Friday, January 30, 2009

Sound Off

Ms. Haubenstock’s review of RTP’s “Altar Boyz” showed up in the T-D today and apparently, as with “Cuckoo’s Nest” when it opened a few weeks ago, the sound quality proved to be a bit of an issue. A church can be a challenging space (just ask the folks at Richmond Shakespeare) so I hope they get whatever problems there may be worked out because otherwise the show seems pretty darn promising.

Maybe it’s fate that RTP’s show is the most recent opening to talk about because I find myself pretty het up these days about the whole issue of gay rights. I try to keep “politics” per se out of this space but they can’t help but sneak in at times. And besides, while the gay rights issue has been politicized, I don’t consider it fundamentally political. It’s about biology and privacy and humanity and acceptance and about a lot of other things, but I don’t think it should be about politics.

Anyway, I caught an interview with former pastor Larry Haggard that was kind of the tipping point. Why is this guy so terrified of admitting his homosexuality? Perhaps, as he admits, because being gay in some circles would be worse than being a murderer? That’s just wrong. (To CNN’s credit, they also interviewed someone to contradict the idiotic and damaging mythology that Haggard propagates.)

To me, Haggard’s attitude is just a symptom of the Christian arrogance and hypocrisy that bubbles under the surface of our society, something that I’ve also been a little prickly about lately. Since when did “Christian” become synonymous with “good?” Are good “Christian” values fundamentally different than good “Jewish” values or good “Muslim” values? Or even good “human” values?

What then kills me is when I overhear a conversation between some of the overtly and devoutly Christian people I work with talking about issues like immigration or social programs. The Bible has literally thousands of references and prescriptions about poverty. But even those who proclaim a Biblical basis for their prejudicial attitude about homosexuality can only find a half-dozen passages that refer to it at all. Why is it that gay issues spur their anxiety and immigrants who have the audacity to want a slice of the fat American pie get them all het up, but persistent poverty does not? During this season of "Acts of Faith" maybe this is an issue that could get talked about (as I hope it did when "Little Dog Laughed" was part of the festival last year.)

I have many gay friends and at least a couple openly gay relatives and I find it shameful that they are still discriminated against so overtly in what some people still insist on calling our “Christian” nation. (I should also add that I know many compassionate, amazing, and devout Christians who support gay rights as well. Don't mean to be hatin on all the Christians, just the hypocritical ones.)

OK, rant over. Oh, and one last confidential aside to someone named Kris who submitted a comment here a couple of days ago: your point may be totally valid but your comment falls too squarely in the category of kicking someone when they're down which is why I didn’t post it. Sorry about that.

Update: If I'm going to do such a bitchy little rant, I figure I should try to lighten it up a bit. Here's a funny little back-n-forth with Stephen Colbert and Dan Savage, talking about Prop 8. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sad Goodbye

I opened my email this morning to this sad news:

"Richmond's Only Improv Theatre Says Goodbye
ComedySportz Improv Theatre Ending Its 8 Year Run

ComedySportz Improv Theatre announces that they are ending their 8 year run at the Dumbarton Square Shopping Center. The doors to Richmond's only Improv Theatre opened in June of 2001 and have been making people laugh weekly with their anchor show ComedySportz. At this point due to many different reasons it is time to close our theatre. We hope to continue making people laugh again in the future, but at this time we must say goodbye.

ComedySportz Improv Theatre will continue with weekly performances until March 28, 2009. We encourage our Loyal Fans to come out and celebrate in laughter with us as we say good bye."

I'm sure this was a hard decision to make. Best wishes to Christine and her crew out on Staples Mill.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Coming Attractions (and Past ones, too)

I’m slammed all to pieces with work so I’ve been light on the blogging this week. Sorry, peeps. Hello, peeps, are you still out there? Hello? Is this thing on?

Anyway, the Internets are alight with the news that “Thriller the Musical” is officially in the works. Of course, there was scuttlebutt about this back in November so it’s not exactly a surprise. What will be a surprise is if it ever emerges from the development process like previously announced EVENT shows, like those based on the movies “Batman” and “Spiderman,” for instance.

