Thursday, August 22, 2013

They suck except when they don’t

I’ve already expounded in kind of a statistical way about this year’s RTCC nominees at TVJerry’s Sifter site. Of course, every year the nominees bring up all sorts of very non-statistical, sometimes very emotional feelings. A lot of them are positive: over the years, I’ve received a number of amazing and heartfelt expressions of appreciation from people seemingly overwhelmed at having their talents recognized in such a public way.

But, as you might expect, I’ve received many more expressions of dismay, anger, frustration or exasperation that a specific production or a specific performance was not listed among the nominations. First of all, while I am often the recipient of sentiments both pro and con, I am only one cog in the wheel that is the RTCC. So while I try to respond as best as I can to what people send, I don’t respond to “Why do YOU hate X company or Y actor?” questions/accusations because there are a whole crew of other people working with me to get this list together. And if you think there is some conspiracy among all of the RTCC members to hype something or diminish something else, you’re dabbling in crazy talk.

Second of all, I’m sorry we can’t/don’t recognize everything of merit in a season. But that’s not what we do. We get together and, as best as we can, develop something resembling consensus about what really dazzled us on stage this past season, sometimes from a very technical standpoint, sometimes from a strictly emotional point of view. Every year, I end up disappointed that certain individuals whose work I particularly enjoyed did not end up on the list. I think everyone in the circle feels that way. So those of you who feel certain that you or one of your friends should have been nominated, rest assured that at least one other person within the critical community probably felt the same way, too.

I have been very happy to see several well-balanced Facebook posts that say variations of “Congrats to the nominees! And to those who weren’t nominated, come out and celebrate with us anyway, because we’re a pretty kick-ass community.” That is certainly the spirit behind the awards: to celebrate the quality of Richmond-area theater as a whole, not just to pick favorites. And, by the way, to raise a little bit of money to help folks in the community who vitally need assistance.

Finally, there was a question of a more functional nature posted on TVJerry’s site. I answered it there but I’ll do so again here just so you can debate and decry it here if you want to. The question was asked why we continue (in our “amateurish” way) to lump designers of musicals and plays together when clearly those who work on musicals are going to win “90%” of the time.

Here are the specifics: in 2008, we only included three design categories, adding sound in 2009. Below is a list of non-musical productions that won for their design elements. It’s never been a 90% rate for musicals and last year 75% of the design winners were from non-musical productions.

2008: As you like it (costumes) — 1/3
2009: Eurydice (Sound) — 1/4
2010: A servant of two masters (costumes), is he dead? (set) — 2/4
2011: Legacy of Light (lighting, costumes) — 2/4
2012: The 39 Steps (lighting), August: Osage County (set), It’s a Wonderful Life (sound) — 3/4

Also, at least 50 % of the recipients of design awards this year will be from non-musicals because 100% of the nominees for set and sound are from non-musicals. So there’s that too.

Having said that, we have given serious consideration to splitting the design categories for musical and non-musical. However, doing so adds 4 more categories of awards to give out and our focus this year was bringing the run-time of the ceremony to a manageable level. If we can get our running time under control this year, I expect the topic of splitting design consideration will be discussed again and very well may be the procedure we take next year.

Fire away if you have more questions, concerns, declarations of acclaim, or cries of outrage. Reserve your tickets now and let’s keep building the anticipation for the awards ceremony on October 20th.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

2013 Nominees

Here's a link to the list:

Congrats to all of the nominees and see you all on Oct. 20th!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

RTCC Rules

The process for the 2013 RTCC Awards began in earnest a few weeks ago and the nominees will be announced very soon. In the meantime, I wanted to make available in a public forum the guiding by-laws of the RTCC as well as some administrative information. (I would post this info to the RTCC website but it is currently down and its restoration may take several weeks.)

What follows are the rules that guided our operations this year. They are essentially the rules we have followed since the group began but, in response to many questions and concerns, we decided to formalize them this year.

