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.


joni mitchell said...

Despite having the best intentions, a thriving artschool base and what ought to be a willing fan base--Richmond Theatre has stagnated over the past 5 years. It now relies more on gimmicks and faux tradition to draw its audiences. It says more about the audiences than the thespians. But then again when was the last time a girl really kissed a girl?

Bunny Oswaldo---Mad Hatter and Theatre Critic

Anonymous said...

Theatre Virginia closed in December of 2002, though I'd thought for sure it was '03. A quick google search yielded this PLAYBILL article:

Anonymous said...

Like, duh, that would be "researcher." Told you it was late.

joni mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
joni mitchell said...

Good healthy theatre should be far more about how it makes us feel and think inside. RVA Theatre is far too much about keeping up appearances (not to be confused with the lovely BBC Comedy) when we tell our friends and cohorts that we went to the Theatre and saw a show. We shouldn't have to tell. The show should show. I'm Not Rappaport? Am I?

Bunny 'Midge' Oswaldo
Mad Hatter, Theatre Critic &
Somnambulent Writer

Unknown said...

We skipped the light fandango
turned cartwheels 'cross the floor
I was feeling kinda seasick
but the crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder
as the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink
the waiter brought a tray

And so it was that later
as the miller told his tale
that her face, at first just ghostly,
turned a whiter shade of pale

She said, 'There is no reason
and the truth is plain to see.'
But I wandered through my playing cards
and would not let her be
one of sixteen vestal virgins
who were leaving for the coast
and although my eyes were open
they might have just as well've been closed

Anonymous said...

Please correct your spelling of TheatreVirgina. - No space between the two words; Theatre is spelled with "re" in this case. Thanks! The loss of TheatreVirginia after 40 years was tragic but says a lot about the vunerability of corporate and audience support.

Does Richmond really compare to Baltimore in size? I'm not sure. Our local arts scene rocks. Theatre, not so much diversity.

Thank you and happy new year.

Thespis' Little Helper said...

Some very strange comments here.

I'm gonna give more thought to Mary's questions, but was intrigued by the comment about do we compare to Baltimore size-wise.

According to Wikipedia (such a reliable source of information...hahaha) Metro Richmond is 1.2 million and Baltimore is 2.6 million. Their other numbers seem to match up with the 2000 census, so it seems rather reliable.

So I guess that answers that.

So if we have half of the arts that Baltimore has then we're on par, right!

Dave T said...

I'll be looking forward to your perspective on this, Mary. Comparisons are tricky. I'd argue that Baltimore is much more than twice the size of Richmond. If you look at the definitions of Greater Richmond and Greater Baltimore, the population comparison is more like 870K for GR versus 2.6 million for GB. The 1.2 million pop for the Richmond area (actually the Richmond-Petersburg Metro Statistical Area) is more analagous to the Baltimore-Washington MSA which has more than 8 million people. Of course, proximity to other population centers complicates things -- Baltimore being so close to DC, Philly, much closer to NYC. Then there's competition from other forms of entertainment -- DC and Baltimore both have major league sports teams, for instance. That's why I think it's complicated...

Anonymous said...

Interesting array of comments. Seems to spell out what's wrong. Some care about spelling and demographic comparisons and others care how Theatre feels. I get the whiter shade piece. Good touch. Interested to see how it all fuses together in black and white.

Dave T said...

Anon -- Not getting how the comments people make on this blog "spell out what's wrong," particularly when commenters like myself are only tangentially related to the theater scene. If you'd like to contribute more than the typical anonymous dreck, it'd be interesting to hear some specifics about what you actually think is wrong.

Anonymous said...


Spelling: I was referring to the poster who corrected Mary's spelling of TheatreVirginia complete with the appropriate syntax instructions.

Thanks for the dreck remark. Makes me want to continue to read your blog: NOT

Unknown said...

Great Job on the Art Cheerleaders Mary B.

Richmond theater is lame and should be better. I grew up in Charlottesville and even that sleepy town has superior shows and productions

Sandy Bitch (pronounced Beach)

Dave T said...

If you've read this blog, you know I have gone to pretty great lengths defending Anonymous posters; I think they can add a great deal to the discussion. But asserting that someone pointing out a spelling mistake or my interest in demographics somehow "spells out what's wrong" with the theater scene adds nothing substantive to the discussion. As I said, I'd be happy to hear anything of value you have to say (write) but random potshots are dreck, pure and simple. And if that hurts your feelings, have a good time reading other blogs.

