Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Arts 25

I know some people think of me as “the voice of Style” when it comes to its theater coverage. But any of you who have worked for publications of any kind, large or small, know that the “voice” of a publication can be a tricky thing. In the worst cases, companies that buy ads dictate content, sometimes even writing it themselves, which makes a publication basically just a big marketing vehicle. In the best cases (for a writer, at least), an editor consults extensively with a writer about upcoming story possibilities, usually lets him/her determine what stories he/she is going to cover, and then runs the resulting stories with very little editing for content. In those cases, the publication's voice is pretty much the voice of the writer (at least on whatever particular beat that writer is covering).

For several years, I was living the best-case scenario due to the kind of working relationship I had with the editors at Style. It was a sweet deal but also a fair amount of work and I just didn’t have the time to cover everything that I really thought needed covering. So over time and as editors have changed, I now have something in between the best and the worst cases. I can generally determine what I’m going to cover and my stories are usually run without much editing for content. However, my communication with Style is very sporadic and I don’t really know what the magazine is planning. Many times I have been surprised when a theater-related story shows up in print.

This is all a lead-up to my comments on the current “Arts 25” issue of Style, which has many interesting pieces, several on theater folks, and one that I wrote (this one on d.l. Hopkins). I think Style picked out many good people to highlight and think they did a great job in covering Scott Wichmann, Carol Piersol, Grant Mudge, and Derome Smith. I’d also point out the piece on Patrick Farley, a friend of mine, a really nice guy, and a very talented architect (whose wife was in the production of “Company” at Dogwell Dell – so there IS a theater connection).

However, I must be honest and say that I had little input on this selection of influential people on the local cultural scene. I received notice about the issue the afternoon before the decisions were made on who to highlight. I was at work and couldn’t really respond. When I was able to compose an email about it later that night, I suggested several people, none of whom ultimately made it into the magazine. I mean no disrespect to those who were chosen but below is the short list of theater-related people I suggested. And I’m curious: who do YOU think belonged on the list, which was presented to me as “25 people influencing the arts right now.”

Chase Kniffen
Rusty Wilson
Lisa Kotula
Artisia Green / Rebekah Pierce: Founders of Arteka Theatrical Productions (are these guys still around?)
Brett Ambler / Audra Honaker
Scott Wichmann

Oh, and one last thing: my Fall theater preview also shows up in this latest issue. Check it out!


Anonymous said...

That is a very interesting question Dave. To me the word "influencing" in this context means a person who is shaping or taking the arts in a new direction. I don’t think it should include talented actors who get cast often in theatre, because that list is quite large in my opinion. And then we are just picking favorites.

So who are the most "influential" people in theatre right now...

Certainly many of the people Style picked. Then I would add:

Alex Previtera – Henley Street Theatre (picking classics that are not done often in Richmond)

Richmond Shakespeare Company – specifically Andrew Hamm for offering a variety of workshops and training for working actors.

Jennifer Procise – Development - Swift Creek Mill Theatre – for her fund raising and marketing efforts over the past several years. The Mill will continue to be a strong presence in our community due to her dedication, hard work and new ideas.

Those are my adds. I can’t wait to see what others say. We really are blessed to have so many talented people in our community.

pnlkotula said...

Thanks Dave. I really appreciate your kind thoughts and am deeply humbled.

But Jacquie, I don't think you can leave out the currently "high profile" actors. Essentially, they do shape seasons, because theatre companies (consciously or not) are certainly taking the talent pool into consideration when they choose obvious vehicles for certain people. Although I'm certainly not arguing that the pool around here is small by any means.

It IS a tough question, though. When I plan for my "Cue the Spotlight" section in the Marquee, I have found it helpful to tie the person into the features I have planned for the month. It didn't start that way while I was finding my way, but that is where I have taken it. For instance, next month, I will do a profile on JB, which hits a two-fold purpose. I'm including a bit about the theatre community online and she will be appearing in The Member of the Wedding. It has helped me focus things to do it that way, and it was soooo hard to choose randomly. That doesn't really answer Dave's question, but it might help for people to know what I am thinking.

I would add to the list a collective shout-out to the amount of theatre education opportunities we have to choose from, young and not so young alike. My two cents.

Anonymous said...

I think the endless work Erin Thomas is doing and has been doing with SPARC should not be over looked. After all,in 25 years those students will most likely be on a list like this one and it will be because of what she is doing now.
I also think you list is great!

Le Synge Bleu said...

being sort of new again to the theatre community (and so much has changed!)i can't really comment on the list, but i do keep in close touch with artisia who is teaching theatre at a college in chicago and recently engaged to be married to an awesome guy from bermuda. so no, she isn't around, but is looking to move back east at some point.

Anonymous said...

Good point Lisa! Yes, shows are picked for actors at times…thus shaping seasons. And JB you are so right on the money mentioning Erin! She is such a great asset to SPARC and I know the ripple effect with the new programs she has created and the students she has and will teach in the future will have a huge impact not only on this community, but wherever these kids land in life.

Anonymous said...

I find some of the people who you think should have been on the list aren't really doing anything innovative...I'm good with Jacquie's additions...grrr...just makes for more grrr...maybe I'll explore further later, but...I mean...come on...

Dave T said...

Ooh, dissent! I love it. I kinda wish there was a name attached to it and I'm not sure what exactly to make of the grrrr's. Maybe this was posted by my editor at Style?

