Thursday, September 29, 2011

Where Are They Now? - The Asian Adventures of GnG

Posted by Garrett Weeda
Just a little background information, my name is Garrett Weeda and I toured with Theatre IV from September 2006 until May 2009. My wife, Grace Abele, also toured with Theatre IV from September 2008 until May 2009. After finishing our tours, we both ended up working at Busch Gardens Williamsburg (I was a Stage Manager while Grace was a singer in several of their shows).

Enough of the history lesson, now onto the good stuff!

Last September Grace and I accepted jobs in South Korea, working as “edutainers" at Gyeonggi English Village. An “edutainer” here means that we are responsible for the park’s educational entertainment. Along with performing, our department is in charge of creating shows and activities to help Koreans learn English following our central parkwide theme, which we decide on every three months. We have never had a job that has allowed us to be so creative. Grace and I are performing in our fourth show. Grace is currently writing our next show, which is a take on Robin Hood, and so far she has gotten to compose the music for our past two shows. Currently, I am in charge of props for our next two shows and was fortunate enough to direct our winter production, called The Nanny. We love our jobs so much we decided to extend our contracts another year, but hopefully we will be returning to the U.S. sometime next May.

*Sidenote – We were able to bring our beautiful pup, Zuri, and so many of our friends here have dogs that she always has someone to play with.

Now onto the GREAT stuff!

On March 21, 2011, Grace and I got married in Seoul! And you know what that means…it was time for a honeymoon! One huge perk of our job is that we are given twenty vacation days each year (and five extra because we got married). We took twenty of them in one big chunk and spent an entire month traveling Southeast Asia. In all we visited six major cities in four different countries: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Bali.

The best part by far was while we were in Chiang Mai, Thailand during Songkran. That was an unforgettable adventure; anyone who has the chance must experience it. Songkran is the annual water festival during the hottest days of summer in Thailand. AKA city-wide water fight! Everyone parties and splashes each other with water in the streets. With music blaring, there are people of all ages, genders, and races dancing, singing, and spraying water everywhere. There is so much genuine good will that it was an absolutely amazing experience.

Our travelling didn’t stop there. We went to Hong Kong to celebrate the Chinese New Year and what a city! Amazing architecture, beautiful sights, wonderful food, and probably the best public transportation in the world. One day we hope to return to try living there for a year or two. But our travels will continue. We took a week to explore different areas of Korea in July, will follow that with a week in China in October, and to cap it all off, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Songkran in Chiang Mai again in April.

All-in-all life is good, even though we miss our friends and family in the States. We wish everyone could have an experience like this. We do have one favor to ask of Theatre IV and Barksdale. Can you guys stop putting on these amazing shows until we get back? We are totally jealous that we can’t see you all in these terrific productions.

--Garrett Weeda

Sorry-Grateful, Regretful-Happy

Posted by Bruce Miller
We are both excited and overwhelmed by the huge response we've received to this Saturday's (October 1) Open Call. Over 290 adult actors have called to register for auditions. Our previous record, or at least the largest number of adult actors any of us can remember at a previous Barksdale audition, was 110. The norm is 40 to 60.

We were prepared for about 120 interested actors. We were not prepared for this wonderful response. WE APOLOGIZE. This will be our first Open Call in our new audition process. We will learn from this experience. We will do better next time.

As of yesterday morning, Katie Monfet, our WONDERFUL intern who is handling all registration requests, had registered 136 auditionees (representing about 400 phone conversations), and was still in the process of registering the remaining 155 actors who had called and left a message, but had yet to connect person-to-person with Katie.

It remains our intention to see ALL actors who are interested in auditioning. We will schedule additional auditions to ensure that we meet that goal.

We have heard from tens of actors who are growing increasingly angry and frustrated, who have called back repeatedly to schedule a time for their audition, only to be sent to voicemail because Katie is on the phone with another actor. We understand, appreciate and regret your negative reactions. We are doing, and will continue to do, all we can to address and correct the situation.

Please know that Katie is working very hard to keep up with the calls. She is in no way at fault. It is my inadequate planning that has caused these problems. Please direct all your frustration at me. In the future, after our three-open-calls per year system is fully in place, I anticipate we will not face numbers this large.

If you are registered, you have been given a one-hour time slot during which your audition will take place. We are registering 30 actors in each hour. We know there will be some no shows. Your prepared audition should not exceed 120 seconds total.

Please arrive at the Empire no later than 15 minutes prior to your appointed hour. If you are able, please bring seven resumes and headshots. If you don't have seven copies (if you don't have one copy), don't panic. It's not a deal breaker.

Some of you will undoubtedly feel swept in and swept out. It is not our intention to disrespect anyone. It is our intention to keep things moving efficiently so as to be able to see all interested actors. Casting will happen principally in callbacks.

We will be feeding directors both breakfast and lunch, and you may notice directors eating during your audition. Again, we mean no disrespect to either actor or director.

If a director is in the restroom during your audition, Chase Kniffen and I will take special notice of all auditionees who demonstrate talent and meet the needs of the play. For example, if Bo Wilson is in the restroom during your audition, and you fit the character descriptions for God of Carnage (which Bo is directing), and you're talented, we will be sure that Bo includes you in his callbacks for God of Carnage.

In 2012 and beyond, we will have Open Calls in January, May and September. It is our intention to cast all roles approximately six months in advance. We ask all locally-based actors to participate in at least one open call each year.

Thank you for your interest. Thank you for your understanding as we embark on a new way of doing things. I apologize for planning poorly for this Open Call. I will do my utmost to make things better in the future. In January and May, we will include fewer shows in each audition, assign more staff members to man the phones to take your calls, schedule only 15 actors per hour (our original plan) instead of 30, and build in breaks for the directors.

I invite and will welcome your additional suggestions and comments as we try to strengthen our audition practices as Greater Richmond's resident, nonprofit, professional theatre.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Coffee & Conversations - Fun, Free, Starts Friday

Posted by Bruce Miller
Today I'm excited to announce our 2011-12 Season of Rostov's Coffee & Conversations. If you've never been to one of these free, fun and informative events, you don't know what you're missing. We hope you'll mark your calendars now and plan to join us. It's a great way to start your day and connect with your theatre.

To kick off the series, we're having a Special Event this Friday, Sept. 30, 9:30 a.m. in the Barksdale Willow Lawn lobby. Melissa Johnston Price, star of Becky's New Car, will join in a panel with Charlie and Benita Staadecker, the amazing couple who originally commissioned this vibrant new play by Steven Dietz. They are visiting us this weekend from Seattle. I will moderate the discussion, and our director, Billy Christopher Maupin, will be on hand to offer additional insight. It's free. No reservations required. Please join us.

Now--back to the rest of our Coffee & Conversations season. Each program will focus on a fresh and lively panel discussion, providing a fun behind-the-scenes look into the shows and operations of Barksdale/Theatre IV--Central Virginia's nonprofit, resident professional theatre.

Following our Special Event this Friday, the Rostov's Coffee & Conversations series will take place on the second Tuesday of each month, October through July (excluding June). There will be no programs in August and September.

Rostov's coffee, tea and pastries will be provided free-of-charge at each event, with the continental buffet opening at 9:15 a.m. Moderated panel discussions will begin promptly at 9:30 a.m. and last one hour, with lots of opportunity for audience Q & A.

Events are normally held in the lobby of Barksdale Willow Lawn. If attendance approaches 70 or more, the program may be moved into our comfortable 204-seat theatre. Average attendance has been around 35, but we're hoping to grow the program this year. Please note that the July event will be held on the set of Spring Awakening at the historic Empire Theatre, located at 114 W Broad Street, downtown.

All Rostov's Coffee & Conversations programs are free and open to everyone. A $3 free-will donation is gratefully accepted from those who have the means. Donations are welcomed in the glass urn that sits on the pastry buffet table.