I’ve been intrigued by the ongoing updates about “Cuckoo’s Nest” and in particular appreciate Mr. Tuggle giving out a little bit of behind the scenes info, with honesty and modesty at that. Thanks, Brad!

I have started to write up something on the whole LORT biz model – provocatively titled “Insurgency.” Probably won’t get that into posting shape until Thursday though. Hope you tune back in then!

In the meantime, you can also read Ms. Burruss's review of "Cuckoo's Nest" and my review of "All My Sons," both of which were just posted on the Style website within the past couple of hours.

Friday, January 23, 2009


I want to talk more about what Mr. St. Peter posted but I need to have my thinking cap fully engaged. Currently, it seems to be on the fritz, burnt out by work, school, and the hectic home life. In the meantime, Ms. Haubenstock’s review of “All My Sons” was in today’s T-D. I also heard a preview on the radio this morning that said a theater review was coming up but I missed the actual review. Did Mr. Porter chime in on “Sons” as well? Anyone know?

(Update: Thanks, Anonymous. Here's a link to the aforementioned review, except that it's of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and it's Ms. Tupponce's.)

And, just as a topical aside, I was reading some of the kurfluffle that got, um, fluffed after the inauguration having to do with the flubbed oath of office. There’s a great linguistic breakdown at this site. One post I thought was interesting was the following, that at least tangentially had to do with theater:

“Regardless of who flubbed first or who flubbed worse, the unscripted, unpredictable exchange broke the fourth wall and reframed all the pageantry as theatre, not reality. Theatre that evoked reflection as much as emotion. I loved this, actually, because I think in so doing, it strangely and perfectly fit with Obama's speech and overall message, which consistently attempts to shift the power and responsibility of change from "actors" to "audience" or from politicians to "we (us) the people."

Y’all have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Is the model broken?

For folks who don't read comments, below is a post from Rick St. Peter. So, what do you think, is the model broken?

Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke announced it was closing to "reorganize" effective today.

You could almost change the name of the theatre to TVA and it reads like the same article. In light of what is going on across the country with theatre's dropping like flies (in the last year, we've lost: Studio Arena in Buffalo, Theatre de la Juene Lune in Minneapolis 3 years after winning the Regional theatre Tony Award, Milwaukee Shakes, San Jose Music Theatre, Seaside Music Theatre, North Shore Music Theatre, Samford Theatre Works in Connecticut, Mill Mountain now in Roanoke...

The Magic Theatre and Shakespeare Santa Cruz barely survived emergency fund raising calls, Temple Theatre where I just did Hamlet announced while we were in tech that they needed $150k to make it through the remainder of the season, I just had to completely restructure my Spring season here...)

Is the not-for-profit regional professional theatre movement going the way of the dinosaur? I know there has been like 784 petitions circulating for a "Secretary of the Arts" position but I wonder, with all the trouble the country is currently in, will the arts get lost in the cacaphony of the economy? How do we make our case when Circuit City is laying off 30,000 employees? The Arts clearly are not a priority in this country and we have yet to find a way in to making them so.

Dave, this harkens back to your posting of the survey and my cavalier response to it. Despite study after study that shows both the extrinsic and instrinsic value of having a healthy arts scene in your community, still we struggle for a fingertip hold and are constantly having to justify our existence...We are perceived as being "elitist", too expensive, to remote etc etc etc while cities fall all over themselves to build billion dollar sports stadiums with luxury boxes that I would have to fork over like 2 months salary just to be able to sit in and yet WE are elitist?

Is the model broken...all the talks on this blog center around Barksdale one day becoming a LORT theatre, which I think is an impossibility given the size of the Willow Lawn space, but I also think the LORT model is broken...We are going back to a pre-reigonal theatre revolution America where we will have theatre's in the big cities, New York, DC, Chicago etc and nothing that what we want? Does anyone else think it ridiculous that the LORT model is broke and we need to apologize for wanting to pay actors a whopping salary of like $600/w with some benefits?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama the Musical

Yesterday was a good day to just take it all in. I’m not feeling too eloquent so I’ll leave rapturous descriptions to the pundits. I’ll just say that in the middle of a dark cold time, I felt the spark of a warm bright future in yesterday’s spectacle.

