Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Christmas when everything broke

It started with an ominous splashy-splashy sound under the sink after I brushed my teeth in the morning. It wasn’t a drip-drop sound, but something that cried out, “call a plumber.” But the thing was – it was the Wednesday before Christmas and no one could make it out until the day after Christmas. That wouldn’t have been so bad if one of the other three upstairs sinks was also out of commission pending a bathroom renovation. One functioning sink for a family of six – including 2 teens – was not good. It was going to be an interesting week.

And that wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t come home Thursday to my wife holding a small mangled plastic doo-dad that indicated that the dishwasher was also broken. Friday night my monthly poker game – in which I had never lost more than $30 before – delivered me a $70 spanking. Should I have been surprised?

Saturday morning, as my lovely wife and I prepared to have 15 members of my extended family over for brunch, I turned the key in my car ignition and was treated to silence. No clicks, no revving hum, no nothing. Hello dead battery. After all the relations had arrived, my wife tried to extract an ornery piece of ice from our freezer and pulled out a not-so-small plastic doo-dad attached to the icemaker instead. Well, at least it isn’t summer time…

On Christmas Eve we hadn’t been in my mother’s house more than an hour before we heard screams from the stairs. My sister’s dog had tried to bite my son’s ear off. The EMTs were surprisingly good-natured for the night before Christmas. We finally left the emergency room just before midnight, my son sporting a nasty 16-stitches worth of a wound in his left ear.

As if my body had announced surrender, I woke up Christmas morning with an epic sinus headache and persistent juicy cough. As soon as all the gifts had been opened and Christmas breakfast consumed, I hit the bed for nearly a full 24-hour nap. It wouldn’t be until Friday that I could take an unfettered breath.

So it’s been a rough 10 days or so. And it’s not over yet. But through it all, I have to say I’m very grateful. My son’s injury could have been much worse and, at 4 years old, he is incredibly resilient and has quickly resumed pestering his older brother. I’ve thrown off my illness pretty well and I have a wonderfully supportive wife who allowed me to check out for a full day. Things can be repaired or replaced. I’m lucky I have $70 to blow in a stupid game.

The New Year presents many exciting potentialities. My surprising eldest son has been cast in “Peter Pan” so the exciting, occasionally overwhelming logistical challenge of his new career will continue for at least several more months (see, this IS a theater blog…) An awesome family trip for spring break is already deep in the planning stages. I have a decent shot at having my first scholarly article published.

I hope you too, dear reader, are poised on the edge of an exciting New Year full of promise. Thank you for checking in on my sometimes semi-coherent ramblings, for your comments, and for your support of – or participation in – the Richmond theater scene. Take care.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Theater Report Card

Great article summing up the year in theater, Dave. You are my hero. But enough love fest stuff. I am feeling better. Thank you all of you who sent "get well" wishes. I am now- at 7:17pm on Friday night working on a story for STYLE that is due on Tuesday that is to summarize the overall status of the Richmond Theater Scene in the last five years. I am looking for some quotes and would love to include some of yours as representatives, professionals, fans or Richmond Theater.

So here are the questions:
Do you think that the Richmond Theater Scene has grown, shrunk, or stagnated in the last five years and why do you think that?

How do you think Richmond Theater compares to other cities that are similar in size?
Like Baltimore for example.

What do you think is the potential for development?

Can anyone tell me when Theater Virginia closed?

It is best to include your name and theater related title in order for me to quote you. I do not promise to quote anyone but I reserve the right to quote you if you respond and it adds to the validity of the story.

Even if I don't use any of this material it should turn out to be an interesting discussion.

An aside: The Art Cheerleaders will be performing at Sycamore Rouge on New Years Eve in Slash Coleman's Burlesque Show. Hope to see some of you there.