No reservations are required.

The 2011-12 Season is as follows. Panelists and moderators will be announced on this blog and elsewhere on our website about two weeks prior to each program.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Behind the Scenes of Lend Me a Tenor
Moderator - Jill Bari Steinberg
Panelists - Cast members Nick Ciavarella, Frank Creasy, Susan Sanford

Tuesday, November 14, 2011
Working Out - Our Theatre Gym Partnership with Cadence Theatre Company

Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Behind the Scenes of My Fair Lady

Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Build It and They Will Come - Barksdale's Set Construction Team

Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Behind the Scenes of God of Carnage

Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Public Funding for the Arts - Where Do Greater Richmond and Virginia Stand?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012
All in the Planning - The Future of Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV

Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Behind the Scenes of our World Premiere Production of Scorched Earth

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 ***This program will be held in the historic Empire Theatre
Behind the Scenes of Spring Awakening

For more information, or more timely information, please visit We hope you'll join us for each of these fun and informative programs.

--Bruce Miller

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Empire Gussies Up to Make History Yet Again

Posted by Bruce Miller
By now, many of you have seen or heard about the scaffolding that is covering the entire front of our historic Empire Theatre. That old rusting marquee that's been an embarrassment for the last 25 years has been dismantled and thrown into the dumpster. We all cheered watching it happen.

If all goes according to Hoyle, the new marquee (an historically accurate reconstruction of the original 1930s marquee for the Maggie Walker Theatre) will be up, and the scaffolding will be down prior to the first preview of Kimberly Akimbo on Oct 13 and the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards on Oct 16.

Owning an historic property is a dramatic exercise in any case. Owning an historic theatre ... well ...

The Empire first opened its doors in downtown Richmond on Christmas Day, 1911. I'll be writing more about that in the coming weeks. The Richmond Empire was modeled after the close-to-iconic Empire Theatre in NYC, built in 1893, the first theatre in New York to feature electrical lighting. The legendary Empire (NY) was only the second theatre to be built in the Times Square theatre district. Located at 1430 Broadway, between 40th and 41st, the Empire (NY) is credited with establishing the artistic and cultural phenomenon that the world now knows as Broadway. The Empire (NY) was demolished in 1953 to an outcry of public protest.

History-making Broadway productions that played the Empire (NY) include the American premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (1895), the American premiere of Peter Pan by James Barrie (1906), the American premiere of Three Penny Opera by Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht (1933), Life with Father by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (1939–45, still the longest running non-musical in Broadway history), and Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers (1950).

Our historic Empire (Richmond) is the more intimate of Central Virginia’s two Broadway-style theatres. With 604 seats, it approximates Broadway’s smaller theatres, like the Helen Hayes (seating capacity 593). With roughly 1,800 seats, the Carpenter Theatre approximates Broadway’s larger theatres, like the Gershwin (seating capacity 1933). Both theatres are invaluable, irreplacable cornerstones in the cultural foundation of our community.

The photo above and to the left was taken in 1893 when the Empire (NY) was brand new. I'm very proud to say that we just purchased a small, 1893 print of this historic photo, museum quality, and we will soon be displaying it prominently as we continue our ongoing, public interpretation of the historic facility we call home.

In the photo, the streetcar is heading down Broadway. The Oriental Hotel is on the corner, and the Empire Theatre (NY) is one building to the right of the intersection. Make special note of the first floor archway entrance to the theatre.

The photo to the left was taken in 1915, and shows a closer view of the grand arch entrance, framed on both sides by two classical columns. The name Empire has been added, as well as signage advertising the legendary actor, John Drew (uncle of Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore). Handsome show card boxes have been placed at the base of each pair of columns to further promote the current offerings.

The reason I call your attention to this section of the facade is because it is this section that was duplicated almost exactly when the Richmond Empire was designed and built in 1911. If you remove the added signage from the image to the left, it will more closely represent the original design of the Empire (NY).

Posted to the right is an image of the Booker T. Theatre (one of the Richmond Empire's several incarnations), taken sometime in the 1940s, before the millwork on the original facade was removed for "modernization" in the 1950s. If you can imagine the Empire (NY) without the added signage, and compare it to the Empire (Richmond) without the Booker T marquee, you should be able to notice that the Richmond Empire focuses on a distinguished copy of the hallmark entrance to the history-making theatre that launched Broadway.

With all the recent brouhaha over how challenging it is to renovate and operate a major performing arts center in downtown Richmond (and it certainly is), it is easy to overlook the fact that Theatre IV has sucessfully operated and maintained the landmark Empire with nothing but public acceptance and acclaim for the last quarter century.

As you may have read a couple weeks ago, the recent hurri-quake added additional stress to our aging (and crumbling) stucco façade, requiring the scaffolding to go up and renovations to begin even though we don’t have quite all the money we need in the bank … yet. As we raise these funds, we’re very excited to know that the façade will be secure again in a couple weeks, and fully restored to it’s original grandeur (or very close to it) sometime early next year.

The historic Empire is a Central Virginia treasure, which will celebrate its 100th Birthday on Christmas Day of this year. It is the oldest major theatre in the Commonwealth. I hope everyone in Richmond will join us as we reintroduce this incredible asset to the community that has loved it throughout all its various incarnations.

--Bruce Miller

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Steven's New Play Lights Up Hanover Tavern

Posted by Bruce Miller
Becky's New Car is the 39th play from 53-year-old American playwright Steven Dietz. When I posted this in the middle of last night, I said that I "thought" this was the first of his works to be produced professionally in Central Virginia. Never trust the memory of a 61-year old, particularly in the wee hours. I've now learned from two commenters (thank you both) that Triangle Players produced Lonely Planet by Dietz, Firehouse produced Private Eyes, and Henrico Theatre Company produced More Fun Than Bowling--all several years ago. Also, as I originally wrote, when VCU produced Dracula a few seasons back, they may well have performed Dietz's popular adaptation.

What I should have said is ... this is Barksdale's first Dietz, and all we can add is "it's about time." In 2010, Dietz was once again named one of the most produced playwrights in the nation. Excluding Shakespeare, Dietz tied with Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee as the eighth most produced playwright in America.

Dietz is married to TYA (theatre for young audiences) playwright Allison Gregory, and the couple split their time between Texas, where Dietz teaches playwriting and directing at the University of Texas at Austin, and Seattle (the setting for Becky's New Car).

Dietz has never had significant success in New York; he has never been produced on Broadway. But his most popular plays (More Fun Than Bowling [1986], God's Country [1988], Lonely Planet [1993], Private Eyes [1996], Dracula [1996], Rocket Man [1998], Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure [2006], and now Becky's New Car [2008]) have become staples in regional, university, and community theatres.

If I were a bettin' man (I've never even bought a lottery ticket), I'd wager that Becky's New Car will shortly become Dietz's most popular play ever, if it hasn't already.

Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, Dietz began his career as a director of new plays at The Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis. While simultaneously serving as artistic director of his own small company, Quicksilver Stage, he began writing his own work. In the late '80s, A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle (now known as ACT Theatre) commissioned Dietz to write God's Country. Dietz moved to Seattle while working on that production, and lived there permanently from 1991 to 2006.

His work has been recognized with the PEN U.S.A. Award in Drama for Lonely Planet, the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award (Fiction and Still Life with Iris), and the 2007 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Mystery for Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure. Two of his plays (Last of the Boys and Becky's New Car) received Best of the Year recognition from the American Theatre Critics Association.

Dietz is a frequent contributor to American Theatre Magazine. Currently he is working on 360 (round dance) - an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's 1900 play, La Ronde.

