Friday, November 2, 2007

Three Theatres - Three Times the Fun

Posted by John Steils
I'm just getting used to my new Barksdale and Theatre IV home. Or I guess I should say "homes." I arrived in September after a year-long internship with a single-theatre company in the mid-West, and I was glad to discover that I now had three theatres to explore.

My first exposure was to the historic Empire and it was love at first sight. What a magnificent performance facility. One step inside the door and you feel like you're in a Broadway house that's been transported to Broad Street. As Virginia's oldest theatre, the Empire is one of Richmond's greatest treasures. I loved Stuart Little (I've never seen an actor and puppet become "one" more than David Janeski and young Stuart), and I can't wait for A Christmas Story, Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter, Peter Pan and Guys and Dolls!

I'm reading all the hoopla in the Times-Dispatch about restoring the Carpenter Center. I won't pretend to understand it all, but apparently it's been a crazy ride. That makes me all the more impressed that throughout the last 20 years Theatre IV has owned, restored and maintained the landmark Empire without, I'm told, so much as a paragraph of controversy.

As much as the Empire is a treasure, Barksdale's Willow Lawn home is a jewel. Tom McGranahan--a treasure himself--told me that he used to work in that exact area when he was a Procter & Gamble sales rep and the vast second-floor space that is now an attractive theatre was then a storeroom for the five-and-dime.
The Barksdalians (Barksdalers?) who were responsible for the design and execution of this transformation did an amazing job. I went to see The Member of the Wedding and couldn't have loved it more. It's a perfect, intimate theatre. From the outside, you think it's going to be this tiny shoebox of a space. But then you go up the stairs and enter this huge lobby and fully equipped 204-seat theatre. It's an ideal home for those of us who like to see every expression and hear every word.

I was picking up some fliers from the development office two days ago, and walked into the theatre expecting to revisit the beautiful set for The Member of the Wedding. Instead, it was like entering a jungle. Bruce Rennie, Matt Landwehr, Derek Dumais and Joe Bock were in the middle of the new light hang for Moonlight and Magnolias, and they had disconnected all the lights so that they could re-position and re-connect them to match Lynne Hartman's light design for M & M. Light cables--I think they called them "pigtails"--were dangling down from hundreds of unconnected instruments, making it seem like a small battalion of carnivorous vines (or snakes, being the day before Halloween) was getting ready to attack from the ceiling above the stage.

My first visit to Hanover Tavern was for Deathtrap, so I think I'll always be a little frightened if I have to go out there by myself. When the lighting flashed at the end of Act II, revealing that freaky cigar store Indian that stood at the foot of the stairs, I thought I was seeing a ghost. Jeannie Kilgore told me that Muriel used to swear there was a ghost in the Tavern. Now that Halloween has come and gone, I'll be brave enough to find out more.

If you haven't purchased your tickets yet for A Christmas Story at the Empire (you remember that movie with the leg lamp?), Moonlight and Magnolias at Willow Lawn (a hilarious backstage story about the making of Gone with the Wind), or Swingtime Canteen at the Tavern (a recreation of an actual USO show from the early 40s), please call today.

Whichever show and whichever theatre you choose, you're sure to have a great time! And you'll be doing your part to keep professional theatre in Richmond alive and well.

--John Steils


Toney Keynon said...

It's fascinating to see these three great theater spaces through new eyes. Welcome to Richmond, John.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard the Hanover Tavern ghost stories. They would make an interesting blog entry.

Michael Vandergrift said...


Just a helpful comment regard the photo of the hang at Barksdale for Moonlight and Mangolias - there were two other individuals in the photo - up wife, the Assistant Technical Director of both Theatre IV and Barksdale Theatre, as well as Stage Manager for Moonlight and Magnolias, Wendy Vandergrift, and just stage left of her, you'll see Zack Wilson, local actor, last seen on Barksdale's stage in The Member of the Wedding and a current production intern - both are kneeling.

I don't expect to see this comment posted - just thought you might want to make sure you identify everyone in the photos. Also, Bruce Rennie is not in the photo.


John Steils said...

Thanks, Michael, for the information. I'm sorry if it appeared that anyone was left out or added in. The photo you refer to was taken by Phil Whiteway several hours after I left the theatre. The photo was added to the blog post by someone else on the marketing staff after I wrote and submitted the blog entry. The words I wrote don't relate to the photo, just to my experience. Bruce Rennie was in the space when I was there, along with Matt, Derek and Joe. Wendy and Zack weren't there when I was there. But I'm glad you recognized them both. Wendy and Zack are terrific assets to Barksdale and Theatre IV. I think I'm correct in saying that whenever comments in the blog are meant to be captions, words like "in the photo to the right" are included in the comments. Thanks for your input.