Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mary's Must See List

Posted by Bruce Miller
A third rave review is now out to add luster to all the great word-of-mouth surrounding our current smash hit, Boleros for the Disenchanted. Mary Burruss wrote glowingly in today’s issue of STYLE, under the headline “Boleros Speaks from the Heart.” There are only four more weeks to catch the first major triumph of the Fall Season! I hope you’ll call for tickets today – 282-2620.
"Jose Rivera’s Boleros for the Disenchanted is an exquisitely written Latino love poem,” Mary writes. “This eloquent waterfall of words and flawless storytelling is beautifully dramatized because of collaboration between Barksdale Theatre and the Latin Ballet of Virginia, which brings the flavor of authentic Latin theatre to Richmond.”

Here are some review quotes we’ll be pulling:

A Masterwork of the human experience
Eloquent, Enchanting, Refreshingly Real
Flawless Storytelling ~ Full of Hope and Bitter Sweetness
A MUST SEE for lovers old and new!”
--Mary Burruss, STYLE Weekly

Hope to see you at the theatre.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Queen of the Night

Posted by Bruce Miller
Last night was a very rewarding Opening Night for Souvenir at Hanover Tavern. Many, many thanks to:

Debra and Jonathan for their terrific performances,
John and R. L. for their knowing stage direction, light design and musical direction,
Sue for her world-class costumes,
David for his masterful tech direction,
Slade for his invaluable electrics work,
Joe for his expert stage management,
Chase and Dee for their backstage magic, and
all the amazing theatre artists and administrators who are making this charming production possible.

This true story of Florence Foster Jenkins and Cosme McMoon is inspiring as it challenges our assumptions regarding what is art, which artistic performances have value, and who gets to decide.

As much as we in the audience find ourselves doubled over with laughter at Madame Flo (as Cosme calls her) and her vocal stylings that surely must be sending countless Pamunkey pups running for the hills, we simultaneously find ourselves falling in love with her confidence and generous spirit.

If none of this makes sense, then come see Souvenir, a delightful evening that takes you back to NYC during the glory days of American musical performance. When Cosme begins the show talking about Cole Porter, Elsa Maxwell and the Aga Khan, it took me back to the glory days of the original production of Randy Strawderman’s Red Hot and Cole in the mid-70s, when those same names were recalled on stage during the opening of that most famous of Barksdale world premieres.

If you would like to learn more about the real Ms Jenkins or Mr McMoon, you can sample their recordings at:

and/or you can read the transcript of a radio interview conducted with Mr McMoon in the early 90s in Berlin:

The photos used in this blog post are of the real Florence Foster Jenkins. To see Debra Wagoner’s gracious, hilarious homage to Ms Jenkins, buy your tickets to Souvenir today. Like Boleros for the Disenchanted, it’s not to be missed.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, September 25, 2009

Zak Zooms in on Vampire Zeitgeist

Posted by Bruce Miller
Zak Resnick, who was recently nominated by the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle as Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Jimmy Smith in last summer’s Thoroughly Modern Millie at Barksdale, will be making his NYC theatre debut with the New York Musical Theatre Festival this month, playing a leading role in The Cure, described in blurb-speak as follows:

“In this rock ‘n’ roll fable, two friends stumble across the world’s last surviving vampires. Offered the chance to live forever, one man is seduced while the other barely escapes with his life, setting in motion an even greater fight for survival. At the crossroads of humanity and immortality, lies … THE CURE.”

Is it just me, or do vampires seem to be everywhere these days?

While earning his BFA in Acting and Musical Theatre from Carnegie Mellon University, Zak racked up some NYC concert credits as one of the Broadway Boys, a popular ensemble of tenors who deliver hip renditions of Broadway classics on the cabaret scene.

The New York Musical Theatre Festival marks a great step forward.

In 1983, actor Tim Jerome founded the National Music Theatre Network to produce and present staged readings of promising new musicals, providing NYC exposure and career-building opportunities to countless new composers and lyricists. Four Part Harmony, a new musical about the Vietnam prisoner-of-war experiences of Richmonders Paul and Phyllis Galanti which debuted at Theatre IV in the early 90s, was selected by the NMTN for an NYC reading shortly after its Richmond premiere.
In 2004, realizing that readings were now endemic in American theatre, the NMTN morphed into the New York Music Theatre Festival, presenting full-blown productions of new musicals. For the last five years, the Festival has presented more than 30 new musicals during a three-week fall marathon at venues throughout NYC’s midtown theatre district. Hit shows that have originated at the Festival include Altar Boys, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, and [title of show].

In 2008, [title of show] (a particular favorite of mine) became the first Festival production to transfer to Broadway, complete with its Festival cast.

Many congratulations to Zak for landing this great opportunity so soon after his move to New York. We’ll follow his advancing career with best wishes and great interest.

