This week we're posting a three-part interview with Jill Bari Steinberg, one of Richmond's finest. JB is currently starring as the truly dysfunctional Aunt Debra in Kimberly Akimbo, by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay Abaire, running for two more weekends at Theatre Gym, the 81-seat studio theatre space in the historic Empire Theatre complex. Kimberly is directed by Anna Senechal Johnson, and produced by Cadence Theatre Company in partnership with Barksdale's Theatre Gym. Theatre Gym used to be the name of Theatre IV's initiative through which facilities and other services were shared free-of-charge with independent artists who wanted to co-produce outstanding, contemporary, provocative theatre. Today, Theatre Gym is the name of not only the initiative, but also the facility itself. The 81-seat studio space is no longer named The Little Theatre--it's now Theatre Gym. New signage will be coming soon! Jill Bari is practically a founder of Theatre Gym. The Barksdale Buzz was pleased to catch up with her to discuss present and past experiences.
Q - Thanks for talking with us, Ms. Steinberg. I'm told you grew up in Portsmouth. What brought you to our fair city?
A - I came to Richmond for VCU and stayed. My first professional Richmond production was Boys' Life, directed by Dan Ruth and produced by Keri Wormald. For a couple wonderful years Dan and Keri had a small stage company called Shadowcast Theatre Works. It was a great experience. The show was performed upstairs at what was then the Paradise Cafe-- now it's the deLux Diner & Lounge--one of the many Richmond theatre spaces that have come and gone.
Q - Has Richmond theatre changed that much over the years?
A - I think we have more theatre companies around now. That's a good thing in that it gives more people a chance to develop their craft.
Q - You've performed a lot in Theatre Gym. What's the experience like?
A - I love Theatre Gym because of its intimacy. In its early days, Theatre Gym provided a venue to a lot of actors and directors when not many other spaces were open to them, a way to produce something yourself to show the world what you had to offer. I feel like I grew up there in an artistic sense, having acted in My Children! My Africa!, How I Learned to Drive, Heathen Valley, The Cripple of Inishmaan, A Devil Inside, and the initial run of The Syringa Tree--as well as working behind the scenes on Jack and Jill and Raised in Captivity.
The intimacy of the space is great, but it also offers challenges. For some reason, people in the front row think it's OK to rest their feet on the stage. I guess it's nice that they're so comfortable there, but it drives me crazy. One night during The Syringa Tree, a gentleman's cell phone rang, which would have been bad enough but he decided to answer it, and then, while talking to his friend, he proceeded to walk across the stage to the actors' exit door. All 24 characters in my head wanted to scream at him. But I stayed cool, ignored him and continued the play.
One of my funniest moments on stage happened during A Devil Inside (pictured to the right). My character was dead after throwing herself under a moving train. Bill Blair and Bridget Gethins were playing a scene next to my decimated body. Bridget was supposed to shoot Bill at the end of the scene, and then he dies--I think just about everybody in that play died in the end. Anyway, Bridget goes to shoot Bill and the gun doesn't make a sound. So Bill grabbed his chest, started to collapse with a final death groan and haltingly shouted, "Oh! A silencer!!"
My poor little train-ravaged body started shaking with laughter and I couldn't stop. Since the audience was only three feet away, someone had to have noticed. Now if only I'd had that silencer when the guy with the cell phone walked across stage...
(To be continued... Photo captions: middle photo--Jill Bari with her husband Steve Organ; bottom photo--the cast of A Devil Inside: [back row, left to right] Steve Perigard, Bill Blair, Rick Brandt, [front row, left to right] Jill Bari Steinberg, Bridget Gethins, and an actress whose name Bruce can't remember, 'cause he doesn't think it's Donna Coghill but he might be wrong. Can someone help us please?])