing that our nation is at war, and simultaneously knowing that he is no way compelled to join the fight, Scotty nonetheless feels duty-bound to answer the call. He refuses to let the war be another person’s burden. He has enlisted in the Navy Reserves. He has asked the Navy to deploy him to the front, most likely Afghanistan, as soon as his four months of basic training are over. He expects this request to be honored, and he is very excited about having the opportunity to serve.

That’s one hell of a guy. Again, I’m in awe.

But for the next six weekends, Scotty and his comic genius are all ours.

Hope to see you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Theatre Checkbook

Posted by Bruce Miller
It was my turn to sign checks this morning. Lucas Hall, our accounts payable manager, sends out checks two to four times a week. He rotates signing privileges among four of us, so that one of us doesn’t get stuck signing 100 to 150 checks at any one sitting.

In light of recent discussions about the significant costs of sustaining a professional nonprofit theatre operation in Richmond, it was interesting to me, as I was signing away about $25,000 this morning, to record this one tiny snapshot of what Barksdale and Theatre IV spend almost every working day of the year.

I was lucky. This signing didn’t include a show payroll. Show payrolls take the longest.

Here’s what we paid out to vendors today, rounded to the nearest dollar:

$ 3,522 – quarterly payment, Hugs evaluation
$ 598 – partial payment, printing of TIV 09-10 mainstage brochure
$ 778 – printing of TIV annual appeal
$ 553 – annual development trip expenses
$ 610 – HVAC maintenance, Empire & office
$ 145 – copier maintenance, office
$ 450 – set and costume storage – one month
$ 1,096 – partial payment, TIV 09-10 tour brochure
$ 112 – one night, Millie security
$ 1,199 – ad buy, newspaper
$ 3,380 – monthly electric, Empire, office, one actor house
$ 2,919 – monthly water/sewage and gas, Empire
$ 500 – website ad buy
$ 2,173 – set materials this month
$ 3,485 – monthly rent: office, parking, actor house
$ 354 – t-shirts for summer camp
$ 146 – brake repair, one tour van
$ 342 – ad buy, university student directory
$ 200 – monthly IT services, office & box office
$ 239 – Empire dumpster
$ 97 – gas for production van
$ 166 – copier maintenance, Empire
$ 25 – overflow answering service, TIV America
$ 278 – utilities, one actor house
$ 2,010 – monthly phone / Internet

These bills add up to approximately $25,000. All told this week, we paid out approximately $139,000. Our average weekly payout is $96,000. All told this year, we’ll expend approximately $5 million.

People often ask, “Where does your money come from?” Many people think there’s some sort of fund from which we draw to pay our bills. There isn’t. That $96,000 average weekly expenditure comes from the $96,000 we need to bring in each week. If the money doesn’t come in, it doesn’t go out.

In the case of Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV, on average, $38,275 comes in each week in Richmond ticket sales, $33,480 comes from tour revenue, $1,490 comes from miscellaneous revenue (playbill ad sales, concessions, facility rentals, special projects, etc.) and $22,275 comes in from contributions and special events. This means that approximately 23.3% of our revenue is contributed. The national average for a professional theatre is 40%.

I’ll crunch these numbers a little more in an upcoming post.

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stage 1 Did Everything Right

Posted by Bruce Miller
Don’t get me wrong. By design, no theatre company is perfect. The minute art becomes perfect it ceases to be art. So when I suggest that Stage 1 did everything right, I’m talking about process, not product.

As most if not all of you have heard by now, Stage 1 Theatre Company is closing its doors. There is no mystery here. Chase Kniffen, founding artistic director, comes right out and says it. Stage 1 is closing due to insufficient financial resources.

This should surprise no one. Nonetheless it does. “How can other companies continue,” some ask, “while Stage 1, which has produced four hit musicals in a row, finds it necessary to fold its tent?”

The answer is simple. From day 1 Stage 1 has operated at a level of professionalism that exceeded that of other fledgling companies. I'm not talking professional intent; I'm talking money.