That's a wrap

I'm glad MaryB's been keeping the conversation going over the holiday as my life has been enveloped in chaos (more on that later). Here's a link to my year-end wrap-up in Style. Check out the hardcopy version of the mag for a smashing picture of MaryB in her Arts Cheerleader garb. I look forward to any thoughts in response. Did I give an apt summary...or not? What do YOU think was most significant about this past year in Richmond theater (besides, of course, the addition of MaryB to this blog...)?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Incorrectness of Santa Claus

Yes, you are reading the time correctly. It is 2:00am Christmas Day and I am awake writing on this blog. It seems my sister Art Cheerleader, Rebecca Oliver gave me a little Christmas gift of her sinus infection and I am miserably trying to sleep with my head feeling like a giant vice grip is trying to squeeze what is left of my brain out. So I am awake and what better way to spend my time than to rant on the blog...

I did check the location of Santa Claus at before I logged on. Just making sure I don't screw things up by being awake ya know. It might interest you to know that at this hour Santa is somewhere in Montana. According to NORAD he is three quarters of the way through the US and headed for Central and South America to finish up his annual work of delivering toys to good girls and boys all over the world. Perhaps already thinking about that hot toddy in the hot tub after a long nights work. Of course the entire Santa thing disturbs me. I mean what is OK about a strange man essentially breaking into our homes to leave stuff? Shouldn't we be a little wary about this?

Folks in Australia are getting to be more wary of Santa. I heard on the radio earlier this season that Santas in Australian malls were being asked to say "HaHaHa" rather than "HoHoHo" because "Ho" was considered to be degrading to women. In some places, probably California, there is a movement to return Santa to his original skinny self (aka pre Samual Clement poem) citing obesity to be unhealthy and a poor example to children. Why all of a sudden all these problems? Is it our culture of fear as theorized by Michael More in his film 911?

Who knows? But really when you think about it Santa Claus is seriously politically incorrect: A Strange looking old fat guy with a red nose who smokes a pipe and wears winter clothes even in hot climates. This is a profile for a pedophile if there ever was one. Then to go even further he hangs out with kids- encourages them to sit on his lap! and we promote this as a culture?

How scary is Santa these days? Let's break it down:
He is old: Ok- those of us who are over 40 may be encouraged by Santa's longevity but the truth is that someone that old can't really have great judgement. In our youth oriented culture Santa is pretty scary.

Fat: It is a bad example for kids especially in countries in which childhood and adult obesity are the number one health problems.

White Male: could this be more politically incorrect? Look to the current presidential hopeful race to see how five minutes ago it is to be a white guy in the thinking people's camp.

Smokes: This is the epitome of poor health choices. Why would I invite someone into my home who is going to pollute it with pipe smoke? Do I really want my children to admire someone with this habit?

Red nose: Santa usually sits in a warm mall all day. His nose is not red from the cold so it must be a sign of advance alcoholism. That would also explain the protruding gut and the psycho happy attitude.

Kids on lap: If you saw or are familiar with The 8: Reindeer Monologues you already know about this one. As a parent, this is especially disturbing. I can't believe that mothers coax, bribe and threaten their children to get on Santa's lap. In this age of rampant pedophilia, what are they thinking? When my mother-in-law took my daughter (expressly against my instruction) to visit Santa at the age of two and got upset because she refused to get on Santa's lap I pulled my daughter aside and congratulated her. I felt that I could not send the message of not talking to strangers or being seduced by candy 364 days a year and then make her forget it for one day in front of a camera no less. I was proud that she followed my instructions despite the pressure from another adult. It is sad though, that this is the way the world has become.

Winter clothes even in warm weather: If you have ever worked in retail you know that people wearing big winter coats in warm weather are profiled as shop-lifters.
All those clothes give them a place to hide stuff.

Giving stuff away for free: We have all been told that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Is Santa just dumping the stolen goods at out houses? Let's face it, is there truly a factory on earth that could make enough toys and goodies to fill stockings of every child on the planet?

So all in all Santa is a pretty suspicious character and after this blog I am sure to get ashes a switches or lumps of air polluting coal in my stocking next year. But at Santa's age and the way the media moves he will probably forget all about it by next Christmas. And anyway this blog has worked its magic on me this morning - I am going back to sleep because you know that there are at least two people in my house who will be up in a couple of hours to see what is in their stockings.