I expect the producers of the upcoming “Obama on My Mind” are hoping to capture some of that spark. I thought this production was a joke at first but apparently it’s real. The next question will be, is it anything more than a calculated way to capitalize on an historic moment?

In much of the coverage of yesterday’s events, I heard many interviews with people saying variations of “I don’t really agree with his policies but I’m willing to give him a shot.” It is in that spirit that I’d like to talk about “Who Killed the King?” the production from Mystery Dinner Theater that I saw this past Saturday.

There are many things about the MDT shows that could rub the strict theater-phile the wrong way. The characters are flamboyantly one-dimensional, the jokes are fairly infantile, and the plots are essentially Spark Notes reductions of Agatha Christie. My biggest beef about “Who” was that the king was supposed to be a womanizer but there were also broad hints about him being gay. Hmmm…

Still, the actors are engaging within the narrow confines of their characters and willing to interact with patrons in an entertaining way. My favorite aspect of the evening was the way theater was taken out of the realm of high-brow fine art and brought back into the common denominator level of fun, interactive entertainment. I laughed out loud at a couple of the dumb jokes and the people at the table next to ours sharing the bucket of brews laughed heartily and often. At the end of the night, I found myself moderately eager with a touch of anticipation, thinking I was one of the two people in the audience who had all of the clues right. Unfortunately, my answer form was not one of the ones picked to win the final prize. Ah well.

I was surprised at how full the room was – I think they said the number of attendees was in the mid-to-upper 60s. I hadn’t seen an MDT show since my wife was in one many years ago, and it might be several years before I go to one of their shows again. Still, at the end of the night, I expect most of the folks who were there would say that they had had a good time. Who could ask for more than that, right?

Monday, January 19, 2009


Update: Here's a link to Ms. Haubenstock's review of "Cuckoo's Nest."

I came into work this morning and was quickly inundated with problems and questions that I am still in process of clearing out. If I weren’t so thankful to have a job, I’d be annoyed by this. My thoughts and prayers go out to those folks at Circuit City, GenWorth, MeadWestVaco, etc. who are trying to figure out how they are going to make ends meet in the months ahead.

In a dark bit of irony I’m trying not to dwell on, I accompanied a couple of my critical compatriots to see “Who Killed the King?” on Saturday. When I dig out from under, I’ll have some more comments about that. Over the past few days, I’ve heard a fair amount of interest in the Acts of Faith festival in some unexpected quarters, which bodes well for that event. For those who want to dig deeper into the subject, there’s a scholarly journal devoted exclusively to Religion and Theater. Pretty interesting stuff.

I’m awaiting the first published review of Henley Street’s “Cuckoo’s Nest” with eager anticipation. In the meantime, the conversation continues in response to my Comment-ary post below, which has now dropped off the main page here. Many different perspectives – let your voice be heard if you haven’t weighed in.

For those who have the day off, enjoy the holiday, and for those heading north tomorrow, I’ll be with you in spirit!

Thursday, January 15, 2009


One of the things I like about blogging is that the dialogue that develops usually reinforces my perception that some very smart, thoughtful, and perceptive people work in Richmond theater. I greatly appreciate Mr. Tuggle’s explanation about the selection of “Cuckoo’s Nest” for the Acts of Faith festival. It shows his commitment as a director that he did the research and considered carefully the symbolic aspects of the story he’d be telling.

