Today, the Miller & Rhoads clock got boxed up and the hard hats went on. The Valentine Richmond History Center’s massive makeover began in earnest. The exhibition galleries are empty, covered up windows and doors along Clay Street are seeing daylight for the first time in decades and by the time this is done, you’ll be able to stand in the lobby and peer from the 21st century through the early 19th.
The famous clock will be boxed in place; the representation of the Tredegar furnace is likely to somewhere less prominent — it's more fiberglass recreation than iron.
I meandered about the oddly empty rooms with director Bill Martin and director of public relations Domenick Casuccio. It was similar to a tour taken in late 2011 when the big plan was still in the drawing board phase. Then, enthusiastic Martin took me from gallery to gallery, trying to conjure disappearing walls and appearing transparency. It was tough for me understand all he was explaining, even now, with the architectural concept drawings, envisioning just how open and visible the collection will become doesn’t come easy.
This kind of civic engagement is not only to keep the museum people’s minds as more than a storage house of memory, but a mechanism through which the city’s life and culture may be understood in all its varied parts.
Bill Martin standis by open door off the old lobby where one can peer through to the Wickham House.
It’s always been that way. The Valentine board unanimously voted in 1902 to open the museum to every school-age child and teacher for free “and at a time convenient to them,” Martin says, reciting the writ. Before the city was rife with art galleries, art exhbitions were held at the Valentine that permitted presentations by women and Jewish artists, which weren’t always available elsewhere in Richmond.
When former governor (and Richmond mayor) L. Douglas Wilder visited not long ago, he told of how on Sundays, after services at nearby First African Baptist, his family walked to the Valentine because it was one of the few public places that allowed them entry. Martin theorizes that this kind of inclusiveness is in the institution’s DNA.
“You have to see this as a progression of boxes leading us to this point,” he says. “To get here, we had to renovate the Davis House for offices, which was a wreck; install the terrace to get the work done on the internal spaces below it and put on a roof. And on that room is a state-of-the-art heating and air-conditioning unit waiting for its pipes to get connected.”
The soon-to-be removed walls of the former exhibition spaces are now adorned by grafitto drawn by attendees of the recent History Makers event. “We just gave them Sharpies and let them go at it,” says Casuccio. He dutifully took pictures of them and loaded them onto the Valentine RHC’s Facebook page.
These are the opening days of an extensive $8.6 million renovation of all the museum’s public spaces. It’s a mammoth undertaking for a small organization with just 14 employees. Martin is looking forward to getting his new public gallery spaces where, if he had them today, there’d be an exhibit on Shockoe Bottom and baseball in Richmond and public discussions about their past, present and future.
Approaching the museum at night will look something like this:
An artist's concept of how the Clay Street side of the museum may appear by this time next year.
When the Valentines and Wickhams lived in and near Court End, Richmond was a much smaller and densely populated. Temple Beth Ahabah, the Monumental Church and First African Baptist were almost within sight of each other. Those of different faiths and races lived closer. They knew each other. Among the victims of the Richmond Theatre fire of 1811 were a Jewish family, free blacks, women, laborers and the governor.
“This was the Valentine and Wickham neighborhood, and I think that they all liked it so much, that when this part of town began shifting from residential, they picked up the whole thing and moved to Franklin Street," Martin says. "
The original Valentine collections are now back they started.
So, there is a sense to me, anyway, that there was a fostered familiarity.”
The continuity of the museum is demonstrate in how the core of the family’s first collections is now returned to the place that it started, upstairs at the Wickham House where 1898 photographs attest that everything is back in its proper place. The Valentine Richmond History Center, as stewards of our history and public memory, and gatekeepers for the city’s future dreams, will provide able guidance into this rather science-fictiony sounding 21st century.
