Friday, December 3, 2010
This is a post written and submitted by Carrie Galeski, Barksdale Trustee extraordinaire. Carrie isn't actually on the Board anymore, but once a Trustee, always a Trustee. During Pat Carroll's recent visit to Richmond (Pat was a guest artist with Irene Ziegler's Virginia Arts & Letters LIVE), Carrie hosted Pat in her beautiful Hanover home (see photo to the right of Pat and Carrie). One of the highlights of the reunion was a visit which Carrie and Pat made to Barksdale stalwart Essie Simms, who now lives on the third floor of the Parsons Health Care facility at Westminster Canterbury. Essie recently entered hospice care, but, to the extent that she is able, she still welcomes visitors. Phil and I stopped by today, but we were unable to rouse Essie from her nap. We'll return next week to visit with our dear friend. In the interim, we post Carrie's lovely article about Pat's return to Richmond and their visit with the irreplaceable Essie Simms.
Our Friend, Essie
By Carrie Galeski
No greater friend has Barksdale Theatre than Essie Simms! She was always at Opening Night, Closing Night, and oftentimes in between. Her passion is theater, and especially Barksdale. Essie was at the first performance of Gold in the Hills at Hanover Tavern in 1954, and I doubt if she ever missed a play after that.
Like many of Essie’s friends, I met her at Barksdale. In the past year, she has had several debilitating strokes, and is currently in the Health Care Unit of Westminster Canterbury. A little over a month ago, I had been told that she had gotten much worse, and some had even been told she was not to have visitors. Being an old RN myself, I don’t always follow rules, so I went to visit her. On that particular day, I found her to be alert and very much in the moment. While talking, I told Essie about Pat Carroll coming to Richmond to do an event at the Cultural Arts Center, and she immediately brightened up. “Oh, how wonderful! I wish I could go” Essie said as she continued to tell me about the many times she had seen Pat perform.
At that moment, I promised myself that I would get Pat up to visit Essie if at all possible. I called Pat at home, and told her about my idea. “We’ll make it happen!” was Pat’s response.
Pat arrived on Wednesday with a full itinerary, but on Friday morning, Pat, my friend, Linda, and I went to see Miss Essie at WC. When we got to Essie’s room, Pat went in first, with her contagious laughter and wonderful spirit to greet Essie. The response was fantastic – smiles and laughter everywhere! They talked and talked; Essie even tried to tell a couple of jokes. When we left, Pat was very touched, and told me that she had expected the visit to be about 10 minutes. Instead, it was over 45!
Friday was also the night of Virginia Arts & Letters LIVE at the Cultural Arts Center where Pat was the guest emcee and also one of the participants in performing the new works. Before the program began, Pat told the audience about our visit to see Essie, and when her name was announced, the audience gave her a round of applause. Then, Pat very graciously announced that she wanted to dedicate her portion of the evening to Miss Essie Simms, with even bigger applause, and I dare say, not a dry eye in the theater.
The next day, we took Pat out to the airport for her trip back to Cape Cod. On the way back to Hanover, we stopped at WC to see Essie. I walked in, and immediately said “Essie, Pat dedicated the evening to you, and you got not one, but two huge rounds of applause!” The biggest tears rolled down her cheeks, and I know they were tears of joy! We even had Pat do a short recording on Linda’s Iphone that we played for her. She was speechless and soooooo happy.
Pat sent several pictures that she had signed to Essie, and I have since framed and hung them on the wall next to her bed where she can see them as she lies in bed. Ursula is even in one of the pics. At times, ES forgets who they are, but not often.
Essie LOVES visitors! When you go, be patient, as some days are better than others with her. The distant past might get mixed with the present, but she loves to see her friends, past and present. Seeing that grateful smile makes it all worthwhile.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
I just got home. It's 11:15 pm. I rehearsed from 10 to 5 today, teching Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming. And now I'll be up for several hours preparing for the adult Sunday School class that I'll lead tomorrow morning at 9:30 am. I have no time to write this, and three things that I have to write about:
1 -- last night's Opening of the Paul and Phyllis Galanti Education Center at the Virginia War Memorial, where I was privileged to be from 6 pm until 7:50 pm;
2 -- last night's Opening of Shipwrecked! An Entertainment at Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn, where I was delighted to be from 8:05 pm until around 11:30ish (there was a party); and
3 -- tonight's performance of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Firehouse, that I was thrilled to attend.
I'll say this and then write more about each of these three rewarding events later.
In many ways, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the best theatrical productions I've ever seen in Richmond. It's an intense, demanding and disturbing play. If you're timid, prudish or care only for theatre that delights and entertains, it may not be your cup of tea and sympathy.
However, if you care about theatre that digs deep, that provokes, startles, questions and challenges--if you care about professional theatre as an art form and a calling, and support its practice in Central Virginia, ring up or log into the Firehouse box office today and reserve your tickets ASAP.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Has any theatre in Richmond ever produced three iterations (the original plus two sequels) of any show before? That’s what we’re about to do with Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, the final of three bluegrass gospel musicals conceived by Alan Bailey and written by Connie Ray, all featuring a multi-talented fictional family church band from the 1940s—the Sanders Family.
I know that the Mill has produced umpteen annual sequels to their Drifty the Snowman holiday musical for children and families. And the Mill has also done the first two of the Sanders Family shows: Smoke on the Mountain and Sanders Family Christmas. Also, the Mill did land office business, I’m told, with Forever Plaid followed by Plaid Tidings, and Greater Tuna followed by A Tuna Christmas.
But can anyone think of a Richmond professional theatre that’s done THREE published (not original), inter-connected shows for adult audiences?
I’m not trying to start a trend. In general, I think sequels in theatre are a little silly. You won’t find us following our revival of Nunsense with any of its eight siblings: Nunsense 2: The Second Coming, Sister Amnesia’s Country Western Nunsense Jamboree, Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical, Meshuggah-Nuns!, Nunsensations: The Nunsense Vegas Revue, Nunsense A-Men (with an all-monk cast), Nunset Blvd (I can only imagine), and Sister Robert Anne's Cabaret Class. (These last three additions had previously escaped my notice and were provided to me by Billy Christopher Maupin.)
I’m not making this stuff up. Those are real sequels, produced somewhere, adored by millions.
Anyway, I LOVE the three Sanders Family shows (and please authors, let it remain only three), because they take me back to my rural Mennonite roots, they’re filled with wonderful characters and terrific music. Luckily for us, we have an exemplary cast that can act the roles, sing the songs, and play 22 different instruments between them.
It's a bluegrass concert fit to beat the band.
Drew Perkins (Burl, the Dad) plays guitar, fiddle, mandolin, banjo and ukulele. He also serves as music director. Kelly Kennedy (stepping into the Vera / Mama role previously filled by Julie Fulcher) plays guitar, piano, harmonium, accordion and spoons. Eric Williams (Uncle Stanley) makes merry on guitar, bass, harmonica and triangle.
Among the younger generation, Emily plays Denise (the female half of the twins). She also plays guitar, harp, mountain dulcimer, washboard, piano, bass, limberjack and tambourine. The male half of the twins (Dennis) is played by David Janeski, as are the guitar, bass, mandolin, limberjack and shaker. Billy Christopher Maupin, when he’s not involved in one of the 287 other theatre ventures that currently fill his dance card, plays Rev. Oglethorpe, who cuts loose on piano, bass and the occasional percussive noisemaker.
And then there’s Aly Wepplo. Aly performs ASL (American Sign Language)—a little less in this show than in the previous two—and plays some traditional and unique percussion instruments: tambourine, shaker, triangle, telephone bell, tugglaphone and wend-o-wheel. She also plays the trumpet. In the show, Aly portrays sister June, the wife of Billy Christopher Maupin’s character. In real life, Aly is married to David Janeski. They fell in love during the run of Smoke on the Mountain, and got engaged, in front of a live audience, following a performance of Sanders Family Christmas.
If you haven’t seen any of the previous Sanders Family musicals, I hope you’ll join us for Smoke … Homecoming. It’s funny, tuneful, and guaranteed to cheer your spirit.
It certainly cheers mine.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Richmond CenterStage announced the hiring of Richard M. Parison Jr. as its new Executive Director in yesterday morning's Times-Dispatch. I don't know Richard yet, but I look forward to meeting him. He comes to Richmond with an extensive theatre background, having provided able leadership to some very impressive regional theatres.
For the last two years, Richard has been working as Producing Director of Barrington Stage Company, a highly acclaimed AEA theatre in Pittsfield, MA, nestled in the Berkshire Mountains. Pittsfield is minutes away from the western border of Massachusetts—actually closer to Albany New York than Boston.