Stage 1 had its own theatre with enough lighting and sound equipment to stand toe to toe with companies far more established. Chase hired actors, designers and music directors from Richmond’s top tier. If a score called for five musicians, Chase hired five musicians. He aspired to create first class sets and costumes, and produced some memorable designs (and outstanding shows) even while the nonprofit company was still completely wet behind the ears.

I challenge anyone to name any other Richmond theatre company that has worked at this level during its first season, or its second. Or third. The only ones I can think of are Swift Creek Mill, which when it opened in 1965 was a privately funded commercial operation, and perhaps the Renaissance Theatre, which I know only through hearsay. The Renaissance was created in the late 50s when two of Barksdale's original founders split off to start their own company, which burned brightly for two seasons before closing in financial disarray.

The Virginia Museum Theatre (1955) and StageCenter (approx 1970) both started at a high level of professionalism in most departments, but neither paid their actors. VMT was funded by no less a resource than the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, and StageCenter was funded in full by the recent inheritance of Tom Crane-Baker, one of its cofounders. When that inheritance ran out, so did StageCenter.

Professional theatre is what Chase knows. It challenges and inspires him; he is committed to it. From his own accounting, he has little interest in working within the artistic limitations that come with a shoestring budget.

Good for him! One can argue (I certainly do) that Richmond needs more shoestring theatres far less than it needs more major professional productions that will finally give our theatre community as a whole the national standing it's always longed for and never quite achieved.

Stage 1 and all who had the privilege of being involved with it lit up the Richmond theatre scene with ambition, youthful energy, passion and talent. And Stage 1’s driving forces achieved everything they set out to achieve. They broke no promises. When it became obvious that what they had created was a $300,000 theatre with a $200,000 budget (I’m sort of making these numbers up, but I’ll bet I’m close), they had the wisdom and maturity to call it a day.

Nothing is lost. The energy and drive and vision of Stage 1 will continue to live on and ignite the Richmond theatre scene for years to come.

I know, easy for me to say. A new venture is no more; a promise-in-the-making has been put to rest. I in no way mean to belittle the broken hearts which always accompany such difficult decisions.

But as a community of support let's not misperceive that a flame has been extinguished. All that talent is still here. The brightest days lie ahead.

Lessons to be learned? Who knows, who cares? Theatres aren't about answers; they're about questions.

As the incomparable Peter Brook wisely said, “Every audience has the theatre it deserves.” Those of us who care about professional theatre in Greater Richmond need to pull in the same direction. We need to buy tickets. We need to make contributions. We need to lobby our local and state governments to measure up to national standards regarding public support for the arts.

And as that lover of life Edna St. Vincent Millay rapturously penned, “My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night. But, ah, my foes, and, oh, my friends…It gives a lovely light.”

Let us all celebrate the lovely light that was and is Stage 1, and rejoice that all of its candles are still within our midst.

(Photos: Robyn O'Neill in Summer of '42, Brett Ambler and Durron Tyre in tick, tick ... BOOM!, Cooper Timberline in Children's Letters to God, Julie Fulcher and Ali Thibodeau in Normal, Ali Thibodeau and Chase Kniffen at Ragtime: In Concert)

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Barksdale's Sky Shines Over Hollywood Bowl

Posted by Bruce Miller
Jody Ashworth, the leading man who dazzled Richmond audiences last summer as a particularly full-voiced Sky Masterson in Barksdale’s mega-hit revival of Guys and Dolls, is about to be one of the Guys again—this time at the legendary Hollywood Bowl.

This all new, high wattage, star-driven production of Guys opens July 31 in what is arguably the world’s most famous outdoor amphitheatre. The Hollywood Bowl seats an amazing 17,680 people, and was built in 1919 from a design by Lloyd Wright, son of renowned architect and namesake father Frank.

Jody was cast in this production of Guys by director Richard Jay-Alexander (Associate Director and Executive Producer of Broadway’s Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and Five Guys Named Mo) and Tony-winning choreographer Donna McKechnie (Broadway’s original Cassie in A Chorus Line).