Being tied with Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee for the eighth most produced playwright in America in 2010 is an amazing feat. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, I hope you'll join us for Becky's New Car, starring Melissa Johnston Price, David Bridgewater and Gordon Bass, directed by Billy Christopher Maupin, now playing at Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern.

--Bruce Miller

"Gifted Man"'s Patrick Wilson has Ties to Barksdale

Posted by Bruce Miller
When A Gifted Man debuted on CBS night before last, I was at the wonderful opening of Becky's New Car. No problem. TiVO, my favorite bit of technology ever, was here to help me. Yesterday morning, after the necessary clicking on the remote, voila, there was Friday night's pilot, waiting patiently until I had the time to watch.

I was not about to miss this new medical / metaphysical series, mainly because it stars Patrick Wilson (pictured to the right) and an ensemble cast of acclaimed Broadway stars. Wilson is a major actor now (Tony Award nom's for The Full Monty and Oklahoma! on Broadway, Emmy nom for his great work in the HBO mini-series of Angels in America). You probably knew that already.

What you may not know is that Wilson is a Virginia native, and there's a little bit of Richmond theatre in his bloodline--a little Barksdale nestled in with all that Broadway.

When I was in 7th grade, my teacher (we had only one in those days) was Bernard Schutte. Outside of my parents, Mr. Schutte was the one person most responsible for my love of theatre. He not only acted at Barksdale, he lived at Hanover Tavern. He introduced me to an art form I knew very little about. I've always believed he was the teacher I was meant to have.

His widow Caroline Schutte continues to be a steadfast Barksdale supporter today.

During that 7th grade year, Mr. Schutte appeared as The Mute in Barksdale's Hanover Tavern production of The Fantasticks (pictured above and to the left). Starring in that production, in the role of Matt, was a young Richmond newscaster named John Wilson (pictured below and to the right). When our class went to see Mr. Schutte in his new show, he invited all the actors to meet with us in the theatre after the performance. I really enjoyed the role of Matt, so I asked John Wilson lots of questions. Seven years later, when the Barn Dinner Theatre mounted Richmond's next production of The Fantasticks, I played Matt for a 14-week run under Jack Welsh's direction.

John Wilson went on to star as Lancelot in Camelot at the Virginia Museum Theatre (1967) and Winston Garand in Generation at Barksdale (1968). I went to see him in both shows. Shortly thereafter, John Wilson moved to Norfolk to anchor WAVY TV, where he and his wife Mary gave birth to their son, Patrick, in 1973. The family subsequently moved to Tampa FL, where Patrick grew up.

In A Gifted Man, Patrick Wilson plays a world-renowned neurosurgeon whose highly ordered life and substantial wealth are turned upside down when he starts seeing and talking with his ex-wife, who, he learns midway through the pilot, died three weeks before their recent reunion. Yes, it's one of those shows. Wilson's character is brilliant, uptight and rich. The character of his ex-wife is completely (and literally) a free spirit, trying to teach him that there's more to life than being the world's best and wealthiest brain surgeon.

The ex-wife (and blithe spirit) is played by another favorite Broadway actor, Jennifer Ehle (pictured with Wilson to the left), who won two Tony's for her brilliant work in a pair of Tom Stoppard plays: The Real Thing (2000 revival) and The Coast of Utopia (2007). Ehle is the daughter of Broadway acting icon, Rosemary Harris.

Two more stage luminaries star in the ensemble cast of A Gifted Man. Margo Martindale plays the doctor's efficient assistant. She received a Tony nomination for her work as Big Mama in the 2000 Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Pablo Schreiber appears as a psychic healer who attempts to address the doctor's metaphysical situation. His exceptional work in the 2006 Broadway revival of Odets' Awake and Sing! earned him a much-deserved Tony nom.

Perhaps a reason that CBS was able to recruit a cast filled with stage veterans is because the show is filmed in New York. Hopefully it will succeed, and give years of great acting opportunities to East Coast professionals.

I enjoyed the pilot of A Gifted Man, very much. If you'd like to watch it, you can by visiting the new show's website. I'm looking forward to the upcoming episodes.

I'm a big believer in supporting actors with Richmond theatre connections when they have their own TV shows. My TiVO and I can't wait for the September 28 Season Two return of Happy Endings, a GREAT half hour comedy starring our own Zach Knighton (pictured to the right).

As a final footnote, Patrick Wilson graduated from Carnegie Mellon's prestigious theatre training program, along with two other Richmond theatre All-Stars: Blair Underwood and Emily Skinner. Emily and Wilson later co-starred on Broadway in The Full Monty.

When it comes to our nation's professional theatre community, it really is a small world afterall.

--Bruce Miller

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Becky" and Billy C Cruise Into Spectacular Opening

Posted by Bruce Miller
One of the responsibilities of a regional theatre is to provide work opportunities to the best and brightest talents within its community. In today's highly competitive arena, up-and-coming theatre artists must choose whether to earn their stripes after moving to major theatre markets like NYC, Chicago or Philly, or build the resumes they need to launch their hoped-for theatrical careers in a city like Richmond.

It's a tough decision. I would argue in favor of the latter, but only if Richmond's regional theatres continue to provide significant opportunities that allow young artists to work at the top of their game with other equally talented pros.

Case in point - Billy Christopher Maupin. He's been passionate about theatre since Hector was a pup. He left his small hometown in Kentucky to venture to Cincinnati to audition for a touring actor position with Theatre IV. (TIV had an office and tour operation in the Queen City from 1996 to 2006.) After touring for a year with our Ohio-based team, BC asked to transfer to our larger operation in Richmond. Ford Flannagan, who handles all our tour casting, said "yes" and brought him right here to River City.

After working in our national tour for a couple years, Billy Christopher transitioned into the Theatre IV / Barksdale marketing position he continues to hold today. His salary sucks--not quite as much as it did initially--but it allowed him to keep body and soul together as he set out to build a resume and career. Like a lot of talented theatre artists, BC chose to complete his training in the school of work experience rather than a university theatre program.

There was that year early on when BC left Theatre IV and moved to New York. Because he's a talented guy, and, I suspect, in part because of the touring experience he had with us, he was cast in a national tour with TheatreWorks USA (Theatre IV's biggest national competitor). Like hundreds of other young hopefuls, he earned his union card through this gig, but soon thereafter encountered the stigma that comes with earning your card, perhaps, too soon. (go to Google, type "stigma theatreworks")

Billy Christopher, like many other talented theatre artists before and after, left New York and moved back home to Richmond. He took a leave of absence from Equity (it's really hard to get union gigs in Richmond if you're young), and set about auditioning and campaigning for directing assignments as if his life depended on 'em.

Carol Piersol, artistic director at the Firehouse, and I are of a similar mind when it comes to the responsibilities our two nonprofit theatres have to eager, talented young artists. Directing jobs are THE HARDEST positions to get in Richmond, probably in any theatre city. The stakes are so high. Nonetheless, through perseverance, patience, passion and talent, Billy Christopher earned the chance to direct a reading at Firehouse, then a cabaret at Barksdale, then more readings, and finally several mainstage directing assignments.

Along the way, Kaye Weinstein Gary at K Dance became a BC "believer." Grant Mudge at Richmond Shakes also gave him a shot. And later this season, Chamberlayne Actors Theatre is giving BC the chance to direct his first Lillian Hellman. It took several years. You can ask him whether or not it was worth it.

Which brings us to last night. Carol Piersol and I were both in the house for the Opening Night of Becky's New Car, the sparkling new comedy by Steven Dietz that Billy Christopher directed at Barksdale / Hanover Tavern. I can't speak for Carol, but I'll bet that, like me, she watched the proceedings with a significant sense of pride.

It's taken several long years, and what seems like a gazillion projects, for Billy Christopher to earn the shot he had last night. And the great news is ... he came through with flying colors.