Barrington was co-founded in 1995 by Artistic Director Julie Boyd. In 2004, Barrington developed, workshopped and premiered The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which Barksdale produced to great critical and audience acclaim last December. After its world premiere run at Barrington, Spelling Bee moved to Off Broadway for a run at Second Stage, and eventually transferred to Broadway, winning two Tony Awards (for Best Book and Best Featured Actor).
Stars who have recently performed at Barrington include Marin Mazzie, Jeff McCarthy and Harriet Harris. The 2009-10 Barrington Season included Carousel, Sleuth, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Fantasticks on the Mainstage, and Freud’s Last Session and Underneath the Lintel on Stage 2.
Prior to his work at Barrington, Richard served for four years as the Associate Producing Director of the Prince Music Theatre in Philadelphia. Before that Richard worked for eight seasons as Associate to legendary Producing Artistic Director Bernard Havard at Philly’s Walnut Street Theatre.
Walnut Street Theatre (the building) is the oldest theatre in America, having opened its doors on February 2, 1809. Walnut Street Theatre (the nonprofit regional stage company) was founded by Havard in 1982. With over 56,000 subscribers annually, the Walnut Street Theatre is the “most subscribed theatre company in the world.”
The 2010 summer musical at Walnut Street, Fiddler on the Roof, starred Theatre IV alum Mary Martello as Golde (Mary played Sally Bowles in our Cabaret and the senior military wife in our World Premiere of Four Part Harmony) and Barksdale favorite Rita Markova as Tzeitel (Rita played Cinderella in our Into the Woods and Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls). The upcoming holiday musical at Walnut Street will be Irving Berlin's White Christmas, just like here at Barksdale.
During his dozen years in Philadelphia, Richard was nominated twice for the Barrymore Award in the category recognizing Outstanding Direction of a Musical: Dreamgirls at the Prince and The Big Bang at Act II Playhouse.
A native of northeast Ohio, Richard began his professional career working for six years with Gerald Freedman (Artistic Director), Victoria Bussert (Associate Artistic Director) and Anne DesRosiers (Managing Director) at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival. Another Richmond connection--Phil Crosby, Managing Director of the Richmond Triangle Players, served as the Marketing Director of the Great Lakes Theatre Festival at about the same time.
We join all of Richmond’s theatre community in welcoming Richard to town. I know his expertise and energy will add greatly to our performing arts community.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
New research from Wayne State University in Detroit indicates that those who are most likely to be photographed with a big grin on their face can count on living a longer life.
Kathleen Doheny reports in HealthDay News that scientists have completed a study involving the evaluation of photographs of 230 Major League Baseball players, all of whom began their careers prior to 1950. The size and intensity of each ball player's smile was rated on a scale from nonexistent to robust. "People who had the most intense smiles lived the longest," said Ernest L. Abel, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and psychology at Wayne State.
"The more intense smile, we infer, indicates an underlying happiness, if you will, a more positive attitude," he said. "It's hard to fake an intense smile."
As of June 1, 2009, all but 46 of the 230 players had died. On average, the longevity of the non-smilers was 72.9 years, 75 years for the partial smilers, and 79.9 years for the big smilers. The big smilers had what is known as a Duchenne smile, named after the French neurologist who discovered it. Cheeks and the corners of the mouth are raised, and crows-feet wrinkles appear around the eyes.
To get your Duchenne smile (and the extended lifespan that comes with it), we invite you to come see Shipwrecked! An Entertainment, opening this Friday at Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn, starring Joe Inscoe, Scott Wichmann and Carolyn Meade.
Then you can keep smiling with Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, the bluegrass gospel musical, starring Drew Perkins, Kelly Kennedy, Aly Wepplo, David Janeski, Emily Cole, Billy Christopher Maupin, and Eric Williams. Smoke ... Homecoming is Part III in the Sanders Family trilogy, and it opens the following Friday at Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern.
I can think of few more enjoyable ways to get crows-feet wrinkles to appear around your eyes. Hope to see you at the theatre!
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
I hope you will join me in welcoming four talented, dedicated interns to the Barksdale and Theatre IV family. They will be invaluable this season, as we seek to complete all of our production responsibilities. In alpha order, they are:
Libby Majette - Scenic Arts / Props Intern:
Libby is originally from Richmond and left to attend the University of Virginia, where she earned a degree in Math and Drama in 2009. In addition to her Scenic Charge and Scenic Designer credits at UVA, she worked as Scenic Charge for the Ash Lawn Opera in Charlottesville. She recently completed an Internship with Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota, where she worked as Scenic Charge and Props Master. She will be working directly with our acting Master Scenic, the amazingly talented Julie Gallager.
Richard Mooney - Electrics Intern:
Richard is originally from Fredericksburg, VA, and he completed his undergraduate education in Theatre Arts at James Madison University. After graduation, Richard moved to DC to work with Virginia’s Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre, where he served as a light board operator. In lieu of accepting a position offered to him by Signature, Richard chose to pursue his MFA in Media and Performing Arts from Savannah College of Art and Design. Following the completion of this program, Richard spent time in Orlando, FL, working as an editor for a novel, and then for a film script. Richard did the lighting design for the film when it was produced, and soon after joined the team at Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV as our Electrics Intern. He will be working directly with our Master Electrician, the dedicated and highly skilled Matt Landwehr.
Luke Robinson - Carpentry Intern:
Luke is from Charlotte, NC, and is a recent graduate of Catawba College in Salisbury, NC, where he earned a degree in Theatre Arts. At Catawba, Luke worked as a Carpenter on various productions and served as Technical Director / Master Carpenter for a black box production of Mary, Mary his senior year. He has professional experience as a carpenter on shows in various genres of theatre, and he joins Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV after taking a brief reprieve from his non-stop involvement with summer stock in order to spend some time with his family in Charlotte, NC. Richard will be working directly with our Technical Director and Master Carpenter, the exemplary Bruce Rennie and Hans Paul.
Chris Withers - Theatre Administration / House Management Intern:
Chris is a Richmond native who was first introduced to Theatre IV at a young age. He recalls seeing Theatre IV touring shows during his elementary school years, and he even performed in Barksdale Theatre's collaboration with the Steward School in Grease. Chris is a recent graduate of Christopher Newport University, where he majored in Theatre and worked in various positions, including as an RA, a Front Desk Assistant, an Orientation Leader, and a Welcome Desk Greeter. He also has experience in event planning and public relations. He will be working directly with our new Production Assistant, the accomplished and promising Bryan Leach.
I know I’m laying on the superlatives here, which is a little silly, but I’m honestly honored to be working with four such able individuals, and with our outstanding staff. I’m looking forward to a GREAT season.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
I had a lively and informative conversation this afternoon with a conservative Republican party delegate who also happens to be an arts supporter. I have always believed that, on principle, funding Virginia's nonprofit arts organizations should be on the conservative agenda. It was wonderful to have a full-bodied discussion with a Republican who agrees.
The Commonwealth's nonprofit arts organizations are all about conserving appreciation for and presentation of art forms that have been around for generations. If this conservation ceases to take place, the great art experiences that so enriched the lives of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents will be all but lost to modern temptations such as bar hopping, video gaming, the Internet, and social media. Nonprofit arts organizations conserve the arts in the same way that parks conserve nature and libraries conserve literature. Doesn't everyone want to keep these great resources alive for our children and grandchildren?
The Commonwealth's nonprofit arts organizations are a vital engine of economic development and sound fiscal planning. Healthy and accomplished arts organizations lure major employers to relocate to Virginia cities. Nonprofit arts organizations themselves, like all small businesses, generate thousands of jobs, thereby boosting the economy. In fact, nonprofit arts organizations tend to be uniquely labor intensive. We've yet to reach the point where robots paint our pictures, dance in our ballets, play in our symphonies, sing in our operas, or act in our theatres. We are not a mechanized industry; we're a people industry--the best kind to have in a flagging economy.
Unique among most businesses (small or otherwise), the Commonwealth's nonprofit arts organizations are integrally tied to education. Many if not most perform in schools, welcome students into exhibits and performances, and, when involving students in performance or production, teach the 21 Century workforce skills that are so in demand: creative problem solving, teamwork, critical thinking, etc.
The Commonwealth's nonprofit arts organizations bring money from out of state into Virginia. Much like the film industry, for which Gov McDonnell sought and won increased funding, our nonprofit arts industry has an overall economic impact that greatly exceeds that of most small businesses. We attract audiences from neighboring states into Virginia to see our exhibits and performances. We develop artistic products in state, spending millions in labor and production expenses, and then pay back that investment by touring the programs to paying audiences living throughout the nation.
My new conservative Republican friend could not have agreed more with each of these points. Together, we are going to be assembling a small committee of like-minded conservatives to meet one evening at Barksdale to develop a list of talking points that will encourage other conservatives to begin to appreciate the common sense importance of public support for the arts. In a second meeting, we're going to invite the chairs of various local Republican committees to discuss the issue with us, and allow us to speak to their memberships at their monthly meetings.
