Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I’ve been exceedingly lax on the whole blogging thing since the RTCC awards two weekends ago, trying to regain some perspective on the rest of my scattered life. I am tentatively and somewhat gingerly stepping back in the saddle because there is just so much activity going on, I can’t refrain from writing about it.

If you were one of the unfortunates (me included) who missed the Henley Street Bootleg Shakespeare event last weekend, here’s a nice write-up at RVANews. Though the write-up is pretty comprehensive, I’m sure it’s no substitute for having been there. I hope everyone had a raucous good time.

Style has an interview with David Lindsay-Abaire this week, signaling that time is running out on seeing “Kimberly Akimbo,” which I keep hearing is excellent.

I dropped in on “Home Fires” at CAT last weekend, a review of which should show up in print next week. It’s a hard show for me to give a capsule review of. I enjoyed much of the show, and truly loved Rebekah Spence’s performance as a single mom making ends meet during World War II. I have issues with Jack Heifner’s script, which I thought was a bit unfocused and layered with subplots that didn’t necessarily coalesce into something bigger than the sum of its part. Those expecting shades of “Comfort and Joy” or “Key West” are going to be disappointed, but those who appreciate an interesting slice of Americana with some potent emotional moments will love it.

We’re coming up on perhaps the most theatrical of holidays and, among the many other events going on, you might consider checking out the [vampire]Medea show happening at VCU’s Shafer Alliance Laboratory Theatre. Beyond the promise of a spooky take on an already gruesome tragedy, among the attractive elements of the production is the admission: free! (Production details are here.)

Beyond that, I don’t know of any other shows opening this weekend so it’s also a good chance to check out currently running shows like “Becky’s New Car,” “Akimbo” and “Home Fires” before the curtain rises on a slew of new shows in November.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Before I let the 2011 Artsies fade in the rear-view mirror, here’s one more award-centric post to tie up some loose ends. In case you didn’t see it, the T-D printed a correction to their initial story on the event. Also, here’s the link to a recap of the awards from someone not wrapped up in the theater scene like so many of us. It makes me feel good that we could entertain someone at least moderately even if they didn’t get all of the inside jokes and references. (UPDATE: Style's recap of the event is in this week's edition.)

Oh, also, before I move on: the T-D had a review of “Kimberly Akimbo” yesterday. Definitely worth checking out.

So as with every year’s awards, the final results did not always reflect my personal choices (e.g., I thought Nick Aliff should’ve received at least a nod for “Love Kills” but that’s just me). Still, I continue to have the utmost respect for the process we critics go through to arrive at a final recipient for each category. There is contention amongst us, of course, but I think it is always tempered by two important things: 1) respect for each other’s opinion, and 2) an understanding that when we get down to the end, all of the nominees did great work and any qualitative difference between many of our choices may be infinitesimal and highly subjective. The high caliber of the options we are choosing from can make for difficulties in reaching a final selection.

The clearest example of the difficulties involved in our process is the tie for Best Musical this year. As a group, we tried several different ways to come to a final choice. We looked at all of the nominees collectively. When voting resulted in a deadlock, we considered just the final two in a few different ways, trying to get past that deadlock. Ultimately, we had serious discussions about whether ending in a tie was OK, discussions that included researching the Tony Awards and finding out that their selections have sometimes ended in a tie.

My perspective on the eventual result was summarized very nicely both by Phil Crosby and Bruce Miller in different ways. There was a glitzy musical full of big moments and technical excellence. And there was a small, uniquely intimate musical full of self-referential wackiness. Both of them had exceptional performances. Phil called them the biggest and the smallest shows of the season; Bruce called them David and Goliath. Another way to look at it is that these shows were like apples and oranges and, among us 8 critics, 4 of us ended up enamored with the apple while the other 4 couldn’t be budged off the orange. After weeks of agonizing, a tie seemed like the only way to go. It’s not a situation I’d like to land in again but it seemed like the best solution.

As to other comments I’ve received: we members of the Circle are always open to constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement. Both the Best Ensemble award (now the Ernie McClintock Award) and The People’s Choice award arose out of suggestions we’ve received. So please feel free to send them on, either posted here or emailed to me personally.