Take care everybody. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Reflections of 2007

While the year is winding down and we are all faced with the question of New Years Resolutions, I have spent a little time reflecting on 2007. For me personally it has been a wild year. It started it with me being mostly identified as an adjunct Marketing Professor at VCU, still a little irritated at having been relocated to my less than loved hometown after an 18 year vacation, and dealing with a major education issue for my 16year old son who was then trying home schooling. My family was falling apart and I was feeling unappreciated and very unloved. Little did I know that twelve months later I would find myself in a totally different place, if not geographically at least in my career and mentality. I have jumped back into theater life, found the career of my dreams, discovered some chutzpah, met some fantastic people, found the right school for my son, been invited to teach at a prestigious business school, am making peace with my past life in Richmond and have started performing again. My self esteem has come 180 degrees from where it was in January of 2007. Despite the challenges of the year (which were rather huge) I feel great!

There are some people who need to be recognized for the major contributions they have made to my new life. The first is Carol Piersol of the Firehouse Theatre Project. Carol was kind enough to ask me to produce "Austin's Bridge" which got me back into the game that gets my blood flowing- theater. Although I had little (if nothing) to do with the artistic side of the show, being involved in AB connected me with the art form and the people who led me to the next step. It was the promotion of that show that introduced me to Brandon Reynolds at STYLE who graciously gave me a chance to write theater reviews. Through the support of Jason Roop, Laurie Rogers, Scott Bass and very much Brandon Reynolds I have begun carving out a career as a freelance writer with a focus on the arts. Affiliation with STYLE instigated a friendship with Dave T. who honored me with an invitation to write on this wonderful blog where I have met and learned from so many fantastic theater people. I have literally become an Art Cheerleader and thanks to the local media am receiving recognition of the mission to encourage folks to support the arts. Special thanks to Justin Lowenhagen for putting me on the literary map and sending a letter to the editor at STYLE about my review of "The 8". I respect your opinion and enjoyed learning your perspective of the performance. I am still amazed that people actually read what I write let alone have a strong enough reaction to want to respond in writing. I am deeply grateful to you all.

So far it has been a great ride. I have grown so much. The blog is helping me to understand how to experience other viewpoints and hopefully to better express myself.

Thank you all for reading and especially for commenting. There have been some lively discussions in 2007. I believe this blog and the action on it is truly helping to increase the awareness of the theater scene in Richmond. Now all we need is a theater "Mash up" of our own. Dave?

Keep up the good work.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Slow going

It's awful quiet in the blogosphere these days. What, is everyone preoccupied with something else besides theater? Hmmmm....

Well, in the meantime, I've added a few new links. Finally got a link to the TD's "Swingtime Canteen" review, only a month or so after it first appeared. Also stumbled across Janine Serresseque's blog and greatly enjoyed her recounting of the grumpy Cabaret patron. I'll also be keeping tabs on the interesting activities in the burgeoning career of Jase Smith via his web site.

Finally, I hope you'll check out next week's Style for my year-end theater wrap-up. It may lead to some spirited discussion...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A long-awaited review

Today's Style has the long-awaited review of "A Christmas Story," which may finally allow for the lifting of the scapegoat label from my poor head down at Theatre IV…

Mash Ups

As much as it pains me to do so, I'm going to have to say something positive about the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Today I stumbled upon their "MashUp" video segments that they do as part of "inRich.TV" and I found them downright endearing and even a little bit clever. And perhaps most shocking of all, they have done some bits about theater! Back in November, they did a spot on "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" at Fielden's and in their latest spot, they give a little mention to the upcoming Dick Buttkiss and the Tight Ends Christmas musical, "The Christmas Story (According to Uncle Daddy)." For some reason, they only seem to cover theater in conjunction with stories about tattoos...not sure what's up with that.