This time out, Jody plays Lt. Brannigan. Starring in the production are stage and screen luminaries including Scott Bakula (Tony-nominee for Romance/Romance, Golden Globe-winner for Quantum Leap, pictured to the left) as Nathan Detroit, Ellen Greene (Audrey in the original cast of Little Shop of Horrors) as Adelaide, Tony-winner Brian Stokes Mitchell (star of Broadways’ Man of La Mancha, Kiss Me Kate, Ragtime, August Wilson’s King Hedley II, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Jelly’s Last Jam) as Sky, Jessica Biel (star of 7th Heaven, the longest-running family drama in television history) as Sarah Brown, Ken Page (star of the original Broadway productions of The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Cats) as Nicely-Nicely Johnston, Jason Graae (star of the original Broadway productions of Falsettos and A Grand Night for Singing) as Benny Southstreet, and three-time Emmy Award-winner Beau Bridges (part of Hollywood royalty, pictured to the right with his brother Jeff) as Arvide.

“It’s great returning to Guys and Dolls in a cast with so many wonderful actors,” writes Jody, “but I hope to have the opportunity to return soon to Richmond for another show at Barksdale. This new production of Guys is great. I’m proud and honored to be sharing the stage with such a landmark cast. But I don’t see how this Guys could top the great production we had last summer at the Empire.”

We wish Jody all success in his new endeavor—further evidence that the best of Broadway can be found right here at Barksdale. Like Jody, we too hope he’ll be joining us on one of Barksdale’s Richmond stages sometime soon.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, July 11, 2009

In Memoriam: Robby Robinson

Posted by Bruce Miller
One of the real pleasures of leading the trips that Barksdale and Theatre IV take each year to theatre capitals around the world is making new friends. When we ventured as a group to London and Paris in the spring of 2006, two of the new friends Phil and I made were Robby and Kathy Robinson. The photo above and to the left shows Phil with Kathy and Robby in front of the Louvre.
With fun memories but a heavy heart, I attended Robby’s funeral services today. Robby passed away last Wednesday after a brief illness. He was 76 years young.

Robby and Kathy were proud residents of the Crossridge community, and part of the Crossridge crowd that regularly enjoys Barksdale Theatre. Robby served in the U. S. Army during the Korean Conflict, and he retired several years ago from the Richmond City Police Department after more than 31 years of service.

For much of his law enforcement career, Robby’s beat was “the Pike,” that part of Jefferson Davis Turnpike that extends south from the Lee Bridge. Growing up on the Southside myself, I was always warned that this area was among the meaner of the mean streets of South Richmond. At today’s service, several of Robby’s fellow retired officers commented on how safe this troubled terrain remained under Robby’s watch.

Robby’s favorite pastimes were travel, fishing, and rooting for the Atlanta Braves. I feel privileged to have joined him in the first of these pursuits. Throughout our London and Paris tour, Robby and Kathy were fun, involved and ready to roll—definitely one of the couples we recall with great affection. The bulletin for today’s memorial service says that Robby’s life philosophy was to “always have something to do, something to look forward to, and someone to do it with.” That’s certainly the Robby I remember. Personally, I can’t think of wiser words to live by.

Robby was your basic nice guy; there wasn’t a fancy or pretentious bone in his body. So it’s with a wink to his meat-and-potatoes spirit that we will be dedicating our upcoming production of Fully Committed at Hanover Tavern to his memory. Scott Wichmann stars in this hilarious one-man comedy about another man of simple tastes who finds himself working at the reservations desk for the most pompous and chichi restaurant in NYC. When I hear Scotty’s character talking on the phone with his meat-and-potatoes dad in the play, I’m going to think of Robby, and appreciate that this dad character makes Fully Committed a perfect show to dedicate to Robby’s warm and genuine spirit.

Robby is survived by Kathy, his wife of 19 years, his two sons and daughters-in-law, two step-children and their spouses, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren. He was a good man. Along with many others in the Barksdale family, Phil and I will miss him and remember him fondly.

--Bruce Miller