Friday, November 30, 2007

Organizational Objections

Mr. Timberline has been kind enough to include me as a kind of ‘guest columnist for the day’ here on RichmondVATheater, his always thought-provoking and informative blog. I felt it was important to respond to the anonymous critic who complained without detail about our organization, Richmond Shakespeare. Andrew Hamm, our terrific Director of Training began to do so (quite eloquently) and I’d like expand on what’s afoot for us.

Afterward, the ongoing discussion of spaces, attendance and aesthetics inspired me to give an update on Richmond Center Stage, which will appear next week.

Richmond Shakespeare is a 23 year-old non-profit organization in the midst of massive change. In just two years, we opened a new downtown space, added new staff, moved our entire offices and added an enormous new education program called Will Power to Youth Richmond, collaborating with the National Endowment for the Arts, the US Department of Justice, Shakespeare Festival/LA and the VA Attorney General’s Office. In those two years (one since the offices move), we have been honored with the Pollak award and grown our fledgling Training department to the point that it will now host such Richmond legends as Scott Wichmann, David Sennett, Jill Bari Steinberg and Daryl Clark Phillips and has already this year brought Jennifer Massey to teach classes. (You can come take one anytime!) London actor David Hall will also teach a class soon, and we recently enjoyed Stephen Williams’ visit, who played Prospero for Richmond Shakespeare; Stephen’s last “Tempest” was as Ariel opposite none other than Sir John Gielgud in 1964 at the Royal National Theatre.

However, I can’t help but think critics like ‘anonymous’ are referring to the staff when they say their objection to us is “organizational.” I wonder if they know that all of the above was accomplished with a staff of only four (4) people. In addition, I’ve also taken a full time teaching position at Maggie Walker Governor’s School. I haven’t made this public until now but I’ve waived my Richmond Shakespeare salary during this entire time so that it can go to our other staff—all in an effort to bring the company to a up to a new level. Is it hard? Exhausting? Do we make mistakes? Of course. But the alternative is to quit, and it’s just not in our nature. It unequivocally isn’t in mine.

You might think I’d be angry at anonymous. Quite the contrary—I invite anyone to come see our offices, give me their two cents about how they think our organization could be improved, in short, to become part of the RS family and phenomenon. Because the above list is just a partial one, and there are hundreds of performances and classes—and thousands of audience members yet to come. If you like our venues, our performance style and our vision for the future, come be a part of it.

In the meantime, it’s my great privilege to again be performing “A Christmas Carol for Two Actors,” which opens tonight. Nightly collections benefit CARITAS, Richmond’s most prominent non-profit homeless sheltering organization. We play inside 2nd Presbyterian Church, just two blocks from Richmond Center Stage, on 5th Street between Franklin and Main. Our patrons enjoy free parking in an attached secure garage, from which they can walk right into the theatre. The chapel at 2nd Pres is almost exactly the dimensions of Shakespeare’s own indoor theatre—which also used to be a chapel. Stop in for dinner first, or dessert after at Penny Lane right across the street—they’re great friends of ours and what could better following a performance of Shakespeare or Dickens?

We’re growing. Come see us evolve.

-Grant Mudge
Artistic Director, Richmond Shakespeare


Frank Creasy said...

The productions served up by Richmond Shakespeare are, to my mind, innovative and entertaining (and often, quite demanding for the actors involved). From my experience, those demands also drive artistic growth. I've personally benefitted greatly from my involvement with Richmond Shakespeare.

Just as importantly, Richmond Shakespeare is a place where I've made some cherished friendships with people such as Grant Mudge and Andrew Hamm and many others who have worked with RST. I've found it to be an inviting and warm environment.

I congratulate Grant and RST for their recent well-deserved awards, and applaud them for providing educational classes not to be found elsewhere in Richmond (Jennifer Massey's recent class was extremely useful).

Here's wishing RST another 23 years - and more - of unique and entertaining productions.

Anonymous said...

It is so hard it is to run a theatre company with a skeleton staff in place. Barksdale Theatre (before Theatre IV came in to manage it) never had more then 4 people on staff. I believe that Swift Creek Mill Theatre has only 3 full-time folks on staff. Henley Street Theatre has no paid staff members at this time. In these kinds of situations it is so important to have a “working” board in place. Yes, they are volunteers, so it can be hard to ask them for help when they are not being paid. But board members should understand that agreeing to volunteer on a theatre board with a small staff means you agree to work along with that staff in order to fully realize the mission of the theatre. I don’t know what the situation is with Richmond Shakespeare’s board, but I do hope that they can help you as you move forward. You can only ask your staff to do so much before things start to fall through the cracks. Your organization is growing in a wonderful way…and your board is vital to that success.

Anonymous said...

Sorry...please take out the second "it is" in the first sentence. That's what I get for cutting and pasting and not looking at it before clicking the go button!

Andrew Hamm said...


You couldn't be more right in your assessment. A working board are the often-unsung heroes of a nonprofit arts organization of any kind. Often they want to help and do more, but need to be told and shown what to do.

I've only been on board with Richmond Shakespeare's staff for a year and a half; I'm still learning how to do my job and certainly don't feel qualified to tell anyone how to do theirs. So I find that I'm shy about asking these very kind volunteers to take time out of their busy schedules to do even very simple and necessary things like hanging posters and making phone calls. In all honesty, I need to get over it.

Our board just had a very beneficial and energizing retreat, one of the many reasons I am as optimistic as I am about the company's very near future.