Anyway, one point to make up front: the article as it was posed to me was influential people in the arts now; as it was published, it was innovators in the arts. An important difference. I wasn't focusing on innovators per se when I submitted my list. But frankly, I don't think Grant, Carol and Derome are necessarily innovators either; they're all very damn good at what they do but I don't think they go too far outside the bounds of convention in terms of building their respective programs. And Scott's just an insanely great talent. Is that innovative? Hmmm...

I'll explain some of my choices a little:
Chase I think IS doing innovative things with his work on the Barksdale cabaret series and the partnership with Steward School. I think his energy and talent are also influential in helping Barksdale build their program. Thinking of him was also a nod to the educational aspect of the Steward partnership. The drama teachers in town are greatly influential, from the SPARC folks all the way up to college professors. In fact, if Chuck Mike from U of R would write me back and tell me what exactly he's doing, I'd love to pitch a story about him to Style.

(An aside: Style didn't mention Grant's work teaching at the Governor's school which I think is among the very influential things he does...)

Rusty Wilson I think brings an interesting perspective to directing and acting -- different than alot of what you generally see in town. I don't always particularly like it, but think it's different, and he's getting regular work, and therefore think he has been and will be influential.

Lisa I think is an obvious choice: Richmond Marquee is not just a good idea, I think it is representative of something unique in RIchmond and that is a thriving and SUPPORTIVE community.

Mentioning the Arteka folks was probably premature because I don't know if they'll ever do anything in town again. Alex P at Henley might have been better. But that was my acknowledgement of the regular attempts of people to start up new ventures here, continually bringing new energy. I think that's influential in the way it continually brings new people into the theater world as well as providing new opportunities for those already in it.

And Brett and Audra I mentioned because I think they are influential in a way people may not always think of. They may not be determining a company's direction or choosing shows or initiating new partnerships, but because they are so ubiquitous, they become the face(s) of Richmond Theater to a lot of theater goers. And if people liked Brett in "Joseph" for instance, and then see that he is playing in "Urinetown" they may say to their friend or partner, "Hey, remember that guy who was so good in that show we saw a couple months ago? Well, he's in another one -- why don't we go see it?" I know people have that reaction when they see that Scott W or Jill Bari is in a show. And I think with all of the productions they've been in, they are starting to get the kind of recognition that makes people interested in shows simply because they are in them.

If Style had asked me for innovators, I probably would have pushed hard to get the people at Yellow House mentioned. They seem to be focusing more on film these days but the stage stuff that they do, when they do it, is certainly very innovative.

One final note: in terms of the MOST influential people in Richmond theater, I still think when all is said and done, it really comes down to Bruce and Phil. There may be some other folks that are close, but I think it would be hard to dispute their place at the top of the heap.

But go ahead and dispute me if you like! More dissent please!

Andrew Hamm said...

I think the list strikes a nice balance between the influential popular and the influential innovative. Maybe a piece about the future of Richmond arts, a projection of who's going to be really important in 5 years, would net a very different list of emerging movers and shakers. Alex Previtera would headline that one.

I wonder where the overlap between "Arts 25" and "40 Under 40" is. There are a couple people on the Arts list who I'd like to see on the 40 list, as well. Would Style mention the same person in both features? I somehow doubt it, for editorial reasons alone.

The piece on Grant does omit his important work at Maggie Walker. It also seems to focus on A Christmas Carol as his single greatest contribution to the universe. I'm not complaining, but I think founding a 12-year-strong summer Shakespeare Festival is pretty important...

I'd like to see Lee Hanchey on this list. She heads the Center for the Arts at Henrico High School and is without a doubt Richmond's hardest working person in show business. Year after year her program turns out superb practitioners in theatre, musical theatre, visual art, and dance at a school which largely ignores them and has largely substandard facilities to work in.

Anonymous said...

Some people on your list are only doing what there told to do by their bosses, therefore they aren't influential or innovating.

Dave T said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave T said...

Hmmm...let's give Mr. Anonymoust the benefit of the doubt and assume he's actually trying to add something to the conversation here. I'm not saying my list is THE list by any means, but I would say you are inaccurate in your response. To whit:
Lisa: started Marquee on her own, no boss.
Arteka people: again no bosses.
Rusty: he essentially IS the boss of whatever production he is directing.
Chase: my understanding is that he has been the engine behind some of the initiatives I mentioned, that is the motivating (i.e. influential) force.
Brett / Audra: I already said why I thought them influential above.

Also, I disagree with the premise of your response. Pres. Bush tells Gen. Petraus to whip Iraq into shape. The good general is just doing what his boss is telling him -- but are you going to tell me he's not influential or doesn't have to be innovative? For years, Frank Rich just did what his boss told him to do: write about theater. Was he influential? Uh yeah! My boss says he wants a new software system implemented. Do I have to be innovative? Yes again.

Thanks for contribution Anon. Such as it was...

Anonymous said...

...and it's "doing what THEY'RE told to do" not "doing what THERE told to do". Just wanted to point that out, Anon. :-)

Anonymous said...

Oh Debra...that just brought back a really funny memory...I'm sure you know the one I speak of! :)

Anonymous said...

Chase is not the engine of anything. He's following orders.

Bruce Miller said...

Well, I guess I should weigh in here. For whatever it's worth, Chase is very influential at Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV. He's the engine of lots of things. He's the #1 20-something on board, and his opinion is factored in to virtually every decision we make. He's in charge of Barksdale Theatre Workshop, our Bright Lights Internship Program, Barksdale Bifocals Theatre Project, Coffee & Conversations, and Meet the Stars. When anonymous says that Chase is only "following orders," anonymous is incorrectly (and unfairly) diminishing Chase's influence and creative contributions.