If you or anyone you know is a conservative, politically active Republican who understands the value of public support of the nonprofit arts, please get in touch with me. We would LOVE to have you join us in our effort to find common ground between Republicans and Democrats, arts supporters and arts novices, all of whom want the same thing--an economically healthy, educationally vibrant Virginia--ready to meet the challenges and opportunities of this no longer new 21st Century.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
If someone were to ask me to name the #1 reason TheatreVirginia went out of business way back in 2002, I'd say declining ticket sales. If he or she further asked why TVA sales decreased from a peak of 12,000 subscribers in the early 90s to 2,300 subscribers on the date of closing, I'd speculate that the main reason (not the sole reason) was that TheatreVirginia allowed Broadway Under the Stars (the touring road show season at the Landmark) to "own" the name and the perceptions associated with "Broadway."
Not only do I believe this mistake was fatal, I think it was unnecessary. Had TheatreVirginia continued to do big musicals (perhaps two a year) and bring in actual Broadway actors (as they sometimes did), they could have been just as deserving of the name "Broadway" as was the so-called Broadway Under the Stars.
The great secret in mid-size markets around the nation, markets like Richmond, is that many of the so-called "Broadway" road shows that come to town are produced in neighboring states like Maryland, and feature performers who have never worked on a Broadway stage. Ticket buyers don't know this because tens of thousands of dollars are being spent to convince them otherwise. Theatre marketing is an art as well as a science. The fine folks who market the various "Broadway series" around the country are doing exactly what they should be doing. They're doing everything they can to sell tickets. That's their job, and they're good at it. I commend them.
Wicked, I hasten to add before someone seeks to correct me, was an exception. It really was a national tour of a Broadway production. But some (not all) of the touring shows that come to mid-size markets like Richmond represent "Broadway" more in name than in reality. There is nothing wrong with this. That's just the way it is.
No one should be surprised that ticket buyers misunderstand. When one subscription series is labelled "Broadway in Richmond" and commonly called "the Broadway series," and countless ads tout "Broadway is Back," ticket buyers naturally believe that the actors they will be seeing in this series have appeared on Broadway. Certainly the prices are high enough.
So what is a resident professional theatre to do, when it produces big Broadway musicals, staged and choreographed by Broadway directors, and starring actual Broadway performers? The one thing we mustn't do, and shouldn't do, is roll over and play dead.
In a metro area the size of Richmond, the resident professional theatre must market to the general audience with just as many bells and flourishes as are employed by the road shows. The word "Broadway" is not owned by one company and off limits to another. Firehouse Theatre has been marketing itself as Richmond's "Off Broadway" theatre for years--and with great effect. TheatreVirginia should have held on to that magic word, "Broadway," because in many ways, their Broadway musicals were more connected to the Great White Way than the road shows that came to Richmond for a weekend and then headed on to the next burg.
At Barksdale, we're hoping not to repeat the mistake. In anticipation of what was to come, we began producing major Broadway musicals in the Empire in 2008. We're promoting these major productions (Guys and Dolls, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Sound of Music, White Christmas, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, etc.) as "Broadway at the Empire." Or perhaps we will use some other, similar catchphrase. Our marketing department is working out the language, and there will be more details forthcoming regarding our specific Broadway connections.
We invite and encourage anyone who cares about professional theatre in Richmond NOT to cede the word "Broadway" to any and all shows that are booked in from out of town. In my opinion, it's in ALL of our interests to celebrate and elevate the excellent, professional, "Broadway"-caliber theatre that is created right here at home.
We applaud CenterStage and its work. We respect them enough to take them seriously. They're doing their jobs quite well. Our JOB is to keep Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV growing and going strong, even as CenterStage also thrives.
A commenter to a previous post referred to Wicked and CenterStage's "Broadway in Richmond" season, saying, "Behold, the Broadway behemoth is back." I would phrase it differently. The road shows are back. Many of Richmond's strongest connections to Broadway never went anywhere.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Today, Barksdale and Theatre IV employ 30 arts professionals working in full-time jobs. We employed 39 full time workers just over three years ago. We’ve had to reduce and reorganize staff due to financial pressures associated with the national recession--particularly cuts in funding to the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
Thirty seems like a lot of people, and it is. But when you consider all we do (33 different productions, many of them touring throughout Virginia and 32 surrounding states, plus all the ancillary activities), we’re significantly understaffed. Several of our current staff members are carrying the responsibilities of one and a half or two different jobs. Most of our staffers log 50 hours a week, and several routinely exceed 80 hours a week.
In addition to these 30 full-time positions, we employ:
• seven or eight box office and costume shop workers who are paid on an hourly basis,
• four talented interns who work seasonally for weekly stipends,
• a master scenic artist who currently is contracted semester by semester,
• approximately 22 touring actors who keep Theatre IV’s national tour going strong, and
• legions of freelance actors, directors, designers etc whose talents power our mainstage productions.
One full-time staff position is being kept open for a past staff member who is still in recovery from a major illness.
We also budget approximately $20,000 per year for hourly production overhire.
All told, Barksdale and Theatre IV currently invest $1.9 million annually in Virginia’s workforce. If that doesn’t seem like a lot to you, then you’re not one of the ones losing sleep every two weeks worrying about how we’re going to meet payroll. There’s no grand fund set aside somewhere to cover these and other expenses. We pay out only what we bring in. To meet budget, we need to sell approximately $70,000 per week in tickets and tour shows, and raise approximately $30,000 per week in contributions. During this recession, meeting these goals has been, and will continue to be, very challenging.
That's why I vigorously support continued state funding for the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Last year, the House initially voted to do away with the VCA entirely, a move that would have put many if not most of Virginia's arts organizations out of business. Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed, and the Commission was saved, with funding significantly reduced. The funds that Barksdale and Theatre IV are receiving this summer from the VCA are $40,000 less now than they were two years ago.
The arts are a labor intensive industry, which is good for Virginians and the state economy. On average, Virginia’s arts and cultural organizations spend 44.2% of their revenues on labor, 37.2% on other production expenses, 9.8% on facilities, 7.4% on marketing, and 1.4% on state and local taxes and fees. This is a nonprofit industry.
In 2000, Virginians for the Arts, our statewide advocacy group, did an economic impact study in cooperation with the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the Virginia Association of Museums. The study was prepared independently by The Wessex Group, Ltd., located in Williamsburg. The findings of the study indicate that a decade ago, arts and cultural organizations comprised a major sector of the Virginia economy.
In 2000, 12,507 Virginians were directly employed by arts and cultural organizations (full-time and part-time). They were paid $157.8 million in salary and benefits. An additional 6,344 full-time Virginia jobs were financed indirectly by the economic impact that arts and cultural organizations have on Virginia’s support businesses and independent contractors. All told, in 2000, $306.6 million was paid to 18,851 Virginia workers by Virginia’s arts and cultural organizations.
Additionally, the 2000 study found that arts and cultural organizations in Virginia annually generate $849 million in revenues for Virginia businesses and $342 million in revenues for Virginia tourism businesses through spending by out-of-state visitors who come to see Virginia’s arts and cultural organizations. That’s a total injection into the Virginia economy of nearly $1.2 billion.
I know, it’s a lot of numbers, and they’re eight years out of date. But they’re important. If we don’t celebrate employment in the arts, nobody will. Many of those who make decisions about state funding simply don’t care about the intrinsic value of the arts, but they might care—they ought to care—about how the arts positively impact Virginia’s economy.
Fiscal conservatives routinely herald "small businesses" as the engine that creates jobs and drives the American economy. And rightly so. Why they fail to include nonprofit arts organizations among the ranks of small businesses is beyond me. The thousands of jobs that we, as an industry, generate each year in Virginia are just as real, just as vital as any other jobs.
We who work in or care about the nonprofit arts sector need to make sure that Virginia's arts jobs are recognized. We need to remember that Labor Day not only marks the closing of our neighborhood pools, plus the beginning of the Virginia public school year and the NFL and NCAA football seasons, it also represents our chance to remind all Virginians that the nonprofit arts sector and its tens of thousands of jobs represent an irreplaceable force in the state economy. The arts are not a frill or a nicety. We are a cornerstone industry, crucial to the Commonwealth and its financial well-being.
Friday, September 3, 2010
Our two nonprofit theatres are currently engaged in a branding study that will help us determine the future paths of Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV. Two MAJOR thank yous go out to Kelly O'Keefe, Managing Director of the VCU Brandcenter, who is donating his leadership of the study pro bono, and The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia, providers of the grant that funds the research component of the study.
As a part of this strategic exercise, we've been engaging randomly selected audience members in focus groups to learn their opinions about our two stage companies. It's been fascinating to learn what John and Jane Q Theatre-Lover do and don't know about Central Virginia's oldest (Barksdale) and largest (Theatre IV) professional theatres.
