Friday, February 01, 2008


I realized I never provided a direct link to MaryB’s “report card” on theater in town. I will be honest in saying that the demographic comparison to Baltimore – which I questioned deep in the comments of this post -- still sticks in my craw a bit. Starting with it being much closer to DC than Richmond (check Google maps – Baltimore is 40 miles from DC, Richmond 100, or 2 ½ times further), Baltimore just doesn’t compare to Richmond in many ways. I spent some of my childhood years in suburban Baltimore and I used to have a job that put me in Baltimore 1 week a month for a year and it is simply a way different place than Richmond. The metro area population really doesn’t compare, particularly when you consider population density. There’s a reason Baltimore can support major league baseball and football franchises while Richmond can’t even support a triple-A baseball club. I expect there are about a dozen metrics you could look at where Baltimore is 3 or 4 times larger than Richmond, beyond number of professional and community theater companies.

However, having had my little demographic rant, I will say that I agree wholeheartedly with Mary’s basic premise – there’s not a whole lot of growth or dynamism in the local theater scene. The fact that Theatre IV’s Little Theater has been dark for something like 6 months is only one of the many bell-weathers I would point to as proof.

I am not – and I don’t think Mary was – pointing fingers at the local theater community. God knows that the folks Barksdale and RTP and CAT and Firehouse and RichShakes and everywhere are doing everything they can think to do to grow their programs. I think the problem is larger and more systematic. One of many key issues is the antagonism between the city and the counties in central Virginia – most of the money is in the counties and they won’t invest in growing the downtown scene.

I agree with Andrew in thinking it doesn’t do much good to bemoan Richmond’s scene in comparison to other city’s. We have what we have. But I totally disagree that the way things are is somehow acceptable. As I said in my piece, my fear is that good people will leave (have already started to leave) and not as many good people will come here if things don’t change. Richmond has so many of the components that could make it a really dynamic top-notch theater town. I think it’s a shame that the powers that be – money people, government people, arts people – can’t seem to get it together to make it happen.

I think about Baltimore with its thriving Harbor, Cincinnati with the popular river-side development, even Cleveland – my true hometown – has done wonders with an area that used to be a dirty mess (the Flats) and made it into a bustling scene. Maybe we’re heading that way with Toad’s Place and the National and more riverside happenings downtown. But at least where theater is concerned, it’s like Richmond is rewriting Beckett’s play as “Waiting for CenterStage.” Will it get here? What do we do in the meantime? When it gets here, will it be enough? I guess we’ll see.


Anonymous said...


Speaking of Cincinnati, a town I have fallen in love with, there is a rumor floating around that they are going to build ANOTHER major downtown arts center on the river to house Playhouse in the Park (which has completely outgrown its current location in Eden Park), Cincinnati Children's Theatre, the Symphony and I think either opera or ballet. They already have the Aronoff Center, which is a major venue for the first run road shows and such and they are going to anchor the second performing arts center on Race Street so they have a performing arts coridor. If it comes about, it will be very exciting, they are talking in the neighborhood of $150 million to make it work and I believe they will.

Comparing Baltimore to Richmond is apples and oranges unless you are comparing murder rates!! For all its problems, Baltimore is a major league city, Richmond is a minor league town surrounded by minor league counties that don't seem willing to play together...IMO!!


Anonymous said...

As a both a member and a patron of the theatre community, I would like to add the following.

I understand the points being made by all in this regard. Not that this is a "side-taking" debate necessarily, but I can relate to the sentiments of all here. They all come from place of love for the arts, experience, and hard knocks and successes. Everyone here who has offered up commentary has a legitimate argument that comes from personal experience, and that is well supported.

However, I do feel that so much of the related "controversy" on this issue still reverts back to the matter of "status" of the speaker. So many who are in a position to comment about this very topic are often the ones whose established reputation(s) either within a specific theatre company, with our local critics and publications, or with other actors and artists, inform their ability to be, or credibility in being "heard," in such discussions.

