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

1 comment:

Lucas Hall said...

I am a huge fan of the BiFocals Theatre project. I would like to thank Dr. Pat Walker, Ellen Bode, Cindy Yuoconis and everyone else involved in BiFocals for their dedication and hard work.

I was fortunate to perform in a the Barksdale BiFocals production of "Today a Little Extra" with Jolene Carol and Bob Albertia back in 2006. The audience members at the venues that we toured are so wonderful. I would gladly relive that experience in a heartbeat.

Thankfully, I was able to make it out to the Barksdale lobby performance of "Cedar Chest Letters". I thought the show was both touching and funny. I can't wait to see the rest of the productions this season( As the Accounting Manager for Barksdale Theatre, I feel privileged to play a very small part in the BiFocals Theatre Project. Thanks again to everyone who keeps BiFocals up and running.