Friday, January 29, 2010


As Richmond hunkers down for something that might actually resemble the good old fashioned snow storms I used to experience back in ole Clevesburg, OH, various performances are getting canceled or postponed all over town. I'm sneaking into "Servant of Two Masters" tonight and the opening of "The Song of Mulan" is supposed to go on as planned. But the Saturday and Sunday performances of "Mulan" as well as "Servant" and "Crimes of the Heart" -- are all off. What's a theater lover to do on Saturday? Some suggestions:

-- Pull out that old copy of "Chicago" on DVD, both to clear the bland taste that "Nine" might have left behind and also to make up for not being able to get to NYC to see "A Little Night Music" with Catherine Zeta-Jones.

-- Practice a new audition song. You know that Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" is officially a valid audition song ever since "Movin' Out.?" I love that song and it's got everything: uptempo bits, slower parts and all highly dramatic. Just sayin.

-- Listen to all of Seth Rudetsky's decontructions, available at his website.

-- Gleek out on the first episodes of "Glee" also on DVD.

-- Alphabetize your musical soundtracks. Look online for different version of musicals you already own (the Canadian company of "Joseph" anyone?)

-- If you've read everything you'd ever want to read about Shakespeare, read the (still fairly recent) book about his wife, oddly enough called "Shakespeare's Wife."

Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Crimes and Commedia

Mr. Porter has weighed in on CAT’s “Crimes of the Heart” and this week’s Style has a post-opening preview type piece on Henley Street’s “Servant of Two Masters." I don’t remember the Paul Reubens flicks – though I’m sure I knew them at some point – and can name two Watchmen (Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan) without resorting to Google which is kind of amazing since I can barely remember all of my children’s names. And hey, have you been watching Jackie Earle Haley in “Human Target?” He’s pretty good. I’m still not sold on the show but I like Jackie. I’ll try to have something relevant to say about theater some day soon. Of course, I’ve been trying for years now and haven’t quite made it… Still, even a crazy squirrel finds a nut once in a while.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My To-Do List

► Go see Henley Street’s “A Servant of Two Masters.” Reviews by Susan Haubenstock in the T-D and John Porter on WCVE have both been positive.

► Get an email address for Rich Griset, a new freelancer for Style who wrote up a online only review of Cadence’s “Fool for Love.”

► Break down and make an appointment to have the car fixed before it breaks down.

► Consider the pros-and-cons of Corbin Bleu joining the cast of “In the Heights,” including the potential degradation in production quality (con) and the potential increase in my ability to persuade members of my family to go see a show they know nothing about (pro).

► Work on convincing explanation to wife of the necessity for seeing “A View from the Bridge” starring the gorgeous Scarlett Johansson. Borrow from EW review that lauds Liev Shreiber’s performace.

► Consider possibility of greater success in convincing wife of necessity of seeing CAT's "Crimes of the Heart" with its cast of several beautiful, talented women, not just one.

► Reminisce about the carefree days spent watching “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” in the distant past.

► Be thankful for the exceptional experience that was the CenterStage LightsUp celebration this past weekend.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I was lucky enough to hear John Porter's review of "Fool for Love" on the radio last night. The complete text is on his blog site. I didn't realize RTP's "Facing East," originally scheduled to open this weekend, had been pushed back to February. Still plenty to see this weekend with Henley Street's "Servant of Two Masters" offering an IDR tonight and CAT's "Crimes of the Heart" opening this weekend, already having sold out their Sunday show. As Seth Rudesky would say, "Brava!"