As I thought about what to say to rejoin the conversation (and, to some extent, explain the point of view of my published piece about the festival), Mr. Hamm provided an excellent metaphor. If it’s not clear, let me state that I totally support the idea of the Acts of Faith festival – or, in fact, of any festival that encourages cooperation between theaters and helps promote theater to the wider community. However, I had several conversations with people about the festival in the past several weeks and the issue that continued to come up had to do with justification, that is, what makes a show appropriate for the festival. And a consistent sentiment I heard expressed was that just about anything could be justified. As I think about many of the shows that I enjoyed last fall – “Eurydice,” “The Clean House,” “Hamlet,” etc. – it seemed to me that this could be true. A clear majority of the shows I could think of had a thematic element that could be construed to be about faith, spirituality, values, morality, etc. (RTP’s “Bite Me!” was the only one I really had trouble with…)

There’s a great line in one of my favorite movies, “The Incredibles,” where the villain Syndrome says, “When everyone’s super, no one will be.” If everything’s about faith, then what are we really talking about? That is what's behind my question “What is this festival really about?” My concern is not that the shows chosen don’t say anything about faith but more that nearly everything is being construed as being about faith. I appreciate looking at theater / art through the lens of faith (to get back to Mr. Hamm); my impression, however, is that the festival does not seem (IMHO) to be doing much to focus that lens.

I accept that “Cuckoo’s Nest” has a clear Christ metaphor going on, something cool that I hadn’t really thought about before. But Christ metaphors are relatively ubiquitous, used in books as divergent as 1984 and the Narnia series, and in movies like “Cool Hand Luke.” But I don’t experience “Cool Hand Luke” as a rumination on faith.

I guess I wonder whether there might be opportunities for subtitling or “tracks” associated with the festival. Examples --> Acts of Faith: The Christ metaphor. Or Acts of Faith: Coping with Family Dynamics. Or Acts of Faith: Faith and History. I have gone to a fair amount of business-related conferences where this kind of thing is done to help attendees organize their thinking about what might be sessions worth their attention. Otherwise, you have people wandering around wondering where they should go. I’m afraid that might happen to folks when they approach Acts of Faith.

I don’t mean to stir up issues solely to cause heartburn, honestly. But in addition to providing some publicity for the festival, I kind of hoped to promote some critical thinking. Y'all can judge whether I was successful or not.

Pick a little, Talk a little

Arg! There is so much I would like to weigh in on that I can hardly sort it all out in my head. I’ve been enjoying the discussion over on the Barksdale Blog. Here is the only semi-coherent thought I can offer right now. One thing I’ve said for years is that, for better or worse, there are people who consider Broadway and touring shows “real theater” and everything else somehow second-class. I’ve had people ask me directly “…but are there any REAL shows coming to town.” This kind of ignorance is perpetually frustrating.

But when faced with ignorance, I think the only productive response is education. People need to be educated on the quality of what is available in Richmond. One way to do this that I touched on in my original year-end wrap up piece is by highlighting actors, by more distinctly “packaging” them as “stars.” There are certainly numerous issues that people could talk about regarding the RTCC Awards (I’m going with “the Artsies”) and Roy Proctor’s Phoebe awards, but the existence of them allows every theater company that casts Scott or Audra or Stephen Ryan or Debra Wagoner (etc. etc.) to use the adjective “award-winning” in any and all publicity about a production.

It goes beyond that: Henley Street could talk about “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” starring Jeff Cole – “fresh from his universally acclaimed portrayal of Hamlet.” This is borrowing marketing concepts from other disciplines: I didn’t know who Stephanie Meyer was but the phrase “author of the best-selling Twilight series” caught my eye years ago before the movie was even in development. “Gym Class Heroes” is a band, I’m told, though the only thing I know them from is the ubiquitous (for a while) single, “Cupid’s Chokehold.” Highlight the hits – that’s what people remember!

These are not revelatory ideas and yet I don’t see them in use very often and I get sent a lot of theater-related marketing (though certainly not stuff from every theater company in town – something else that befuddles me. I write about theater nearly every freakin day of my life – send me information, for heaven’s sake! Duh!)

OK, I had meant to talk about the Acts of Faith piece but now I’m worked up and have blown the few free minutes I had to ramble today. Stay tuned for more.

Oh, but first, here’s something interesting I received because I’m a student at University of Richmond but NOT because I write about theater:

Join The African Company, UR Department of Theatre and Dance, University Players, Collective Artists (UK) and The African American Repertory Theatre for a staged reading of Carlyle Brown's adaptation of Richard III, directed by UR's Charles Mike.