Becky's New Car is top notch--a perfect marriage of script, actors and director. Billy Christopher had the chance to work with a major new play, a cast as professional and accomplished as any you'll find anywhere (see the show pics of Melissa Johnston Price, David Bridgewater, and Gordon Bass), first-rate designers, a reasonable budget, and a fairly large and discerning audience.

What he has delivered is worthy of the confidence others have placed in him. Becky's is an exceptionally enjoyable show that is sure to be one of the highlights of Richmond's 2011-12 season.

It would be foolish for me to oversell it. It ain't King Lear or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But, in my humble opinion, it's a significant step forward for a major young talent who, hopefully, will be revving up the engine of Richmond theatre for years to come.

With 20/early 30-something directors like Chase Kniffen and Billy Christopher Maupin--and Justin Amellio (assistant to Patti D'Beck for White Christmas, RTCCA-nominated director for [title of show]) starting to come on strong--it seems like Richmond theatre is in capable hands.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, September 23, 2011

Barksdale's Bifocals Theatre Project Opens Today

Posted by Bruce Miller
Barksdale produces nine mainstage productions each year in our Signature Season, presented at our intimate Willow Lawn theatre and at the historic Empire, and our Country Playhouse Season, presented at Hanover Tavern. For most theatres, producing nine mainstage shows would be plenty.

Not so for the “little theatre that could.” When Pete Kilgore, Muriel McAuley and their four co-founders created Barksdale in 1953, and for the forty years that followed under Pete’s, Muriel’s, and Nancy Kilgore’s exemplary leadership, service to the community was always just as important as service to the art form.

Some professional theatres are arts for arts sake; some are arts for the community’s sake. Barksdale is the latter.

Barksdale may not be "little" anymore, but this component of the Kilgore/McAuley legacy lives on, enriching Greater Richmond today in many ways that are “outside the box,” and go well above and beyond the call of duty.

Barksdale’s Bifocals Theatre Project is one of the service initiatives of which we are particularly proud. (Pictured to the left: a previous Bifocals production.) Bifocals is a program in which senior producers, directors, actors, designers etc. are paid to create and present short theatrical programs for senior audiences. The name comes from the notion that these performances are presented both near, on the lobby stage at Willow Lawn, and far, on tour to senior centers and retirement facilities throughout Central Virginia.

The Bifocals name and mission was created about 15 years ago by Jewell Sanford and several other veteran theatre professionals, under the auspices of the Henrico Dept. of Rec and Parks. The original incarnation was 100% volunteer. Do in part to that fact, the program lost considerable steam after a season or two, and ceased to exist.

When Theatre IV and Barksdale joined forces in 2001, one of the first things Phil and I did was revive the defunct Bifocals Theatre Project, with permission and encouragement from its founders, under Barksdale’s banner—only this time, everything was and is structured so that these talented senior professionals are paid for their work, just as they are when they're involved in a mainstage Barksdale production.

The Community Foundation and Isabella Witt provided the seed money needed to launch the program. Today, the program exists without any additional funding from outside forces. All of the revenue needed to pay the senior artists comes from ticket sales and fees paid by sponsoring senior centers.

My favorite component of our Bifocals program is this commitment: no senior center that wants to receive programming is turned down due to inability to pay. All centers pay on a sliding scale, based on means. Everyone is served.

The three volunteer co-captains of Bifocals have made all the difference in the success of this program. They are Dr. Pat Walker, Ellen Bode, and Cindy Yuoconis. Greater Richmond should be and is extremely appreciative of their generous example of servant leadership.

If you would like to attend today’s opening of the Bifocals’ season, join us for a reading of The Cedar Chest Letters, produced by Ellen Bode and directed by Barbara Plymale. The performance will begin at 1 p.m. in the lobby of Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn. Tickets are $5.

Prior to and following today’s home theatre opening, this reading has toured or will tour to St. Mary’s Woods, Cross Ridge, Lifelong Learning, Dominion Place, Imperial Plaza, Cedarfield, Crossings at Bon Air, and St. Francis.

For more information about Bifocals, to book a performance, or to become involved, contact our staff liaison, Brittany Taylor at 783-1688 ext 1113.

I suspect it is difficult to appreciate the full value of the Bifocals Theatre Project until you’ve seen, as I have, your 92-year-old mother, who spent her entire life loving theatre, reaching the point where she can no longer sit through a two-hour production or leave her retirement home to venture out to a performing arts facility. Then a Bifocals performance comes to her new residence, and her face lights up like the Fourth of July just to have something different to do, and something theatrical to see.

The Bifocals Theatre Project is as important as anything Barksdale Theatre does. It is a star in our crown, and another reason why the “little theatre that could” is still such a unique, vital, irreplaceable thread in the fabric of our community.

--Bruce Miller

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Provenance of "Becky's New Car"

Posted by Bruce Miller
Becky's New Car, which opens at Hanover Tavern on Friday, is a new comedy by Steven Dietz. It began its current road trip in Seattle, WA, in October of 2006. Charlie Staadecker, a successful commercial realtor in the Emerald City (Seattle's nickname), asked his wife Benita for some suggestions for a "major" gift that he might purchase for her upcoming 60th birthday. Reflecting on her happy and comfortable life, she replied that she didn't need anything, and suggested that he surprise her.

Benita Staadecker continues the story: "Little did I know that he would surprise me with the best gift I have ever received. Earlier in October we had attended a pumpkin carving." Charlie jumps in: "I've had two challenges in my life. One was Benita's request to go see Wayne Newton in Vegas. I didn't want to go, but Benita is hard to refuse so I went. It was the same with the pumpkin carving."

Back to Benita: "A woman at my table was telling of how she had commissioned a tuba concerto with the Seattle Symphony in memory of her husband and it was scheduled to premiere in January and she was afraid that no one would attend. I promised that my husband and I would come. I asked her questions about commissioning work and what it cost. All the while Charlie must have been listening, as he took this idea to ACT Theatre (where Benita serves as a trustee) and asked if he could commission a play in honor of his wife, as a birthday gift. The powers-that-be at ACT loved the idea."

Kurt Beattie, artistic director of ACT, contacted noted Seattle playwright Steven Dietz, and challenged him "to write a comedy." At first Dietz was skeptical, relates Charlie. "He said, 'Give me a bottle of scotch and a cabin for a weekend, and I'll write a drama.' But comedy is the gold standard."

Eventually Dietz accepted the challenge and the commission. Two months later, the first ten pages were presented to Benita during a Board meeting. "I was shocked," she said. "I had never gotten anything like that before. That was amazing. Not something you can wrap in a box."

Two years later, on Oct 17, 2008, Becky's New Car premiered at ACT. In Benita's own words, "The rest is history ... and the best ride of a lifetime."

Since the auspicious opening, Becky's New Car has been produced by 24 additional theatres in a continuous journey eastward. Barksdale and Hanover will be the easternmost location thus far.

As this peppy new play gains national momentum, Charlie and Benita Staadecker have come along for the ride. They've attended almost every production thus far, and will be joining us here in Central Virginia at 9:30 a.m. on September 30 for a fun and informative panel discussion about their Becky experience. Becky's star Melissa Johnston Price will join the panel, and I'll moderate. Billy Christopher Maupin will also be in attendance.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, the Staadecker's will be joining us at Hanover Tavern to watch the performances.

I hope you'll join us in the lobby at Willow Lawn on Friday, September 30, 9:30 a.m. for coffee, tea, pastries and a chance to hear all about surprise birthday gifts, and how to commission a play. It should be a rousing and informative discussion.

