Saturday, September 18, 2010

Three Wonderful Experiences

Posted by Bruce Miller
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.

More later.

--Bruce Miller

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Third Time is Charming

Posted by Bruce Miller
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.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

CenterStage Hires Theatre Pro as New Executive Director

Posted by Bruce Miller
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.

--Bruce Miller

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Smile a Day Keeps the Mortician Away

Posted by Bruce Miller
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!

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Four New Interns Lend Their Talents to B'dale and TIV

Posted by Bruce Miller
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.

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Inviting Conservatives to the Arts Advocacy Table

Posted by Bruce Miller
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.

--Bruce Miller

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What's In a Name?

Posted by Bruce Miller
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.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Labor Day - A Time to Celebrate Jobs in the Arts

Posted by Bruce Miller
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.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, September 3, 2010

Little Bits (Bytes?) of Barksdale History

Posted by Bruce Miller
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%.

--Bruce Miller

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My Phantom Blog

Posted by Bruce Miller
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.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards

Posted by Bruce Miller
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.

--Bruce Miller