Monday, March 15, 2010

Sister Theatre Has a Hit!

Posted by Billy Christopher Maupin

It looks like Theatre IV has a huge hit on it's hands with the reunion of the original 1988 cast (Gordon Bass, Larry Cook, Jenny Hundley, Jacqueline Jones, and Debra Wagoner) of Jack and the Beanstalk (Book and Lyrics by Douglas Jones; Music by Ron Barnett). The production began student matinee performances on Tuesday of last week and had it's official opening Friday night to an incredibly responsive house. Here are a few of the quotes we'll be pulling from Susan Haubenstock's review in Sunday's Richmond Times-Dispatch:

"...playwright Douglas Jones rings an ingenious change on
the much-loved fairy tale

"wild version of the familiar yarn,
more fun and fanciful than the original"

"While the kids in the audience giggle at the silliness, adults can enjoy raz
or-sharp performances by the actors"

"light and funny" "cheerful" "playful and snappy"

And also Kate Hall with rang in with a thrilling review last night. A few quotes:

"both adults and kiddos were swept into Jack’s playful, imaginary world"

"a fabulous way to spend an afternoon"

"a must-see for Richmond families who want a great laugh
and to create a memory together"

Tickets really are selling fast! So fast, that a performance was added to the final day, even before the show opened! Get yours today!

See you at the theatre!

(Photos on the left side of the page are from the 1988 production [Photos by Eric Dobbs]; photos on the right side are from the currently running 2010 production [Photos by Aaron Sutten].)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Part C: Replacing Brahms with Wayne and Underwood, or "Vox Populi, Take the Wheel"

Posted by Bruce Miller
If this is your first look at my three-part blog response to A. Barton Hinkle's Op/Ed piece, Picking Apart Arguments for Funding the Arts, published in Friday's (March 5) Times-Dispatch, you may want to scroll down and read Parts A and B first. I would provide a link to Hinkle's original dissection, but I can't locate Picking Apart ... on the Times-Dispatch website. I found the other two Op/Ed pieces that shared a page with Hinkle, but his piece isn't there, at least not as of this writing. If anyone can find it, please provide the web address in a comment. Thanks.

As he gleefully "picks apart" the statements of those of us who believe it would be unwise for Virginia to become the first state in the nation to eliminate its arts commission, as recommended by the Virginia House of Delegates, Hinkle states: "Some arts advocates also imply that the arts in Virginia will disappear without state support. There is no denying that some arts organizations will suffer and might even fold. But it is simply not true that closing the VCA would mean the end of drama, the end of symphony music, the end of gallery exhibits in the Old Dominion."

"Some with a soft spot for Brahms and Bryars, for Tallis and Telemann, may be inclined to snicker at the indulgence which confers the name of artist on the likes of Lil Wayne or Carrie Underwood. But a heart moved by pop music is moved no less because the music enjoys commercial success (all the more reason to doubt claims that shutting the VCA will leave Virginians stranded in a world bereft of uplift)."

So there it is. Hinkle is telling us that eliminating all arts funding from the state budget may bring about the demise of arts institutions that generations of Virginians have dedicated their lives to building. But so what? We'll always have pop culture. Seriously. Hinkle reassures by asserting his belief that there's no real difference between Brahms and Telemann, Lil Wayne and Carrie Underwood.

Are you scared yet?

"This touches on another difficulty," Hinkle continues, "namely the tension between artistic merit and latitudinarianism."

All right. I had to look it up too. Latitudinarianism means "holding or expressing broad or tolerant views, especially in religious matters."

In other words, in the gospel according to Hinkle (and you'll find the same in the playbook of many social conservatives), there is tension between artistic elitists (that's you and me, friends) and our pop culture brethren who express their "broad and tolerant" views by embracing rap music and American Idol.

Call me crazy, but I don't feel the tension.

I admit I'm not into rap, but some of my best friends are. I caught most episodes of Simon and Paula last season, and I've always thought Carrie Underwood was cute as a bug. The first time I heard her heartfelt rendition of Jesus Take the Wheel, it brought a tear to my eye. Seriously. I like that song a lot. As anyone will tell you, I'm as corny as Kansas in August, I cry unapologetically at Hallmark commercials, and I teach Sunday School to boot.

I also subscribe to a dogma that has been passed on to me by my parents and teachers from first grade forward. It's a firm belief, a way of living that I'm also trying to pass on to my own children. And that's where Hinkle nails me.

