Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some Behind the Scenes Financial Info

Posted by Bruce Miller
Let's face facts. The recession has kicked Barksdale Theatre in the shins just like it has everyone else. Sadly, recovery in the nonprofit sector lags about two years behind recovery in the for-profit sector.

Contributions donated by governments, corporations and foundations are based on earnings from the previous, not the current, fiscal year. So these contributions always fall one year behind recovery. In fact, they usually fall two years behind. Institutional givers tend to hang on to their funds until they have two years worth of evidence that the recovery is real, not just an aberration.

They're wise to do so.

Ask any nonprofit and they'll likely tell you that 2010-11 contributions from governments, corporations and foundations are at a five-year low. Gifts from individuals are starting to turn the corner, thank goodness.

That means we're re-energizing our efforts to ask for financial support from the community. Just like our good friends at public television and radio, we're going to have to keep asking until our budget revenue goals are met.

We're also increasing our cost-cutting.

Our biggest expense cuts thus far have been the elimination of six staff positions (mostly through attrition), elimination of company contributions to staff retirement plans, 25% reduction in company contributions to staff health insurance, and a graduated, across-the-board reduction in staff salaries (with those earning the most taking the biggest cuts).

The last few years have been all about belt tightening. No one here makes very much. At least we all know that the suffering here is reflective of the financial pain felt by much of the nation.

Our priority now is to protect current staff positions from additional job elimination and salary/benefit cuts. If we are able to maintain that status quo, our next goal is to restore salary reductions. Thereafter we want to decrease stress by restoring some of the cut positions. Finally, we're committed to funding a staff pay raise, something our incredibly loyal employees haven't seen in four years.

This hoped for recovery and progress won't be easy, but we're giving it our best shot. Competition for ticket buyers, school field trips, and contributions increases regularly. Competition is good, but it can also put a strain on earned revenues.

We've already made all the big expense cuts we can make. Expenses this year between our two nonprofit companies are more than $100,000 under budget. So now we're going after some smaller expenses.

Starting immediately, we're eliminating two long-established perqs: closing cast parties for Barksdale productions (we eliminated closing parties at the end of shorter Theatre IV runs about four years ago), and company dinners held between the afternoon and evening tech rehearsals of Barksdale shows.

We will have nine Barksdale mainstage productions next year--five on the Signature Season and four at Hanover Tavern. Each closing party is budgeted at $200, and each tech dinner at $350. Annual savings, therefore, will be about $5,000.

We know many of you who work with us on our shows will miss these fun fellowship opportunities. We'll miss them too. We also know you wholeheartedly support our efforts to keep Barksdale growing and going strong.

Thanks for your understanding, talent and hard work.

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Poetry Out Loud State Final 2011

Thank you, Virginia's 2011 Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest participating teachers and high school students! This year 227 teachers and 8,653 high school students participated in Poetry Out Loud holding recitation contests in their classrooms, schools and advancing their school champion to the regional contests throughout the commonwealth.

Of the 76 school champions competing in the regional contests, 16 regional finalists advanced to the State Finals in Richmond at Theatre IV's historic Empire Theatre on March 17, 2011. After three rounds of poetry recitation, Carol V. Decker of Tuscaroara High School in Leesburg, Loudoun County was declared the highest scoring student and Virginia's 2011 Poetry Out Loud State Champion. Colleen Murphy of William Monroe High School in Greene County was declared State Runner-Up.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, partners with state arts agencies across the nation to support Poetry Out Loud. The contest serves 350,000 students throughout the nation. Poetry Out Loud encourages the nation's youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation and helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. Here in Virginia, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Peggy J. Baggett, Executive Director sponsors the contest. Theatre IV and Barksdale Theatre are proud to be the administrator of this program throughout Virginia.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Themes of Karen Karen Zacarías's "Legacy of Light"

Posted by Bruce Miller
It's cliché, but nonetheless true. You'll never please all of the people all of the time.

More and more I believe this is particularly true with theatre, that most accessible of art forms. Virtually everyone considers theatre to be something they "get." Thank God for that. Theatre has never been highbrow or esoteric; it never will be.

Sure, there are the Waiting for Godot's and Rhinoceros's of the world (Beckett's Godot will be produced this spring by Henley Street, and Terrie and I saw Ionesco's Rhinoceros last Saturday at William & Mary). But even with these purposefully nebulous masterpieces, most audience members join in on the laughs and then have further fun discussing the deeper meanings of these multi-faceted literary classics.

And there are high caliber contemporary works like Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (currently under co-production by Henley Street and Triangle) and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia (produced earlier this season by Richmond Shakes). These great plays let the audience know early on that they intend to intellectually challenge and, perhaps, spiritually provoke. The audience "gets" this, and winds up loving the show (or not) based at least somewhat on whether they like to be invited into the fray.

Then there are plays like our current production of Legacy of Light by Karen Zacarías. Everyone seems to be appreciating this production. But some people walk away LOVING it--over the top in all caps--while others walk away with something like a shrug.

Legacy is not purposefully nebulous; it doesn't seek to challenge or provoke. So within the first few scenes, some audience members think they "get" what Legacy is all about, or they try to "get" it, and then some of them sit through the rest of the 2 hour 5 minute production somewhat indifferent as the unfolding action fails to further amplify the theme they think they "got."

Part of this may be my fault. Early on I've discussed with our various marketing staffers that Legacy can be viewed as a "girl power" play, focusing as it does on the lives of two great women scientists. I've called it a "mother/daughter" play, and indeed it is. "Girl power" and "mother/daughter" are two strong marketing themes you can hang your hat on. Those people who study these things tell us that, unless you're the Triangle Players or mounting a production of Lombardi, between 70 and 80% of all your ticket buyers will be women. And so, as we've attempted to sell Legacy to the Richmond theatergoing public, we've been hyping the "girl power" and "mother/daughter" themes.

Maybe this is why some people think that Legacy is principally about women trying to balance their personal and professional goals, or gender equality. Certainly the play addresses those themes, and was inspired by the playwright's personal experience of those issues. But I don't think that's what the play is principally about. And the trouble is, if one decides that Legacy is meant to thoroughly discuss those concerns, then the contemporary scenes, as Karen Zacarías has written them, may fall a little flat. In the contemporary scenes, "gender equality" is more or less a given.

May I humbly suggest that the principal themes of Legacy of Light are:
1 legacy - what do we get from our forebears and what do we leave to our children;
2 life, death and immortality; and
3 the interconnectedness of all things across time and space.

Among the many who LOVE Legacy of Light, these three themes are the ones most frequently discussed. The play examines these themes in terms that are scientific, spiritual and personal.

Like our previous productions of Boleros for the Disenchanted, The Clean House, Well, Melissa Arctic and James Joyce's The Dead, Legacy of Light is about lots of things. With plays like these, I think there is a danger, while watching and after, in trying to pin them down. They are best experienced, in my humble opinion, by allowing them to wash over you and lead you simultaneously on two or five different spiritual and intellectual journeys.

The fun, for me, comes at the end, in trying to piece all the various journeys together.

These productions are not esoteric, but, like great poetry, or music, or art, or dance, they also may take a while to pin down.

That is their strength.

--Bruce Miller

Who's in the pics? - 1 Ricardo Melendez and Patricia Duran, 2 Tamara Johnson and Maggie Horan, 3 Larry Cook and Tamara Johnson