Posted by Bruce Miller
The goal of the powers-that-be at Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV is to create a major regional theatre here in Central Virginia.
By “powers-that-be” I mean myself and Phil Whiteway, the Board of Trustees of Barksdale and the Board of Directors of Theatre IV, and our staff leadership. By “major” I mean a theatre that obtains national standing through reputable play selection, artistically excellent productions, the staging of world premieres, the transfer of successful productions to Off Broadway or other regional venues, a nurturing environment for the best of local professional theatre artists, and a welcoming environment for national talent.
A theatre as described above would have a major performance home that was itself an attraction. The annual operating budget would be six to seven million. In keeping with the nationally established model, about 40% of total revenue would come from contributions, and about 60% would come from earned revenue.
We know through strategic planning that the majority of our stakeholders, including audience members, contributors, volunteers, independent artists, and competing nonprofit theatres support this goal. The prevailing wisdom is that a major professional theatre benefits the entire community and theatre community-at-large by:
• presenting national caliber productions of important works,
• putting Richmond on the national map as a theatre city,
• providing gainful employment and benefits that allow and encourage outstanding theatre artists to come to or remain in Central Virginia,
• contributing significantly to the local economy,
• offering internship, volunteer and workshop opportunities that add to Virginia’s theatre education programs at the high school and college level,
• touring instructional programs to a broad cross section of Virginia’s elementary and middle schools,
• touring fellowship and entertainment programs to Central Virginia’s senior centers and retirement facilities, and
• sharing resources such as facilities, set and costume stock, and expertise, when possible, with smaller professional theatres in Greater Richmond.
This goal was not created or claimed by Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV. It was assigned to us by the Central Virginia Professional Theatre Task Force, which met regularly for two plus years beginning in 2003. The 17-member, independent Task Force was facilitated by Stephen Richard, Executive Director of Arena Stage. Members of the Task Force were recruited from Greater Richmond’s most respected theatre artists, educators, funders, ticket buyers, and civic and business leaders. The Task Force was assembled and funded with support from the Community Foundation and Virginia Performing Arts Foundation, precursor of CenterStage. The Task Force was formed following the collapse of TheatreVirginia, and assigned the responsibility of determining how Central Virginia should proceed in filling the gap left by TheatreVirginia’s dissolution.
After an extensive, independent, professional market study conducted by Shugoll Research out of Washington, D. C., the Task Force determined that the best way to advance professional theatre in Central Virginia was to build a major professional theatre of national standing on the foundations already established by Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV. These findings were turned over to the Boards of our two theatres, and accepted unanimously early in 2006.
The remainder of 2006 and all of 2007 were spent in extensive, comprehensive strategic planning. We hired Langford & Associates to conduct an independent development study in 2008. We contracted with Kelly O’Keefe and the VCU Brand Center to conduct an independent branding study in 2009. The results of the branding study were accepted in 2010. Silent development efforts have been underway ever since.
As I stated at the outset, our goal is to create a major regional theatre here in Central Virginia. That is our goal. We’re not there yet. We will never be able to achieve this goal alone. We hope to earn broad-based community support as we move forward into the future. We invite you to join us.
Not everyone agrees with the goal. Every once in a while we hear from someone who would like for Barksdale Theatre to remain small, behaving more like a community theatre than a major professional theatre. We listen to and respect all this input. We know that when changes are underway, the opinions of all stakeholders matter. We seek, value and appreciate your opinions. They will help us as we continue the hard work that lies ahead.