It is becoming clear that our illustrious histories are fading, for many if not most, into virtual obscurity, so I've begun to recount the legacies that serve as our foundation by posting a brief new snippet from our theatrical scrapbooks as my "status" on Facebook each Monday morning. I don't know who or how many people actually see these tidbits, so, from time to time, I'll post them here as well.
Here's the story thus far, including the date that each item was posted:
Aug 12, 2010
B'dale / TIV History (Part 1) - Barksdale Theatre was founded in Virginia's historic Hanover Tavern by six NYC actors in August 1953. We're 57 years old! And I think (hope) the founders would be proud. Maybe even a little amazed. I feel the presence of Pete, Muriel and Nancy (pictured below) every day. A blessing.
Aug 13, 2010
B'dale / TIV History (Part 2) - Barksdale Theatre was Central VA's first professional performing arts organization of the modern era. Founded in Aug 1953, Barksdale came 2 years before the Virginia Museum Theatre (TheatreVirginia), 4 years before the Richmond Symphony and the Richmond Ballet, 12 years before Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 21 years before the Virginia Opera, and 22 years before Theatre IV.
Aug 16, 2010
B'dale / TIV History (Part 3) - Before they'd heard of Hanover Tavern, the founders of Barksdale brought their dream from NYC to Richmond VA on Feb 4, '53. Tom Carlin and his partner Stewart Falconer, Pete Kilgore and his wife Perky, their 2 children Kate and Beau, Muriel McAuley, Pat Sharp, and a dog named Rags moved into the home of Aline Miles (Falconer's mom). They lived there rent-free for 6 months as they searched for a home for their new theatre.
Aug 23, 2010
B'dale / TIV History (Part 4) - During a 4-month search, the Barksdale founders found Hanover Tavern. On May 26, '53, they signed a contract to purchase the Tavern and its 4+ acres for $25,000 (that's $202,199 in today's dollars), with $5,000 down. $2,500 was paid on signing. Pete Kilgore cashed in his veteran's life insurance to close the gap on that first $2,500.
Aug 30, 2010
B'dale / TIV History (Part 5) - After paying down the first $2,500, the Barksdale founders had 2 months to come up with the second required down-payment of $2,500 (that's $20,220 in today's dollars). Co-founder Muriel McAuley wrote: "In July we saved over $1,000 by not eating, not smoking and not drinking two fifths of Italian Swiss Colony on Sat nights."
Sept 6, 2010
B'dale / TIV History (Part 6) - Borrowing from each of their families, and pawning everything they had, the Barksdale founders finally came up with the final $2,500 down-payment by the deadline date of Aug 1, '53. The last $10 was in change. Penniless, they moved into their new home. Monthly mortgage = $250 (that's $2,022 in today's dollars), plus interest at 5%.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Just like a man whose leg has been amputated, I've been feeling the presence of this blog during the last several months even though it hasn't been a part of my on-going reality. Once a post is written--and it turns out I've written over 500 posts--it lives on in ether eternity. When someone--anyone--Googles anything from Southbury Summer Playhouse to Lil Wayne, this blog shows up on a radar screen.
In the month of its lowest readership, August 2010, 1,604 people stopped in to visit the Barksdale Buzz. When readership was at its peak (5,370 visits in Oct of last year) 173 readers stopped in every day.
We added zero content to the blog last month (hence the low turnout), and yet 1,604 people showed up for the party. They came after Googling to learn more about Crumbs by Israeli theatre artist Ravid Davera, or David Crank's Emmy Award-winning Art Direction of John Adams, or David Cromer's final Off Broadway performance as the Stage Manager in Our Town. Google, God bless their giga-byting hearts, directed them to Shalom from Israel - May 26 2007, or The Clean Lobby - Sept 23 2008, or My Regards to Broadway Part II - Aug 27 2009--three pages found (you guessed it) on the Barksdale Buzz.
Of course, I'm sure they Googled a million other things as well, and found them mentioned somewhere on this blog. Maybe they Googled your name, and found you here.
Our Marketing Director, Sara Marsden, is fast becoming a master of social and technological media, and she's been urging me to jump back into the blogosphere to help increase visibility (and connectivity) for Barksdale and Theatre IV. So here I am. I'll be writing shorter pieces, I hope, but once again enjoying the opportunity to share some of the thoughts going on behind the scenes at your theatres.
Keep those cards and comments comin'. I hope this will be a two-way conversation. We love to hear from you.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
The nominations for the RTCCAs (popularly pronounced Artsies or Ratcocs, depending on the sassiness of the one doing the pronouncing) were posted on Dave's Theater Blog late Monday evening. Many also refer to the actual awards as "hockey pucks," because of the circular design of the handsome acrylic trophies that are handed out. Meaning no disrespect, I've chosen a Canadian hockey puck to illustrate this article because: A - I couldn't find a photo on line of an actual Artsy, and B - well, I'll let you speculate about B.
Because I swim in the technological backwaters, I knew nothing about the announced nominations until Tuesday morning when I read a nice message that Jacquie O'Connor wrote on my Facebook wall. Our Managing Director, Phil Whiteway, received some sort of message on his blackberry, or whatever phone thing he has, on Monday night. From all reports, the phone of our Associate Artistic Director, Chase Kniffen, began ringing furiously shortly after Dave's initial posting.
I'm so out of the loop that it sometimes startles me.
Anyway, what a nice surprise to discover that Barksdale and Theatre IV are parties to 48 nominations--49 if you count our connections to Neil and SaraBelle November. I greatly appreciate all this recognition.
I really really really don't envy the Richmond theatre critics and the challenges they face in trying to come up with this list of nominees. I think it's great that they're giving kudos to theatres and theatre artists in Richmond. As an economic sector, we need all the attention we can get. But their job is next to impossible. With so many worthy performances, how can anyone possibly choose one set of theatre artists over another. All I can say is, I'm glad I don't have to do it.
My job is an easier one. I get to Monday morning (Wednesday night?) quarterback and make some additional "nominations" of performances that I admired, performances that didn't make it on to the final roster selected by the critics. My "nominations" represent nothing more than one humble opinion--which ain't worth squat. Like the critics, I'm sure I too will leave out people I really liked and am now forgetting, but since these nods of mine carry no weight whatsoever, I hope everyone will put up with my whimsy.
I also get to toss out some comments that have little to do with anything, but interest me nonetheless. It's a blog. So sue me.
First off, I loved everyone in the acting and design teams of the three shows I had the privilege to direct this season: Boleros for the Disenchanted (the wonderful and nominated Carmen Zilles is pictured to the left, next to the wonderful and not nominated Michelle Guadalupe), First Baptist of Ivy Gap, and On Golden Pond. Since I'm completely biased in their favor, I won't single out any one of them individually for recognition here. Except one. I know Joe Inscoe is nominated several times for other performances, but not to nominate him for On Golden Pond?? I thought he was exceptional. I'm just sayin'.
I'm a little surprised (but delighted) to see that Souvenir is considered to be a musical. At the end of the day, I don't care if the critics call it a musical, a non-musical, or an egg salad sandwich--I'm really glad that the excellent work that went into this show was recognized.
I already wrote to Jase Smith individually, and told him I thought his direction of Rent represented his best work thus far and deserved a nomination. I also think that Terence Sullivan was terrific in Rent. In my opinion, he was the major new "discovery" of the year. I thought Durron Tyre was incredible in Rent and deservedly nominated, but I don't think the character of Tom Collins is a lead. In my little world, Durron should be up for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.
In like manner, I was surprised to see that Ford Flannagan's wonderful performance in Putnam County Spelling Bee was nominated in the Leading Actor category, while Debra Wagoner's performance in the same show in a role that was actually larger than Ford's was recognized in the Supporting Actor category. It seems like both of them were outstanding supporting actors to me.
And speaking of directors--I was, a couple paragraphs back--I thought Molly Hood (pictured to the left) did a terrific job with Twelfth Night. Here again, I applaud each of Barksdale's and Theatre IV's directors, but I'm biased so I won't single them out.
I enjoyed noting that The Sound of Music was abbreviated SOM and Servant of Two Masters was abbreviated SOTM. It reminded me of the previous season when Barksdale did Children of a Lesser God and Stage 1 did Children's Letters to God almost simultaneously. Good times. It made me try to think of other plays we might have produced last season with titles that could be abbreviated with some variation of SOM. But I came up with bupkis. It's late at night.
I think the strongest category may be Best Supporting Actor in a Play. All five nominees are equally deserving. And I can think of more than a few others who turned in equally impressive performances in this category--too many to single out. I'm excited that there's a new category for original work--something lacking in the past.