It will be performed on Friday, January 16 at 7:30PM in the Cousins Studio Theatre, Modlin Center for the Arts Building. The performance is free, but tickets are required. For more information, contact the Modlin Center Box Office at 289-8980.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

C&C on TV

Chase Kniffen and a certain young Master Timberline were on Virginia This Morning, promoting "Children's Letters to God." As I post this, their segment is first in the list at the show's website. If this is no longer the case, look for the segment unironically listed under the title "Children's Letters to God."

I must say Mr. Kniffen is quite generous and kind in this appearance, doing a great job at drawing out the seemingly reticent Coopster. It's amazing what you can get away with when you're 8. My favorite part is when the hosts say "Thank you" and you hear Coop's little voice saying "You're welcome." Good manners!

Gotta Have Faith Faith Faith

My piece previewing the Acts of Faith festival just done showed up on the Style web site. Thoughts? Complaints? Tirades? Let me have 'em!

Lame Is

So I was going to give a summary of the production I saw of “Les Miz” at the Signature Theatre in Arlington on Saturday. Oh, how giddy I was with anticipation to see this, my favorite of all musicals. And “re-imagined” for a smaller venue – how cool is that? Now those bigger than life characters like Jean Valjean and Javert would be nearly close enough to touch.

As it turns out, I don’t have to write up anything because someone else already did. This blog post (cleverly hunted down by my lovely wife) captures that experience very well and, my friends, it was not a transformative experience overall. The staging was generally OK but there were HUGE swaths of lameness throughout.

A couple of things I would add to this write-up: I did NOT like the actor who played Javert. He practically foamed at the mouth, he was so rabid and it translated into an exaggerated and over-enunciated delivery of all of his songs. And while the staging was generally very nicely done, the moment when the barricades come together was almost comical. On Broadway, this was an impressive technical moment involving the rising up of a mammoth structure – the barricades truly “arise.” At the Signature, a mid-sized heap of trash gets moved out on stage. Ho hum.

Of course, my eldest had an enchanting time and I have to admit that I find the story so powerful, I couldn’t resist tearing up in a few spots. But in general, I was disappointed. And, just to reference back to the discussion that’s been going on about professionalism in Richmond, the real difference at the Signature was the actors, not the technology.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Round and Round

I like this little blurb in Entertainment Weekly because it seems to give a fairly balanced view of what’s happening on Broadway. Yes, a lot of shows have closed but there are also a bunch of productions getting ready to open.

I’ve been thinking about the discussion that’s been simmering along about production values, professionalism, and the state of Richmond theater. I have to admit, there are many business-related and functional aspects of theater that I have only marginal familiarity with. I don’t build sets or raise money or develop marketing for local theaters, I mostly just judge the results.

But some lines of thought in this discussion are familiar to me from a longer-than-10-year relationship with a private school in Richmond called the Waldorf School. The school uses an alternative education model, all of my children have attended, I’ve served as the school’s administrator as well as on its Board, yadda yadda yadda. Anyway – growing the school’s attendance has been a recurring problem. We always think if more people knew about the school, more would send their children there. But particularly when we were smaller and growing, there were often administrative and functional glitches that would turn people off. This, plus the problem some people would have anyway with an alternative model, has tended to keep attendance down.

This is a huge oversimplification, but what I’m getting at is that there is a chicken / egg problem with many small or growing organizations. Getting people through the door is key but what people see when they get through the door has to impress them to keep them coming. To impress people, you need resources. To get resources, you need people. And round and round it goes. At the same time, you have to get people past the fundamental hump of viewing theater as an “alternative” form of entertainment versus something as bread-and-butter as TV or the movies.

I don’t have anything like the answers here (if I did, attendance at the Waldorf School would be much higher!) But it does seem like one crucial aspect of success is turning the potential downward spiral (low resources = low production values and less professional productions = low audience interest = low resources) into a positive spiral (high audience interest = more resources = better production values = higher audience interest).

Theater companies have done this; for Theatre IV, I think the production of “Quilters” many years ago was one of the keys to kicking things into a positive spiral (that, plus hours and hours of tireless work by Bruce and Phil). I am hopeful Stage 1 may have done this with their first two outings (Ragtime and tick, tick…Boom!) I also realize that it’s just one piece of a very complicated puzzle. Still, I tend to think it’s a key piece.