Anonymous said...

Of course Richmond theatre has stagnated in the last five years, I'm not there anymore...(seriously I kid)...

I think the major issue facing Richmond is that same thing that happened in Charlotte, NC. When TVA and Charlotte Rep closed, you kinda lost your anchors for those towns. Even when TVA was staggering along in the late 90's, it provided employment for a number of local theatre people (actors especially) in a range you couldn't make at the other theatres in town. When TVA closed, our minimum contract was $618/w for actors, which is far more than what Theatre IV and Barksdale were paying. Obviously I don't know what it is now, but I am willing to bet that Barksdale's SPT is not anywhere near that figure.

I am one who believes in the notion of the theatrical ecosystem, whereby all the theatres in a community have a niche to fill and they feed off of each other. I have been working alot in Cincinnati since I have moved out to Kentucky and that is a perfect example. You have Cincy Playhouse as the anchor for the ecosystem and then you have a host of theatres kinda working off what they do, including Ensemble Theatre, Cincy Shakes (where I work), New Stage Collective, Know Theatre Tribe and others. With TheatreVirginia, you had that same kinda of ecosystem head that hasn't been filled yet. Barksdale, in my mind, was never meant to be the anchor theatre in Richmond, even with the management support from Theatre IV, it is not physically equipped in its space to be "the theatre", even if it is now the only theatre signed to a full Equity contract. Even removing one seating section so it is no longer in the round made it in my mind less unique but it makes sense to do that now because it doesn't have TVA to work off of, if that makes sense.

I think Richmond needs a LORT theatre and it needs to augment its local talent pool with folks from outside the community, otherwise the talent pool stagnates, the audience gets bored and you don't move forward. I think TVA cast too much out of New York, there didn't seem to be much of a willingness to engage in the local theatre community, oddly enough when Benny hired me, that was part of my mandate...unfortunately the theatre was on borrowed time when he arrived and we never had a chance to implement some of these plans. For example, The Laramie Project, which at TVA was going to have an almost entirely local cast, most of whom stayed with the show when Barksdale and RTP produced it at the Empire, would have been a step in that direction. Did you ever get a chance to see Scott Wichmann, Sara Heifetz, Rick Brandt, Jack Parrish (occasionally), and others on stage at TVA? That was the plan, anyway...

I am wondering what the plans for the future are for professional theatre in Richmond. God knows the talent pool is there for it, but I wonder if the will of the community is such that it can sustain a major professional regional theatre, even like VSC in Norfolk. While I know that LORT doesn't guarantee success or even quality, it does in theory provide an opportunity to access some of the very best theatre artists, regardless of where they live.

Dave, in reading your year end wrap up in Style, you mention Jack Parrish moving out here. I still get the occasional (mostly anonymous) complaint from members of the theatre community here about bringing in too many people from Richmond...including the familiar complaint that Richmond ain't New York. As Steve Koehler, Scott Wichmann, Sara Heifetz and others can attest to, compared to Lexington, Richmond is very much like New York! There is far more talent in Richmond than in Lexington...Hopefully the city will be able to hold on to the talent but as some point, people are going to want to earn more than $350/w for shows and they will have to look is simple economics...

Happy New Year all!!

Rick St. Peter

hoosier steve said...


I think you nailed it, the closing of TVA caused a major drain on Richmond, but that is only part of the story.

The all but closing of the Little Theatre is only part of the reason also. What the Little Theatre represented was a space for The Theatre Gym and the Helping Hands program. I have talked about this before here, that some of the finest shows in Richmond could be seen at the Little Theatre. Bruce and Phil and by extension, Theatre IV, gave a lot of young and hungry people the chance to really sink their teeth into some wonderful theatre. They provided the space, lighting equipment, sound equip, any scenery an possibly costumes that the company was not using, and the fiduciary oversight and assistance that mad Theatre Gym viable for the work. Rick, Keri Wormald, Steve Perigard, Rick Brandt, and many many others were able to direct shows that would make a list that I know both Rick and I keep. I am guessing that many other directors have a similar list the "List of shows I want to do at someone else's theatre". Shows that may be too risky for an established company to produce. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. Bruce and Phil made it possible. Since Barksdale folded into Theatre IV the overworked staff (we were all overworked already when another 1,000,000 operation suddenly came under our belts) the support of Theatre Gym has sadly slipped to the back burner. I do not fault Theatre IV at all, I know how hard it is to keep things going, and I left before Hanover Tavern started up again.