Maybe next year the critics can consider recognizing a break-through performance by someone previously unnoticed, or maybe a "Most Outstanding Debut" category. I thought Laurel Maughan, who is new to our ranks, contributed greatly to Twelfth Night. In the veteran category, I though Jackie Jones was particularly noteworthy playing Golda Meir in her one woman show at the JCC. Somewhere in between, Joe Carlson impressed, I thought, in Grapes of Wrath, carrying a difficult show on his emerging shoulders. Joe will contribute greatly to Richmond theatre's future, should we be lucky enough to hang on to him.
I'm so pleased that Hanover Tavern received some recognition this year; the Tavern was completely shut out in years one and two. I know there will always be those who feel under-appreciated, just like all of us at Hanover Tavern felt in 2008 and 2009. But I think the critics do an outstanding job trying to recognize good work everywhere, and trying to maintain a balance.
Richmond theatre lives and dies by its breadth and depth, and the critics work hard to find examples of excellence almost everywhere. Our theatre community would be greatly diminished without the estimable talents found at our dozen colleague nonprofits: African American Repertory Theatre, Cadence Theatre Company, Carpenter Science Theatre, Chamberlayne Actors Theatre, Firehouse Theatre Project, HATTheatre, Henley Street Theatre, Richmond Shakespeare, Richmond Triangle Players, Swift Creek Theatre, Sycamore Rouge, and the brand new Theatre in Battery Park.
Last but not least, I'd like to tip my hat to the kids in The Sound of Music--maybe in the best ensemble category. They were amazingly talented, professional and accomplished throughout a lengthy run, and were at the very heart of Central Virginia's most popular show of the past season.
So, those are a few random thoughts, signifying nothing. Again, I think the critics are doing a great job and I don't envy them. There's no way they could satisfy everyone. So I salute them, and thank them for their service.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
As the end of the year approaches, it's always good to look back and see what we all accomplished. Nonprofit theatres rely on contributed funds, and we have to earn those contributions every year.
Today I'm listing highlights from the 2009-2010 Theatre IV Season, which ends on June 30 (tomorrow). Tomorrow I'll post a similar listing for Barksdale.
During the fiscal year that will end on June 30, 2010, Theatre IV served a total audience of 581,950 children, parents and teachers.
We produced and presented 129 performances of six plays and musicals on our mainstage Family Playhouse Season in our historic Empire Theatre: The Ugly Duckling, A Christmas Carol, The Song of Mulan, Jack and the Beanstalk, Buffalo Soldier, and The Sound of Music.
These six mainstage productions received excellent reviews from the critics and audiences (and yes, there were a couple times we got burrussed). They were well attended by 42,140 children, parents and teachers.
In partnership with Prevent Child Abuse Virginia, we produced and presented 175 touring performances of Hugs and Kisses, Virginia’s principal child sexual abuse prevention program.
The 2009-2010 tour was seen by 56,270 children in 127 schools spread out over every region of the state. One hundred and eleven children, slightly less than 2% of the total audience, were referred to the Virginia Department of Social Services based on post-performance disclosures. An additional 661 children came forward following the performance to ask pertinent questions.
In other touring, we produced and presented 16 additional instructional programs, including Ben Franklin and His Kite, The Boy Who Cried “Wolf!”, Buffalo Soldier, A Christmas Carol, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, "I Have a Dream" – The Life and Times of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Jungle Book, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Lyle Lyle Crocodile, Patchwork – The Little House Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Shoemaker and the Elves, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sojourner Truth, The True Story of Pocahontas, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and The Velveteen Rabbit.
We performed these programs live before 187,950 Virginia students in 537 Virginia schools. These same touring shows were performed live before an additional 277,350 students who saw the touring shows in 394 performances in 28 states.
In partnership with CenterStage, the Latin Ballet of Virginia, Richmond Public Schools, Chesterfield Public Schools, and Henrico Public Schools, we launched the FIELD Project (Family Involvement in Early Literacy Development), addressing the reading deficits faced by economically disadvantaged students in Central Virginia’s pre-school programs. We serve as the administrator and controller of this landmark arts-in-education program.
As a part of our partnership with Richmond Public Schools in the Kennedy Center’s national arts-in-education program, Performing Arts Centers and Schools, we produced and presented three continuing education workshops with a total of 46 teachers. The three workshops were: “Beyond The Wiz—The Multi-Faceted History of African American Theatre,” “What It Takes to Produce a Musical,” and “Using The Sound of Music to Teach the Holocaust” (co-produced with the Holocaust Museum).
Through our Tickets for Kids program, we made free tickets available to 2,345 economically disadvantaged children in Greater Richmond. Our 2009-2010 partners included 64 local nonprofits including Art 180, Association for the Support of Children with Cancer, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Children’s Hospital, Dominion School for Autism, Flagler Home at St. Joseph’s Villa, Friends Association for Children, Garfield Childs Memorial Fund, Hospital Hospitality House, International Hospital for Children, Massey Cancer Center Children’s Ward, Richmond Area Association for Retarded Children, Ronald McDonald House, Sacred Heart Center, Salvation Army, STEP, United Methodist Family Services, Very Special Arts Virginia, Virginia Home for Boys, William Byrd Community House, and Whitcomb Court Community Center.
With our holiday mascot, Snow Bear, we provided free-of-charge entertainment for the annual Christmas Party at the Children’s Hospital. Snow Bear also participated in numerous community events during the holiday season.
With St. Andrew’s School, we assisted in our fourth year of after-school instruction for economically disadvantaged fourth and fifth graders. This year SPARC took the lead, and we were happy to partner with them.
With Barksdale, we implemented our annual Stage Explorers Summer Day Camp, serving 117 children over a six-week period.
We staged the 13th Annual Fairy Tale Ball, Richmond’s only family gala, entertaining 703 children, parents and grandparents while raising funds for our outreach programs.
We participated as full partners in the Acts of Faith Festival and Minds Wide Open: Virginia Celebrates Women in the Arts.
At the request of the Virginia Commission for the Arts, our artistic director, Bruce Miller, facilitated the annual meeting of Virginia’s major arts organizations, held during the Art Works for Virginia conference.
Working in partnership with the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, we managed Virginia’s statewide Poetry Out Loud national recitation contest. Virginia’s winner was among the top nine finalists nationally.
With Commonwealth Girl Scouts, we hosted four theatre overnights and/or learning days in the historic Empire, providing workshops and performances necessary for 208 girls to earn their theatre badges.
With CenterStage, we participated in and loaned sound equipment for the Grand Opening. We also offered leadership, master classes, workshops and performances for Lights Up - CenterStage’s Open House for Young Artists.
At the request of Henley Street Theatre and Actors’ Equity Association, we served as paymaster whenever union actors accepted contracts at Richmond's smaller theatres. This was our 9th year volunteering our services in this manner.
Our staff volunteered their time for 14 career days; we provided 356 free tickets to charity auctions throughout Greater Richmond.
We owned, operated and maintained the historic Empire Theatre on behalf of the greater community, sharing the facility, often free of charge, with eight other nonprofit groups.
We achieved all of this while maintaining a balanced annual operating budget of $3,167,403 (Theatre IV only, pre-audit) in a very challenging year.
None of this would have been possible without the tireless work of our exemplary staff, and without your support. Many, many thanks.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
My grandfather, Edward Miller, died near his home in Inwood, WV, when he was in his 90s. I believe it was 1967, the same year that the U. S. Congress created Memorial Day.
From 1865 until 1967, the holiday we now know as Memorial Day was called Decoration Day by a large percentage of the population. It took place on May 30. Congress changed the name and the date in 1967 in an effort to beef up a holiday that was falling into disuse. The new date became the last Monday in May, ensuring that it would be part of a three-day weekend and the symbolic start of summer. What better way to beef up a holiday than that?
My grandfather would not have cottoned to the change. Decoration Day was important to him. You may remember from previous posts that he was a Mennonite minister, originally from Springs, PA. Unique among his peers (most Mennonites during that time were strict pacifists), my granddad had given his blessing for his sons and sons-in-law to enlist during WWII. That decision earned him some stiff ridicule, but he believed in the rightness of the decision until the day he died.
My uncle, Will Pettus, died while serving as a doctor during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which, after Pearl Harbor, morphed more or less into WWII. His story is an unusual and honorable one. You can find some of it at http://www.cgu.edu/pages/3282.asp.
Will was married to my father's sister, my Aunt Maude, who is still living. My Uncle Will was and is a family hero. He died in China in 1945, five years before I was born. He is buried in Changsha in a small graveyard connected to Xiangya Hospital. The picture below and to the left is of my Uncle Will and Aunt Maude, and my cousins Anne and Sally.
Every Decoration Day, my granddad longed to tend the grave of my Uncle Will. That, to him, is what Decoration Day was all about--tending (decorating) the graves of family members who had fallen during wartime. Since my granddad was never able to make it to China, he religiously marked May 30 by tending the graves of other veterans who may not have been in his family but were in his proximity.