I was also lucky to squeak into one of Barksdale's "Putnam County Spelling Bee"'s final shows last weekend. The show was a hoot but my experience was somewhat marred by a "scream laugher" sitting in the row in front of me, two seats over. Her screeching laugh in response to every hint of a joke -- starting with Debra Wagoner simply walking on stage -- occasionally drowned out the dialogue and funny lines at times and in general got on my nerves. When I have some time, I may write out some of my impressions of the actual show. It might not mean anything in the scheme of things, but it'll be a good exercise for me, should I need to actually review a show sometime in the near future.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cadence review

If you haven't seen it, Susan Haubenstock's review of Cadence's "Fool for Love" is in today's T-D. Check it out!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Missing bits

The downside of not picking up Style until Thursday = I missed Mary's story on Cadence that was the Arts lede this week. D'oh!

Also, apparently I am WAY behind on my reality show aptitude because I didn't know that local model, Rozlyn Papa, was involved in quite a steamy little controversy on this season's "Bachelor." I expect I should care, but honestly, I don't.

Also, since I've not seen a link to it elsewhere, let me provide a link to Virginia Living's story on Theatre IV and its touring program, written by one of my favorite local scribes and a nice person besides, Caroline Kettlewell.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fools, non-foolish variety

As a mini-followup to my last post, I like how Henley Street is promoting “A Servant for Two Masters.” They started early, alerting folks to the show back in December, and they have focused on Richard Koch in the starring role. I don’t know this as a fact, but I assume this approach worked well for their last season starter, “Richard III,” and I hope they find similar success with this production. I expect I’m going to love Mr. Koch in the role, particularly since memories of him making out with my wife on stage every weekend have nearly faded.

For those who may not have heard, there’s a new company in town, Cadence Theatre Company, and they’ll be offering their first production, “Fool for Love,” at the Firehouse starting tomorrow night. Beyond her participation in the founding of the Firehouse, Cadence artistic director Anna Senechal Johnson also worked with the Company of Fools folks out in Idaho for many years. If I’m remembering correctly, the last person to return to Richmond after an extended stint in Idaho was Rusty Wilson and he’s certainly done well for himself. Ms. Johnson has landed a top-notch group of actors for “FfL” so I think expectations are pretty high for this production.

Speaking of landing actors, the producers of one of my minor obsessions (“Glee”) recently announced that they’ll be casting folks for the show as it starts up in April via an open casting call / reality show. I can imagine many talented local teens having a decent shot at this or who could at least give it a try. I don’t think we’ve had a Richmond resident on a prominent reality show since Elliot Yamin and look how well that turned out.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Not Just Semantics

In a very courteous and well-written response to my last post, Anonymous says that people who think Richmond theater is semi-professional may be right, that it may be a matter of opinion. While I understand his/her line of thinking, I think he/she is patently wrong. When I go to, the first definition I see (pulled from the Random House dictionary) for ‘professional’ is “following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain.” Some of the other definitions cited mention variations on “performed by persons receiving pay.” There is also several definitions that cite the contrast between someone who is paid for something versus someone who does something as a pastime.

In theater, like many other professions, if you can find someone to pay you for it, you are a professional. It’s a fact, not an opinion. I stand with Mr. Hamm per his response and I base it on my personal experience as well. There were a couple of years when I worked as a computer consultant, a freelance writer and a school administrator all at the same time. The amount I was paid was directly DISproportionate to the amount of time I spent on each vocation. That is, if somebody asked me what I did for a living, based on how much time I spent I would say school admin but based on what was paying the bills, I would say computer geek (the factual answer to that would have been “my wife’s salary” but that’s another road we needn’t go down right now…)

Having said that, I completely agree with Anon that any debate over whether a work of Richmond theater is “professional” or not isn’t the principle obstacle in the way of improving or bolstering the local stage scene. The show that prompted the original comments starred Joe Inscoe, an actor with decades of TV and film work to his credit. It was directed by Chase Kniffen who has worked professionally in theater here and in New York since he was a teenager. If these aren’t accomplished theater professionals, who is? That still didn’t stop some people from disliking the show. Over the holidays, I saw the latest “Drifty” show at the Mill, starring (among others) Tom Width, Joy Williams, and Audra Honaker, three performers who I believe are among the few folks in Richmond who work full-time in theater, who are therefore in even the most narrow definition, theater "professionals." The show was wonderfully entertaining but is it what people who call Richmond theater generally “semi-pro” have in mind when they think of “professional theater?”