One thing that is NOT formalized but that the RTCC has always abided by is that we are always looking to improve our processes and our organization in order to make the big event we have held in October for the past 5 years as successful as possible. So we are always open to input, with this one big caveat: We are a very loosely affiliated group of part-time and freelance journalists who are not compensated directly for anything we do as part of the RTCC so flexibility in our operations and procedures have been and will continue to be essential to maintaining our existence.

Okay. Here then are the details:

Rules regarding productions for award consideration

For recognition as part of its annual awards, the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle will consider a theater production that meets the following criteria:
> The production is, as best as can be determined, a “professional” production, that is, all actors, directors and designers who work on the production are paid.
> The production has scheduled performances over at least two weekends on a stage located in the Richmond area.

The “Richmond area” is defined as including the city of Richmond, the city’s immediately adjacent counties and nearby cities such as Ashland, Hanover, Colonial Heights and Petersburg. Productions that run less than two weekends are considered theater “events” and will be considered for separate recognition at the discretion of the RTCC membership.

A production will be considered to be either a “play” or a “musical.” “Plays with musical performances” will generally be regarded as musicals, though final category determination will be by the vote of the RTCC membership. Listing of a professional musical director is a necessary, though not determining, factor in designating a production a “musical.”

A production that is considered to be exclusively targeted at school or youth audiences will be considered a “children’s show” and will be considered for separate recognition at the discretion of the RTCC members. A “family-friendly” show that encompasses school or youth audiences but does not seem exclusively targeted at children will be considered for general awards if it meets the criteria listed above.

Rules regarding membership

Members of the RTCC must have reviews appearing in print for an established for-profit media outlet or as broadcast for a radio, television or Internet media venture. Print reviews must have been subjected to an editor’s purview.

New members are generally accepted as provisional members, that is, they can participate in discussions related to the nomination and selection of award recipients but they cannot vote. After participation as a provisional member through one voting cycle, they can then participate as full members the following season.

For a member to vote on potential nominees or award recipients as part of the annual awards process, a member needs to have seen at least one-half of the productions that are under consideration for awards in the current season. For the 2012-13 season, the minimum number of productions required was 25. For the 2013-14 season and beyond, the proportion of productions required will rise to two-thirds.

Special Restriction

Voting member John Porter appeared in one production under consideration for the 2012-2013 season (“A Child’s Christmas in Wales”) and his voice was used in another (“The Sunshine Boys”). It was decided by the rest of the RTCC membership that he would be restricted from voting in any category that had nominees in consideration from either of these productions.

RTCC Members (as of July 28, 2013)

Tony Farrell, Richmond Times-Dispatch: provisional member
Rich Griset, Style Weekly: voting member (& RTCC event chair)
Liz Jewett, non-voting member
Bruce Levy, Show Biz Radio: provisional member
Julinda Lewis, Richmond Times-Dispatch: voting member
Jen Maciulewicz, GayRVA: voting member
Matt Miller, Richmond Times-Dispatch / GayRVA: non-voting member
John Porter, WCVE: voting member (with restrictions)
David Timberline, Style Weekly: voting member
Joan Tupponce, One Woman's View: non-voting member