--Bruce Miller

(All photos are of Zak and the cast of The Cure.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

No Extra Qualifier Needed

Posted by Bruce Miller
Thanks to Dave Timberline's blog, I found John Porter's blog, where John publishes print copies of his reviews. You can find it too, at John Porter's review of "Boleros" .

John wrote a very lovely review, which I appreciate.

So far we've received two raves and possibly the best word of mouth we've had in years. And the phone's not ringing. There's always a danger, when you reach out to an underserved part of the metro population, that your regular ticket buyers will think this play is not for them.

In my opinion, nothing is further from the truth. As Susie Haubenstock stated in her review, "Funny yet poignant, Boleros touches a universal chord." Jose Rivera is such a gifted writer that this very personal story about his parents becomes everyone's story. I LOVE the play, and I hope everyone will come.

Anyway, John Porter's entire review is worth reading, so I encourage you to click on the link above and check it out. Until then, here are the review quotes we're pulling to include in our future marketing efforts:


This play is one of the most exciting evenings I have spent in a theatre. No extra qualifier needed.

Who knows how long it will be until we are treated to something so beautiful again?"

John Porter, WCVE-FM

If you'd like to meet the amazing cast of Boleros, please join us tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. for our monthly Bifocals meeting. All six cast members will participate in a panel discussion entitled, A Long Way from West Side Story - What it means to be Latino in the USA Today.

Hope to see you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Random Ramblings on "Boleros"

Posted by Bruce Miller
I'm told by friends who heard the review on WCVE-FM yesterday afternoon that John Porter has written a glowing assess-ment of Boleros for the Disenchanted. This would be great. The show is getting amazing word-of-mouth, but it's a lesser known title. Every bit of positive PR helps. As of this morning, John's review is not posted on the WCVE-FM website. I'll let you know how to access a copy as soon as I can figure it out.

Two days from now, on Friday Sept 25 at 11 a.m., the cast of Boleros will assemble on our Willow Lawn stage for the first of two panel discussions: A Long Way from West Side Story - Being Latino in the USA Today. Two of our six actors are of Puerto Rican lineage, three have Mexican roots, and one is of Cuban ancestry. All are proud Latino Americans. I'll be moderating the discussion, and we'll be talking about the many gifts that their heritage has bestowed upon them. This panel discussion is one of the monthly meetings of our Bifocals Theatre Project. It is free and open to the public.

Immediately following the one hour discussion, we'll move to the lobby for a casual buffet lunch consisting of lunchmeats and cheeses, breads, lettuce and tomatoes, snack and dessert items, and beverages. A $5 free-will donation is suggested for lunch.

Jose Lorenzo, the Cuban balladeer who opens the show with his stirring rendition of the classic bolero Toda una vida, is also the artist who painted the beautiful and evocative landscapes on display in our lobby. More about Jose later.

We expanded our lobby stage by approximately 64 sq ft to create the Plaza Stage used as a performance space by the Latin Ballet during intermission of Boleros. Dance has been a central component of Hispanic and Latino theatre since its inception. In Hispanic tradition, the dancers are not confined to the stage of the theatre. The dances, always designed to reflect the themes of the play, frequently spill out into the audience and onto plaza stages constructed outside the theatres walls. Rather than invade the Willow Lawn parking lot, we’ve constructed our Plaza Stage inside. Audiences are enjoying this cultural exploration.

Simple platform plaza stages similar to ours have been growing in popularity over the last several years as the impact of Latino culture spreads nationally. You will find plaza stages in most major cities throughout the west, southwest and Florida. Perhaps the most well known plaza stages are the ones used by the Today Show for their summer music series, and the ones found at Disneyland in California and Universal in Orlando,

John Glenn, former artistic director of Barksdale, and R. L. Rowsey, former associate artistic director of TheatreVirginia, are in town to direct and music direct Souvenir, opening this Friday at Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern. I was honored that both talented men were able to join us for opening night of Boleros. It was GREAT to have a few minutes to visit with these two friends, and to hear how much they enjoyed the show. For John, it was his first visit back to Barksdale since he left a dozen or so years ago.

Bernardo Cubria, the WONDERFUL Mexican American actor who plays Manuelo in Boleros and thrills audiences during two of the plays funniest scenes, is also a professional translator. It is his voice that can be heard speaking in Spanish on our pre-show announcement (along with Janine Serresseque, speaking in English). Bernardo is also creating the translation that will be used in October when we begin projecting the dialogue in Spanish super-titles onto the western wall of the theatre during selected performances.

Last tidbit—Michelle Guadalupe, the talented actress who charms as Petra, has now added a second “Whiteway” to her resume. Two summers ago, Michelle acted with the prestigious Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in Connecticut. The Executive Director of the O’Neill is none other than Preston Whiteway, Phil’s super-achieving, 27/28-year-old nephew (pictured to the left). Those of you who knew Phil in his late 20s will note the strong family resemblance.