--Bruce Miller

McAuley-Kilgore Theatre Library Begins to Take Shape

Posted by Bruce Miller
When Theatre IV was asked by the Barksdale Board of Trustees in the summer of 2001 to assume artistic and business management of Central Virginia's longest standing professional theatre, we immediately responded with an enthusiastic "yes!" One of the programs that came with this new package of responsibilities was the McAuley-Kilgore Theatre Library, named in honor of Barksdale's legendary leaders: Muriel McAuley, David (Pete) Kilgore, and Nancy Kilgore.

In 2001, and throughout the decade that followed, the McAuley-Kilgore Library was distinguished only by a name posted in gold letters over the double doors that are positioned between the library and the lobby at Barksdale Willow Lawn. There were no book shelves in the library. There were no books--actually, there were quite a few old scripts and reference volumes, but they were all packed away in boxes.

As we marked the tenth anniversary of the Barksdale / Theatre IV alliance this past summer, we were able to shed a wee bit of embarrassment as we proudly noted that the Shameful Case of the Library that Wasn't was finally being addressed. Custom bookshelves had been installed last spring by David Powers, our über-hardworking tech director for Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern. And the treasured tomes that had once known the touch of Muriel, Pete and Nancy themselves had been released again into the fresh air and light of day.This fall we plan to organize more effectively the Library and its invaluable theatre collection. All of our books are being recorded into an on-line card catalogue, lending policies are being established, bookplates are being designed and printed to acknowledge all individual donors, and, most importantly, additional volumes are being sought to add to our growing collection.

The photo posted at the top of this article shows mostly empty shelves. It's an old photo. The shelves are now actually filling up quite nicely (see photo below)--but there's always room for more.

Anyone who has ever tried to locate a script or theatre reference work in the Richmond, Chesterfield or Henrico public libraries knows that there is a definite need in Central Virginia for an expanded theatre collection. It is our goal for the McAuley-Kilgore Theatre Library to help to address that need. We are confident that Muriel, Pete and Nancy would be pleased, proud and honored to know that their books and their legacies were being put to good use.

If you have any scripts, theatre recordings (audio or video), theatre reference works or texts, stage novels or biographies etc. (and who among us doesn't?), and you would like to donate these pieces and parts of your own legacy to the McAuley-Kilgore Theatre Library, either now or in your will, please contact my assistant, Brittany Taylor, at 783-1688 ext 1113, or at b.taylor@ (insert the name Barksdale here) We will be grateful to receive your tax deductible donation to Central Virginia's newest public access, lending and perusal library for the theatre arts.

Also, we are seeking to expand our significant collection of Richmond theatre playbills, posters, etc. into a comprehensive, readily available, theatre archive representing ALL of Richmond's theatrical endeavors. Unique originals will be copied and donated to the official archives at the Library of Virginia. Copies and duplicate originals will be kept in regular (not archive quality) files in the McAuley-Kilgore Library, for perusal only.

No matter which theatre your old playbill collection may represent, if it's a theatre with a Richmond connection, we'd love for you to consider donating your programs to the Library.

All donations to Barksdale Theatre are fully deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Finally, we are also seeking Library volunteers. If you'd like to put in a few hours every now and then, cataloging the collection, please let Brittany know. We'd feel honored to work with you.

Thanks for helping support Richmond's nonprofit, resident professional theatre as we seek to improve the McAuley-Kilgore Library and its collections.

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

ATCA Membership Could Help Grow Richmond Theatre

Posted by Bruce Miller
The American Theatre Critics Association is the national association of professional theatre critics. Its members work for newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and on-line services across the United States. Membership is open to all who "review theatre professionally, regularly and with substance for print, electronic or digital media."

ATCA was founded in 1974 by a group of leading theater critics from around the country. The prevailing wisdom at the time was that the New York Drama Critics Circle was too geographically limiting to meet the growing national need. Daumier’s 1865 cricature, “La Promenade du Critique Influent,” (pictured to the left) has been ATCA’s self-deprecatory logo since its founding.

Prior to 1974, the founding critics had been gathering informally for several years at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT, where Phil Whiteway's nephew, Preston Whiteway (pictured below and to the right), has served as Executive Director since 2007. ATCA’s connection to the O’Neill continues today in the annual National Critics Institute, which many US theatre critics attend as fellows and mentors.

Since its founding, ATCA has provided opportunities for members to explore the remarkable artistic resources of our national theatre. ATCA works to foster greater communication among theatre critics in the United States, to improve the training and development of critics at different stages of their careers, to advocate absolute freedom of expression in theatre and theatre criticism, and to increase public awareness of the theatre as an important national resource.

In addition to the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill, ATCA offers valuable professional and networking opportunities through twice yearly conferences. In a typical year, members gather for a five-day annual conference in a major theatre center outside New York, as well as for a shorter meeting in New York or at some theater festival. In addition to seminars, guest speakers, discussions with regional and national theatre practitioners, and a sampling of the host region’s theatres, there’s ample opportunity to talk shop with others in the profession.

In addition to conferences and meetings, ATCA provides information through email and on its website about current trends in theatre, the ethical dilemmas critics face, and upcoming international seminars and workshops through the International Association of Theatre Critics, of which ATCA is the American affiliate.

ATCA members also join in supporting new plays. Each year ATCA presents several awards for new plays and emerging playwrights. Members make a recommendation to the American Theatre Wing for the Regional Theatre Tony Award (the theatre recommended by ATCA always wins) and vote on inductees to the Theater Hall of Fame.

Currently, the only Virginia critics listed as members on the ATCA website are Maggie Lawrence in Culpeper, Wendy Parker in Midlothian, and David Siegel in Annandale. In days gone by, Roy Proctor was not only a member of ATCA, he served as the association's national president.

As Richmond theatre continues to grow and improve, it would be great to have several Richmond critics join ATCA. Two years ago, Legacy of Light (two RTCCA nominees from Barksdale's production of Legacy are pictured to the left) was one of only three new plays in the US to receive Best of the Year recognition from ATCA after its world premiere at Arena Stage. Legacy received this recognition due in large part to the advocacy of several DC ATCA members. The previous year, Signature Theatre in Northern Virginia won the regional theatre Tony Award, also due to the efforts of the DC critics.

As early as this season, it is possible that a play receiving its world premiere in Richmond might have a shot at the invaluable national recognition awarded by the ATCA, but only if Richmond's critics join the association and participate in its voting. Ten or so years from now, it would be possible for a Richmond theatre to win the regional theatre Tony, (why not dream big, folks) but again, only if Central Virginia's critics join ATCA and serve as advocates for Richmond theatre. Also, it would be possible in the near future to bring the national conference of ATCA to Richmond, significantly advancing our national profile as a theatre city, but only if we have active local ATCA members.

Advancing Richmond as a national caliber theatre city could and I believe should be an important goal for all of us. Encouraging our wonderful critics to join ATCA may be one way to make progress toward this goal. Annual dues are $45, and if critics need help with that, I suspect it could be found.

--Bruce Miller

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Should Actor Stipends Be Paid Over a Longer Period?

Posted by Bruce Miller
Chase Kniffen, our associate artistic director, has suggested a pretty interesting idea. If you're an actor who works or would like to work with Barksdale Theatre and/or Theatre IV, I'd be pleased to hear your opinion.

The idea is this. Currently we pay a stipend to non-union actors on a per performance basis. What if those actors were to receive the exact same amount of money for their work on a production, but that money would be divided up into bi-weekly payments over the entire work period (rehearsal and performance) rather than per performance payments over the performance period only? The total received by the actor would be the same, but it would be paid out on a bi-weekly basis beginning with the first day of rehearsal.

Let me be clear. The actors would not be receiving any additional money, or any less money, but they would be receiving it over a longer period of time which would include the rehearsal period. The checks would be smaller, but they would be spread out over a longer period of time to include rehearsals, so the total amount received would be the same.

Please let me also acknowledge that the money we pay to our non-union actors is too little. We all wish it could be more. We all know it should be more. We're working our hardest to increase contributions and ticket sales so that one day it can and will be more.