During a visit to Inwood when I was ten or twelve, he took us with him to the graveyard. We all worked hard, pulling weeds, mowing grass, raking leaves, etc. That evening, my granddad read to our assembled family from a book of war stories. I don't remember what book it was. I only remember it brought a tear to his eye. I have always suspected that war means even more to someone who is a converted pacifist.
This Decoration Day, in memory of my late grandfather, Uncle Will and WWII veteran dad, I assembled a list of ten plays that I think my granddad would have found appropriate to read aloud to his family that night in Inwood, WV. Each has a Richmond connection. I mention one today. I'll talk about others in the days that follow.
Journey's End by R. C. Sherriff was written in 1928. It is set in an officers' dugout at Saint-Quentin, France in 1918, near the end of WWI, and concerns a small group of British infantrymen. After catching the attention and patronage of George Bernard Shaw, Journey's End was staged in London in a production starring a very young Laurence Olivier. It eventually became a major hit, and ran in the West End for two years.
Phil and I saw a revival of Journey's End on one of the trips we led to London. After we came home, Roy Proctor called to ask if I saw any London productions that I would recommend. He was trying to decide what theatre tickets to buy for an upcoming visit. I recommended Journey's End. He saw it. loved it, and returned to Richmond to direct it a season or two later at Dogwood Dell.
The London production I saw eventually transferred to Broadway, where it won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Revival. This classic British drama is a very sober, respectful and sad depiction of the horrors of war. It would make an outstanding Decoration Day tribute to our fallen forefathers.
The Sound of Music is not exactly a military play, but it certainly takes place during wartime. As I write this series about "war plays," I look forward to revisiting The Sound of Music this week. I hope to see you there!
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
This Friday, May 28, we'll be presenting a FUN and FREE event in the lobby at Barksdale Theatre Willow Lawn. We hope you and your friends will come.
The program is entitled Nuns, Nazis and Lederhosen, and it's part of our community connections series. Sue Griffin, our smart and fascinating Director of Costumes, will take the audience on a tour of our extensive costume collection, and none of you will even have to leave your seat.
Sue and her staff have pulled a selection of costumes related to the time and place of our current hit musical, The Sound of Music. In her inimitable and informative style, Sue will dazzle you as she describes each garment, how and why it was made the way it was, and where each particular costume originated.
She's led similar programs for us in the past, and they're always just as fun as they are fascinating.
Here's the blurb:
Nuns, Nazis and Lederhosen - WWII Era Costumes from the Barksdale / Theatre IV Collection
Director of Costumes Sue Griffin has scoured our costume closet for liturgical, WWII era, and Bavarian gowns and garments from productions past. Once again, her guided tour through fashion history will set the stage for the feel and forms of our great spring and summer musical, The Sound of Music.
That blurb was written a year ago. In our conversation of a few days ago, Sue said that the bulk of what she will be bringing to this costume closet "show and tell" will be men's and women's fashions from the 30s and 40s, from both the U. S. and the Continent. Many of the garments will be authentic originals.
And I'm betting a nun and a Nazi will show up in there somewhere. Maybe even some authentic Austrian lederhosen.
Sue Griffin has been interested in costume design since her childhood. She was born in Norwalk CT during WWII. "When I was in second grade my family took a trip to Williamsburg," she recalls. "I saw those ladies walking around in long skirts and I was fascinated. From that time on, I was interested in historic clothing."
Sue learned how to sew at about that same age and would go to the library and check out books on historical costumes, some of which she still refers to today. Clothing, especially historical clothing, fascinated her. "Part of it was the fact you could sit down at a sewing machine and make those things," she says.
Although she sewed costumes for high school and college theatre productions, Sue wasn't aware that you could do it professionally--at least not at first. She earned a B. A. in Art History from Connecticut College in 1963. After college, while working as a buyer for Miller & Rhoads in Norfolk, she became involved in community theatre, then began working with the now defunct Norfolk Theater Center.
In 1980, she moved to Richmond and a new job as head of costumes for TheatreVirginia. She worked there for 22 years as Costume Director. When TheatreVirginia closed in the final days of 2002, she worked briefly for the Richmond Ballet, and then found her new home at Theatre IV / Barksdale in 2003.
Nuns, Nazis and Lederhosen is free-of-charge and open to everyone. No RSVP or tickets are required. The program will begin at 11 a.m. in the lobby of Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn.
Sue's presentation will be followed by a lunch buffet of sliced turkey, ham, roast beef, cheeses, lettuce, tomato, breads, salads, sweets, coffee, tea and sodas. A free-will offering of $5 for lunch is suggested for those who are able. About half of the people who will attend the program will stay for the lunch fellowship time.
I hope you'll join us this Friday morning. And I hope I'll see you at the theatre later on for a show. Now running: The Sound of Music at the historic Empire, and Crowns at the Gottwald Playhouse at CenterStage for the rest of this week. Thereafter, Crowns will transfer to Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn where it will play throughout the month of June.
I first met my buddy David Robbins about a quarter century ago. A theatre major from William & Mary, David had followed his undergrad work with four years at the W & M Law School, followed by a year's work as an environmental attorney in SC.
Sometime around 1982, David gave up his law practice and returned to Richmond to be a freelance writer. If memory serves, he worked mainly for the ad agencies at first. That's when we met. Whatever he was writing, he seemed to be successful at it from the beginning. He's always been one of those smart guys who works hard--compliments I don't award easily. He's always seemed destined for great things.
He spent some time acting. He played a major role in Theatre IV's production of Isn't It Romantic? by Wendy Wasserstein, and he was Dracula at Dogwood Dell. Last night Joe Inscoe said he remembered David as a "sailor on roller skates," and he seemed to be referring to something theatrical rather than a wanton evening on Canal Street.
When Theatre IV purchased the Empire in 1986, David wrote (for free) the copy for the fundraising video we used to help pull together the $2.3 million we needed to purchase and execute Phase I of renovation. The video starred Dee Slominski, Meredith Strange-Boston and Jody Smith Strickler as the three twisted sisters from Macbeth. It was a hoot. More importantly, it worked; we raised the needed funds.
Sometime in the 90s, David began working fulltime as a novelist. His first book, Souls to Keep, is a voodoo mystery of sorts set in the Florida Keys (if memory serves) and has to do with switched personalities. Or maybe I'm getting mixed up. It was published in 1998 with little acclaim, but I bought (and still own) something like four copies cause I like to support my writer buds.
His second book, War of the Rats, was a HUGE success. Overnight it seemed, little ole David Robbins (actually big ole David Robbins--he stands something like 6' 4" tall) became David L. Robbins, the best selling author. War of the Rats focuses on the Russian / German snipers fighting in and around Stalingrad in WWII. It served as the inspiration for Jean-Jacques Annaud's hit film Enemy at the Gates starring Jude Law.
Rats was followed in quick succession by The End of War, Scorched Earth, Last Citadel, Liberation Road, The Assassin's Gallery, The Betrayal Game, and Broken Jewel. He's now hard at work on his next novel, The Devil's Waters. In preparation for that assignment, he's been travelling around the world on cargo ships and conferring with genetic scientists. You can read all about his writerly adventures on his website: davidlrobbins.com.
I haven't read all his books--there's a short stack of them in my yet-to-get-to pile--but of the several I've read, Scorched Earth has always been my favorite. It concerns racial tensions in today's rural Virginia. It's a courtroom drama, full of flesh and blood characters, suspense and stirring action.
I was thrilled when David and his attorney, Barksdale Board member Bennett Fidlow, recently asked if I'd be interested in reading a stage version of Scorched Earth that David has just completed.
Last night, a small team of familiar Richmond stage faces--Ronnie Brown, Joe Inscoe, David Janeski, Thomas Nowlin, Jeanie Rule, Janine Serresseque, Jill Bari Steinberg, Ali Thibodeau, Scott Wichmann, Aly Wepplo, Eric Williams, and Irene Ziegler--performed a table read of the new script for David, Bennett, Phil Whiteway, Chase Kniffen and me. It went really well; we all were excited.
Barksdale is always eager to explore new work, and we are strongly considering producing David's new play, Scorched Earth, sometime in the near future.
Many thanks to David and all the actors who gave of their time and talents last night. I think I speak for everyone when I say it was a privilege for each of us to be together in that room.
I'll tell you more about Scorched Earth as things develop. Till then, hope to see you at the theatre!
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Chase Kniffen (director and choreographer of The Sound of Music [TSOM]), Brian Barker (set designer, TSOM), Janine Serresseque (Barksdale's liaison with Richmond Public Schools [RPS]), and I had the wonderful opportunity of conducting an after-school Educator Training Workshop last week with a dozen or so teachers from RPS. The workshop was organized and facilitated by Susan Damron, theatre resource teacher in the RPS Arts & Humanities Center.