To folks who won awards and may want them engraved: I'd recommend K2 Awards (2221 Dabney Road, 804.784.7298) where I think it's still just $8 to get your name inscribed.

To Mr. Deiss (whose contrariness I respect and appreciate): I definitely understand your frustration and disappointment at the Mill not receiving any awards. I also expect there was a similar frustration felt by supporters of Chamberlayne Actors Theatre, which did not receive any nominations this year. I don’t think anything I can say can really alleviate those feelings. However, by way of explanation, I can say that we evaluate every category individually and the results never reflect any bias toward or against one company or another, even if the final results seem to indicate one. I know several Mill nominations had strong advocates but in each case they were outvoted by other choices.

I would also reiterate what Heather said in her opening this year: “Any single one of the nominees could easily have gone home with this year’s awards and for every person nominated, there were several others could have been nominated just as easily.” Those aren’t just empty words; having trudged through the nomination and final selection process, I know it’s true.

Clearly, the People’s Choice award needs some fine-tuning. Tying it to an onsite raffle was done mostly to raise funds – and add fun! – but also to limit anyone from stuffing the ballot box. I’ve heard there was still confusion about how often you could vote and that shows not nominated for anything were probably not voted for because people associated with those shows weren’t in attendance. These are good points and ones that we’ll need to think about as we go forward. Still, I thought the award added a new and interesting twist to the night and resulted in perhaps two of the most persistent benefits of the evening: 1) the Roop-Lauterback video that loses little entertainment value upon repeated viewings and 2) the new necklace for Carol Piersol that I hope she will wear with pride!

While it’s true the event runs long – too long in some people’s perspective – the 3 ½ hours felt pretty svelte to me this year. We packed in 6 musical performances, 20 awards, a couple dozen silly jokes, several special recognitions, 2 intermissions and 1 angry bear into that time. I think 3 hours is probably a good target but, as big and fun as the night is, I wouldn’t want to cut it much shorter than that.

Finally, thanks again to everyone who came together to make the night a success. Bryan and the band were incredible; Chase, Wendy, Hans, Andrew, all of the bartenders and everyone working that night at the Empire did a great job; the crew of teen volunteers were crucially helpful; the singers were exceptional; the presenters seemed game for anything; the audience was boisterous but generally well-behaved; and my producer and partner-in-crime Amy was as calm and cool-headed as always. I’ve received a lot of very nice congratulations, which I very much appreciate, but it took quite a big team to make it all happen and the credit goes to all of them.

So I think I’m ready to call it a wrap (though recommendations and suggestions continue to be welcome). Time to focus on what’s next. I hear CAT’s opening their season with “Home Fires” this weekend…

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stats and stuff

The twin patinas of exhaustion and excitement from Sunday night have started to melt away which has allowed me to focus on a couple of things besides eating and sleeping. Among those are the various statistical reckonings that can be done in the aftermath of this year’s RTCC awards.

First off: attendance. According to the Barksdale ticketing system, 472 people officially attended the event on Sunday. However, my understanding is that the Governor’s boxes live outside the official system and there were 8 people distributed between the two boxes. Also, I had an incredible crew of teenage volunteers working the show and the 9 of them shared 3 seats between them, meaning that there were really an additional 6 attendees, meaning that in my own personal accounting attendance was more like 486. Why do I care whether it’s 472 vs. 486? I don’t really but I expect to be telling people that “nearly 500” people attended and this is my public justification for that claim.

The awards have been held at the Empire twice before. Official attendance was 395 last year and 469 the year before that. So however you slice it, attendance was up this year, which makes me very happy.

Also, I reviewed the People’s Choice vote last night and was pretty amazed at the broad range of selections. Twenty-four different productions received at least one vote, plus there was a vote for Hairspray (which wasn’t officially eligible), one vote in general support of Swift Creek Mill Theatre, and one vote that didn’t actually have any production selected. I also know that a couple individuals used the People’s Choice voting just to make donations, as the money collected exceeded the number of votes – thank you generous people!