His name was William Wortham Pool. He and his family resided at 721 28th St., in Woodland Heights. He built a Hollywood Cemetery tomb for his wife, Alice, who died, "afer an illness of several weeks," as recorded by the Times-Dispatch obituary, on Feb. 6, 1913. She left behind her husband, daughters Mary L. Farinholt and Annie Pool, and sons Lawrence W., and Samuel Pool. William joined her in February 1922, at age 75, dying of that old person's disease, pneumonia.
W.W. Pool served as the accountant for the vast Bryan estate — the Bryans owned the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and a North Side park bears their name. Pool grew up in Manchester and became a solid citizen there, active in South Side civic affairs. He belonged for most of his life to Central Methodist Church and the Masons. He even rates a somewhat researched Wikipedia entry.
And persistent urban myth casts him as a vampire.
It could be that Pool inadenvertently aided the spread of this legend due to a life spent as a number cruncher, with this generation's sense of thrift. Spelling out his entire name would require paying the stone cutters more. The stark capitals in the words above the tomb's portal and the basic initials "W.W." could, in some suspicious minds, resemble fangs. And the absence of an explanatory epitaph invites free interpretation.
The legend appears to have gained currency from the late 1950s into the mid-1960s. Students at Richmmond Professional Institute/Virginia Comonwealth University told of strange goings-on, usually after nocturnal jaunts into the cemetary and experiencing, perhaps due to chemical sensory enhancement and adrenalin, visual apparitions. Further, the imaginations of these visitors received ample inspiration from the period's horror films and late-night television, when movies about the dreaded undead often appeared. That, and the vaguely Egyptian-style motif of the tomb, layered on mythic detail.
Here's a somewhat more sinister-looking shot of the mausoleum. (Photo by Nick Kotula/PhotoRVA.com)
The single notable aspect of Pool’s death, aside from his likely displeasure of meeting mortality, is that he and Samuel R. Owens, whom the newspapers described as Pool's good friend, (once Manchester's commissioner of revenue) died on the same day, Feb. 26, 1922. The occasion of their dual demises and the ceremonies following nearly shut down Manchester. The BFFs were buried with full Masonic rites. Pool went to Hollywood Cemetery, Owens to Maury.
The Pool mausoleum is surmounted by a representation of a lamb and a boy among a flock. Until some years ago, the incised quotation from Isaiah speaking of the lion lying down with the lamb, and how a little child shall lead them, sat under the carvings, but the slab fell off.
During the mid-1980s the Cult of Pool reached something of a New Orleans fanaticism; the iron door of his crypt got jimmied open and fanciful occultists inscribed words and symbols on the outer chamber’s walls. Fetishes are still dropped by the gate with some regularity. The glass of the lunette window on the inner wall shattered (presumably from the inside). The interest reached a recent spike, too, with the publication of Walter S. Griggs Jr.'s The Collapse of Richmond's Church Hill Tunnel (History Press, 2011). Using creative supposition, the author conflated with Pool's alleged vampirism the real story of the unfortunate locomotive fireman Benjamin F. Mosby, who staggered scalded and battered out of the railroad tunnel cave-in on Oct. 2, 1925. He lingered a while before his death and, too, is buried at Hollywood.
While on occasion some accountants have been described as "bloodsuckers," whether such an actual definition can be applied to Pool remains a matter of idle conjecture. The 2011Richmond Macabre: Nightmares from the River City (for which I wrote the introduction) also re-animated Pool in two of its 15 stories. Below is a a 1993 (pre-digital-era) article I wrote about Pool with a few more details. It does make a good story.
This is the truth as I heard it. The initials W.W. were for Werewolf, Pool spelled backwards is loop, or wolf in French (loup). The lamb is the wolf in sheep's clothing. The bars on the tomb were always bent and broken and the barbed wire in the cemetery was angled inwards to keep the werewolf in, not people out. There are other "coincidences" that also prove the Werewolf myth. In any case it would be a good spot though for a Flaneur and Accordionist to perform.
Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t, and if he did, maybe only the last bit, or it’s late or it’s early — or something from the slushpile that got pulled out when they wanted to do a “new” Shakespeare in 1619 — except a journal entry mentions a 1609 production of Pericles at the Globe Theatre.