For the last eleven years, Theatre IV and RPS have partnered as Central Virginia's only affiliate of the Kennedy Center's prestigious Performing Arts Centers and Schools program. Through this national arts-in-education initiative, we present workshops that train teachers how to use the arts to enhance instruction across the curriculum at all grade levels. Teachers receive continuing education credits for their participation.
About half of the workshops involve master educators from the Kennedy Center's roster of the nation's best arts-in-education specialists. These days, about half of the workshops are developed here in Richmond by Susan Damron and various artists and educators from Theatre IV.
Earlier this year, we created a workshop entitled Beyond the Wiz. In response to teacher requests, the goal was to enable educators with no expertise in theatre--with the exception of George Wythe, RPS middle and high schools have no drama teachers--to learn where and how to look for plays that feature African American casts and themes but have little name recognition among the general public.
We assembled a panel comprised of Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates from VCU (director, The Grapes of Wrath), April Jones - guest theatre artist at the University of Richmond, Derome Scott Smith - Artistic Director, African American Repertory Theatre (director, Black Nativity), and me. Together we discussed the history of African American theatre in the United States, and explored a large number of plays that have had successful revivals with African American casts even if they were not originally written from an African American perspective.
Each participating teacher left with a new appreciation for the wealth of material out there, an expanded knowledge of where to search for new titles, and an understanding of how to obtain reading copies of less well known scripts.
The subject of last week's workshop was Creating the Team Needed to Produce a Musical. Using The Sound of Music as our case study, I spoke about assembling the lead artists, Chase talked about how the director works with the stage manager and designers to move the process forward, Janine (who works overhire in our costume department) spoke about the various steps followed to create the costumes for a show, and Brian dazzled the crowd with his models and computer work, ably revealing how a designer in 2010 can use technology to more effectively communicate with the rest of the production team.
Throughout the entire workshop, we provided tips on how to create a musical on a budget--a subject near and dear to the educators' hearts and pocketbooks.
This afternoon, I will be accompanying the teachers on a tour of the Holocaust Museum. Again we will use TSOM as our case study, and discuss how to use theatre to enhance instruction across the curriculum by showing how TSOM is being used throughout Greater Richmond's school systems to teach the history of WWII.
This Friday evening, the teachers who have been participating in this workshop series will all come to see The Sound of Music, and take a behind-the-scenes tour after the show.
For decades, education has been at the heart of our work at Theatre IV and Barksdale. As early winners of the Excellence in Arts Instruction Award from the Virginia Dept of Education and the Virginia Commission for the Arts, we're proud to be a valued partner with public and private school systems throughout the Commonwealth.
Hope to see you (and the students in your life) at the theatre!
Monday, May 24, 2010
Our current production of Crowns is co-produced with African American Repertory Theatre, and directed and choreographed by Leslie Owens-Harrington. This entertaining and inspiring musical is written by acclaimed American actress, Regina Taylor.
Taylor is the sixth African American woman playwright whose work has been produced on the Barksdale and Theatre IV stages. Playing the Six Degrees of Separation game, it's interesting to discover the people (and themes) that connect us with this exemplary American theatre artist.
I first encountered and grew to admire Regina Taylor in the early 90s when she starred in the critically acclaimed TV series, I'll Fly Away. My friend (and Barksdale favorite) Joe Inscoe also appeared in that television classic, playing a Southern antagonist to Taylor's character.
Some of you may best know Taylor from her more recent TV series, The Unit. She played Molly Blane, wife of Sergeant Major Jonas Blane. Molly was the strong-willed homemaker who held all the military wives together when their fighting men were called away on active duty.
The Unit was created and executive produced by another great American playwright, David Mamet. Co-starring with Taylor in The Unit was Scott Foley, who played Sergeant First Class Bob Brown. Foley's brother-in-law is acclaimed stage and screen actor Patrick Wilson, whose father, John Wilson, starred in Barksdale's productions of The Fantasticks in 1963 and Generation in 1968.
Taylor was born in Dallas, Texas. When she was in the second grade, she moved with her mother to Muskogee, Oklahoma. Her mother was a Social Service Administration employee and transfers were common.
Having a professional mother provided inspiration to Taylor as she was growing up. "She taught me never to set limits on who I could be," Taylor states in People. "I developed an active imagination very young and was always writing plays and musicals."
Taylor's mother also encouraged a sustaining sense of pride and identity in her daughter. When she entered seventh grade, Taylor enrolled in a newly integrated school. On the first day of session, a white classmate sitting next to Taylor loudly informed the teacher, "I do not want to sit next to this nigger."
Taylor was shaken when she encountered this level of racial hatred for the first time. "I thought, 'How can she hate me when she doesn't know me?,'" Taylor states in People. Later she realized that this early encounter helped her to understand the racial prejudice to which her mother's generation had been subjected. In many ways, this understanding helped to prepare her for her career.
When the founders of Barksdale moved to Hanover from New York, they encountered for the first time the racial hatred exemplified by the Jim Crow Laws, which prohibited mixed-race audiences at any arts event. Facing possible arrest, Muriel McAuley and Pete Kilgore defiantly invited African American leaders from Virginia Union University to attend their plays in 1954, becoming the first arts organization in the state to do so. Not only did they break the law, they broke the back of that particular Jim Crow Law forever.
During her high school years, Taylor and her mother moved back to Dallas. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at Southern Methodist University. While still a student, she was cast in the 1980 TV series Nurse and 1981's made-for-television movie Crisis at Central High, playing Minnijean Brown, one of the nine black students who in 1957 risked everything to proactively effect history when they enrolled in the previously segregated Central High School in Little Rock, AR.
After college graduation, Taylor moved immediately to New York. Her big break came in 1986 when she was cast in an innovative project of the New York Shakespeare Festival - Joseph Papp, Producer. The project was called Shakespeare on Broadway for the Schools. Three Shakespearean masterworks were produced in rotating rep for reduced-price student performances: As You Like It, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet. John Moon, who directed Barksdale's just-closed production of Is He Dead?, was working in the casting department of the Shakespeare Festival at this time. Taylor was cast as Celia in As You Like It, the First Witch in Macbeth, and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, becoming the first actress of color to play this iconic role on Broadway.
In 1989, Taylor received national attention for her role as the drug-addicted mother of a gifted student in the hit film Lean on Me. This led to her TV stardom playing Lilly Harper in I'll Fly Away, winning for Taylor two Emmy nominations, a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Television Drama, and an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series.
Like many acts of great intention, I'll Fly Away was not without controversy. African American film studies scholar Mary Helen Washington argued that the show focused too much on the white characters (the family headed by Sam Waterston) and too little on the character of Lilly, her family and friends. "Isn't it ironic," Washington asked, "that black people, who produced, directed, cast, and starred in the original Civil Rights Movement have become minor players in its dramatic reenactment? Isn't it tragic that after all the protests, all the freedom songs, and all the marches against white domination, black images in media are still largely controlled by whites?"
Similar arguments have been, are currently, and will continue to be leveled against Barksdale whenever we offer to work in partnership with African American Repertory Theatre and/or choose to produce black theatre ourselves. Any nonprofit theatre that follows its heart has to learn to listen to and respect such criticism, while still continuing to do its best to work proactively for the community's good.
During the period when critics like Washington were questioning the focus of I'll Fly Away, Taylor herself said this in an interview with Essence: "In terms of fully exploring a female character, I believe I have the best television role for a woman, black or white."
Caitlin Collins, a Northwestern University student who worked with Taylor during a recent residency, stated the following: "One of the ideas Regina passed onto us, which will stick with me, is the notion that others may try to label you as one thing or another, to name you, but you have the power to name yourself and to follow your own inspiration."
Billy Siegenfeld, professor of dance at Northwestern, added: "Regina Taylor lives a fiercely open-minded creative life, one that constantly questions the received wisdoms about how one should behave as well as the habits of generalization that drive people to categorize each other unjustly."
In recent years, Taylor has also become one of America's most popular playwrights. Crowns was the most performed musical in the nation in 2006. Her most recent work, Magnolia, is set during the beginning of desegregation in Atlanta in 1961. The world premiere was presented at Chicago's Goodman Theatre last year, after a development workshop in 2008 at this year's Tony Award-winning National Playwright's Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, where Phil Whiteway's nephew, Preston Whiteway, serves as Executive Director.
I hope you'll join me soon for our revival of Crowns. We're earning standing ovations at every performance, and the show is thrilling to watch, both as entertainment and inspiration.
