Friday, May 30, 2008


Leave it to an outa-towner to alert me to a modest tempest brewing right in my own backyard (Thanks, Rick!) To recap: apparently, a letter to the editor was written to the T-D by a Mr. Miller complaining about Barksdale’s “Little Dog Laughed” – I don’t really care enough to look it up. But in response to THAT letter, two others were written (readable here). One is a great one from Brian Vaughan – nicely stated Mr. Vaughan! The other, written by a Sandra Randell who I guess is the wife of CAT Board Member Mike Randell, suggests CAT as a family-friendly alternative.

Rick asks if this was “hideously tacky.” I wouldn’t go that far. I would say it was opportunistic, something that I’ve seen in many situations, including on this blog. You see a chance to promote something you are interested or involved in and you take it (“Go see the Capitol Schlepps at Or Ami tomorrow night!”) People draw the line between opportunistic and tacky in different places. But one thing I think such a letter does is open the door for folks to think CAT is taking advantage of another theater’s risk-taking and misfortune for their own benefit. Which doesn’t really reflect well on CAT.

I also think the letter was pretty badly timed, given that “Veronica’s Room” – a show that, according to Ms. Berlin posting in this space, is CAT’s first ‘adult advisory’ show – was their next offering. “As an alternative to gay sex and nudity, we offer murder and incest!” Hmmm…

I absolutely agree with Rick that Bruce’s post about it was very well constructed, showing a little bit of ire but ending on a magnanimous note. He refers to Susan H’s review in the T-D, which makes clever use of the LDL controversy in commenting on "Veronica's Room." And I agree with Bruce that it seems very easy for some people to vent their disgust and very nearly impossible for them to express their compassion or even to attempt understanding. This is sad at least and despicable at most.

The biggest irony here might be that reaction to Barksdale’s “edgy” show might have thrown some attention toward CAT’s most “edgy” show to date. If it all results in more contemporary, risk-taking theater in Richmond, bring on the controversy!


Anonymous said...


I'm all about promotion, I was never shy about promoting my own stuff, as I know Bruce and Phil used to cringe about "Rick St. Peter Joints", which when I discovered it made them cringe, I would juveniley continue to do it just to try and get a rise out of them! My point in my original post, and why I believe the CAT letter to the TD is hideously tacky, is that I cannot believe there would be promotion of one theatre at the expense of another theatre. Which brings up the question, "Are we all in this together?" My answer would be, "Of course we're not." Are Wal Mart and Target all in it together? Did Barksdale benefit from the closure of TVA and the collapse of the Broadway Live series? When you are bouncing from theatre to theatre working as often as you can, it is easy to get into the mentality of "We're all in it together" but for those of us producing, trying to make a go of it in the face of diminishing audiences and ever smaller resources, you can bet we are in competition with each other. We may smile and make nice in public, but at the end of the day, each of us is running a business and we are in competition. It is one of the paradoxes of our business...

So, in the end, I guess I shouldn't be surprised to see one theatre try to use the controversy of another theatre to draw attention to themselves. Would this have happened even 10 years ago? Of course not, but its part of the world we live in...

That being said, I too was a huge Amy Berlin fan when I was in town and would like to see Veronica's Room. I'm also looking at producing The Little Dog Laughed here in LexVegas next season, it clearly is a play that needs to be seen in as many communities as possible...


John said...

OK, so we have been doing male and female nudity, and same sex intimacy for 15 years in Richmond. Our audiences are not all gay men and women, and frequently we get groups of very open, very ambitious straight women to come and see our shows. As a matter of fact, a recent survey showed our audiences to identify as over 40% straight! We have yet to get hate mail or any major press related to our selection of shows, though we have tried... I mean, a naked Adam and Steve in the garden of Eden only got us one phone call that ended with "and I hope nobody comes to see this trash. But I guess you are sold out so..."(and then hung up). People. The big deal is because people are not used to seeing LDL-like theater at Barksdale. Swift Creek would get the same negatives. So would CAT and HCT. I think it is our goal as an open theatrical community to enlighten and I applaud Barksdale and Bruce for taking the step in that direction. Oh, and didn't Barksdale also do "Love, Valor, Compassion" years ago??? Maybe "Four Queens in Hawaiian Shirts", "Bite Me" or the shower scenes in "Take Me Out" will get em talking!

Anonymous said...

The RT-D publishes more letters to the editor than any comparable paper in the US. We should be thankful for that, even as we recognize the limitations of the form.

I'm sure Ms. Randell did not mean the things some have inferred about her letter, and perhaps Mr. Vaughn, on reflection, might have avoided patting himself on the back so vigorously for being "educated." He was doing fine until he went down that divisive trail. Once the words are on paper, however, there's no going back.

Thank goodness blogs offer what the RT-D really doesn't--the chance, real-time, to receive comments about one's opinions, and opportunities to clarify and revise. Too bad this "modest tempest" didn't originate on a blog, but luckily many are discussing it on blogs and offering reasoned reactions, like yours, Dave.

Enough about controversy which, while good overall for theater, does detract from a great RT-D review of the "Veronica's Room" cast. I'm feeling vindicated after seemingly being accused of participating in "hype." I hope there'll be more discussion after more folks have seen the show.

Anonymous said...

I made a detailed post on Barksdale's blog about this issue, and I don't want to repeat myself. However, for those who don't read both places, suffice it to say that the letter in question was not a "CAT letter" and there was never any attempt by CAT to use Barksdale's controversy to promote itself. I can certainly understand why it might look that way, but it's simply not true.

And seriously, as Dave points out, to have tried to orchestrate such a marketing plan would be the ultimate in futility. Were it successful, all it would do would be to attract people to Veronica's Room who would hate it.