This is the Bard, fast and furious and mixed with true romance. As Boston Globe critic Jeffrey Gantz put it, Pericles "is a kind of Mediterranean magical mystery tour, its protagonist hurtling from one coastal town to another, one shipwreck to the next, exhibiting virtue, valor and the patience of Job as Pericles loses first his wife and then his daughter. Perhaps that’s Shakespeare’s way of saying that, in life, we’re all perpetually at sea."
"The actors can approach this like it's a new Shakespeare play," Ricks says. "There's fewer expectations both from the performers and the audience. The play is so storybook, fairy-tailish and archetypical — but not broad, really — it's for all intents and purposes a morality piece."
The 17 actors got a month of rehearsal (short by most standards) before the show comes together for a single night on Saturday (Oct. 26). As always, a live band is onstage adding to the rock 'n' roll edginess of the proceedings. "It celebrates what's best in theater, that of professional actors really clued into the reality of the play's world and doing all that they're capable of." Pericles has everything in Shakespeare’s kitchen: a storm, incest, battling between royal houses and star-crossed lovers. The cast comprises a group of actors who are no strangers to either Shakespeare or wild and crazy stagings thereof: Nick Aliff, Kyle Butler, Jeffrey Cole, Marlowe Cole, Christopher Dunn, Grey Garrett, Jonathan Hardison, Jimmie Lee Jarvis, McLean Jesse, Doug Jones, Shirley Kagan, Adam Mincks, John Mincks, Evan Nasteff, John Porter, Melissa Johnson Price and Shalandis Wheeler Smith.
The Bootleg Pericles occurs at the Children’s Theatre of Virginia (formerly Barksdale Theatre), 1601 Willow Lawn Drive in Richmond, where expansive parking is available. This is very important: It's free. No reservations taken. Two tickets per person. Tickets will be released at 6 p.m. sharp. Richmond indie band ROHLK + REASON will begin to rock the house at 6:15 p.m. There is a cash bar and desserts.
Henley/Shakes follows this with The Taming of The Shrew, Nov. 7-16, with a family matinee on Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. and a matinee on Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. that features a post-show discussion with the cast. The show is seen in the great theater of the Steward School, 11600 Gayton Road. Tickets for regular 8 p.m. shows is $30. For further information look here.
This is a different take on the “battle of the sexes” show that has in recent times gotten its ears boxed for an anti-female perspective.
Director Jan Powell doesn’t look at the show as a he-man, woman-hater's show. “I don’t see it about a domination of a woman by a man. Rather, it's a fascinating study of how we make love relationships work amid social imperatives, about who we should be with and what people think of our choices. What I landed on, I’d like to bring the fun back to the battle of the sexes.” And in this way, it’s kind of like those great screwball comedies that paired Katharine Hepburn or Rosalind Russell with Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy, William Powell and Myrna Loy or Joan Blondell with anybody. These were equal sparring partners who, given their lines by people like Preston Sturges, made the audience love them both.
Characters have “on-camera” and “off-camera” roles. “It’s genuinely fun and also moving in surprising places. The play, to me, is about how much hard work it is to make a happy ending.”
Matt Hackman as Petruchio, Liz Blake White as Kate and Wendy Carter as an aspiring 1930s movie director in The Taming of the Shrew
The company is offering a “Family Friendly” matinee (adults $20, kids $10) where the play is trimmed to 90 minutes and the action emphasized, though not violence. “It’s full costume, the whole cast, but the focus is on energy and fun.” Powell recalls her grandmother talking about how her father, after dinner when the family was crocheting or playing games, reading to them from the Bible or Shakespeare or Dickens.
Powell loves “theater of wonderful language,” and wishes for children to have that kind of enjoyable introduction to classics “before the book gets thrown at them in school.” The setting is a 1930s film shoot where an aspiring female director has landed a rare contract to lense “Taming of the Shrew." At stake is whether she’ll make a career in the pitchas. Making films back then was a different business than it is today. The major studios were as much production houses as Ford Motor Co., and they made more motion pictures and quicker. There was a sense that these players, while hanging out, just happened to be making movies.