Friday, January 09, 2009


The discussion continues in response to my Comment-ary post below. Very interesting questions and very interesting answers. I plan on taking up the gauntlet in that discussion soon but, in the midst of it, I (like many of you) received the email copied below re: the Cultural Arts Task Force. What a great opportunity for people to participate in this process! Please attend one of the meetings.

And one other participation opportunity: Stage 1 is urging kids under 16 to write letters to God and send them to the theater. The kids more than likely won't find out without the parents so you parents out there, pass the word along. Just don't promise any answers...

Here's the email:

To: Community Arts and Cultural Supporters

Dear Friends,

I hope you will join us at one of the very important community meetings that will take place next week. The input we receive will directly help form a plan currently being developed to protect and encourage our amazing regional cultural organizations. And please feel free to forward this message to anyone who cares about Richmond's arts community.

Phil Whiteway
Task Force Member

The Task Force of the Richmond Region Cultural Action Plan is pleased to host a series of community meetings in January 2009 that will engage the region in helping to form a comprehensive plan for strengthening our local arts and cultural community. On January 12 and 13, meetings will be held in the City of Richmond and Counties of Chesterfield, Hanover, and Henrico, and will include a presentation about the project by consultants WolfBrown, as well as hands-on opportunities for the pubic to get involved.

For more information on the Richmond Region Cultural Action Plan, please visit the Richmond Cultural Plan blog at:

Community Meetings About the Richmond Region Cultural Action Plan:

Monday, January 12, 2009
Hanover School Board
200 Berkley Street
Ashland, VA 23005

Monday, January 12, 2009
Pine Camp Cultural Arts Center
4901 Old Brook Rd
Richmond, VA 23227

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Cultural Center of India
6641 Ironbridge Parkway
Chester, Va. 23831

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen
2880 Mountain Road
Glen Allen, VA 23060

What is the big picture goal of the Cultural Action Plan?

The plan will look broadly at the importance of arts and culture in our region to create a collective and inclusive vision for the area’s cultural sector. It will identify strategies to increase participation, financial support, awareness and collaborative opportunities that will lay the foundation for a thriving cultural landscape. Richmond, Virginia follows other cities across the nation that have developed cultural plans that have successfully guided the promotion, planning, development, and funding of their community’s arts and cultural organizations.


The coming weeks will see the slow fading away of the holiday season, at least in terms of local stage productions. This weekend, the Mill’s “Tuna Xmas” and Barksdale’s “This Wonderful Life” close, next weekend will be the last chance to see Firehouse’s “Scientology Pageant” and the final weekend of January will feature the final performances of “Sanders Family Xmas” out at the Tavern. So if you haven’t seen ‘em, the time is now!

And with that in mind, John Porter’s review of “Scientology” finally got posted to the Internets recently – here’s a link. He enjoyed it and you may too!

Thursday, January 08, 2009


A Broadway producer interviewed as part of an "All Things Considered" segment last night was quoted as saying, "There was a time, I think in the '70s, when there were only eight or nine shows on Broadway. And that was a crisis. And this will be a crisis, as well." Those of you who wore black for Broadway this past weekend have probably heard plenty of this kind of crisis talk.

I can't help but think this is a bit overblown. Yes, maybe there won't be as many shows that are so sold-out that you need to make reservations a year in advance (or pray for TKTS or lottery opportunities) and maybe ticket prices won't be so high and maybe more marginal productions (looking at you "Young Frankenstein") may not go up. But among my chief beefs with Broadway are shows are so sold-out you can't get a decent ticket and, when you do, it's insanely expensive. And I don't go to NYC often enough but I have heard from others that they've been disappointed by some bally-hooed shows.

So maybe not a crisis but a needed correction? Something to think about.

