By Artistic Director, Bruce Miller
Richmond theatre should be proud. Here, as in all great American theatre cities, most of the acting, directing, design and stage management positions are filled by local professionals who often stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the greatest theatre artists in our nation. Despite the mid-size of our metro area, we’re no longer a city that defines excellence as what’s brought in from out-of-town.
At Virginia Rep, we fill approximately 80% of our theatre artist positions with Virginia professionals, and, when the right person cannot be found locally, 20% with theatre artists who work nationally from a base in a major market. In recent years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a significant number of “New York” actors. As anyone with any sense will tell you, actors who work out of New York are basically no different from any other actor. After all, 95% of them originally came from somewhere else.
But they do have a perspective that’s unique. Most of them have a wealth of experience in professional theatres large and small throughout not only the Big Apple but also the nation. All of them whom I’ve met, without exception, have come to Virginia and quickly commented on what a great theatre community they find here.
Locally, you hear theatre artists grouse about this shortcoming or that disappointment with regard to theatre opportunities, practices, and/or professional standards in Central Virginia. This constant desire for improvement is the nature of the beast, and it’s a good thing. Artists in general are designed to challenge, refusing to settle for the status quo. I like to think I’m that way myself.
But it feels good when the actors from New York consistently are startled by the quality of what they find here, not just at Virginia Rep but at theatres around town. Ultimately, it makes you ask yourself the question. What is it that has transformed our home city into one of the most successful mid-sized theatre cities in the nation?
It’s not public funding. The Commonwealth of Virginia, the City of Richmond and the surrounding counties all fall near the bottom of the lists that chronicle state and municipal financial support for the arts. Many people are working hard to change that obstacle to sustainability of our cultural organizations. Thankfully, we have several significant private funders of nonprofit professional theatre, and their ranks are growing. But public funding here is well below what many other communities have found to be sound business practice.
I think the major causal factors contributing to Richmond’s success as a theatre city include our history, the commitment of and job opportunities provided by individual nonprofit theatres and theatre leaders, Central Virginia’s thriving advertising and film communities, and VCU.
U of R, Virginia Union, Randolph Macon, W & M, Longwood, UVA and other institutes of higher learning within an hour’s drive of our fair capital have certainly done their bit to fill the ranks of outstanding theatre artists currently working in metro Richmond’s professional theatres. But the impact of VCU’s theatre faculty and alum almost certainly exceeds the impact of these other universities by a multiple of ten.
TheatreVCU is a major contributor not only to professional theatre in Central Virginia but also across the nation. With a faculty including acclaimed talents like David Leong, Aaron Anderson, Noreen Barnes, Bonnie McCoy, Michelle Anderson, Barry Bell, Brian Barker, Bonnie Brady, Wesley Broulik, Glynn Brannan, Maura Cravey, Patti D’Beck, Christian DeAngelis, Toni-Leslie James, Ron Keller, Shaun McCracken, Kevin McGranahan, Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Neno Russell, Susan Schuld, David Emerson Toney and Al Williamson, VCU offers BA/BFA degrees in Performance, Scenic Design/Tech, Costume Design/Tech, Lighting Design/Tech and Stage Management, and MFAs in Theatre Pedagogy and Design/Tech.
For well over a decade, Virginia Rep has been proud to partner with VCU in multiple areas. Faculty members Kenneth Campbell, Patti D’Beck, Gary Hopper and Tawnya Pettiford-Wates have directed for our Signature Season, while Brian Barker, Maura Cravey, Liz Hopper, Ron Keller, Robert Perry and Lou Szari have designed for our various stages. Grad and undergrad student designers have created the sets for dozens of our shows over the years. And rare is the Virginia Rep production that doesn’t feature the talents of at least one VCU actor, stage manager or technician.
As Virginia Rep continues to grow toward our goal of becoming a regional theatre of national standing, we look forward to increasing our professional partnership with the exceptional theatre program at VCU.