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.