“We have some delightful, unusual casting, with grips and cameramen getting yanked onto the set because they need an extra body for a scene,” Powell says. For all this, there is little added dialogue, “This is Shakespeare’s play. I like to get out of his way as much as possible. He knew what he was doing.”
The cast includes Matt Hackman as Petruchio, Liz Blake White as Kate, McLean Jesse is Bianca, veteran Kevin Grantz is Gremio and Stacie Rearden Hall is Grumio, and between them, Wendy Carter, Zach Campion, Mercedes Valacer, Danielle Thompson and Alessandra Heranez play 12 characters, among them Groucho, Harpo and Chico Marx.
“We’re just having entirely too much fun doing this show,” Powell says.
Experience RVA co-founder James Crenshaw says that he’s trying not to look at the weather forecast for Saturday (Oct. 26), from noon to 6 p.m. This is when the first Boulevard Pumpkin Festival is going on, rain or shine. “It says clear and in the 60s, but,” he chuckles somewhat wearily, “if I think about it too much I’ll just really, really worry.” And if participants want to try out their Halloween costumes early, well, all the better. The last time anything like this happened on North Boulevard, Ghostbusterswas the hit film and Madonna, in a wedding dress, sang about being sort of but not really a virgin and Cyndi Lauper and her girls just wanted to have fun. In the latter case, those vintage-thrift-clad partiers probably weren’t thinking about the Tobacco Bowl Parade that came down Boulevard to Broad Street as part of the Tobacco Festival Parade (1949-1984).
[And this didn’t happen on the Boulevard, but on Broad around 1991, and it’s indisputably fun. This is kind of what the Tobacco Festival Parade looked like (note the Mummers), though when Paul Simon made this video for “Proof,” those days had ended seven years before.]
The free event closes The Boulevard between West Marshall and Leigh streets to make way for 23 food vendors, 15 brewers, 11 wineries, five bands and enough mirth to please the Great Pumpkin.
Experience RVA started this past summer conducting “Local Suds” brewery tours. The purpose, Crenshaw says, to raise public awareness of the burgeoning craft brewery scene here while showing off the city, too. “Now we’re getting more into events, and we’ll have Tacky Light tours during the holidays. The festival is kind of a launching party for Experience RVA.”
The festival is made up of three sections: From West Leigh Street to Moore Street, the Bon Secours Kid Zone for Movin Mania (working against childhood obesity) providing a variety of games, rides and other youngster-friendly activities. There's also a pumpkin picking and costume contest.
The next section will be for dining in a community Greek festival manner, where nearby food providers will dish out their offerings for $4 and up, including Fat Dragon, Buz & Ned's, En Su Boca, Moore Street Café, Mosaic, The Mill On MacArthur, The Savory Grain, Saison, Balliceaux and Toast. Toward the Broad Street end are the crafts and music. Three beer trucks hold down the beverage end, pouring craft beers from Virginia and regular domestic beers. It’ll be $5 for a ticket getting you a glass of beer or a cup of wine, with some higher end wines for $10.
There is free parking available at The Diamond, and Richmond 2015 will be on-site with its bike valet services.
Whatever happens, rain or shine, you'll be having more fun than the person on the table shown here.
The MCV anatomy class of 1903 poses with a cadaver.
Koste says, “Medical faculty and students weren’t allowed to use cadavers for educational purposes until the General Assembly made it legal in 1884.” Prior to that date, there was a covert acquisition process for procuring the large number of cadavers needed by the city’s medical education community.
That is, the Medical College of Virginia during the 19th century used its tuition activity fees to underwrite grave robbing.
One of the more infamous participants in this process was Chris Baker, of lore, and recent scholarship, and used as a boogey man story by neighborhood parents to make their kids behave lest they be handed over to Baker. Baker was real and he really did snatch bodies for the beneift of the anatomical labs.