See you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Those Canaan Days

Posted by Bruce Miller
Being, as it is, the first day of Autumn, I would be remiss to say goodbye to the Summer of ’09 without recognizing that a quarter century has passed since Barksdale began the most prosperous two years of its history. It was on Friday, June 29, 1984 that Barksdale opened Randy Strawderman’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a success of Biblical proportions. The smash hit musical took Richmond by storm. It ran for over two years at Hanover Tavern and then headed out of town on national tour. Joseph was directed and choreographed by Randy, with music direction and arrangements by Barry Hayes, setting and costumes by Jann Paxton, and lighting by Katrina Allison. James Hughes, a virtual unknown with no professional stage experience, starred in the title role, with Sandee Flores (née Hayes) co-starring as the Narrator, the role of her career.

The incomparable Jay Lundy appeared as the patriarch Jacob, and the now ubiquitous David Clark, Larry Cook, and Cynde Liffick (née Cindy) made their first big splashes on the Richmond theatre scene.

The rest of the original cast included Robin Arthur, Regina Christopher, Karen Elaine Cress, Holly Dudley, Robert Easter, Adam Harris, Paul Haynes, Kevin Henshaw, Tyler Lincks, Connie Manson, Harry McEnerny, Robert Pemberton, Don Semmens, Bernard Toliver, and Bryan Wade. Tracy Adams, Graham Cheek, Michael Cole, Philip Jowdy, Rhonda Lipscomb, Bobby Mauney, and Norvell Robinson Jr. joined as replacements and alternates later in the summer.

Terry Little served as Production Stage Manager. Barbara Stanitski stage managed (to be replaced later in the summer by Sybel Crone). Richmond artists Bill Nelson (poster graphic) and Clifford Earl (sun sculpture that held center stage) added immeasurably to the production. Rook Strong and Doug Draucker (alternating with David Jewett) joined Barry Hayes in the onstage combo.

In those days gone by, Barksdale did not have a “season” or “subscribers,” and when a show was a hit, it simply kept running. Joseph certainly was a hit, and its phenomenal run broke Richmond longevity records for all time.

So as we bid farewell to this Silver Anniversary Summer, all of us at Barksdale offer many thanks to the innumberable theatre artists who have added so much to our company’s history. Your incomparable efforts and talents will live on our stage / your stage forever, long after the final curtain of any one particular show.

Your presence is felt and honored.

--Bruce Miller

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Boleros for the Disenchanted" Earns a Rave

Posted by Bruce Miller
Boleros for the Disenchanted opened Friday night surrounded with gala celebrations, and our first review appeared in this morning’s Times-Dispatch. Few things are more rewarding (and more of a relief) than to go through a rigorous tech week and then read a rave review prominently featured in the Metro Section of Sunday morning’s paper.

Here are the review quotes we’ll be pulling from this morning’s review:


Funny yet poignant,
Boleros touches a universal chord

A Comedy with the Ring of Truth

Acted with Brilliance:
Patricia Duran and Jorge Alberto Rubio dazzle
with their searingly honest portrayals.

Carmen Zilles is deeply affecting.

Luis Vega is endearing.

Bernardo Cubria is a delightful heartthrob.

Michelle Guadalupe is a coy spitfire.

Beautifully, feelingly directed by Bruce Miller.

A delicious, funny, heartbreaking journey

Love Abounds!”

--Susan Haubenstock, Richmond Times-Dispatch

It would be impossible for me to give too much credit to this outstanding cast. The theatrical process frequently astounds me. Five and a half weeks ago, I had yet to meet or hear of a single one of my cast of six. Then in two days of NYC auditions, I picked them from nearly a hundred auditionees, and ten days later they began arriving in Richmond for a whirlwind round of rehearsals. During the last three weeks, we’ve spent a LOT of time together. We’ve discussed all the things you discuss when mounting a show with this emotional depth, and we’ve become good friends.

Tricia, Jorge, Carmen, Luis, Bernardo and Michelle are six of the most talented actors with whom I’ve ever had the privilege of working. They have helped me immeasurably to understand the rhythms of Jose Rivera’s beautiful script. Together with our designers and our partners in the Latin Ballet, I think we’ve mounted a first-class production of this major new play.

I hope you will all come to see Boleros for the Disenchanted. It's a beautiful play, the first in our three year commitment to Richmond’s growing Latino community. Our Hispanic Theatre Project is exciting and important, and Boleros is funny and very moving. I’m especially proud to be a part of it all.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Feet Don't Stick to Floor No More

Posted by Bruce Miller
Richmond CenterStage finally opened this evening. It was a wonderful, almost miraculous night! Many in the crowd spoke sentimentally about the first public announcement of the renovation and expansion, which occurred either 8 or 8 ½ years ago, depending on whose talking.