One reason this plan of beginning payments following the first rehearsal is being suggested is because actors begin incurring expenses on that date, but as things now stand, they don't start receiving their stipends until after Opening Night. Also, expectations for professional job performance are the same during the rehearsal period as the performance period, so why shouldn't the timeline of payments reflect this?

If you'd like to voice an opinion, we'd love to hear it. Don't let the bi-weekly (every other week) timeline be a stumbling block. If you love the idea of the spread out payments, let us know. If you really prefer the checks to be weekly rather than bi-weekly, let us know that too.

We're very interested in your opinions. Thanks in advance for sending them in. If enough actors want us to make this change, we're going to make it. If enough actors prefer to maintain the status quo, we're going to do that.

You can respond anonymously, if you must, but we'd love to know who feels what, if you're comfortable providing your name. You can comment to this post, or you can send me an email. My coded email address can be found at the end of the previous blog. If you need assistance figuring out the code, call my assistant, Brittany Taylor, at 783-1688, ext 1113.

Thanks for your consideration.

--Bruce Miller

Of Fall, Hot Tin, and Names Above the Title

Posted by Bruce Miller
Fall is really here. The calendar says we have to wait till Sept 23, but I'm not buyin'. The 2011-12 theatre season is well underway, marked by the openings of Central VA's first comedy of the year (Lend Me a Tenor), drama (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), and musical (Keep on the Sunny Side).

As Lucian Restivo from Stage B posted Friday on Facebook, "it's cardigan and scarf weather," and he couldn't be happier. After the dog days of summer, I'm right there with him.

I made my reservations for Hot Tin and I'm really looking forward to it. It's definitely one of the new season's highlights for me. I loved Who's Afraid last season from the same Rusty Wilson / Firehouse directing / producing team. Hot Tin is a great play--a masterwork--and Rusty's assembled an unbeatable cast: Alan Sader, Laine Satterfield, Adrian Rieder, Jackie Jones, Larry Cook, Dean Knight, Andy Boothby, Laura Rikard, Stephanie M. Hill, and three talented no-neck-monsters.

Susie Haubenstock wrote a great review, and I've heard nothing but glowing word-of-mouth. If you don't have your tickets yet, I encourage you to get them. I suspect they'll start selling out most performances pretty soon.

I'm excited that Rusty will be directing In the Next Room or the vibrator play with Cadence in Barksdale's Theatre Gym next summer.

This coming Friday, we'll open Becky's New Car, a very clever and contemporary new comedy from Steven Dietz, at Hanover Tavern. We're trying something new, and if you have a reaction, I'd love to hear it.

Bouncing off my desire to celebrate and promote Richmond's "stars" with a little more fanfare, Billy Christopher Maupin, who is not only directing Becky's but marketing it as well, decided to place Melissa Johnston Price's name above the title in our promotional materials--not our standard practice.

At first, I buzzed B C and asked him not to do that again without checking with me first. I was worried about setting precedents and all that. But then I decided that this will be a good experiment.

Melissa Johnston Price is certainly a local star, holding a prominent place in the pantheon of Virginia's most revered actors. And the character of "Becky" certainly is the leading role in the play. Why the heck not let the ticket-buying public know that this is a special opportunity to see an exceptional artist in a terrific part?

Sometimes I think we Richmond producers need to set aside all timidity and begin to blow the horn a little louder about Central Virginia's brightest and best. If we don't, aren't we failing to create the public excitement we need to create in order to grow the overall Richmond audience?

What do you think? When we're lucky enough to have a star in a major role, should we put his or her name above the title? You can communicate with me publicly as a comment to this post, or privately as an email.

I can't type my email directly cause little robots that do nothing but surf blog posts 24/7 pick it up and start sending me even more spam. Or so I'm told by our IT gurus. So here's today's puzzler. My address is: b.miller@ the name of either of our theatres followed by the word


--Bruce Miller

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ruminations from the Old School

Posted by Bruce Miller
To one and all-- I'm sorry I ever wrote my spoof of Susie's review of Lend Me a Tenor. Over on Dave's Theatre Blog, which I enjoy, it seems to have created a mini-firestorm, which was not my intention.

Here's what people seem to think. I read Susie's mixed but mostly favorable review of Tenor, didn't think it was favorable enough, wrote a scathing attack on her and Richmond critics in general, posted it on the Barksdale blog, at which point someone calmer and wiser "dropped the hammer" on me, and commanded me in fear and trembling to take the post down.

Here's what I think happened. I read Susie's mixed to mostly favorable review and thought it was pretty much on the mark. I also thought it was a crystal clear example of subjective, rather than objective criticism. Since it was a mixed but mostly favorable review, and pretty much on the mark, and since Susie is my professional friend, I thought it was safe for me to spoof the review, with everyone knowing that my spoof was written in good clean fun.

Call me crazy.

I think it's a very good thing that all of us, theatre artists and critics, are passionate about what we do. I also think it's very easy for blog posts, and particularly anonymous comments, to come off as nastier than they're intended to be. That's a lesson I should have learned long, long ago.

For the record, I never thought that Susie wrote a negative review of Tenor. I read her review just like you did. I'm not stupid. I know it was mixed but mostly positive. If I had written a review of Tenor, which I think is a real crowd-pleaser and lots of fun, my review would have been mixed but mostly positive. I don't think everything we produce is perfect. Quite the opposite. I think all of us at Barksdale are our own toughest critics. I'm glad about that. I think that's what has encouraged and allowed our artistic quality to improve over the years.

My point in writing the spoof was to shine a light on what I guess is an "old school" / "new school" debate in journalistic circles. Dave reports that during the recent criticism seminars he attended in California, a prominent film critic and speaker stressed the importance of avoiding the "dreaded O," or something like that, with "O" standing for objectivism.

When I took criticism in college a very long time ago, around 1972, we were taught the exact opposite. "When you write subjectively, " our professor would say, "you make the critique about you. Your readers are not picking up the paper to know more about you. They want to know about the play you are critiquing."

If you write subjectively, we were taught, your criticism risks being influenced by what you had for dinner, whether or not you have a head cold, whether or not your bills are paid, whether or not you just had a fight with your significant other, whether or not you could find a date for the performance. None of this is relevant to the quality or success of the performance you are reviewing. None of it should be included in your review, consciously or sub-consciously. All that personal stuff is relevant only to you.

If we ever wrote "I believe" or "I feel" or "it seems to me" or anything like that, it was crossed out with a big red pen and our grade was lowered for each offense. "It's not about you," was the mantra. It's about the play.

What I was taught, and what I believe, is that artists are entitled to informed, objective criticism, not a personal reaction based even in part on previously established bias or state of mind. I think Mark Persinger's comments on Dave's blog are on the mark, sorry, in this regard.

Dave seems to think, and I can somewhat understand, that objective criticism is impossible, because all journalists write subjectively, like it or not.

Those are our opinions. So be it. "New school" is no more right or wrong than "old school," and vice versa. But, perhaps, it's worth consideration.

In all my journalism classes, we were taught to write in "inverted pyramid" style, even in reviews. My journalism mentor, legendary U or R professor Joe Nettles, long revered as the "dean of Richmond journalism," stressed that the "inverted pyramid" style (I encourage you to Google it and find more info than you need) not only led to good, effective writing, it also allowed readers to opt out of any given article after a paragraph or two having learned the most important information the writer needed to convey.

Readers of my age (61) or older have been trained, subconsciously, to expect the most important information to be in the first few paragraphs. Most of Richmond's ticket buyers (not all, thank God) are my age or older. If they skimmed the first five paragraphs of Susie's review of Lend Me a Tenor, and read no further, they would have closed the paper believing that the most important information was that the T-D theatre critic hates farce and invites others to join her. They would have read nothing in the first five paragraphs about Susie's opinion of this production of Lend Me a Tenor.