The dogma says this. There is a unique value to great art. Contemporary society has the wonderful opportunity (obligation?) to benefit from and enjoy the classic works of Beethoven, Rostand, Petipa and Benoist, as well as more contemporary masters like Bartók, Nottage, Bausch and Bearden. It is only through the preservation and presentation of great art from the past that we can truly discover, develop, celebrate and pass on to our children the great artists of our present.

The noble work of the nonprofit arts sector is not to dwell on or live in the past, but it is to offer and entertain new perspectives on great work, should that work be a product of the previous week or the previous century. If we don't, if we as a society rely solely on the more accessible delights of the popular and commercial, we will be failing our responsibility to our children and our heritage, to history and world culture.

That brings us to the core of the ideological argument.

"The demand by the anointed for continued favoritism," Hinkle proffers, "is not necessarily ennobled just because it is dolled up in gauzy sentiment." In other words, I can write these blogs till I'm blue in the face, but it doesn't matter. We can dress up our art all we want, friends, but we can't take it out to dinner.

And when we do dare to ask, plead for, demand our seat at the table, Hinkle suggests, the populists who think that Lil Wayne is all that and a bag of chips have every good reason to drive us back into our ivory towers and cut off the funding that allows us to survive.

A. Barton Hinkle is entitled to his opinion. So am I. It's time to take sides. Which side are you on?

During this statewide debate that will probably last the rest of my lifetime, if we allow ourselves to be overcome by fatique, fear or frustration, and throw our hands up and off the wheel, who's going to drive?

I leave you with the immortal words of one of Lil Wayne's biggest hits. Well, at least all the words up to the part where he begins using words I can't print on a family-friendly blog.

I said he's so sweet
Make her wanna lick the rapper
So I let her lick the rapper

Shawty said l-l-lick like a lollipop
She said l-l-lick like a lollipop
Shawty said l-l-lick like a lollipop
She said like a lollipop

Shawty wanna thug
Bottles in the club
Shawty wanna hump
And oh I like to touch ya lovely lady lumps
She wanna lick the rapper

--Bruce Miller

Photo Subjects (top to bottom): Carrie Underwood, Ludwig van Beethoven, Edmund Rostand, Marius Petipa, Marie-Guillemine Benoist, Bela Bartok, Lynn Nottage, Pina Bausch, Romare Bearden, Lil Wayne

Friday, March 5, 2010

Part B: Rolls-Royce and “a Medicaid Patient’s Physical Agony"

Posted by Bruce Miller
After trying to compare, illogically, the arts to scouts, grocery stores, newspapers and places of worship in yesterday's Times-Dispatch (see my previous post, Taking On Those Who Buy Ink by the Barrel - Part A), A. Barton Hinkle moves on to pick apart the argument offered by those who believe that arts funding should stay in the state budget because of the jobs that such funding makes possible.

"Any entity that employs people provides jobs by definition," Hinkle states, "and might be said to contribute to the economic vitality of a community. If that is the standard upon which we justify state funding, then there is very little in the commonwealth that would not qualify."

This argument is gratuitous, and Hinkle knows it. He fails to mention the tens of millions that the state spends each year to create jobs in Virginia and to support the creation and sustenance of small businesses. He asks his readers to compare the nonprofit arts industry to Virginia's thriving for-profit businesses, rather than to the new and/or struggling businesses that receive state support, or the libraries and parks that are the more appropriate comparison.

Here's one specific example. Rolls-Royce is certainly a thriving for-profit business. Yet they successfully made the argument to the Virginia legislature that they needed state support if they were to build a new aircraft engine production plant in Prince George County, about 25 miles southwest of Richmond. In fact, the commonwealth put together a $56.8 million incentive package to lure Rolls-Royce to our state, and no arts-eliminator even suggests that a penny of that package be cut from this year's budget.

For the record, I think the legislature was wise to negotiate this funding, and is wise to keep it in tact. Economic development is vitally important. As Hugh Keogh, CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce told the Times-Dispatch, "If you're going to play in the big leagues, you're going to have to come to the field with more than your glove. Virginia has learned that over the past 15 years."

But if you're pro-economic development, and what reasonable person isn't, how can you scoff at spending a measly $4.4 million to support the 20,000 jobs made possible by the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and still embrace the spending of $56.8 million to support the 140 jobs that Rolls-Royce has promised?

In today's competitive environment, it's sound policy and practice to offer incentives to lure successful businesses to Virginia. If Virginia didn't do it, we'd lose employers to other neighboring states. Rolls-Royce plans to begin hiring 140 workers in the fourth quarter of 2010, but they hope to build their eventual work force to 500 Virginians. Why exactly does Hinkle think the 140 to 500 Rolls-Royce jobs matter, and the 20,000 VCA-enabled jobs don't?