Productions considered as part of the 2012-13 season

Production, Company
The Marvelous Wonderettes, Swift Creek Mill
The Hound of the Baskervilles, Virginia Rep
Regrets Only, RTP
A Bright New Boise, Firehouse Theatre Project
King John, Richmond Shakespeare
Night Blooms, Virginia Rep
The Fox on the Fairway, CAT
The Pillowman, Cadence Theatre, in partnership with VA Rep
Howard Crabtree's Whoop-Dee-Doo!, RTP
The Producers, Virginia Rep
Death of a Salesman, Firehouse Theatre Project
Irving Berlin's I Love a Piano, Swift Creek Mill
Closer Than Ever, Virginia Rep
A Child's Christmas in Wales, Richmond Shakespeare
Our Town, Sycamore Rouge
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, Henley Street
The 13th of Paris, CAT
The Magic Flute, Virginia Rep
Before It Hits Home, RTP / Sycamore Rouge
The Sunshine Boys, Swift Creek Mill
Cotton Patch Gospel, Virginia Rep
Faith Healer, Henley Street
Hay Fever, Virginia Rep
Sons of the Prophet, Cadence Theatre, in partnership with VA Rep
Any Given Monday, Firehouse Theatre Project
The Busy World is Hushed, RTP
Breast in Show, Carol Piersol, in partnership with VA Rep
The Tempest, Richmond Shakespeare
Over the Tavern, HATTheatre
Riding the Bull, TheatreLAB
And Then There Were None, CAT
Julius Caesar, Henley Street
Honky-Tonk Angels, Swift Creek Mill
The Pride, RTP
Time Stands Still, Firehouse Theatre Project
Red, Virginia Rep
Next to Normal, Cadence Theatre, in partnership with VA Rep
The Glass Menagerie, Sycamore Rouge
La Cage Aux Folles, RTP
Play On, CAT
The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Henley Street
Gidion’s Knot, Carol Piersol, in partnership with HATTheatre
A Comedy of Errors, Richmond Shakespeare
Twelfth Night, Sycamore Rouge
The Music Man, Virginia Rep
Pop! Who Shot Andy Warhol?, Firehouse Theatre Project
Steel Magnolias, Virginia Rep
Othello, Richmond Shakespeare
bare: a pop opera, Richmond Triangle Players

Monday, February 18, 2013

Any Given Monday

I attended opening night of "Any Given Monday" at the Firehouse Theatre Project last Friday, the first production offered by the company since the Carol Piersol resignation imbroglio. The drama surrounding the situation lent this opening a little extra zing and I felt an undertone of eager anticipation as I crossed Broad Street on Friday. In the end, the evening felt a lot like any other opening night, though there were a few little weirdnesses. Here's a list of my impressions of the experience, focusing mostly on the show.

n     There was a small and respectful gathering of people holding vigil, I expect, in continuing protest of the Carol situation. They were not loud and did not hold any signs that I saw. I wondered what proportion of the folks heading into the theater knew why they were there.

n     "I heart FTP" stickers were handed out to patrons after they received their programs. I felt awkward having one and did not put it on. The rumors I'd heard about the company changing its name seem premature, or if not, they've spent money on stickers that will be obsolete in a few months.

n     Jase Smith was a gregarious and welcoming host and gave a winning curtain speech to a clearly supportive crowd, many who obviously did know the backstory. He thanked many people, including the company's many sponsors, the board, the staff, and his amazing managing director. I tried (not always successfully) to avoid reading any subtext into any of it.

n     The action of "Any Given Monday" all happens in Lenny's living room, a simple wood panneled affair, in a modest house somewhere in Philadelphia. The set design, which included a foyer and stairway visible through the living room door, was nicely rendered by Ed Slipek.

n     My first and biggest issue with the production: Three of the characters – Lenny (played by David Zimmerman), his daughter Sarah (Kerry McGee), and his wife Risa (Starlet Knight) – are supposed to be Philadelphia Jews. This is not just an incidental thing – their Jewishness and specific areas of Philadelphia are mentioned several times. Maybe I only got hung up on this because I’ve spent nearly every Thanksgiving (and the occasional Passover) for the past 20 years with an extended family of Jews in Philly, but none of the actors sounded correct either for heritage or location. Zimmerman was closest, McGee sounded like she could be a Bryn Mawr student (not sure if that’s where the character was supposed to be going but it makes sense) but one who was originally from the northeast or Midwest not Philly, and Knight had as much southern belle in her as Main Line socialite. Like I said, maybe this bothered me because I’m so familiar with what these characters would actually sound like in their native habitat. But also, these disparate accents and demeanors were made more apparent because Nicolas Aliff plays subway worker Mickey with a definite Philly inflection.