There was a total of 101 votes cast and the top five productions in order were This Beautiful City, [title of show], Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Once on this Island. While the popularity of these productions didn’t surprise me, it was interesting to note what shows were tied for 6th: Dog Sees God and Theatre IV’s The Velveteen Rabbit. While those shows didn’t garner a lot of love from us critics, the productions clearly had their fan bases.

I’ve just started to peruse some of the pictures on Facebook from the evening. And while it was mentioned several times on Sunday what a great and supportive theater community we have here, I’d just like to add that it’s a pretty damn attractive crowd as well. Later today or tomorrow, I’ll address some of the questions and comments that I’ve fielded in the wake of the awards. And then I expect it will be time to (reluctantly) move on…

Monday, October 17, 2011

And the 2011 Artsie award goes to...

Wow. What a night. I was trying to think this morning of what I would highlight about the evening if I were trying to recap it for someone who wasn’t there and realized that there were so many exceptional moments both big and small that it would be impossible. I’d basically just have to recount the entire evening and try to capture just a fraction of excitement and fun and fellowship I felt throughout the evening.

There are things that probably could use some ‘splainin’, the tie for Best Musical being one big example, highlighted in the Times-Dispatch article this morning. But I’m still a little too exhausted for cogent thought so I’ll talk a little more about that perhaps later in the week.

In the meantime, I’d just like to extend a huge heartfelt thanks to everyone who played a part in making last night work out. There are literally dozens of people who came together and did incredible things all focused on the success of last night. All of their work is very deeply appreciated.

Finally, below is the list of Artsie award recipients that were announced last night. Congratulations to those honored for some well-deserved recognition. But even greater congratulations to the community at large for coming together and supporting this event. I probably won’t know the final numbers for a couple weeks, but I expect we raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $7,500 for the Theater Artists Fund last night, 2.5 times what we raised last year and 3 times what we raised to years ago. A good time for a great cause – it doesn’t get much better than that.

2011 RTCC Award Recipients

Best Play
Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Best Musical
Tie: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels & [title of show]

The People's Choice Award
This Beautiful City

Best Direction - Musical
Chase Kniffen, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Best Direction – Play
Rusty Wilson, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Best Actor in a Leading Role – Play
Alan Sader, King Lear

Best Actor in a Leading Role - Musical
Scott Wichmann, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Best Actress in a Leading Role – Play
Laine Satterfield, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Best Actress in a Leading Role - Musical
Rachel Abrams, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Play
J. Ron Fleming, Jitney

Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Musical
Andrew Hamm, This Beautiful City

Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Play
Maggie Horan, Legacy of Light

Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Musical
Kathy Halenda, White Christmas

Ernie McClintock Best Ensemble Award

Best Choreography
Leslie Owens-Harrington, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Best Musical Direction
Sandy Dacus, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Outstanding Achievement in Set Design
Brian C. Barker, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design
Lynne Hartman, Legacy of Light

Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design
J. Theresa Bush, Legacy of Light

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design
Derek Dumais, White Christmas

Special Awards:
Outstanding Achievement in Puppetry
Terry Snyder

Liz Marks Memorial Award
Michael Gooding
Don Warren & Jay McCullough

Friday, October 14, 2011

Where the action is

I've spent much of the last week swamped under RTCC awards related stuff and an unexpected bout of single parentage but I'm emerging just a tad, at least enough to show up on the noon news at NBC 12 WWBT to talk up the awards show. But luckily while I've been submerged, my pal Mr. Porter put out a good summary of some of the things that are going on around town. It's worth a peruse because, damn, there's just a lot going on.

Hope to see you on Sunday, if not before!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Richmond Magazine

I know I don’t usually promote Style’s “competition” but there are so many reasons to pick up this month’s Richmond magazine that I can’t be quiet about it (also, as a glossy monthly, I don’t actually think of RichMag as the competition but anyway…)

First off, right there on the cover is a picture of U of R basketball coach Chris Mooney (and some other coach you’ve probably heard of too…) Coach Mooney will be presenting an award at the RTCC awards with co-presenter Susan Greenbaum. So if you check out the magazine you’ll have a preview of who this guy is and will be able to spot him sidling up to the bar on Sunday.