Having earned my stripes as a grand old man of Richmond theatre, I couldn’t stop thinking of the Symphony’s original purchase of the Loew’s in 1980, and Theatre IV’s 1981 Season—the first performance season by any group in the history of this magnificent building.

In those earliest of days, what is now the Carpenter Theatre was named the Virginia Center for the Performing Arts. Nina Abady, the legendary Richmond administrator who provided staff leadership for the $6 million campaign to pay off the mortgage and restore the landmark venue (yes, only $6 million), was just beginning to raise the needed funds. In order to create public interest, she wanted to bring people into the theatre. But she had no money for programming, and the theatre itself, frankly, was a sticky, rickety mess.
All those years as a movie palace (and a declining movie palace during the 1970s) had taken their toll.

During that same time, Nina served on the Board of Directors of Theatre IV. She had attended all three shows in our 1980 Season, which had taken place in another performance facility where your feet were apt to stick to the floor—the Westover (movie) Theatre, South of the James at 4712 Forest Hill Avenue.

The Westover was nothing more than a wooden platform stage that we constructed in front of the movie screen. Despite its humble pedigree, we had staged Theatre IV’s first “adult” audience season there in 1980: The Diary of Anne Frank, A Raisin in the Sun, and The Philadelphia Story. I remember being very proud of all three shows.

Nina knew we were hungry for grander digs. So she struck up a deal with us--a win/win for both parties involved.

If Theatre IV agreed to repair the 2,000 seats in the former Loew’s, scrape all the gum and muck off of the historic tile floors, and produce at least three shows designed to attract a mass audience, she would let us rent the facility for a dollar per seat sold.

We leapt at the chance. It took us about six months to tighten and/or replace all the nuts and bolts on the 2,000 or so seats, most of which had been literally falling into pieces. My dear dad, Curt Miller, who had recently retired from the Defense General Supply Center at Bellwood and was looking for something to do, joined another volunteer named Ralph Antell, who I think was a recent retiree from Philip Morris. Together, the two of them slaved away every day on their hands and knees until all of the seats were once again ready to be used.

Phil and I (and many, many other volunteers) attacked the floor-bound gum and goo with chisels and putty knives, scraping up more hardened grime from the bathroom floors and theatre aisle-ways than I care to remember. I think we must have filled a hundred or so Hefty bags with petrified remains of countless movie theatre snacks.

At last the theatre was ready. Well, "ready" may be too strong a word. At last the theatre was no longer disgusting.
We staged two hit productions of West Side Story (with a 26-piece orchestra no less) and the classic American comedy, Born Yesterday. We also mounted a third production, Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, about which the less said the better. Suffice it to say that Roy Proctor's review was headlined "Who Dunnit? Who Cares!"

By the following year (1982), Nina had raised enough money to begin renovation, and so Theatre IV had to move on to our next rented facility … which turned out to be the Empire Theatre. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Way back in 1981, we LOVED being the first arts group to welcome Richmond’s performing arts audience back into the former Loew’s.

Tonight, 28 ½ years later, we LOVED joining with our wonderful friends and colleagues at African American Repertory Theatre, Elegba Folklore Society, Richmond Ballet, Richmond Jazz Society, Richmond Shakespeare, Richmond Symphony, SPARC, and the Virginia Opera as together we welcomed a new generation of Richmonders back into this great atmospheric treasure.

Congratulations to EVERYONE who has been working so hard for so long to make tonight happen. Whether you date back to 1980, or only 2001 ... Job Well Done!

--Bruce Miller

Friday, September 11, 2009

L is for Language

Posted by Bruce Miller
I love our audience. I think you folks are smart, adventurous and appreciative. I admire your receptive imaginations and expansive hearts.

I know many of you are sensitive to language. I’m thankful for that. Language is a key ingredient in theatre—perhaps the key ingredient. Sensitivity to it is a very good thing.

Boleros for the Disenchanted has some of the most beautiful, evocative and distinctive language you’ll hear from a contemporary playwright. Like Sarah Ruhl, the playwright who gave us The Clean House, Jose Rivera can turn a phrase in a way that sends your spirit soaring.

Talk about sensitivity to language. Jose Rivera is SENSITIVE to language. I like to think I am as well.

I also know that sensitive people are the easiest to offend. This is because our feelings are readily accessible. We wouldn’t have it any other way even if we could. In many ways, that too is a very good thing.

A great playwright—and I believe Rivera is a great playwright—paints with language chosen to evoke strong feelings from the hearer. Particular words and phrases are chosen to stimulate a comic or dramatic effect. Characters speak from their authentic places; they live in real worlds. When they speak, they use real words.

They sometimes use real words that we ourselves may not use. They are not us.

As we all know, real worlds and real words can delight, injure, inspire and offend us in equal measure.

On occasion, I hear from audience members who are offended by the language they hear on our stage. "Why didn’t you warn us?", they ask. This is a reasonable question. I’ll try to provide a reasonable response.