Koste will have images to show, including the one above. “They didn’t as much name the cadavers but when the anatomy classes posed for their picture, they included the cadaver and wrote sayings on the exam table.” After the talk, Koste will lead a brief walking tour of the medical campus, highlighting stories about grave robbing, goblins and ghouls.
Shakespeare, a dog and modern dance, oh my! It’s the 15th Annual YES! Dance Invitational helmed by impresaria Kaye Weinstein Gary. Dancers are converging on the Dogtown Dance Theatre from Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia and right here. It’s an ambitious program involving the leading practitioners of the art, pure dance and movement theater. The performances are Friday (Oct. 18) at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and available here.
Gary began the yearly festivals because she wanted to present different programs with a variety of choreographic voices. Organizing the event provided her with an avenue to remain connected to the big world of dance. It’s one she knows about, having performed and instructed for more than 30 years. She moved to Richmond in 1979 from the University of Kansas to help create Virginia Commonwealth University's department of dance. Since the mid-1980s, she’s been a single performer and toured throughout the state under the auspices of the Virginia Museum Artists Workshop series. In 1991, she received a Choreographic Project Grant for a solo show inspired by the life and paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe.
She founded the nonprofit K Dance in 2000. Then she chose to create the “YES! Dance Invitational." It's supported in part by the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
“So often, in particular in modern dance, you’re not just dancing but doing back stage work and changing light gels, and you’re not getting paid, or not very much,” she explains. “I was determined that the festival wouldn’t run that way.” YES! dancers are compensated and she put together a crackerjack running crew to keep the program moving.
The festival even pays air fare — which is important if the talent is coming from the varied points of the compass.
Every year, Dance magazine puts together a “25 To Watch” list that Gary researches. That's how she ran across the Los Angeles-based Bodytraffic, recently well-reviewed on the University of Southern California's Neon Tommy site. Reviewer Wiebke Schuster credited co-artistic directors (and dancers) Lillian Rose Barbeito and Tina Finkelmann Berkett with creating dance pieces in which “humor and wit successfully share an evening’s bill alongside a work that takes the viewer on a journey to the basement of our dusty souls.” Barbeito, the writer observed, “is a powerhouse, leaping from a great height to her whole body lying flat on the floor in a split second, without noise. Spiraling arms and swiveling turns reverberate to infinity.”
An example of Bodytraffic's work.
The evening also includes two pieces of theater with movement.
"140" is based on the Shakespeare sonnet.
Marsha Norman's 140 is based on the Shakespeare sonnet, which Norman turned into, as the L.A. Times' Don Shirley put it, a “roundelay of people berating ex-lovers for being unfaithful; the ex-lovers' new loves then find someone else, and the world goes 'round. It's done so fast that it's like an acting exercise, not far removed from an improvisational game.” Which sounds like the piece lends itself to choreography. The multi-talented Billy Christopher Maupin directs 140, (he's also nominated for a Best Actor award in this weekend's Richmond Theatre Critics Circle [RTCC "Artsies" awards). It's choreographed by Gary and features Molly Hood (nominated in for a Best Suporting Actress Artsie); Ronnie Brown, Emily Poff, Max Ehrlich, Mahlon Raoufi, Tia Platte and Gary.
The evening also includes the work of the 17-year-old Houston Metropolitan Dance Co.; and Chisena Danza of Philadelphia — Melissa Chisena used to work at Ellman’s and took classes through the Richmond Ballet; Gin Dance Co. from Northern Virginia and Gavin Stewart, a Richmond Ballet Studio II performer with Vanessa Owen.
Here's an example Melissa Chisena's work.
This is the festival’s first stint at Dogtown.
“It’s one of those things that I wish it could last a little longer, but time doesn’t allow that, so we want people to come down to Manchester to see the show,” Gary says.
She is also taking on The Dog, a short play by David Mamet — who is not often associated with movement theater. "it's just real fun," she says.