Still, the MashUps are a little irreverent and moderately hip -- who knows, maybe they could help make theater a draw for those wacky kids out there...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Media Culpability

There's been a subject I've been wanting to broach for a while, but haven't really known how best to get into it. For one, it's a potentially slippery thing that could go in all sorts of directions and for another, I'm in an odd situation since I'm "part of the problem" but also have very little true power in terms of changing the situation.

But Andrew Hamm's recent posting on the new RichShakes blog brought it to the fore for me again. That, plus the fact that my lovely son informed me that I am now the company scapegoat at "A Christmas Story" because Style hasn't published a review of the show yet, even though Mary B was at opening night. So somehow, since I hold so much sway at Style (HA!), I'm now being held responsible.

I have many reactions here. One is that I'm happy that among the things my son is getting from his theater experience is an expanded vocabulary; 'scapegoat' isn't a word that comes up in casual conversation around our house. (Also, for any "Xmas Story" people out there reading, I know that this is all in good fun -- RCoop told me that Eric Evans used to be the scapegoat so I am proud to wear the mantle shed from such a noble head...)

The other is to feel defensive on behalf of Style and (in reference to Mr. Hamm's post) any other media outlet that has chosen not to review a show. There are dozens of factors that an editor and publisher have to balance and that determine what shows up in print and what doesn't: number of ad pages, timing of publication, perception of urgency, availability of art, etc. My lovely wife used to be an editor and it could be pretty tortuous at times for her to make cuts one way or another -- not unlike a director having to cast a show and turn down many worthy auditioners.

But on the other hand, I have been oftentimes befuddled and not infrequently angered at the coverage theater receives here, from all the possible outlets. It's ridiculous to have to wade through the obituaries to get to the RTD's theater reviews that seem to never appear in the Flair section anymore where things like movie and music reviews appear. And it's annoying that Style's theater reviews often don't get published until the week the show is closing. And as far as the other alt-media in town, well, theater might as well not exist.

But on the third hand, I have my own little part in this drama and haven't always done all I could do. When I first started reviewing, I wrote more than 50 reviews a year -- I saw a show a week on average! With previews and occasional features, there was usually something theater-related in every single Style issue. Now I see maybe a show a month and it's not even the Arts editor's fault; I just don't have the space in my life to do it. And there have been times that I've rolled my eyes (at least) and downright balked (at most) when I've been asked to, for instance, review "A Christmas Carol" for the 5th time. There are shows I like that I haven't seen twice -- I'm not going to get too excited at my 7th "Anything Goes." As much as I feel sorry some times that Daniel Neman has to review stuff like "Gigli" and "Blade: Trinity," a movie reviewer generally doesn't have to watch anything he doesn't like twice.

I think there is a chicken-egg deal with theater and the media: theater doesn't get much coverage because there's a perception that it's not that popular and it doesn't get any more popular because the media doesn't let people know what's out there (or they put out the wrong stuff -- y'all see the TD's listing of plays from about a month ago in Friday's paper?) From what I hear anecdotally, the media had a great deal to do with the growth of the theater scenes in Chicago and Seattle. Some reviewers yelled loud enough until the audience started noticing -- and then they actually showed up at the shows. So what's the story in Richmond where there is a pretty darn lively professional theater scene, at least two very well respected college theater programs, and you can't even get the papers to review all of the professional mainstage shows?

Like I said, I could talk this issue around in circles and I'm not sure where to go from here. Andrew has expressed his frustration and I think it is a fair point. Anyone else want to chime in?

Friday, December 14, 2007


Dear Theatre Fans,
In a previous post Dave T. mentioned the February Coffee and Conversation for February at the Barksdale and I responded that I had not been invited to participate on the panel. Please know that I have been invited and so has Dave (check your email from Chase, Dave- I thought it was a promo). So please come on February 12th at 9:30am to the Barksdale at Willow Lawn for Coffee and Conversation where I will look forward to your intelligent questions regarding the role of the critic. Hope you can be there too, Dave - your charm will certainly be needed to balance out my snarkiness.