I believe that 85% to 95% of the people who attend our plays are not offended by the language they hear on our stage. Or they are appropriately offended, I should say.

When they hear vulgar, coarse or profane language, they sometimes gasp. They may even be stunned. Nonetheless, they appreciate the way in which the playwright's carefully chosen words and phrases illuminate the character or the situation and draw them into the play. They enjoy experiencing a world that is not their own. They want to ride the emotional roller coaster with the characters, and language helps them do so.

For maybe 10% of you, offensive language jars you out of the world of the play. You hear a word or phrase that you don’t want to hear, a word or phrase that you would never use yourself, a word or phrase that you were always taught should not be spoken in polite society, and the moment you hear it, you are so shaken that you’re no longer taking a journey with the actors. You find yourself sitting self-consciously in a theatre, feeling embarrassed and even a little angry, concerned solely with what just happened in your world, not the world of the play.

I know this; I respect this. I don't like it. I apologize for it.

The theatre artists involved in each production share the job of drawing the audience into the characters’ world. When we suddenly send you reeling into a personal reaction happening in real time, we fail to transport you. We fail at our job.

When faced with this failure—not a failure of intent, but a failure of effect—I struggle deciding what to do.

Here’s what I’ve decided. We will continue to produce plays with strong language—who wants to produce plays with weak language? When a play contains language that approximately 10% of our audience may find personally offensive, I’ll ask our marketing department to place an L in the lower left hand corner of our promotional materials for that play.

L is for language. S is for sexual activity that is seen, not just discussed. N is for nudity. V is for violence.

These letters are not “ratings.” Every play I select to present to you is rated W for Wonderful. If I don’t think the play is Wonderful, then we’re not going to produce it.

These letters are not “warnings.” I would never select any play that I felt required me to warn audience members not to come.

These letters are “advisories.” Understated advisories to be sure. Understated because I don’t want to misrepresent the content of the play and advise anyone that the content is improper or ill conceived. I believe in and stand in support of every play we produce.

These understated advisories are there to prepare the 10% or so of you who find that offensive language takes you out of the play. If you see such an advisory, you can call our box office or check our website and we will provide you with a very detailed description of the content that is being referenced. If you choose not to attend a play after seeing such an "advisory," we will, of course, be happy to refund your ticket price.

This may not all be in place immediately. It will all be in place soon.

Regarding Boleros, the L will soon be appearing in our ads. Boleros is a beautiful, spirit-lifting, heart-warming play. It is filled with wonderful characters and magnificent language. The script includes a few words and phrases that may take some of you out of the play. I encourage each of you to see it.

As always, I welcome and ask for your thoughts. Thanks for your support of Barksdale Theatre.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Star of Stage, Screen and Richmond

Posted by Bruce Miller
Today we’re pleased to wish Betty Ann Grove a very happy 81st birthday. Betty Ann is Richmond’s own Broadway Baby—and she’s such a good friend and familiar face that it’s way too easy to forget what an amazing national career she had before moving to Richmond with her late husband Roger twenty or so years ago.

How big a deal is our friend Betty Ann? Consider these brief anecdotes from the wealth of articles that pop up when you type her name into Google.

When she was only 21 years old, Betty Ann began her seven year stint as co-star of Stop the Music, a mega-hit musical quiz show that began on radio in 1949 and soon transferred to the up-and-coming medium of television. When Cole Porter saw adorable Betty Ann on TV for the first time, his people immediately called her people and offered her the chance to replace Lisa Kirk as Lois Lane / Bianca in the original Broadway production of Kiss Me Kate—Betty Ann’s Broadway debut.

And it wasn’t just Cole Porter who loved her. Betty Ann was so popular and appeared in so many TV shows in the early 50s that her beautiful face wound up on the cover of Look Magazine over a caption that read “America’s Most Televised Women.” And what are the TV credits that earn her recognition as one of the great women pioneers of the new medium? Stop the Music, The Bert Parks Show, The Big Payoff, All in Fun, Ozark Jubilee, The Red Buttons Show, Summer Holiday, The Merv Griffin / Betty Ann Grove Show, The Arthur Murray Party, and many others.

At the peak of her success as a television singer/actress and recording artist, Betty Ann was dating her manager, Peter Dean. Peter Dean took Betty Ann with him on frequent visits to see his niece, a little girl named Carly Simon. Betty Ann had such a strong influence on young Carly that to this day Ms Simon credits Betty Ann as the singer she wanted to be when she grew up.

When Betty Ann returned to Broadway in George M! in 1968 (the second of her four Broadway shows), she was so well known in the entertainment industry that she received second billing after Joel Grey. All the advertising materials for the original production list Betty Ann’s name on its own line, just below the title, in type about twice the size of the names that immediately follow beneath her name, names like Broadway stars Jill O’Hara and Bernadette Peters.