Perhaps he is uninformed. Perhaps he hasn't interviewed any arts leaders, and so he has no idea that our leading arts organizations are routinely wooed by other states that would be all too happy were we to relocate our jobs to their jurisdictions.

Consider this one example. Theatre IV tours nationally to about 32 states each year. This tour generates just over $1 million in out-of-state sponsor fees that come back to Virginia. This revenue is spent by our nonprofit company to pay Virginia salaries and rents, and to buy Virginia goods and services. The Maryland Arts Council has on several occasions mentioned that they would like for Theatre IV to consider relocating its national tour to their state. As incentive, Maryland and its localities contribute to nonprofit arts organizations approximately 15% of each nonprofit's documented revenue. Were we to move our HQ to Maryland, our $1 million in national tour revenue would likely be matched by $150,000 in state and local funds. In Virginia, our national tour revenue is matched by zero dollars in state and local support.

Theatre IV has no desire to move to Maryland. Make no mistake, our HOME is here. But if the Virginia Commission for the Arts is eliminated, costing Theatre IV the approximately $95,000 that we now receive from the VCA in support of the touring instructional programs we present in about 600 Virginia schools each year, we would be idiots not to consider the viability of a move north. With his disregard for Virginia arts jobs, Hinkle may not care. But I suspect there are plenty of other Virginians who would consider the loss of the nation's second largest children's theatre to be a devastating consequence of ill-advised legislation.

Hinkle continues with the manipulative and deplorable tactic of comparing arts funding to the help needed by "a Medicaid patient's physical agony" and "a teenager with severe psychiatric problems (who) can no longer lead a semi-normal life because (the state) has chosen to fund a ballet instead?"

Friends, there is not a single artist I know who is arguing that the arts are more important than health care or mental health. Hinkle and his buddies are making up this hogwash. We cannot let the ideologues fabricate OUR side of the debate and then put it out there in the press as if we actually said it. It may be their intention to make us look self-serving and ridiculous, but we shouldn't sit quietly by and let them do it.

The point is not that anyone believes the arts are more important than helping those in need. The point is that cutting VCA funding will hurt the state budget, not help it. As I've said before, if you want more money to support the worthy causes that the state is honor-bound to fund, then argue in favor of funding the VCA. It's an economic development argument, not a matter of either / or.

The case we are making for state funding is sound. Please read my previous blog post, The REAL Case for the Arts in VA (Feb. 25, 2010). When these arguments are not taken seriously, and preposterous arguments are put in their place, the debate is no longer worthy of respect. It is politics, pure and simple.

Coming tomorrow – Part C: Replacing Brahms with Wayne and Underwood, or "Vox Populi, Take the Wheel"

--Bruce Miller

Taking on Those Who Buy Ink by the Barrel - Part A

Posted by Bruce Miller
A. Barton Hinkle's Op/Ed piece in this morning's Times-Dispatch (Picking Apart Arguments for Funding the Arts) is a classic example of how ideology can trump rational thought and respectful debate. I often hold Mr. Hinkle's editorial writing in high regard because he usually builds his arguments on facts. In this case, as he joins the chorus seeking to eliminate the Virginia Commission for the Arts (VCA), he is either unaware of the facts or he chooses to ignore them.

I appreciate his mentioning that my friend Phil Whiteway "scores a nice point when he notes that politicians are quite happy to trot out the arts ... when trying to court Fortune 500 companies," although Phil's comments were more respectful and serious than A. Barton's condensation.

But Hinkle goes on to say "stripped of the rhetorical filigrees at which the arts community is so adept, the plea reduces to: The arts are nice and do good, so they should get taxpayer support." He misrepresents the position of most arts supporters in an attempt to paint us as frivolous and flighty.

Certainly there are a few in the arts community who have been focusing their defense of the VCA on the intrinsic values of arts in society, and that is their right. But many if not most of us have been saying that the main reasons to keep the VCA in the Virginia budget have to do with economic development, education and tourism. Hinkle, like his ideological cronies, deliberately avoids these more conservative arguments.
Hinkle compares the arts to the "Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts," "health-food stores," "newspapers," and "churches, synagogues and mosques," stating that they also are “nice and do good.” He then reasons, if these nice organizations receive no state funding, why should the arts?

The answers are simple, so it is hard to understand why Hinkle even poses the question.

The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, both of which I support, are membership organizations that admit some and fail to admit others. Fundamentally, they exist to meet the needs of their members. Unlike nonprofit arts organizations, their programs are not open to everyone and they do not exist solely to serve the public good.