As the person who returns most of CAT's phone calls and e-mails and incidentally directed Veronica's Room, that is certainly no goal of mine!!!

Amy Berlin

Anonymous said...

I'm a Board Member at CAT and I would direct your attention to Amy Berlin's comment to Bruce's post on the Barksdale blog, where she points out (correctly) that the letter about CAT being a "family friendly" theater was not vetted by anyone on the CAT board and was not seen by any of us until we read it in the paper like everyone else. So any attempt to paint this as CAT making a "tacky" attempt to promote itself at another theater's expense is simply ludicrous. If the letter had been written by anyone other than someone who happens to be married to the president of the Board, no one would be jumping to these ridiculous conclusions right now.

Try thinking about it for half a second: would a theater try to promote itself as "family friendly" and then immediately after that open a production of Veronica's Room, which, without giving anything about the plot away, is far from what anyone would call "family friendly"? Doesn't make much sense, does it?

Stan Baranowski

Unknown said...

It is hard to predict what a board member will say about the organization, let alone their spouse. I don't know if I would go so far as to call the letter as "hideously tacky", but I would go with plain tacky.

I am in the middle on the We're all in this together". In my small town we are basically the only game in town with any history. There are a few other companies that have popped up in recent years, but frankly their programming does no offer much more than ours and they do not have the body of work that we do, so the comparison would be closer to WalMart and brand new convinience store on the corner.
But thinking more of the Richmond scene with its many community, semi-pro and a handful of pro theatres, in some ways Ricks analogy is correct. We are all competing for a shrinking audience and their limited free time and disposable dollars. However, the difference is that there is a sense of community, real or not, strained or not. Most people work at multiple venues, I designed at every major theatre, and many minor onese in my eight years in town, all except TVA (damn!). So although my deepest loyalty was always to Theatre IV, and eventually Barksdale, I was comfortable working anywhere.

Secondly, if I worked for Target, I would never call Walmart and ask to borrow an expensive piece of equipment. We did borrow many pieces of equipment from around town to mount Peter Pan, most notably the beautiful star drop from U of R. I have borrowed dimmers form Dogwood Dell, lighting equipment from Theatre IV, etc etc. etc.

So while I know Bruce is not blindly idealistic thinking that there is no sense of competition, I also know he has a deep respect for the other companies, and has done more than his share to help many of them out over the years.

All this over a couple of guys kissing? I again applaud Bruce for mounting Little Dog Laughed. The show was wonderful, it was great to see Susan on stage, my first time seeing her in 4 years, and it was an enjoyable experience. Also at the Wednesday Matinee I attended, very few of the elderly women seemed offended, and really seemed to enjoy themselves.

Scott Wichmann said...

Here's my two cents about the the "Are we all really in this together?" Debate. In fairness to Rick's post, I am one of those artists who bounces from one Theatre to another working as often as I can, and I see things from that perspective. But in my 'travels', I often see generosity on display that reflects more than just 'business sense' at work-- and it speaks to the character of the people in each Theatre organization in town.

Recently at the Firehouse Cabaret, the light board at the Firehouse went kaput an hour and a half before the show. Carol Piersol gave one quick call to Theatre IV and Phil Whiteway had an extra light board delivered to the the Firehouse Theatre less than 45 minutes later. Our designer, Mike Mauren, plugged in all the Lighting Cues and we went on without a hitch that night. Talk about a crisis averted!! FTP would have had major problems if TIV hadn't come to our rescue. No lights, no show!!

I called Phil and thanked him profusely. He said "No problem. Glad to help out any way we can. After all, Firehouse would do the same for us."

Months prior to our FTP light board emergency, Theatre IV lost a valued rehearsal space for our tour of I HAVE A DREAM which I had the privilege to direct. Carol Piersol volunteered the FTP space to TIV for two and a half weeks-- free of charge-- and we rehearsed there, ultimately presenting our TIV IDR on the FTP stage.

FTP also donates their space to many different, smaller performing arts troupes, (XF Dance Company, Just Poetry Slam, Yellow House, many others) FOR FREE. FTP pays the electric bill every time these groups have a gathering or a performance. I think that is incredibly generous... Of course, such altruism increases their visibility in the community and helps to build a diverse audience, but so what?? They are still helping emerging artists do their thing for next to nothing, and I think that is really wonderful.

Let's also not forget that Theatre IV has also served as the 'Equity paymaster' for smaller organizations-- such as Firehouse-- who want to employ AEA members. TIV will be helping Henley Street Theatre in that capacity in the fall for our production of RICHARD III. I must stress that Theatre IV does not charge for this service, nor has TIV ever asked for public recognition for those efforts. I think that is really cool.

Handling the financial minutiae of dealing with Equity can be a challenge for a new small company, and TIV helps to clear up of a lot of the red tape by helping a smaller Theatre use it's resources to that end. I think that's pretty generous, and goes beyond the bounds of basic small-market competitiveness.

These are just some examples. The Mill has helped countless times with props, costumes, etc, and I'm sure many other folks have stories they could post. I'd encourage folks to do just that on this blog!!

I think that while local theatrical organizations are in direct financial competition with one another, I know of no Burger King that has ever delivered a load of emergency pickles to McDonalds!! (and I worked at Mickey D's for like, all for years of high school...)

The above is simply my experience. I'm a free agent most of the time, and I know next to nothing about the producing end of things. All I know is, each organization in town has helped another in some way for as long as I have been here. I think it's more than just good business-- The way I see it, these Theatres are being 'Good Neighbors' to one another.

Call me a pollyanna, but the shows keep going up all over town, so we must be doing something right!!