I'm not trying to turn this into a bitter tirade about the "underdogs" or "underappreciated" of our community, but when addressing the matter of how much good talent and opportunity exists in our town, it seems that so many who have contributed to or stimulated activity in our theatre community often go unnoticed via their more humble and less publicized reputations or lack of "status" therein. I'm not just speaking for myself here, as I, personally, have been very lucky in this town, have received my fair share of good reviews, strong showcase roles, and opportunities. I'm merely making what I feel is a very salient point here.

I know so many artists in this town who work frequently and consistently, onstage and off - actors, directors, designers, etc., - who play a major role in setting examples for other up and coming professionals in our area, and who also contribute to and help to stimulate career opportunities and activity for others. Many of them have worked with "the best in town," or even given many their "start" locally, as it were. Yet, these admittedly more anonymous, yet busily working artists are never mentioned in these blog discussions or sought out in preparation for such articles in print and elsewhere...even though they work just as much or hard as our local "stars." Rather than taking interest in the less fanciful, more homespun or rustic projects in town and those who help make them happen, we're still looking strictly to those with "status" when it seems that we should also be looking to those who, while more anonymously, are really out there "fighting the good fight."

Speaking from personal experience, I have been involved in self-started theatrical and performing arts projects in town, some of which were quite successful and maintained large audiences and impact therein, yet that went virtually unnoticed or disregarded by the very community to which they appealed or were part of. They couldn't get seen, appreciated, much less reviewed by the very industry peers or publications that should have been there to support them. I see this happen all the time in town, as actors and artists pool together to try to make something happen for one and all (not just themselves), to set an example, and to create opportunity, but are scoffed at by local "stars," critics, and the like. The nobility and dignity that goes into an independently mounted or politically unsupported company or project appears to be of no interest to those who "have so much to say." Meanwhile, when a discussion of the "state of Richmond theatre" comes to pass, those who are sought out to comment on said topic are the ones at an absolute and arguably unfair advantage.

For example, I respect the tenure of former Richmond theatre artists like Rick St. Peter, and understand why he would currently have something to contribute on such a topic. Given his body of work at the Barksdale, TheatreVirginia, and elsewhere in town, and the many prominent actors with whom he has worked, certainly he would have something to say. Yet, why is somebody who left the area five years ago and who resides and works at a theatre company several states away being interviewed about this topic over, for example, somebody in town who has directed, acted in, or produced perhaps 50+ shows in the area and is still here doing so? And Mr. Timberline, this is not in any way a personal attack, I assure you. But don't you think it's a little audacious for you, as a critic and somebody responsible for informing the public about our local arts community, to unilaterally be informing the same community about socializing personally with its "stars" and "movers/shakers?" I'm only asking you to consider how such statement will easily provoke such responses from others as, "Well, I've worked MY butt off in this town. What do *I* have to do to hang out with Mr. Timberline and Co.??"

In addition, as somebody who would personally like the arts in the area to persevere, I think it's highly irresponsible to flaunt such terminology as "stars," "star power," and so forth, in this regard. We're in Richmond, VA,'s a small town, and we're all pretty easy to find. The notion of people being "stars" in such a setting is a bit corruptive and skewed. Mind you, some really terrific work takes shape in this small town, from its "stars" and otherwise. On the other hand, there are so many people here in this very town that are contributing to the phenomenon and success of Richmond theatre and arts. As a member of our community who wants to increase, add to, and lo and behold, partake of some of the success that lies ahead for all involved...I rather resent the idea that, for example, a heavily-publicized, openly-praised, or frequently-cast/pre-cast actor would be elected to tell myself or others what the chances of that are.

Let's not just look to the "stars" and those with "status" to tell us "what's going on." Support and take interest in those smaller companies and grassroots projects as well. Some of the best work in town also emanates from some of the most inconspicuous companies, settings, or artists. Let's make our assessment of where Richmond theatre is going a little more all-inclusive, and not quite so EX-clusive. You'd be surprised what you'd find...right under your noses, people.

Anonymous said...

And yet you continue to post on Richmond's theater blog... Why is that, exactly?

"A minor league town with minor league counties." Sorry, where did you move again? Lexington? That world class metropolis of the midwest?