Mary B.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Odds and Ends

Some sharp-eyed reader might have noticed that I finally updated my links on the left here at richmondvatheater. This includes adding a link to Donna Coghill's site and moving Robin Harris-Jones to the expatriates section :-( If any of y'all have a site / blog that you'd want me to link to, feel free to let me know. It might take me a coupla weeks, but I'll add it to the site when I can.

And speaking of expats, here's a link to a clip from Eliza Skinner's show "Eliza Skinner is: Shameless" that I saw during my trip to NYC. It's high-calibre humor people; don't watch while drinking anything...

Also, I'm sure you've seen articles from Celia Wren in the Times-Dispatch; most recently, her reviews of "Plaid Tidings" at the Mill and "Moonlight and Magnolias" at the Barksdale (I'd link to them but the RTD archives want to charge me money to do that...). I've been trying to pick up American Theatre magazine more often (yeah, I know, they have subscriptions but I don't read the magazines I already subscribe to...) and have noticed articles from her in there as well, like this recent "Theatre Facts" piece. So this makes me curious and I do some Googling and now I wonder -- am I the last person in town to know that we've got a Harvard educated, former ATM managing editor working right here in sleepy little Richmond? I just find that fascinating.

And to bring that little tidbit together with the recent discussion about DC-area theaters, did anyone see this article over the summer about the nude Macbeth? I hadn't. Celia has an interesting and very erudite quote in the midst of it. Thoughts?

Monday, December 10, 2007

This week

Don’t mean to distract from the intriguing venue / tech / “Phantom” discussion going on, but just wanted to point out a couple of Barksdale things going on this week (and no, I don’t get a kick-back from them):

-- The Holiday Cabaret is going on tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30.

-- Tomorrow’s “Coffee and Conversation” is "Behind the Scenes of Moonlight and Magnolias." Now, since M&M is a behind the scenes look at “Gone with the Wind” is the C&C event like Behind the Scenes Squared? Or maybe Behind the Scenes Once-Removed?

-- I’ll also note in passing that February’s C&C session is a panel dubbed “Critically Speaking” where you will be able to “Go inside the minds of some of Richmond’s most intriguing theatre critics.” I have apparently not been deemed intriguing enough to participate – how about you Mary? – but I was thinking that I should plan to go and write a critique of it. And then I was wondering, would that make me a critic once-removed? Or would I be some kind of meta-critic? And then I thought I should stop thinking arcane thoughts about the future and get back to work…

Saturday, December 08, 2007

I wish to digress to the discussion about theater spaces for a moment.
Two comments will not leave my head and they must be addressed:

The first is from Andrew Hamm who wrote:
"The idea that theatre is only legitimate or significant if thousands of dollars are spent on tech drives me nuts".

Good for you Andrew, it should drive us all nuts. That idea certainly drives me nuts. Nowhere in my statements did I say that one needs to spend lots of money on anything to produce good, interesting, and/or thought provoking theatre. But I cannot stand by and have it implied that actors are the center of the theatrical universe. Theatre is a collaborative effort. Everyone does their part regardless of how many or few elements are part of the show. When each person does their job well then a good production comes forth. I have seen bad actors rise up to good under wonderful direction. I have seen great actors put in awful performances due to bad direction or a script that just won't work no matter what you do with it. I have witnessed poor tech quality that gummed up otherwise great shows to the point of no redemption.
Certainly you are correct that there is lots of big budget schlock out there - anything by Andrew Loyd Webber for example from "Cats" on. One of the WORST shows I ever had to sit through was the touring show of "Phantom" at the Kennedy Center Opera House. If I had had to pay for the tickets I would have demanded my money back. It, like most of Webber's stuff, is all about the wonderful effects. I can appreciate a good set as much as anyone since good set building put food on our table and paid our bills for five years but I would have preferred to have a twenty minute demonstration of the set and lights and a costume parade rather than have to endure that repetitive music and totally lame script. Sorry for the tangent there...
The point is that good or bad theater can happen on any stage or venue but it is about the harmony of the collaboration.

