Posted by Bruce Miller
All of us at Barksdale Theatre are proud to be lighting the fuse of our 5th Anniversary Season back at Hanover Tavern--our 57th Anniversary Season if you overlook the ten years we were away!
I know this sounds cliché, but how can it be possible that we've completed four full seasons since returning to our ancestral stomping grounds? It seems like only yesterday that Phil and I were sitting with Pete Kilgore, sharing the tremendous pride and joy he felt from knowing that his theatre was returning, finally, to his HOME.
It was with Pete's blessing, and the strong support of the leaders of the Hanover Tavern Foundation, that we decided during our negotiations of 2005 to position Barksdale's work at Hanover Tavern as a Country Playhouse Season--the equivalent of the purposefully commercial Pops Series offered by symphony orchestras nationwide.
There were (and there still are) three good reasons why we chose to pursue this business plan.
1 We believe it would be foolhardy to compete with ourselves. We think each of our two seasons needs to have its own artistic identity and attract its own audience. In our Signature Season at Willow Lawn, we focus on theatre as an art form. In our Country Playhouse Season at Hanover Tavern, we focus on theatre as entertainment.
Of course there is overlap. We work hard to make everything at Willow Lawn entertaining and everything at the Tavern artistic. Our experience tells us there are large numbers of Greater Richmond theatre patrons who actively avoid the likes of Boleros for the Disenchanted, The Clean House, James Joyce's The Dead and Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, while enthusiastically embracing Barefoot in the Park, Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, Butterflies are Free, and their seventh visit to Nunsense.
And vice versa.
Barksdale is a big tent theatre. We want everyone to feel welcome and at home. We offer two different experiences on our two different stages because we want to appeal to the broadest possible base of theatregoers. One day, if we can find the time and money, and if we believe it will do no harm to our colleague organizations, we may re-institute Theatre Gym as a third season for a third type of audience member.
2 The second major reason to have a Pops Series is to create an entryway for new audiences. With Nunsense, a musical comedy with very broad appeal, we hope to attract and earn the trust of new ticket buyers who may have such a good time that they choose to return to see another Barksdale production with a lesser known title, or perhaps one that challenges their existing sensibilities. Part of our nonprofit mission--part of every nonprofit theatre's mission--is to educate the community about the art form. You can't educate anyone until you first get them in the door.
3 A third reason to want to attract a broad-based rather than a niche audience is to increase the attractiveness of sponsorship opportunities. Sponsorships are part of the life blood of every large professional nonprofit theatre in the nation. When seeking sponsorships, it's all about market share.
No performing arts organization in town--no other theatre including the "Broadway" series at CenterStage--comes close to Barksdale and Theatre IV in terms of market share and audience diversity. If a corporation wants to support the arts and get its good name out there to a large and discerning audience, they won't find better sponsorship opportunities than the ones offered by the boisterous bunch at Barksdale.
We know there are good people out there who question the business assumptions that inform our programming at Hanover Tavern. There are arts aficionados who prefer niche theatres that focus on one type of programming and/or one segment of the audience. There are arts advocates who would prefer that seriously-intentioned theatres not produce commercial work from Nunsense to Neil Simon, that symphony orchestras with aspirations of greatness not dedicate programs to The Hollywood Hits of John Williams, that ballet companies that seek artistic excellence not feel compelled to remount annual productions of The Nutcracker.
I certainly understand and respect their opinions. However, I believe that in markets the size of Richmond, artistic integrity is job number one, and keeping sufficient cash in the coin purse is job number one too.
After the closing of TheatreVirginia, Barksdale assumed the responsibility to develop and sustain the professional infrastructure (staff, freelance artists, facilities, equipment, production stock) that is required to support not only our theatre but also Greater Richmond's professionally-oriented theatre community at large. With such a heavy commitment on the expense side, financial health cannot be taken for granted.
Maintaining market share is vital for a major professional theatre, particularly when national competition enters the community determined to take it by storm. All of us can name five or six or more beloved businesses that once seemed to be invincible Richmond landmarks. Ultimately, these great businesses faced increasing national competition, lost significant market share, and suffered the dire consequences that inevitably followed.
At Barksdale and Theatre IV, we're working our hardest (and smartest) to continue to make our companies invaluable assets to the Greater Richmond community. We appreciate your support. We believe having a major theatre in Central Virginia that can sustain a professional infrastructure is essential, not just for us, but also for every theatre in town and the community in general.
So what exactly are we offering on the 2010 Country Playhouse Season? Five shows that I LOVE! I'm very excited about this year's lineup. You can find it on our website: http://www.barksdalerichmond.org/. Or you can wait a day or two and I'll outline our upcoming Tavern shows here on the Barksdale blog.
Hope you'll consider subscribing to our wonderful Country Playhouse Season at Hanover Tavern and our inviting Signature Season at Willow Lawn. We need and cherish every subscriber we can get.
After all, subscribing is the best way to guarantee that ... I'll see you at the theatre!