We're supposed to complain that you left? Not this audience member, who also remembers your shows.

From reading your previous posts, it's clear you're not a jerk. However, you are ignorant of the crime levels since your departure, more than a few years ago. No offense: simply ignorant. It's clear you are also ignorant about theater today in Richmond overall.

Suggest you go love on Cincinnati and Lexington. They'll be lucky to have you.

Richmond theater-goer

Anonymous said...

I believe I have said more than once on this blog (which you have apparently read) that compared to Lexington, Richmond is like New York...compared to Baltimore, Richmond is a minor league town, pretty much whether you like my shows or not...


Anonymous said...

And Lexington is...double A, triple A or college level? A lot has changed in 5 years, so, kindly butt out of the Richmond theater scene Mr. St. Peter, or better yet give us a link to your theatre's blog so we can share our opinions with the Lexington metropolis. Peace.

Le Synge Bleu said...

since when are blogs and blog commentary zip code specific? last time i checked, i could go comment on a blog about communities in fiji and its perfectly kosher. this is the blogosphere, anonymous, not a local coffee shop q and a.

and you can certainly find mr. st. peter's theatre's blog all by yourself, if you just use google. i'm sure he won't kick you off because you reside in a different community. he is fortunately much more open minded than that.

Scott Wichmann said...

Dear Anonymous posters I & II,

Rick St. Peter is a theatrical risk-taker. He revitalized the Lexington, KY theatre scene by bringing innovative, fresh and visionary projects to the table to challenge his audience, an audience that is more used to UK basketball games and such. (That's not some kind of condescending dig, it's a fact-- Theatre has not really had a huge presence out there compared to college athletics, concerts & films.)

Rick had to basically carve out a new market in Lexington where there wasn't one before. He has had a tougher time than anybody trying to start up a theatre in Richmond would have. In the past four-plus years, Rick has elevated Actor's Guild of Lexington from a struggling community theatre to one churning out nationally recognized productions. Check out the January issue of American Theatre Magazine if you're not feeling me on this one.

Rick rolls with the punches-- he's had to deal with budget shortfalls, Machiavellian board members, space-sharing arrangements, but he still keeps coming with it. He carved out a new Shakespeare Festival at a vineyard in Lexington this past summer in a gamble that could have lost him his job. And you know what? It paid off. Lexington audiences now recognize that AGL is on the map and that they put out consistent, quality work each time out. Folks now know that they can enjoy a UK game AND have the option of enjoying a play in the same week. Every time they go to AGL, they know they're going to get something interesting.

Sometimes great productions fall flat with the masses (As with 'Rounding Third'); Sometimes-- unexpectedly and overwhelmingly-- they resonate with audiences ('Boston Marriage', 'Hamlet'); Regardless, Rick continues to roll the dice on the next show, and he gives his all each time out. In my opinion, he's uniquely qualified to comment on the Richmond Theatre Scene, having endured the double-career-whammy of the TVA closing and the Barksdale Restructuring process. Let's see how you rebound from losing two jobs in a row with a family to feed while keeping your eye on the ball by looking for new career growth opportunities, anonymous. Then you can pontificate all you want about 'Fighting the good fight.'

Rick St Peter is all about Perseverance. He bends over backwards for his friends, and his family is as warmer and more supportive than you can imagine. You know, as I type this, I'm thinking-- Maybe if you want some help with your under-appreciated-and under-the-radar self-starter-theatre-project, you should send him and email and introduce yourself. You're apt to find a caring and supportive ally. Don't waste your time turning Rick into a target to blast with your anonymous frustration. Come out of the shadows and get in the game.

And as for Richmond being a minor-league town, city leaders have shown they can't even keep that distinction intact, as the loss of the Richmond Braves indicates.

The town has it's troubles, but the people make it what it is. I appreciate a swift kick in the ass to say "get in GEAR!!" now and then, and that's what Richmond needs going forward. We can always strive to be better than we are right now. That's what Rick is about, and that's why he's my friend.

Richmonders should be proud that he is representing the 804 so well.

PS: Check out my blog for my thoughts on Super Bowl XLII-- what a game!!