TheatreVirginia Closes Its Doors After 50 Years, Citing Money Woes, Loss of Home, Sniper

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09 Apr 2003

Although it happened three months ago, word has not fully spread that TheatreVirginia, the major resident Equity theatre in Richmond, VA, closed its doors Dec. 22, 2002, and the theatre community is addressing the fallout.

TheatreVirginia's board of trustees closed the troupe's doors at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts following a run of the musical revue Beguiled Again: The Songs of Rodgers & Hart.

"It is with great sadness that I have to announce that after operating for almost 50 years, TheatreVirginia will be closing its doors on Dec. 22, 2002 at 12:01 AM," said Theodore W. Price, president, TheatreVirginia board of Trustees, in a statement that still runs on the company's website. "We have tried diligently and exhaustively over many months to find sufficient new financing and an interim new home while awaiting the opening of the Virginia Performing Arts Center."

As recently as August 2002 the LORT company announced it would produce sporadically in the coming seasons as it waited for its new home to open in 2007, but the company was not able to continue as planned.

"We are disappointed and disheartened that we will need to close our doors after the final performance of Beguiled Again," said Price at the time of the closure. "However...difficult economic times of our nation and statewide budget cuts [have] meant a reduction in resources... We as a board must act responsibly and prudently albeit with a heavy heart. We know that we are disappointing our patrons and contributors. We are sincerely sorry. We wish circumstances were different. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support as patrons and contributors."



The DC area/Virginia sniper attack, which led to loss of business at the theatre, was cited as one of many reasons for the closure.

TheatreVirginia has operated inside the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts when it was called Virginia Museum Theatre since its founding in 1955 under the guidance of the late Leslie Cheek, Jr. A growing demand for more exhibition and storage space at the Museum would have required TheatreVirginia to vacate its home at the end of the season.

"TheatreVirginia has enjoyed a fruitful and productive relationship with the Museum throughout the decades and would like to thank them for a long-term and successful partnership," a TheatreVirginias statement read.

The Virginia Performing Arts Foundation helped facilitate offers for TheatreVirginia subscribers to receive a ticket for-ticket exchange for other area performing arts events in 2003. Barksdale Theatre, another 49-year-old Equity affiliated company, embraced some 1,900 former TheatreVirginia subscribers who were showless this spring.

In a co-production arrangement, Richmond's Triangle Players and Barksdale Theatre essentially took over the planned TheatreVirginia production The Laramie Project, which had been cast and designed but would have perished due to the shuttering of the LORT house. Triangle and Barksdale presented The Laramie Project to great acclaim and business for three weeks in March.

"We embraced the notion that we could find a slot to place Laramie Project in one of our two theatres we manage and own in downtown Richmond," Phil Whiteway, managing director of Theatre IV/Barksdale Theatre, told Playbill On-Line.

A handful of Equity affiliated theatres now punctuate the Richmond arts community. Theatre IV, a family theatre, and Barksdale Theatre share administrative duties but operate independently in a unique arrangement. The Essential Theatre and Firehouse Theatre are among other troupes with ties to Equity.

Whiteway told Playbill On-Line there is currently a strategic planning initiative afoot in Richmond to see what the nature of the resident theatre community can be in this city of less than 1 million people.

"Dialogue is ongoing," Whiteway said.

The Virginia Performing Arts Foundation will help assume responsibility for TheatreVirginia's highly acclaimed New Voices for the Theater Program.

TheatreVirginia's website statement said: "Despite massive efforts on the part of the board and staff, including a recent fund-raising appeal, and despite the efforts of subscribers and contributors who financially supported TheatreVirginia during the early part of the 2002-03 season, the theatre ran into some unforeseen events that had a negative impact on tickets sales and contributions," according to the theatre.

"Economic times have made it difficult for individual and corporate contributors to give at levels consistent with prior years; the uncertainty of our location due to the need to vacate the Museum and the uncertain date when we would be able to be permanently located in the Virginia Performing Arts Center; times are changing nationwide for performing arts organizations with a shift away from subscription sales to individual ticket sales which in many cases are purchased the day of the performance; the business environment in Richmond has continued to change as more and more of our headquartered companies have been acquired by companies outside of the region; the sniper attacks which occurred in the fall during our opening production, Tamer of Horses; the statewide budget cuts that had a significant impact on the performing arts in general and TheatreVirginia in particular."

In August 2002, the theatre planned to enter a period of sporadic production from 2003 until 2007, producing artistic director Benny Soto Ambush said at the time.

TheatreVirginia began life 48 years ago as the Virginia Museum Theatre performing inside the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. In the early 1970s, the theatre began a full Equity company and in the 1980s became a completely independent entity from the Museum of Fine Arts.

The Carpenter Center, a $100 million performing arts complex planned for Richmond's downtown, invited TheatreVirginia to be one of the center's anchor company. Construction is expected to be completed in early 2007.

TheatreVirginia remains on the web at http://www.theatreva.com.

Visit Barksdale Theatre at www.barksdalerichmond.org and Theatre IV at www.theatreIV.org.