It's not the end of the world, my friends. I'm not steaming with anger. I just thought it was a perfect time to discuss "subjective" vs "objective" journalism.

I wrote the spoof because I thought it would be funny, in a Jon Stewart kind of way. I copied the first several paragraphs of Susie's review almost word for word. I simply exchanged the words "subjective criticism" for "farce."

It came off nasty. I'd forgotten that that's what emails and blog posts do sometimes. You can't type in tone of voice, raised eyebrow, glint in eye, or twisted smile.

That's when I take blog posts down--when I become aware that they're being interpreted in a way not intended. When my trusted colleagues, Chase Kniffen and Billy Christopher Maupin, told me that the social media world was abuzz regarding my "attack" on Richmond's critics, I followed their suggestion and removed it from public view. I apologized publicly, on the blog, and privately to Susie. She was great about it all, as I suspected she would be. My apology was and is sincere. Not cause I'm kissing up to her or any critic. I just think everyone who means no harm is due respect. I never intended otherwise.

Susie is a valued professional friend, as is Dave. As a side note to one of Dave's commenters, it's a small community, and a lot of us are going to be friends. I think that's just the way we're wired, not any attempt on anyone's part to win influence with anyone else. The good news is, none of the current critics hang out in the lobby after a show and play kissy face / drinking buddy with the artists they are about to review. Only one critic in my memory did that, which I too found unprofessional. That critic is no longer here.

As for the objective/subjective issue, debated at length on Dave's blog, well, I think Dave and I will just have to disagree. Nothing wrong with that. I find some validity to his point of view. I expect he finds some in mine. I know we both respect each other.

Perhaps what is most interesting is that when Susie began her review by proposing a test, suggesting that all readers who enjoyed farce stand over there, and inviting all readers who hated farce to stand over here, with her, critics seemingly could not understand how that could be offensive to theatre artists. When I spoofed the review, and suggested that all readers who enjoyed "subjective" criticism stand over there, and invited all readers who hated "subjective" criticism to stand over here, with me, the general reaction was that I was issuing a "pointed" attack.

Bottom line: I have affection and respect for the critics and the artists. I mean no ill will toward anyone. I prefer my drama to be on the stage. I do think it's interesting to consider and discuss these things, however, even while remaining truly sorry that my initial spoof caused the reaction it did.

--Bruce Miller

Friday, September 16, 2011

Two Treasures

Posted by Bruce Miller
Congratulations to Carol Piersol, co-founder and Artistic Director of Firehouse Theatre Project, who is recognized in and on the cover of the September issue of Belle Magazine as one of Richmond's seven outstanding women in the arts.

Her fellow honorees include Sarah Shields Driggs, Architectural Historian, Save Outdoor Sculpture; Ashley Kistler, Director, Anderson Gallery, VCU; Pamela Kiecker Royall, Benefactor and Collector; Andrea Orlosky, Executive Director, Art on Wheels; Greta Brinkman, Musician and Music Director, WRIR; and Maya Payne Smart, Author and Vice Chairwoman, James River Writers.

Carol co-founded the Firehouse in 1993 with Jeff Clevenger, Bill Gordon, Anna Senechal Johnson, and Harry Kollatz Jr., and has served as artistic director for the last 18 years. The best way to understand the incredible value of her leadership is to watch Parts 1 and 2 of the terrific Firehouse documentary created by Richmond filmmaker Alan Futterman. and

In the documentary, eight of Virginia's finest actors (Jeff Clevenger, Justin Dray, Sara Heifetz, D. L. Hopkins, Bill Patton, Melissa Johnston Price, Amy Sproul and Scott Wichmann) speak eloquently and movingly about Firehouse's steadfast commitment to its artistic values.

Carol has embodied these values, steered and protected this commitment for nearly two decades. All the while, she and her colleagues have continued to improve the Firehouse's production quality, year after year, while also maintaining its historic facility, and growing its audience and operations. Her contributions to Richmond's theatre community inspire me more than I can say.

She's also been a good friend to Theatre IV and Barksdale for a long time. Congratulations, Carol, on this well deserved recognition.

On a second and equally jubilant note, our beloved facilities manager and indispensible jack-of-all-trades, Tom McGranahan, is back in the saddle with us after his recent surgery. I think he's supposed to still be in bed, but you can't keep a good man down.

I've known a few saints in my life: my father, Phil Whiteway's mother and father, my late Sunday School teacher Barbara Maynard, and Tom McGranahan. He's a bawdy saint, to be sure. But a saint nonetheless. I look at Tom McGranahan and I see the hand of God.

Welcome back, Tom. The old place wasn't the same without you.

--Posted by Bruce Miller

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Maupin Masterminds Mischief in Modern Merrymaker

Posted by Bruce Miller (liberally quoting B C Maupin)
With Becky's New Car, we're glad to welcome Billy Christopher Maupin back into the driver's seat at Hanover Tavern. B C has to be among the most turbocharged theatre artists working in Virginia today. As his German friends opine, he is mit turboaufladung. (Sorry. Sometimes these amazing things pop up in a word search and I can't help myself.)

Billy Christopher starred at the Tavern as the Reverend Mervin Oglethorpe in all three musicals in the Smoke on the Mountain trilogy. Back in 2010, he directed our heartwarming Hanover hit, Butterflies are Free.

More recently, B C earned great acclaim for his staging of Dog Sees God and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown at the Firehouse.

Billy Christopher was honored last spring by STYLE Weekly as one of Richmond's "Top 40 Under 40." In the recent build-up to the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards, he is a Best Actor nom for his work in Something Intangible, also at the Firehouse. When not involved in evening rehearsals, he spends his daytime hours as Marketing Manager here at Barksdale/Theatre IV.

Billy Christopher was the one who introduced me to Becky's New Car. His director's notes indicate that when he encountered this new comedy, the attraction was immediate.

"My first professional job in the theatre was in 2000 in a production of Bram Stoker's Dracula adapted by Steve Dietz. Thus began my love affair with Dietz' work. A master of dramatic tension, zany plots, tender moments, and incredibly natural dialogue, Dietz is a rare treasure of the American theatre.

When his newest play, Becky's New Car, was published last year, it jumped to the top of my list of plays to read. And when I did, I fell in love before it was even over. I remember finishing the first act and immediately calling Melissa (Johnston Price) and saying, 'I think you might need to look at this play that I just started reading.' As soon as I finished it, I called her back: 'Melissa, you need to read this play.'

I feel so fortunate to be able to be a part of creating theatre in a community that is so rich in artists. It is such a thrill to be able to explore this wonderfully funny and beautiful play with such an incredibly talented cast, crew and design team.

I hope you enjoy the ride.

Billy Christopher Maupin"

If you're a fan of Billy Christopher's work, I hope you'll join him and his stellar cast as they put the pedal to the metal beginning September 23. You'll be glad you did.

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

CenterStage Brochure Announces New Initiatives

Posted by Bruce Miller
According to, this is our 600th blog post. Considering all the articles that have been posted and then removed, it's probably the 700th post we've written, but ... for better or worse, it's the first time we've had 600 items actually posted at the same time.

When Barksdale was 31 years old, co-founder Muriel McAuley wrote her wonderful book, Moving On. Theatre IV turned 36 last May. Theatre IV doesn't have a book. But I've written a lot of posts on this blog.

One day I'll go back through the blog archives to proof and edit.

I was pleased to receive the beautiful new CenterStage brochure in my home mailbox last evening. I was particularly interested to learn about four news items. At least they were news to me.