I guess what I am saying is that there has been a double hit on Richmond Theatre. The closing of the LORT theatre and the apparent end of the complete shoe string theatre.

Frank Creasy said...

As someone who never had the chance to work with or even meet Rick (though we've worked with several common acquaintances), I have to thank him heartily for an intelligent and insightful posting. I'm guessing that's what you were hoping for, Dave and Mary.

I would agree that there is a strong talent pool in Richmond. I've had just a few opportunities to work in productions in other cities and states, but I have seen a number of regional productions in other cities, touring shows, and Broadway and London west end shows. I've seen absolutely stunning productions and performances in NYC and London, and then again I've seen some performances on those elite stages I thought would be overshadowed by some of our local talent. I've also been occasionally disappointed here to see an overall terrific Richmond production somewhat dulled by a sub-par performance by one actor out of the cast; especially disappointing when you know others in the area could probably have done better. I see typecasting by directors who pigeonhole folks in particular realms of characters, and having spoken with some dear friends (including some who work as often as they like in this town), that too can be frustrating not only for the actors but very limiting for the audiences. If you KNOW exactly what you'll get every time you see an actor's name on the playbill, why would you be excited to see him/her do the same thing yet again? And of course, some of the same kinds of productions keep getting churned out over and over. But don't blame the producers - they absolutely must present shows that fill seats and generate subscriptions and donations. In short: Richmond has some of the same problems as most other theatre communities. Seeing what's happening of late, Rick, I'm very hopeful the Richmond scene IS in transformation and that things may be changing. But it will take time to tell if what we're seeing is a new trend or a passing fad, with more eclectic offerings than ever before. We'll see.

Hey, I sure don't mean to be Debbie Downer here, because I really love Richmond theatre and I think there's so much to celebrate and be thankful for in this community. Personally I've had so many wonderful opportunities that I have no sour grapes at all about the audition rejections; something usually turns up sooner rather than later for me, and I know some would envy the opportunities I've enjoyed, so I don't take them for granted. There are also a healthy dose of choices at various levels given the size of the Richmond area, the talent is solid, and the people are a joy to work with and many of them I consider cherished friends. But the theatre community here does have to face some restrictions of theatre space and pay scale and audience expectations. Ultimately, folks, this IS Richmond. Love it, or leave it - but don't expect the grass might be so very much greener elsewhere. We've got one of the most wonderfully big small towns in America. For me, and for many in this theatre community, the "pros" outweigh many of the "cons" in staying here to live and act. Based on some of the terrific talent in Richmond, that alone should give us all hope.

Anonymous said...


That is a great point about Theatre Gym, in addition to TVA. Where else could I have walked out of grad school with basically no practical experience and been given the opportunity to direct something like subUrbia with such a great amount of support. When I was in grad school, it seemed like there were exciting things happening almost exclusively because of Theatre Gym. The stuff Gary Hopper was doing, Steve and Rick and Kerri and others made it seem like it was possible and Theatre IV basically gave me the keys to the car and let me take it for a drive. When you combine having that kind of launching pad for relatively new and unproven talent + TVA at the opposite end of the spectrum, you had a top to bottom honest to goodness theatre community. I can guarantee you that without Theatre Gym, I wouldn't have the career I do now...because that is where I learned to be a professional director, which bore very little resemblance to what I learned in grad school. Having that lab space to learn from my mistakes and from my successes made was invaluable.

Is there no more Theatre Gym? Did it go away with Theatre IV expanding to Barksdale and Hanover Tavern? That is too bad, I have fond memories of my Theatre Gym shows...subUrbia, Jails Hospitals and Hip-Hop and even Lobby Hero were all important milestones for me in my career.

Rick St. Peter

hoosier steve said...

I don't think that it ever really officially went away. But for all practical purposes it seems to have gone that way. After all as I stated, and as most people here know very well, the staff of Theatre IV/Barksdale is swamped. Although a lot of the work done on shows in the Gym was done by the show producer and show staff, there was also a fair amount of work to be done by the staff of the theatre. The programs that do not bring in any extra money to a company are often the first to go (kinda like the Smitty's).

I agree though that it is a shame. My first show in Richmond was Raised in Captivity, directed by another ex-pat, Mike Todero, and starring a whole lot of local talent. Some of my favorite shows were in the Gym, How I Learned to Drive, Heathen Valley, Jails, Syringa Tree, and many more. I wish I could work in that kind of situation every time I do a show.

Anonymous said...

Does Theater Gym still exist?