n     Which brings me to my most favorite aspect of the production: Nick Aliff takes a hilarious character as written and wrings every possible laugh out of his rants, his asides and his sometimes manic interactions with the other characters. Zimmerman and McGee were good foils for Aliff at different times and each highlighted different interesting edges of Mickey. In my opinion, Aliff essentially walks away with the show.

n     The play’s plot takes one very interesting zig early on and coasts on that for the bulk of the show until a follow-up zag late in the second act. In between, there are lots of funny bits and some interesting questions about morality and philosophy brought up and then set aside. It’s a seriously funny play, if not particularly deep, turning away from the juicy issues it brings up to resolve the interpersonal drama in which they are couched. I can’t really fault a playwright for the successful (and it is) resolution of the actual story but I did feel a little hankering for some additional exploration of the rights, wrongs and moral in-betweens that are discussed.

n     McGee renders her quirky, smart, insightful character well and the side monologues she delivers between some of the scenes are entertaining. Her depiction of some of the intellectual gyrations Sarah goes through was just right. Overall, though, I think the show could have done without several of the side monologues, particularly the Risa ones, which I didn’t find very enlightening).

n     I thought Zimmerman made for an empathetic sad-sack kind of guy and I felt his ache and confusion over his situation with his wife. I found him a little less convincing as the situation got more complicated. I found Knight’s character most troublesome, both as written and as depicted. I felt the comic snap that had been present during much of the production was muted during the final confrontation and reconciliation between Risa and Lenny. It’s the kind of scene that will probably get better as the actors settle more comfortably into their characters.

n     On a weird personal note, I had a ridiculous coughing fit right near the end of the play and left my seat to duck out of the theater for a minute so it wouldn’t be totally disruptive. So I missed out on probably 3 minutes of action. So my impression of the show is missing a tiny slice of the whole.

n     I attended the show with a friend who had never been to the Firehouse for a play before. He seemed to have a great time, laughed heartily and often, and said he’d be interested in attending a show there again.

So for my first post-Carol Firehouse experience, I’d have to say it was generally enjoyable and that Shanea Taylor did a commendable job pulling together a solid production. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve seen at the Firehouse but certainly not the worst.

I’m not sure what, if anything, that portends for the future. It's not an utter disaster, so no one on the "pro-Carol" side should rejoice (and I'm not sure they would have if it was). However, to the extent the production is successful, I hope it doesn't serve to further entrench the board side of the equation when it comes to the company's future. There are some pretty deep resentments that have sprung up during the past two months and, if nothing happens to dispell them, I fear a shadow will haunt the Firehouse, perhaps forevermore.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Nuclear Option

I don’t have a lot of pithy things to say about the Firehouse / Carol Piersol train wreck. And I use that phrase purposely. Like a train wreck, the situation seems to have come up suddenly, gone out of control terribly, and people have been hurt needlessly.

Here’s what I know: non-profits are challenging organizations to run. Even in my limited and relatively short experience on the one non-profit (educational) board that I served on, I was gobsmacked by the complexity of issues I faced and the sheer number of decisions that I was forced to make that seemed to have no clear-cut right answers.

Having said that, I can think of at least a dozen different ways to do what the Firehouse Board says it wanted to do and it seems to have picked the very worst way to do it. Given that, you have to wonder how skilled this particular team of people is to lead such an organization. A transition of leadership is inherently fraught with complications and lends itself to awkwardness. But there is a light year's worth of space between ‘awkward’ and ‘train wreck.’

Sure, the Firehouse is more than Carol but Carol is the heart of the organization. And you don’t rip the heart out of anything and expect there will be no repercussions. In a worst case scenario, you rip the heart out of something and it dies. Usually rather abruptly.

This is the leverage that supporters of Carol currently have. The Firehouse is also a business and businesses run on money. To torture the metaphor a bit, to get the point across to the people that matter that the heart has been ripped out of the Firehouse, make sure that the blood supply is restricted. Listings of the people and organizations that give money to the Firehouse are easy enough to obtain.