The second comment I can't get out of my head:

Rick said "I saw more bad theatre at the Shakespeare Theatre than just about any other theatre in the country."

Really? I am curious as to your definition of "bad theatre".
I have seen some of the best productions ever at the Shakespeare Theatre. "Cyrano" was amazing with the entire audience in tears. It made the wonderful Barksdale production look like a comedy in comparison - even though Bridgewater and everyone else put in fine performances it just couldn't touch the superior quality of the Shakespeare Theatre version. "Julius Ceaser" was phenomenal with its modern social commentary thrown in with the Rodney King staged references and mix of modern and traditional costumes. In your favor, Rick, I did see a horrible "Othello" in which I left at intermission but for the most part everything I have seen there was top notch. I will admit that I have not been in the last three years but it is difficult to imagine that Michael Kahn has allowed any major dip in quality. I will make a point to see some shows there this season to compare.
Rick also said "Studio is highly overrated". Hmmm. I had a season subscription at Studio last year and thought everything I saw to be at least as good as the best shows I see here in Richmond. Not the top shows I've seen in Richmond (Syringa Tree, I Am My Own Wife, Urinetown, The Full Monty) but definitely the upper level. Perhaps part of my love of DC theatre is the lack of anger I feel when I see a pretty full house with a seemingly socially and racially mixed audience in attendance. Who knows but I am interested in more details in regards to these comments.

Friday, December 07, 2007

More Christmas Story Praise

Hey Ya'll. Happy Chanukah! I have been very busy writing a bunch of stuff for STYLE, pole dancing, and taking care of my poor injured husband. Please forgive me for my neglect. Anyway, it looks like some fun stuff has been happening on the blog since I last visited. I really enjoyed reading the "Theatre space" responses and Grant's update on all that Performing Arts Center construction going on downtown. Dave you are so right in praising Tony Foley's performance. I have no children in "A Christmas Story" so I can be objective and the pittance you offered for a bribe to give it a good review will definately not affect me in the least- I have debts, baby, you'll have to cough up more than a smile and a handshake.

I adored "A Christmas Story" and it wasn't just that it was in a theatre with flyspace. Sadly, my formal review was so limited in space that when it comes out it will not even slightly do justice to the show. Tony, as Dave T. has already said was fabulous. He did have a lot of lines, true but he really did create a wonderful character as well. In fact everyone in the show was wonderful. The sets and lighting were lovely with the exception of Ralphie's face looking very yellow at times when he was not in a fantasy sequense (a minor infraction. The costumes were OK too but I was unsure about some of the 1938 authenticity. The movie has always looked too '50s too me so I am wondering if the cosutmer chose to just copy the film's flavor or actually researched the era. Also a knit pic in the face of the great script which is beautifully adapted in a way that pays homage to the film without spitting it right back at you. There are some additions to the story like the expanded relationship between Ralphie and his classmate Esther Jane. I could go on and on about this show and all the fun and great performances but I need to get off my duff and start the morning routine. But do go see the show and take all your friends. And Dave, Cooper is really cute, but you knew that already.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Spicing things up

OK, this may not be what Jacquie was thinking about when she asked about spicing this blog up but here's a link to MaryB's article about pole dancing, which Mary has probably been too shy to post about. Pole dancing! C'mon people, it doesn't get much spicier than that!

Mary also has a preview of the upcoming XF Dance company show. Also a bit spicy based on some of the pictures. Check it out!

Thinking of Spring

Just a month after my last trip to NYC, is it too early to be thinking about my next one? I don't think so!

Particularly when Laura Linney is going to be on Broadway again. You have to hand it to the Roundabout -- they are certainly scoring the "event" shows. Claire Danes is closing soon in "Pygmalion" and Kathleen Turner is directing their "Crimes of the Heart" next year. My reaction to Linney in "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" is somewhat similar to Danes in "Pyg:" I absolutely LOVE Linney. For my film class last semester, I did a short paper on "Primal Fear" which was Ed Norton's first big splash in film. But I came away from it with a new appreciation for Linney who does amazing things with a relatively throw-away role.