If you decide today that you'd like to buy on an Internet auction site the autographed photo of Betty Ann you see at the top of this post, you can! And if you Buy It Now, you can pick it up for only … oh ... $399!

“Betty Ann Grove is an American actress,” Wikipedia states. “A petite redhead with a powerful voice, she recorded in the 1950s and debuted on Broadway in Kiss Me Kate.”

Even though the Wiki article goes on, it tells such a small part of her story.

Richmonders love Betty Ann for her star turns in The Music Man and Da at Theatre IV, and Driving Miss Daisy and Smoke on the Mountain at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, among others. But as we celebrate with her the joy of turning 81 years young, let’s not forget that Betty Ann Grove is not just our sweetheart, but America's sweetheart as well.

We love you, Betty Ann. Happy Birthday!!!

--Bruce Miller

Look to the Snow and Flowers

Posted by Bruce Miller
We all come from somewhere. And that somewhere is not just a place. It is an identity and a heritage made up of people and spirit. It is language, culture and music. Religion and dance.

My late father grew up in the small Amish / Mennonite farming community of Springs, PA, about 200 miles west of its sister community in Lancaster, and 100 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Springs is located on the Appalachian Plateau at the foot of Negro Mountain, so named to honor the heroism of a freed slave who died in battle during the French and Indian War.

Springs lies in the snowiest populated area of the United States, receiving on average 200 inches of snow per year.
My grandfather was the Mennonite minister in Springs. In accordance with custom, he was not paid in cash. Instead, the farming community provided for my grandfather, grandmother and their six children. One year, when the weather was particularly bad, none of the families had crops to share with their pastor, and so with a heavy heart my grandfather moved his family 100 miles southeast to Inwood, WV, where he found a job at the new Musselman’s apple processing plant.

Mr. Musselman, also a devout Mennonite, hired my grandfather to engineer, build and maintain the equipment that Musselman’s used to make applesauce. One of my grandfather’s inventions was a new, more efficient apple coring machine. This invention transformed Musselman’s into the industry leader it is today.

The mother of Jose Rivera, playwright of Boleros for the Disenchanted, grew up in the small Puerto Rican village of Miraflores (translation: look to the flowers). Puerto Rico is popularly known by its people as La Isla del Encanto – The Island of Enchantment.

The Puerto Rican economy traditionally thrived on agriculture and small family farms. In the late 1940s, a series of U. S.-led projects codenamed Operation Bootstrap transformed Puerto Rico from an agricultural to a manufacturing society, causing the economic collapse of many farm communities. As men and women could no longer support their families, they migrated from Puerto Rico to the Continental U. S. Emigration peaked in 1953, when 75,000 Puerto Ricans made the journey north.

Today, the U. S. Census Bureau estimates that more people of Puerto Rican birth or ancestry live in the 48 contiguous states than in Puerto Rico itself.

The hardships that prompted my father and Rivera’s mother to leave their very different lands of enchantment also enabled their two families to find a different magic forged in love, heritage and faith.

Boleros for the Disenchanted is based on the true story of Rivera’s parents. It is a story of love tempered by time, heartbreak and change. I love this story; it reminds me of my own.

I hope you'll join us at the theatre.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, September 5, 2009

"Boleros for the Disenchanted"

Posted by Bruce Miller
On September 18, Barksdale will open Boleros for the Disenchanted as the first play in our 09-10 Signature Season at Willow Lawn. Boleros also will be the first instalment in our three-year Hispanic Theatre Project.

During each of the next three seasons, we will produce one play from the rich treasures of Hispanic culture. All three of the plays will be presented in English, with super-titles for Spanish-speaking audiences.

The first time I read Boleros, I fell in love with this funny and deeply moving new play. It is written by Jose Rivera, an important and highly respected voice in American theatre. Rivera has written several successful stage plays, and last year he was nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay for Motorcycle Diaries.

Barksdale is proud to be among the first theatres in the nation to be granted the rights to produce this important new work.

Our Hispanic Theatre Project is produced in association with the Latin Ballet of Virginia, Ana Inez King, Artistic Director. Support for this access program comes from the Community Foundation and the Sara Belle November Fund of the Community Foundation.

The goals of the Project are:
1. to create a welcoming atmosphere at Barksdale Theatre for Greater Richmond’s Latino citizens, the fastest growing segment of our metro population;
2. to provide Richmond’s Anglo audience with the opportunity to experience and appreciate the magnificent works of Hispanic culture, both new and classical;
3. to develop and sustain new relationships with Hispanic playwrights, actors, dancers, musicians and other theatre artists; and
4. to strengthen our community by establishing a common ground upon which multiple cultures can come together to experience, celebrate and respond to the universal language that is art.

These are lofty goals. We’re giving them our best shot.

During the last two years of planning, there has been a lot of talk about the terms Hispanic and Latino. I’ve asked a great many people for their opinions, and I’ve learned a lot about how diverse the opinions are. In most corners, both Latino and Anglo, the two terms are interchangeable. The U. S. Census Bureau, for one, considers the terms to have the exact same meaning.