Photo Captions (starting at the top): The set and cast of Crowns, playwright and actress Regina Taylor, Shalimar Hickman Fields as Jeanette in Crowns, Margarette Joyner as Mother Shaw in Crowns, Preston Whiteway - Executive Director of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
When I opened Outlook on my computer this morning, and went back a few days to finally read some old emails, I came across this message that Janine Serresseque forwarded to our entire staff on Monday. It made me grin like a little kid with a pony. Make that a cream-colored pony. I decided to cut and paste it here. Some days my job is really fun!
Everything from this point forward is copied from Janine’s forwarded email. I’ve left out children’s names and email addresses just cause that’s what seemed right.
I'm forwarding this love letter to the entire staff. Here is proof that we rock.
From: Ashley Evans [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Sunday, May 16, 2010 9:14 PM
To: Janine Serresseque
Subject: The Sound of Music
I thought I would start with you, since I have your email address from signing up my daughter, who will be participating in Stage Explorers again this Summer. Please pass this to whomever may be interested in my feedback.
Today, my husband and I took our daughter (10) and son (8) to see The Sound of Music….
Where to start… We were BLOWN AWAY
The play was OUTSTANDING in every way!
From the stage to the costumes to the voices to the story line! WOW
The attention to detail was so impressive….
Down to the looks, the expressions, and the scenes, as well as the quality of the voices of all ages and ranges.
It was such a treat and the kids had just watched the movie again recently “to be ready” and they were right there loving it and “in it” the entire time!
Maria and Mother Superior were so good it made you smile to listen, and you wanted to jump to your feet to applaud each time when they were done.
From a regular theatre lover in the audience, I just had to say something. You guys “nailed it” and you should be very very proud of yourselves.
Now this is me, Bruce again. THANK YOU, ASHLEY! I'm passing your kind words on to lots of folks who will be interested in your feedback.
And you "folks" out there, if you have yet to reserve your seats for The Sound of Music, I hope you will do so ASAP. The show really is as good as you're hearing. To break even, we need the support of about ten thousand of you.
With all the attention paid to the "Broadway" series at the Landmark, and all the marketing dollars spent, and all the costs that customers have to pay, it's really worth everyone's while to see how professional Broadway productions that originate right here in Richmond measure up.
Hope to see you at the theatre!
Monday, May 17, 2010
In association with the African American Repertory Theatre, Barksdale opened the revival of Crowns yesterday afternoon at the Gottwald Playhouse at CenterStage. Based on that terrific opening (and the enthusiastic audience response that accompanied it), we have every reason to hope for a replay of the critical and popular success we enjoyed when our two theatres first co-produced Crowns at Willow Lawn in 2005.
Yesterday's wonderful opening was all the more satisfying knowing how hard so many people worked to get Crowns back on its feet. Both in 2005 and again in 2010, we hit a few bumps in the road on the rugged path between first rehearsal and first performance.
When Crowns premiered at NYC's Second Stage in 2002, I read the review in the Times and knew I should take a trip north to see it. The show was only a moderate success in the Big Apple, but it had all the hallmarks of being a mega-hit here in Richmond.
Penned by the great African American actress Regina Taylor, the fervent gospel musical is adapted from Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry's book Crowns - Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats. The interviews that comprise the text of the book are the stories that are retold in the show. Most of the interviews were conducted with church women throughout the South. Many of the stories take place in Richmond.
The women of Crowns talk of their experiences buying hats at Thalhimer's and Montaldo's. They relive their university days, participating in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters. Anyone who grew up in Richmond (as I did), and read the book and/or saw the show, immediately recognized the moving (and frequently hilarious) stories of courage and faith.
When I saw the show in New York, it all seemed a little too glitzy and showbizzy to be real. At least that was my opinion. The actresses in New York really knew how to sing, but they sounded more like Broadway divas than Southern gospel singers. Their dances seemed more designed for the stage than the sanctuary. Everything seemed a little too rehearsed and lacking in spontaneity. Most important, the actresses' connection to the moving and outright funny stories often seemed to be at arm's length.
I knew that when we did the show in Richmond, I wanted to recruit a cast made up entirely of Southern church women who would approach the play not only as a performance, but also as a spiritual revisit to their personal and family memories. I wanted the experience to be authentic.
Both in 2005 and again in 2010, we cast one of Virginia's premier gospel singers in the lead. In both years, the singer began with an enthusiastic "yes"--a "yes" that eventually turned out to be a "no" once the rehearsals were underway.
In both years, the incredibly talented actress / singer whom we had cast called me three or four weeks before the opening to tell me that she had changed her mind. "God told me not to do the show." she said. She was very apologetic, very professional (in gospel terms), and very nice. She sincerely believed (and believes) that God spoke to her during prayer and told her to leave the production.
I like to believe that I too have experienced the "still small voice." I'm a Presbyterian, not a Southern Baptist, and we phrase things differently. I come from a theatre tradition and not a gospel tradition. Nonethelesss... . In 2005, and now again in 2010, I in no way impugn her belief or statement.
You want authentic, you get authentic.
Recasting a lead once rehearsals are underway can upset the apple cart a bit. Recasting a lead in 48 hours when you're stranded in Ireland (as Phil and I were) due to a volcano in Iceland can be one of those experiences you won't quickly forget.
Thankfully, Chase Kniffen was in constant contact with Phil and me when we were stuck for seven extra days on the Emerald Isle. Even more thankfully, when Chase called Margarette Joyner, a very talented singer, actor and gospel artist who happened to work in our costume shop, Margarette said "yes!"
During Crowns 2005, our second pick as leading lady was the luminous Almeida Ingram Miller. Her performance was extraordinary. In Crowns 2010, Margarette Joyner is igniting the stage once again. In both instances, I firmly believe, we wound up with the gospel queen we were meant to have.
In addition to losing our lead, Crowns had to overcome a few other challenges. We had to change pianists mid-stream after realizing that our first pianist played a very contemporary sounding gospel, while the show requires a more traditional flavor. Then our new pianist helped to pull things together by agreeing to accept additional responsibilities as our new music director.
Midway through this process, one of our highly professional and spiritual actresses bowed out of the show for a week when she feared that our changing musical leadership would not allow the show to be all that it should be. Only when the new team was firmly in place did we win our beloved actress back. Talk about committed and demanding--the Crown ladies believe in this show so much, they always put quality and authenticity first.
Once again, you want authentic ...
Then we found out the hard way that another cast member was allergic to the sawdust that drifted up from our shop into our rehearsal hall. When it became impossible for her to speak after a late night rehearsal, we knew it was time to move to another space, which we did.
Eventually, everyone joined in on and/or returned to the task at hand. Phil and I finally returned from Ireland and moved the opening back by nine days, giving us the time we needed to accommodate all the ups and downs. Things were going swimmingly until the day before opening. That's when Chase took the wooden furniture out into the alley to spray paint it black. He left it outside for five minutes to dry. When he came back, the furniture had been stolen, wet paint and all.
Of course, all of this mayhem was happening while we were preparing to open The Sound of Music--the largest show in Theatre IV and Barksdale history--on the same weekend.
Like I said, considering all this, we were THRILLED yesterday when the show went beautifully. The actresses pulled all of the love out of their souls and the magic out of their hats. The audience leaped to their feet at curtain call.
Now we can sit back and watch with pleasure as the show gets better and better as it relaxes and tightens up a bit. I don't want to understate the crazy little challenges we still face with flying fur balls and the occasional renegade hat that insists on going this way when the actress goes that. But I thank all our stars for graciously putting up with me as we on the producing end do our best to work out every kink.
The heroines / heroes of the day include our beautiful and inspired cast: De'Shionay Adkins, Desiree Roots Centeio (also serving as vocal director), Shalimar Hickman Fields, Margarette Joyner, Katherine Louis, Rose Watson and J. Ron Fleming. Once again, Leslie Owens Harrington's inspired direction and choreography continue to shine.
Sue Griffin and Audra Honaker (with a lot of help from Ms. O-H) pulled together a closet crammed with vintage church hats and matching dresses. Chase Kniffen and Trevor Riley (our stage manager) kept the show moving forward in an organized manner. The very talented Francine Jackson stepped in at the last minute as Music Director and Pianist. Our greatly appreciated Tony Williams passed on all the secrets he learned during the first Crowns run, serving as Musical Supervisor extraordinaire. David Powers built a set and a central stained glass window that take your breath away. Kenny Mullins painted everything with light to make it all look finished and beautiful.
Sound man Andrew, who joined the team (bless you, Andrew) so late that his name hasn't yet made it into the playbill, only saw two run-throughs before his first audience. Now he's working tirelessly to get all the right mics live for each of the moments when each the individual women need to be heard--a harder job than anyone could imagine until they've tried to do it.
God may have told one actress not to do this show. Thankfully, He gave everyone else a thumbs up. If you've never seen Crowns before, or if you saw it five years ago and enjoyed it so much you're ready to return, then please join us soon for the one show where the Big Guy Himself has chosen to work directly with our casting department.
Hope to see you at the theatre!