Anyway, "Liaisons" is a meaty story but it's also not one that compels me to seek it out again and again. Malkovich and Close (and of course Uma!) were great in the movie version but for some reason I tend to remember the role Michelle Pfeiffer played. Anyway, it's mostly a story of mean people doing mean things. It's delicious fun once, but has a tendency to grow stale quickly.

So I MAY have to run up to see Ms. Linney come April. Or maybe something even more interesting will come along...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Update on Richmond Center Stage (Guest Column, Part 2)

The ongoing discussion regarding performance spaces and attendance inspired me to give a little update on Richmond Center Stage (RCS). The new Center is predicated on the idea that Richmond’s world class performing arts organizations deserve world class performance spaces which reflect the artists’ remarkable skill and quality.

Performance spaces are a special interest of mine; at a recent conference of the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America, an annual gathering of companies that perform primarily Shakespeare, three artistic directors were charged with talking about the spaces in which they create live theatre: Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. (Lenox, MA), Christopher Gaze of Bard on the Beach (Vancouver, BC) and yours truly tried to qualify what is magical about our theatres and what lures audiences to attend. I spoke about Richmond Shakespeare’s summer Festival venue, Agecroft Hall and indoor space at 2nd Presbyterian, but also about Richmond’s new performing arts center. (Incidentally, Bard on the Beach sold out its entire summer run of four Shakespeare plays: 205 performances and more than 87,000 people.)

My interest goes beyond my profession and Richmond Shakespeare. The spaces in which artists create live performance to me are sacred spaces; they are the crucibles in which we fire the human imagination. We shine light on the very core of our humanity---when we cannot help but laugh, weep, or be lifted out of our seats. In those spaces, elegant or unsophisticated, we ponder the very truths of man’s ultimate dilemma, expanding on an ancient question as old as civilization itself: “Quem Quaertis?” What is it we’re seeking? A literal translation of this liturgical phrase is “whom do you seek?” It was tremendously influential on European medieval dramas, and thereby on the fabric of the Renaissance and on our own theatres today.

Today, theatre still speaks volumes about our very human quest to seek. Theatres reflect what’s happening among the audience and the performers. In short---our theatres represent the very core of ourselves.

And what’s happening in Richmond? Plenty. As you can see from the pictures, there’s plenty happening at the RCS on site right now. Current construction focuses on a new stagehouse for the Carpenter Theatre, including selective demolition within the theatre and adjoining storefronts. It’s work of which the public seems largely unaware; many even seem unaware that the RCS effort has emerged from its toughest challenges and is making enormous leaps forward. Someone recently asked me, “isn’t that whole thing dead in the water?”

Far from it.

The effort to build Richmond Center Stage involves an impressive array of performing arts organizations bonded together in an Alliance for the Arts. It’s an Alliance that still regularly advises the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation. It’s an Alliance remarkable in its unity, and one which shows just how influential artists can be when they work together. It’s an Alliance like Richmond has never seen before. Richmond Shakespeare has played a small role on the board of the Alliance since its inception and in the planning effort of RCS. (We’ve actually been involved as far back as the first MAPS meetings in the late 90’s.) As such we’ve had a front row perspective on the evolution of the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation, which is charged with building Richmond Center Stage.

Today, Richmond Shakespeare is preparing to be a resident of the new Center, and we’re far from alone! At the last meeting of major users of the new arts center two weeks ago, the African American Repertory Company, Richmond Ballet, Richmond Symphony, Richmond Shakespeare and Virginia Opera organizations together continued active planning for the opening of RCS, slated for September of 2009. Also participating in this users’ group (though they couldn’t attend that meeting) is Theatre IV, and by extension Barksdale Theatre. It’s a region-wide effort of large and small performing arts organizations. How realistic is a 2009 opening?