In the meantime, NPR has done a couple of shows re: "West Side Story" in the past month, this recent one on the original production, and this one from last month on the new production. Enjoy! And don't hold back from weighing in on the post below which seems to have gotten a least a few folks a little het up.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


I had occasion to check back on my year-end wrap-up article in Style online (here’s a link in case you missed it below) and was interested to see several comments posted. I was interested at their existence but somewhat dismayed by their content. Here are a few somewhat disheartening excerpts:

“Most of the shows in Richmond are more like the community theater shows in Washington.”

“The things that Richmond theaters consider cutting edge look like old hat in other cities.”

“[O]ne of the distinguishing features of Richmond's theatre scene from that of other, demographically similar communities, is the lack of professionalism in the industry in Richmond… [A]udiences are to be congratulated for opting not to spend large sums of money to see theatre which is less than fully professional.”

One can go too far in generalizing from a few scattered comments. But I think these are worth attention because they are well-written -- not mean or hysterical rants – and seem to be submitted by people who are actually theater fans (why else would they be going to the article online?)

So what is to be made of these comments? On one hand, I can’t help but feel a little personal gratitude in reading them. I get a fair amount of positive feedback on my reviews but, as would be expected, I also get a fair amount of guff (often second hand) when I am critical of a production. What I tell folks who care enough to ask is that if I notice a problem or are less than enamored with something in a production, you can bet there are at least a dozen others in the audience who are thinking the same thing. I can also assure you that there are plenty of theater fans in the audience who are looking at things WAY more critically than I am.

Beyond that, I would take a couple additional insights from these remarks. One is that theater professionals can only benefit from seeing as much theater as possible. I know this is a challenge for those who are working in theater but it’s clear that audiences make comparisons. Theater folks should know what their competition is (both in town and out) and should continue striving to meet or exceed the best work that they see.

I also would encourage the Artistic Directors out there to push for edgier work. If one thing can be learned from last year in Richmond and the success of “Little Dog Laughed” and “Reefer Madness,” it’s that there are audiences out there for more experimental, controversial or challenging material. Plus, there’s the added buzz factor that comes from pushing the envelope.

Finally, there is this comment: “The symphony and opera and ballet would never dare use non-professionals (except for children in the Nutcracker, of course) why is theatre allowed to get away with doing so?”

It’s a little befuddling to me that in a “free labor” – that is, non-union – state like Virginia that people would consider non-union actors “non-professional.” (Analogously, I spend most of my time working in Information Technology, even though I don’t belong to an IT union. Am I non-professional?) As I tried to touch on in my wrap-up, I think promoting the significant talents of local actors – whether they have their Equity cards or not – can only help to raise the profile of theater in town.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Whew! Here we are at the New Year. I can hardly believe it. The last month kind of went by like a blur for me, the usual holiday madness enhanced by record number of theater performances I attended or was in some way responsible for getting a child to. It was a month for the record books for the T-lines.

I’ve been a little absent on the blog front but hope you few readers out there have been enjoying the other Richmond theater-related blogs out there that have been chronicling various journeys these past weeks, from culinary-related to holiday-related, from New York bound to taking off the pounds.

Besides the usual back-to-(school/work) blah-ness I would expect this time of year, I’ve felt a little additional melancholy thanks to the closing of many Broadway shows -- not great for Broadway and also not great personally now that I will never see them in their Broadway incarnations – and news from the Middle East to the tragedy of the Travoltas to the trouble in Obama’s cabinet.

But I’m trying to keep a positive outlook. Several people have contacted me and reassured me that I shouldn’t take too seriously the Cultural Census stuff that I reported on in Style last week (and here several weeks ago). Personally, I’m heading to DC this coming weekend to see “Les Miz” at the Signature, which has me nearly giddy with anticipation.

And the news was recently released that Tim Kaine will be taking over as head of the Democratic National Committee. I don’t know that this will have a positive impact on Richmond theater but it makes me happy just the same. As Phil Whiteway mentioned during his curtain speech for the last performance of Theatre IV’s “Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” Gov. Kaine has been a friend to the local arts scene and I choose to interpret his continued prominence in national politics as an affirmation that you can be an arts supporter and still do well in politics. I hope our new Mayor keeps that in mind in the coming year.