In my opinion, while the “professional” aspect of the Richmond theater situation is important, it is also somewhat of a distraction, rather than something that lies at the root of the issue. I contend that the best of Richmond theater can pretty much stand up to the best of theater anywhere. Two of last season’s standouts in my mind were “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and the Mill’s “Altar Boyz.” Both involved professionals offstage and on of the caliber you’d find anywhere (including New York), both imported talent from bigger markets, and both were technically superior. I’d defy anyone to show me a production staged anywhere else of these shows that was appreciably better. Something like “Fully Committed” with Scott Wichmann could hardly be done better anywhere else because so much of the play has to do with the lead actor and Scott was phenomenal. This season’s “Boys Life” at the Firehouse was head-and-shoulders above the production I saw in New York years ago, again largely because of the quality of the actors involved.

So maybe an argument could be made that beyond some of these leading productions, there is a fair amount of mediocre theater here. This is true everywhere and if you think otherwise you haven’t seen enough Off Off Broadway shows or some of the fringier shows in other major markets. I’m not exactly an expert on this but I have seen dreadful Shakespeare in Denver, very average second-tier shows in DC and a couple of highly touted Off Broadway shows that were not impressive. And you can bet many or most of the people involved in those shows were not full-time “professional” theater artists based on the narrow definition the people Anon is talking about might be basing their opinions on.

People who tout quality in other markets are most often traveling to those markets to see the marquis productions; after all, do most people travel to New York or DC to see Off Broadway dreck? And as for the “real shows” that come to Richmond, didn’t I hear that “Avenue Q” had a non-Equity cast? So what does that say about the “professionalism” of that production?

Anyway, I would suggest that the key issue here remains education / promotion. As I’ve been told by several folks in the biz, the population at large is more highly influenced by TV these days than any other media and there is very little TV advertising for local theater. The Internet has a growing influence but theater still has trouble reaching the Internet demo. Beyond the functional aspect of education / promotion, I think an increased focus on aspects of local theater that cry out “professional” would be an important part of the message. Taglines that include phrases like “starring award-winning actress, Audra Honaker” or “from the producers of last season’s smash ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’” work in movie promotion, maybe they could work in theater promotion.

I certainly don’t have definitive solutions to the woes of local theater companies. But I think that as long as some people are convinced that local theater is “semi-pro,” there will be problems.

One final point to this ramble (and one I may have to take up later): I enjoy people who say that what critics need to do is judge more harshly – as if harsh judgments will somehow magically make theater better (versus a more likely outcome: convincing many potential patrons to stay away). I would counter that what critics need to do – in the dwindling amount of space that they are given to do so – is to judge constructively. I would also humbly suggest that what more theater professionals might consider is responding constructively to criticism. As someone who experiences both sides of that equation, I know that neither side is particularly easy. Still, I do think it’s a general direction worth pursuing and one that may hold the key to the long-term well-being of those in Richmond involved in either critical or theatrical pursuits.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Education and Conversation

Bruce Miller has been blogging up a storm over at the Barksdale Buzz the past week or so. Personally, I’m still in recovery from the holidays. It may take me a week (or 6 or 12) to get back into a blogging groove.

Speaking of grooves, Barksdale’s “Spelling Bee” certainly seems to be in a good one. I called about tickets for the show this weekend and was told they are sold out. Congrats to the crew from Putnam County; seems like this one is turning out to be another winner for the Barksdale.

At some point this past week, I checked back to see what additional comments Ms. Burruss’s review of “A Christmas Carol” had generated. I was surprised and delighted to see that Mary had offered a response to some of the comments. I think there are many down sides to the democraticization of media that the Internet has wrought, for instance, the way so many articles now are met with a flurry of rants and incoherence in the comments section of any online publication. But among the plus sides are the opportunities for useful dialogue – rare but still possible – and also the insight into broader sentiments among a population that comments can provide.