Now, if someone wants to argue that not all nonprofit arts organizations put the public good front and center, I'll agree with them in that argument, and together we can go after those slackers. But that has nothing to do with the industry as a whole.

Looking at health-food stores and newspapers, both of which I support, anyone among us can point to entrepreneurs who have made their fortunes owning and operating such businesses. That business model exists in abundance. Nonprofit arts organizations are not owned by anyone. They belong to the public, just like libraries and parks.

I co-founded Theatre IV 35 years ago, but I don't own it. When I retire, there's nothing for me to sell and no financial rewards for me to reap. We can all name grocery and newspaper magnets who have made tens of millions and more, but I challenge anyone to point out to me a person of any wealth whose fortunes came from founding a nonprofit arts organization. Such a person and such a business model simply do not exist.

Considering churches, synagogues and mosques, all of which I support, they are religious organizations. They admit members who share a common religious belief. Fundamentally, they exist to exalt the particular religious belief that is shared by their members, and to serve the community in the name of their God. And God bless them for it. But the reality is this. They have existed for centuries in the United States without public support.

Conversely, there are virtually no thriving nonprofit arts organizations that now exist or have ever existed in our nation without public support from their state government. You will be able to find a few unfunded nonprofit theatres, orchestras, dance companies and visual arts organizations, but it will be impossible to find any that maintain professional standards and thrive without state support.

I'm not speaking only of Virginia. Hinkle fails to mention that if Virginia were to eliminate its arts commission, it would be the first state in the union to do so. Are all the other states just stupid, or might it be that they understand sound financial arguments that the ideologues of Virginia simply choose to ignore?

Coming tomorrow – Part B: Rolls Royce and “a Medicaid Patient’s Physical Agony”

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Subscriptions Growing at Hanover Tavern

Posted by Bruce Miller

In the midst of an avalanche of challenges (snow cancellations, threats to the Virginia Commission for the Arts), there is some GREAT news coming from Hanover Tavern. Bucking all trends, local and national, subscription sales are UP by 10.5%!

First Baptist of Ivy Gap is doing exactly what we hoped it would. It’s selling well and sending happy and heart-warmed Hanover audiences into the cold night air feeling uplifted. We’ve just extended the previously announced six-week run by two more weeks. Many thanks to our extraordinary actresses--Ali, Harriett, Jan, Joy, Maggie, Sarah and Audra (Audra is filling in this week while Sarah is auditioning at SETC) for making this show such a crowd-pleasing hit.

Thanks also to Chase (stage manager), Jeannie (house manager), Terrie and David (set design), Sue and Marcia (costume design), and Slade (light design) for their fine work transporting us to a Tennessee church hall in 1945 and 1970. And major kudos to Ted Soto, Barksdale's Board of Trustees leader extraordinaire. It was Ted who first saw Ivy Gap at Cumberland County Playhouse and brought the play to my attention.

Ivy Gap is helping to define our Country Playhouse Season at Hanover Tavern as the type of pops series that provides a warm haven for those seeking easy-going, well produced, graciously performed, unabashedly pleasant comedies and musicals.

There are those who consider shows like Ivy Gap to be “popular,” and mean the word “popular” to be pejorative. At Hanover Tavern, we’re embracing the “popular.” Seriously, what else are “pops” series all about?

We’re doing our best to entertain and delight audiences at all our venues. We want the great plays in our Signature Season at Willow Lawn to be entertaining, and we work hard to make the entertainments at Hanover Tavern artistically rewarding. But in an attempt to draw a distinction, we program Hanover Tavern to appeal to those who love theatre that reaffirms rather than challenges, that cares more about being lighthearted than serious.

All told, Barksdale and Theatre IV have about 3,000 subscribers at Willow Lawn, 2,000 subscribers at the Family Playhouse, and 1,000 subscribers at Hanover Tavern, equaling six thousand subscribers total. Last season, Hanover subscriptions dropped to 953 subscribers, comprised of 839 renewals, 85 new subscribers, and the return of 29 former subscribers who had lapsed in previous years.

This year (and we won’t complete our subscription campaign until the close of Ivy Gap on March 28) we have 1,053 subscribers at the Tavern thus far, comprised of 900 renewals, 106 new subscribers, and the return of 47 former subscribers who had previously lapsed.

We couldn’t feel more satisfied and grateful. To our loyal supporters, THANK YOU! As we begin our five year plan to grow total subscriptions to the 8,000 level, we’ll do our best to continue to earn your vote of confidence.

--Bruce Miller