Those of you who support Carol have power. You have numbers. The story erupted on social media but this is a situation where influence is best applied interpersonally, through emails and texts directly to people who can do something about it, through phone calls, even through visits to homes and offices.

But to borrow a phrase, with power comes responsibility. The Firehouse Board clearly failed at negotiation. Carol’s supporters can and should do better. A vehement and concerted campaign that reaches out to those who fund the Firehouse is a nuclear option. It could cripple or destroy the organization. Wield it if you must but wield it with care.

In the meantime, I join those who wish Carol and Morrie the best. Carol has done amazing things at the Firehouse. Perhaps more relevant than her professional achievements right now, though, is that she has always been (to me, at least) an open, fair, level-headed, creative, enthusiastic, collaborative, and supportive professional. And, even though I don’t know all of the intricacies of what happened and why, it angers and bewilders me that she has not been treated with the courtesy and respect she deserves in this situation.

My understanding is that the Board is meeting again tonight. I hope they understand (or I hope they are helped to understand) the importance of the decisions they make at that meeting.

UPDATE: I believe I was wrong: I hear that the Board met this morning. And I haven't heard what, if anything, was discussed or decided.

Thursday, November 01, 2012


The three of you who regularly visit this slice of cyberspace know that activity here has slowed to a crawl recently. Part of this has been the result the mad busyness that happens around the RTCC awards. But another big part has been the dawning realization for me that it’s time to put my energy elsewhere.

With this blog, I was hoping to provide entrĂ©e into Richmond’s theatrical world to the public at large while also being interesting to insiders within “the community.” I think that would have required either more entertaining and engaging writing by me or the backing of some other media outlet. The latter is unlikely to appear given the current media market and the former is unlikely to materialize given my inability to devote any serious time to this endeavor (or perhaps my lack of greater talent!). Fortunately, there are all sorts of social media out there now that can do this better than I ever could, plus a new player on the scene (Show Biz Radio) that might be able to do some of the things I aspired to.

I also hoped to spur conversation about theater in Richmond and the issues involved. What seems clear to me now is conversation like that is better spurred within the community. It seems like theater insiders prefer to talk to other insiders and that, even though I’ve straddled the inside/outside line for years, most still consider me an outsider looking in. While I frankly think this is insular, I also understand it. Fortunately, my perception is that conversation within the community is at an all-time high, led by people like Adrian Rieder (on Facebook) and the folks at TheatreLAB (with their “experiment.”) This kind of self-analysis is critical, I think, for Richmond theater to reach the potential I have always thought it could achieve.

Rather than limp along sporadically, I’m officially closing up shop here at Dave’s Theater Blog. I’ll probably maintain the show listings and such, just for grins, and won’t delete the site because there are some interesting points of reference within it. But I won’t be adding much of anything new going forward.

I’ve also started the conversation with other RTCC members about how the “Artsies” might morph and change in the future. I appreciate the feedback I’ve received from people who are supporters of the concept of the Artsies and have also provided useful suggestions for improvements. I’d love for the Artsies to transition some day to a community-led event but, until that day comes, we critics will plug along as best we can.

Thanks to those of you who checked in here regularly (or even occasionally) and have participated with your comments. It’s been a fun sidelight to the main attraction: the exciting and ever-changing world of Richmond-area theater. See you at a show sometime!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Talking it out

The morning after the awards, I got on a plane at 7am and headed west, mostly for work and also for a little bit of fun. After a week away, I'm just making it through the mound of stuff both home- and work-related that built up while I was gone.

One of the things I've been catching up on is the multiple conversations that have been going on at the TheatreLAB's experiment discussion board. Have you been there? If not, you should check it out. The kinds of topics that are being posted and discussed are just the kinds of things I've always hoped would be talked about here. I can't wait to see what kinds of things are brought up, argued about, and maybe even decided upon.