In these particular responses, I was fairly appalled by the comments of “Markus” who called all theater in Richmond semi-professional at best. I think it’s fine that people disagree with a review; by all means, talk back and argue with a critic. But his comments show a basic misunderstanding of Richmond theater in general – one that I fear is more common than people might expect. I have retold several times the story of people who used to ask me when the next “real show” (that is, traveling production) was coming to town. The concept that Richmond professional theater is not professional is a persistent one.

(As a quick aside, I’d be curious what Markus does for a living. An actor paid in Richmond is a professional actor just like a stockbroker or lawyer getting paid in Richmond is a professional. Is a stockbroker or lawyer “semi-professional” because he’s working in a smaller market?)

To be fair, the average consumer has a right to be confused. Traveling shows get bigger hype – regular and splashy TV and newspaper ads. On the other side of the spectrum, you have productions offered by well-healed amateur programs – CYT or VCU – that have production values (and budgets) that easily outstrip those of the majority of Richmond’s pro theaters. The confusion apparent in the Style comments is a testament to the need for some education and awareness-raising among the locals.

The problem, of course, is who is going to do that? Local theaters don’t typically have enough money for widespread public education, let alone to promote their actual productions. I used to try to squeeze the occasional education tidbit in my reviews but it was hard not to make them sound pedantic and I also used to have twice as many words for my reviews. I still think a podcast or regular radio show about Richmond theater would be an awesome thing but who is going to do it (me? Find me 8 more hours every week and we can talk), who is going produce it and would anyone listen to it?

I think the revamped Arts Council could do some great things along this line but I have serious questions about how on the ball they are. I saw in a recent Facebook message from Jerry Williams that the Arts Council is having some meeting about the Regional Cultural Action Plan next Tuesday but their website has no details and I haven’t heard anything else beside that one status post. Anyone else have any details?

Anyway, while some of the comments filled me with dismay, some of the responses to Markus were heartening. I have seen some appalling stuff in Washington and New York and I have had many phenomenal theater experiences in Richmond. Unlike many movies, theater experiences don’t have to involve millions of dollars to be electrifying. And the size of the town doesn’t dictate the quality of the theater. A town with the population of 3 could have the best theater in the country – if the residents were Scott Wichman, Jennie Meharg and a great director (pick your favorite). Anyone who thinks otherwise has a lot to learn.

Of course, maybe we just need to get Brad and Angelina to come see a show down here and the media frenzy alone would fuel a season of sold-out shows, whether they were any good or not.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Happy New Blog

Sometimes the New Year brings new awareness. It has for me on a few levels, but one obvious one is becoming aware of many other blogs out there that are authored by folks involved in the Richmond theater world. I just stumbled across one set up by Stefani Zabner, a nominee for an RTCC award for her work in the Mill’s “Of Mice and Men” last season. Best of luck in your health-related revamping, Ms. Zabner.

Also, it’s a good time to mention the prodigious blog output by Ms. Caroline Sumner, a theater student at VCU who has worked on several productions in the area and was recently engaged to Adam Mincks, one of the winners of the RTCC Best Ensemble award last season. She has blogged about Shakespeare and her personal desires in the past, but has recently set up a chronicle specifically related to her engagement. While you’re checking those out, you might also weigh in with an opinion in response to her recent assertions about standing ovations.

I also have been keeping an eye on the First Fridays blog, as well. It seems to cover more of the visual arts scene but theater has been involved in First Fridays as well so something of interest may pop up there too. I know there are other blogs out there, some more active than others (going to get back in the saddle, Mr. Cole?) If anyone brings them to my attention, I’d be happy to link to them on this site. I can’t promise any big spike in traffic but every little bit helps, right?