Those who prefer one term over the other tend to do so for the following personal reasons.

To some, “Hispanic” describes the cultures and peoples of countries formerly ruled by Spain—nations in which Spanish is spoken by the majority of the population. These countries include, of course, Spain, plus Mexico and its Southern neighbors in Central America (with the exception of Belize, where English is the official language), the nations in the Western half of South America (in other words, not Brazil, where Portuguese is the official language), and most of the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, etc.). Many also consider the former Spanish East Indies (the Philippines, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands) to be “Hispanic.”

Those who don’t like the term “Hispanic” feel that it recalls the violent conquests that supported the age of the Spanish Empire, which thrived between 1492 and 1898. This feeling was more prevalent in the 60s and 70s than it is today. It was during the 60s and 70s that the term “Latino” grew in popularity, particularly among U. S. residents of Latin American ancestry, mainly because it honored the identity of the surviving and evolving countries rather than their former conqueror.

Those who dislike the term “Latino” mention that the term exists only outside of Latin America, not inside it. The term was created, they believe, to separate and isolate men and women with Latin American ancestry from the rest of the U. S. population. Therefore they find the term to be slightly pejorative. They feel that the term “Hispanic” is used in Spanish-speaking nations to unite, and the term “Latino” is used in the States to divide.

Like all things political, it’s very complicated. There is no one “correct” or universal opinion. People just feel the way they feel. And as I mentioned, most people, both Latinos and Anglos, feel that the terms are interchangeable.

We chose to call our initiative the Hispanic Theatre Project for two reasons:
1. that is the phraseology that our friends at the Latin Ballet preferred, and
2. “Hispanic” is the broader term and allows us to include for consideration plays that originated in Spain rather than Latin America.

We are very excited about our new Project, and eager to share Boleros for the Disenchanted with ALL of Richmond’s theatregoers. I think you'll love the show. I certainly hope you’ll join us!

--Bruce Miller

Thursday, September 3, 2009

In the Good Old Summertime

Posted by Bruce Miller
The books are now closed on the Summer of 09, and the good news is that our recent hit productions of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Driving Miss Daisy and Fully Committed broke last year’s records, adding up to Barksdale Theatre’s selling-est summer ever!

If you look only at the months of June, July and August, the Summer of 08 was the previous box office winner. In Summer 08 we sold or comped a total of 13,500 tickets, grossing $338,218. The box office breakdown looked like this: Guys and Dolls at the Empire (10,922 tickets, $270,260), Shirley Valentine at the Tavern (2,578 tickets, $67,958).

This past summer, Thoroughly Modern Millie never caught fire the way Guys and Dolls did the summer before. We know our audience LOVED Millie (as did the critics), so we’re guessing that sales were sluggish due to:
a. the economy
b. lower title recognition
c. our decision to compete with ourselves by remounting Driving Miss Daisy at Willow Lawn.

When all was said and done, the Millie box office released 7,698 tickets for a total revenue figure of $190,724, nearly $80 K short of the Guys total.
Fortunately, even as sales sagged a bit in the early summer at the Empire, Fully Committed proceeded to knock it out of the park in the late summer at Hanover Tavern. Somewhere in mid-July, you could almost feel consumer confidence begin to turn a corner. The Fully Committed box office released 4,181 tickets and brought in $107,553 in revenue—nearly $40,000 more than Shirley Valentine did at Hanover Tavern the summer before.

Just as we had hoped, it was dear Miss Daisy who put us over the top. Daisy pulled off an impressive performance at Willow Lawn, especially taking into account that it was a revival of a hit Tavern production that did very well in Hanover the previous fall. A total of 2,915 ticket holders saw Daisy, generating $63,955 in revenue. There was no comparable show or slot in the 2008 line-up, and so the addition of this third show made it possible to break last summer’s record.
All told, in Summer 09, we sold or comped a total of 14,794 tickets and grossed $362,232—an approximate $24,000 increase over Summer 08.

So, how do things look for Summer 2010? With the economy starting to improve, and three GREAT productions in the works (The Sound of Music in the Empire, On Golden Pond at Hanover Tavern, and a revival of Crowns starting at the Gottwald Playhouse and then transferring to Barksdale Willow Lawn), we have every reason to be optimistic.

Who knows? Maybe 2010 will be the summer we break $400 thousand.

Thank you for continuing to help us keep Barksdale growing and going strong. I hope you will buy your subscriptions, group sales and single tickets soon, if you haven’t already. We need you. I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

PS – Revenues that came in during the first couple weeks in June for the end of the run of I Ought to Be in Pictures are added into our Spring box office tallies, and therefore not included here.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Posted by Bruce Miller
Richmond is looking pretty good the past couple days.