Also, you’ll see that this month’s issue announces the winners of the Theresa Pollak awards (and there’s an awards ceremony tomorrow –Tuesday – night if you’re interested. I don’t have the details, but maybe someone out there does???). Among the honorees is the inimitable Scott Wichmann who just celebrated the premier of the movie “Lake Effects” where he costars with Ben Savage and Casper Van Diem, among others. He also is continuing to celebrate, I’m sure, the ongoing success of his latest directorial effort, “Lend Me a Tenor.” Scotty is of course in contention for an RTCC award for Best Actor in a Musical so be sure to come on Sunday to see if this week will include a hat trick of big wins for Mr. Wichmann.

Finally, there is a sister publication called Dine included with this month’s RichMag that has a great article called “Dinner and a Show.” In this piece, several local theater folks give their recommendations of where to go to eat before seeing a show. It’s a great piece and one that I’ll be keeping around for reference.

And if I haven’t mentioned it enough already, go ahead and get your tickets for the RTCC awards already! If you are nominee and want to be there to collect your award (potentially), you need to get a ticket! If you are a performer, you still need to get a ticket! If you are a critic, you still need to get a ticket! Thanks to our grant this year, everything you spend associated with the event should go directly to the Theatre Artists Fund so get those tickets and come out and celebrate with us!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Additions, Corrections

Can you tell I'm distracted these days? Mr. Griset's review in this week's Style is for "Suddenly Last Summer," not "Becky's New Car." I did get the subject of my review right, it's for "Merchant of Venice."

Also, yesterday I mentioned the video piece I did this summer but forgot the link to it.

Finally, I went to see "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" over the weekend but haven't had a chance to write out my thoughts. It's a very good production, though, and my quickest capsule review would be: if you thought Alan Sader and Adrian Rieder were incredible in "King Lear" this past summer (which they were IMHO), they're even better in "Cat."

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Luckily, others are keeping track of this stuff more closely than I am. Reviews of "Suddenly Last Summer" are currently available at the T-D website and on GayRVA.

ArtStars, Amazing and other things that start with A

I went through the summer thinking about how crazy-busy it was, what with more shows opening in the traditional “down” time than I can remember. But now that we’re really getting into the heart of the fall, I’m realizing I had forgotten how truly crazy-busy things are once the summer’s over. Among the things to talk about:

The Dominion ArtStars awards are being handed out today, perhaps even as I write this. Arts organizations from all over the state were given recognition and cash awards as either “Shining Stars” or “Rising Stars.” Several theater companies were among the winners, including central VA’s Sycamore Rouge (congrats, kb!), Signature in NOVA, and Staunton’s American Shakespeare Center. It’s a great program that Dominion’s kicked off and I hope they keep it up.

The Amazing Raise starts tomorrow. The folks at Henley Street have been getting the word out about this. It’s an online event where leading non-profits can be awarded $10K based on donations of others. If you want to help groups like Henley Street, Gallery 5, Theatre IV, SPARC, the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen and others get a shot at that payoff, check out the Amazing Raise website.

My review of “Merchant of Venice” should be out today as well as Mr. Griset’s take on “Becky’s New Car.” I’m still waiting for the first words on “Suddenly Last Summer.”

Among the Broadway news is that Billy Elliot will be ending its run on the Great White Way in January.

As if there weren’t enough shows out there right now, the “Wicked” tour lands here again, opening tomorrow night. In the past two days, I’ve heard two people who I would never imagine in my life going to a musical say “I’m taking my wife to ‘Wicked.’” It reminds me of this little video piece I did out in California asking people going to “Les Mis” if they were aware of local theater. Some things never change.

I enjoyed my little online chat with James Ricks about artistic issues related to “Merchant.” It has often occurred to me that Shakespeare might lend itself better to talk-backs BEFORE the show, to allow people to get some education on the play’s background. I think it would enhance their enjoyment of a show where they are more than likely going to have trouble parsing the language, let alone separate out the social, political and metaphysical issues.

And of course finally, we have the Artsies. Please get your tickets and please come. I think it’s going to be a good time. All the pieces are in motion, the question will be whether they all fit together before next Sunday. Come and find out! Oh, and tell your friends to come too!