1. Three of the four restaurants listed as CenterStage's Premiere Restaurant Partners are located in easy walking distance of the historic Empire Theatre. Bistro 27 (across the street), TJs and Lemaire (two blocks away) all offer a 10% discount to CenterStage ticket holders on the night of the show. CenterStage is clearly a step ahead of Barksdale in pulling this together. Good for them. We all learn from the competition. It's a great perq for ticket buyers. It's time for us to pay a visit on our friends at Bistro 27 and the Jefferson to try to catch up with CenterStage.

2. Young James Wasilewski, who I guess isn't all that young anymore (he will always be "Young James" to us), will be bringing his acclaimed improv troupe, West End Comedy, into Rhythm Hall, the multipurpose performance space at CenterStage. James (pictured to the right) interned with Barksdale his senior year at Randolph Macon, a little less than a decade ago. Now he'll be appearing downtown on four Fridays--Nov 4, Jan 13, Feb 3, and Mar 16.

James has been trying to lure me out to the West End for months, to see his show. Looks like I now will have no excuse not to go laugh at my buddy in his new downtown digs. Tickets are only $10, and the show is for "mature audiences." I don't know if I'm mature yet, but I'm marking my calendar nonetheless. I hope you will too. I think bringing comedy to Rhythm Hall on a regular basis is a great idea.

3. Kathy Halenda, who starred at Barksdale in Mame and Irving Berlin's White Christmas is one of the headliners in CenterStage's new Life Is A Cabaret series, sponsored by U. S. Trust. On Jan 26-29, Kathy will be bringing her Class & Brass: The Music of Judy Garland and Bette Midler show to Rhythm Hall. What a perfect way to heat up a cold winter's night. If Kathy's in town, you know the joint will be jumpin'.

Richmond needs more cabaret. We've made halting efforts at Barksdale, and Glen Allen and Triangle have lately picked up the ball with excellent cabaret acts and series of their own. Maybe one day soon, Richmond will have a flourishing cabaret scene at multiple venues.

4. The biggest newsflash for me (I know, everyone else has probably known for weeks) is that CenterStage is getting into the theatre producing business with a new program called CenterStage in The Community. This causes me to feel both nervous and relieved at the same time.

"Nervous" because this means there is now another producing theatre in town, a BIG one, one with resources several times greater than the resources available over here. New competition is good, but when you're trying to meet payroll and handle the financial obligations of a major downtown facility like the historic Empire, new competition is also scary. Time will tell how many producing theatres a community the size of Greater Richmond can support.

"Relieved" because Barksdale will no longer be the biggest producing theatre in town. I've spent 27 years of my career as artistic director of a tiny, then mid-sized theatre, leaving the "big house" responsibilities to other entities. We've been at the top of the heap (until now) for only nine years. There was a lot less pressure when we were small.

The first production to receive the benefits of this amazing opportunity will be Dessa Rose, co-produced by CenterStage and Firehouse, and directed by CenterStage's multi-talented Executive Director, Richard M. Parison, Jr. (pictured below and to the left).

Before moving to Richmond less than a year ago, Parison spent the previous two years as the producing director at Barrington Stage Company, which the Boston Globe has called "the pre-eminent place in Massachusetts for the production of musicals." Before that, he held producing positions at the Prince Music Theater and the Walnut Street Theatre (with a legendary subscriber base of over 20,000) in Philadelphia.

Here's what the CenterStage brochure has to say about Dessa Rose. "CenterStage and the Firehouse Theatre Project come together to present Dessa Rose, a musical full of love, laughter, hope and a pair of unlikely heroines. One is a fallen lady of society abandoned by her husband, the other a pregnant slave sentenced to death on the gallows. When circumstances thrust them together, they form an uneasy alliance in an attempt to secure them both their freedom and that of their infant children. Based on imagined details of real events, this dangerous adventure of a musical celebrates life in all its joys, triumphs and challenges."

Dessa Rose is written and composed by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the same talented team that created Seussical, which will be produced by Theatre IV at the same time that CenterStage and Firehouse will be co-producing Dessa Rose. Seussical runs April 27 through May 20. Dessa Rose runs May 2 through June 2. Perhaps Carol Piersol will forgive me for bowing out of the Tennessee Williams Festival, and she and Richard Parison will consider joining with us to mount a mini Flaherty/Ahrens Festival. It's at least worth talking about.

It remains to be seen whether CenterStage will continue its CenterStage in The Community program with Firehouse (a GREAT partner), or another theatre, or maybe another performing art form altogether. Perhaps next year they will choose to co-produce with Concert Ballet, the Richmond Philharmonic, or Peter Mark's new Lyric Opera Virginia.

After it's triumphant 2nd Anniversary celebration with Patti Labelle, it's good to see CenterStage coming on so strong. Long may she thrive!

--Bruce Miller

Monday, September 12, 2011

Passion, People and Impact - Day 1

Posted by Annie Hulcher
“Passion, People, and Impact – that is why I love my job,” Bruce Miller, Artistic Director of Barksdale and Theatre IV, told me last Thursday over the large wooden conference table. “I get the opportunity every day to do what I enjoy, work with people I love, and positively impact peoples’ lives."

Although this was the beginning of the conversation, I was already enthralled and excited to listen to someone I admire tell me how awesome theatre is.

Passion: “No one in theatre makes much money. Those who do are few and far between, but if you are doing what you're passionate about, the trade off is worth it.”

He continued, “It’s absolutely a 24/7 job. Some people have their work, but are passionate only about their personal lives." Bruce is able to intertwine his work and his family life and have passion for both. With a wife (Terrie Powers) who designs all the shows at Hanover Tavern and most of the shows for Theatre IV on Tour, his work and his personal life are connected at nearly every turn, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

I was already hooked.

People: “To put it simply, I love the people I work with. We all have a bit of crazy in us, but that’s what makes us interesting." As he was telling me this, I sat there thinking about my own friends. Crazy? Yes. Interesting? Absolutely. Passionate? You bet. It’s not often you get to work with people who care and commit as much as people in theatre do.

Impact: For me, this was the point that really made me feel that I knew this is what I wanted to be involved in the rest of my life. “I have seen the impact theatre has on people," Bruce said. "I have seen Hugs and Kisses (Theatre IV's long-running child sexual abuse prevention program) literally save kids’ lives. I've seen other shows inspire both children and adults to think differently, to follow their hearts, to open their minds.” He didn’t have to say much more. I could hear in his voice and see in his eyes how much that meant to him. In all honesty, what more could you possibly want out of a job?

So, at this point, you may be asking yourself who I am and why I am writing this. My name is Annie Hulcher and I am a senior at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School. I have the opportunity to mentor under Bruce Miller this school year.

I will be documenting my experience here on the Barksdale Buzz. I, myself, am a performer. I got to know Bruce when I worked with him on Annie Get Your Gun (summer 2003) and I have been involved with SPARC and school theatre ever since.

I remember going to shows at Theatre IV when I was 4 and 5 years old, kick-starting my love for theatre. It is all too thrilling to be able to work with the man who was a large player in establishing my own passion.

Throughout the year, I will be working with different departments doing a myriad of activities and projects. (Last Thursday included hanging up pictures, posters and paintings around the office – a few from the set of Boeing-Boeing, which just closed.)

Although I am a performer now, 85% of people in the theatre world start as a performer but then move on to another theatre-related field (Bruce’s made-up statistic). As I obtain a little first hand experience in marketing, development, set construction, production management, facilities, box office, costuming and wardrobe, house management, event planning, props, electrics, accounting, tour management, etc. etc. etc., who knows what will spark my interest and possibly lead me down a career path?

As an avid reader of the Barksdale Buzz, I am very excited to be able to publish an entry here. I am eager to work hard and get to know everyone on the staff of Barksdale/Theatre IV, and hopefully getting to know theatre like I never have before.

--Annie Hulcher