Richmonders wary of pushed-back deadlines should know that the construction companies lose money if they miss the September goal. The photos included here are quite current; they were taken within the last two and a half weeks. If you haven’t driven by in a while—you’ll be surprised. Take a look; the new federal courthouse looks pretty great across the street, too.

So, what spaces will Richmond Center Stage provide to theatre artists?

One age-old space will be restored, returning a beloved space to use, newly renamed the Carpenter Theatre. Next, thanks to a generous gift a great new space will open, the Libby Gottwald Playhouse, a flexible 200-seat intimate theatre which we are working hard to ensure is available to a wide variety of producers, small and smaller organizations alike.

That space was thoroughly and painstakingly designed, with input from theatre practitioners and prospective users incorporated all along the way: it will have performance-hall acoustics, flexible seating, state of the art lighting equipment, and is already the most exciting new space in Richmond theatre since Barksdale’s move to Willow Lawn. Lastly among the performance spaces, RCS will include Rhythm Hall, which will primarily be a space for music but someone will find their creativity ignited by its many configurations and performance possibilities. Can we say Elegba Folklore Society or Richmond Jazz Society, anyone?

Also of significant note are new Educational Outreach spaces. The Genworth BrightLights Education Centertm, a new avenue for existing arts organizations to reach young people to foster learning tied to the arts; the BrightLights programming will exist on-site and reach out to surrounding school districts.

So what’s next? Right now all the design work has been finished and we’re following the process of construction and planning for the opening of Richmond Center Stage. Are you planning for 2009? We are.

-Grant Mudge
Artistic Director, Richmond Shakespeare

Saturday, December 01, 2007

An Ode to Tony

There’s an old, fairly catty T-line inside joke that centers around the line, “How did you remember all of those lines?” As with most of these things, the charm is in the delivery but, regardless, the joke stems originally from an actor being asked that question by a rather unsophisticated fan. In my experience, people are pretty regularly amazed by the memorization skills of good actors, particularly Shakespeareans who have all those lines and hardly half of them even seem to make sense.

Because I know only sophisticates read this blog, I know that you all know that remembering the lines is really just the beginning for an actor, the barest of foundations upon which they build a performance. But after seeing “A Christmas Story” last night, I couldn’t refrain from a bit of that unsophisticated amazement in regards to Tony Foley’s performance. Stage time for “ACS” is more than 110 minutes and I think Tony probably narrates nearly 100 of them. The sheer volume of verbiage he needs to keep straight in his head is impressive.

But that really is just the beginning for his performance, which is wonderful. Narration is tough. It is all too easy to fall into monotone. There’s little or no interplay between you and another character to help you stay focused or give you cues as to what happens next. You are the engine that drives the production and if you sputter, the whole train falters.

Tony does more than just keep the show chugging along. He infuses his narration with life and wit and animation. He makes his character (Ralph) a real character, not just a removed voice. And it is his performance that makes the show, if you ask me. Everyone else in the cast is excellent but if Tony weren’t extra excellent, the show would not be nearly as good. And just as an additional aside, if the narrator was just some disembodied voice like it is in the movie, the show would have to struggle mightily to be good. The amount of narration in this play is hard to pull off; Tony makes it work.

I have to say that it’s impossible for me to be truly objective about this show since my son is in it. Somewhere in my objective critic brain there's an impression that the show is too long. But every moment that my boy is on stage is pretty transcendent for me so am I going to complain about length? I don’t think so. It’s a good thing others will be reviewing this show. I can imagine some of the criticisms they might have but you won't hear any of them from me. In my analysis, it was pretty darn good. Which is lucky for me since I will have to see it at least 3 more times. Which is also why I’ll probably have more to say about this show before it’s over

It was great to see a whole bunch of theater pals at opening night. I usually bolt shortly after the curtain goes down after most shows. But we T-lines made up for that habit last night by being pretty much the last folks out the door after the cast party. Mr. Miller caught some pictures of both me and my blogmate Mary and posted them on the Barksdale Blog. Check ‘em out if you want to get a look at the faces behind these words.