Yesterday, we did NOT make it onto’s list of the 40 Most Stressful Cities in America. Northern Virginia did (as part of Metro DC), and so did Virginia Beach. What’s with that? Stressed out at the beach?

Today, our fair city DID make it into the BOTTOM ten on’s list of American Cities and Their Addiction to Fast Foods. With a grade of A-, Richmond was the 7th LEAST addicted city in the nation, sandwiched between the respectable eaters in Bangor, Maine and Providence, Rhode Island. Once again, Norfolk scored only a B+ and NoVA a B-.

I’ve always felt particularly competitive with Charlotte, N. C.—all that banking brouhaha. So I took shameless pleasure in learning that Charlottonians are not only among the most stressed out citizens in America, they also rate third from the top in per capita consumption of fast food, earning a grade of F.

As any curmudgeon can tell you, there’s got to be some sort of correlation between reliance on fast food and stress. So what’s Richmond’s secret that keeps us calm and well nourished?

It’s got to be our theatres. Central Virginians love their theatres, and Richmond’s theatres love their comedies.

Stress relief from laughter? Seriously, it’s no joke.

According to a recent study from the Mayo Clinic, laughter is powerful stress-relief medicine. When you laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body.

“Laughter can stimulate your organs,” state the fine doctors at the Mayo Clinic, and honestly, who doesn’t enjoy stimulating their organs every now and then. “Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.”

And the positive effects of a few chuckles and the occasional belly laugh don’t stop there. “A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.”

“Laughter can also ease digestion and stimulate circulation,” which helps “soothe tension and stomach aches.”

And the health benefits of a rousing comedy aren’t just short term. Laughter has been proven to improve your immune system, relieve pain, and increase personal satisfaction over the long haul.

So, wanna keep Richmond as a low-stress winner? Then make an appointment today with the good doctors at Hagadorn, Guadalupe, and Bass. Here are the upcoming comedies you won’t want to miss:

The Mystery of Irma Vep, opening Sept 17 at the Mill. “A werewolf, a vampire and a resurrected Egyptian princess come together with the denizens of Mandacrest Manor for the ultimate spoof of Gothic melodramas. Starring John Hagadorn and David Janeski.

Boleros for the Disenchanted, opening Sept 18 at Barksdale Willow Lawn. There’s a lot of robust humor in this new poetic masterpiece by Jose Rivera. Starring Bernardo Cubria, Patricia Doran, Michelle Guadalupe, Jorge Rubio, Luis Vega and Carmen Zilles.

Souvenir, opening Sept 25 at Barksdale Hanover Tavern. Debra Wagoner and Jonathan Spivey star as the legendary Florence Foster Jenkins and her intrepid accompanist, Cosme McMoon, in this true story of a tone-deaf New York society matron whose foghorn croonings became the toast of Carnegie Hall. Directed by John Glenn and co-produced with Company of Fools.

The Ugly Duckling, opening Oct 2 at Theatre IV’s Empire Theatre. Why should we adults be the only ones to enjoy stress-reduction? Treat your kids to this fun and frolicking musical about finding self-esteem through having and being a friend. Starring Gordon Bass, Eric Pastore, Ali Thibodeau, Duron Tyre and Aly Wepplo.

The New Century, opening the Triangle Players season on Oct 7. The New York Post exclaimed that “the evening contains so many gut-busting one-liners that those with heart conditions are advised to steer clear.” Starring Jackie Jones and Michael Hawke.

Hope to hear you laughing at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Love On Stage

Posted by Bruce Miller
May the “rough magic” of Barksdale’s ancestral home never cease.

During the Tavern run of Smoke on the Mountain, Aly Wepplo and David Janeski fell in love. (They met during the run of Mame at Willow Lawn.) After a rousing performance of Sanders Family Christmas, David proposed…immediately following curtain call. I’m not sure who was more amazed and enamoured, Aly or the audience.

Last night, again on the Tavern stage, Aly and David were married, in one of the most beautiful and heartfelt weddings you can imagine.

It couldn’t be happening to a nicer pair. David and Aly have been sharing their many talents with Richmond audiences for a few years now, mostly at Barksdale, Theatre IV and the Mill. You couldn’t have seen Smoke, Sanders, Mame, Little Women, Altar Boys, Rumplestiltskin’s Daughter, or Of Mice and Men without getting drawn in by the special talents of one or both.

They’ve also been much in demand at Barksdale’s sister theatre, Company of Fools in Hailey Idaho, where Aly in particular has earned a significant following following her performances in Spitfire Grill and Steel Magnolias.

Last night Aly assured me that their plans are to remain in Richmond. After all, Aly is soon to charm our socks off in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Barksdale Willow Lawn, and David will be prompting chills and laughs in The Mystery of Irma Vep at the Mill. Hopefully there will be many more shows to come.

Many congratulations to this wonderful, talented, much loved pair.
--Bruce Miller