Annie Colpitts, managing director for Richmond's 2-year-old TheatreLAB, explains it this way: Back in the fall, after Deejay Gray, the company's co-founder and artistic director, made Style Weekly’s 2013 Top 40 Under 40, businessman Matt Bauserman asked Gray if the company had ever thought of getting a place to call home. He owns a building at 300 E. Broad St. that has residential spaces on the second floor, and he and wanted a commercial tenant on the first floor, but there’s also a basement.
TheatreLAB has performed in begged and borrowed spaces and found a consistent place at Plant Zero. Colpitts and Gray thought that one day, a few years down the road, eventually the group would have a dedicated stage. The thing about theater is, well, it’s a crazy business. Enter Bauserman.
Colpitts remembers the fateful day in October. “We took a look and everything felt right. It fit our aesthetic; it’s a great size and location. We walked out into the light: We didn’t expect that to happen. What do we do? Two weeks after that, the Central National Bank building got approved for apartments. As soon as that happened, the entire block started getting snatched up by developers and Realtors. Matt came back to us and said, 'If you want to do this, let’s talk soon.' "
TheatreLAB's new basement space
After some further consideration, TheatreLAB entered a three-year lease with Bauserman, who supports proliferation within the arts district of downtown. The time period will include the transformation of the space and, says Colpitts, the idea is to open the theater in October — a year after they first walked down into it.
The 3,300-square-foot space is not without its challenges. The ceilings are about 11 feet high, and they’ll need to get creative about using the room. “The playing space would have to be only a few inches off the ground and seating on slightly staggered risers," Colpitts says. "If you install a lighting grid, that drops the ceiling at least a foot, so we’re thinking of installing the grid along the walls.” It will be an intimate space with a likely capacity of 75 people.
On Saturday, TheatreLAB opens Grace by Craig Wright, running through April 5, at the RVA Event Space of Plant Zero. The play collides together the concerns of faith, fate, the absurd and the divine — and it’s dark and funny. An evangelical Christian couple, Sara and Steve, leave their moribund Minnesota life for sunny Florida with a nutty scheme of turning abandoned hotels into a chain of gospel-themed inns. Their new neighbor, Sam, a NASA scientist, is contending with the trauma resulting from a car accident that killed his fiancée and left him badly maimed. And the building's pest exterminator, Karl, is tormented by a dark childhood episode. The production, directed by Gray, features Alexander Sapp, McLean Jesse, Nicholas Aliff and veteran performer Eric D. Dobbs. You can see a preview at Virginia This Morning.
In the first two weekends of May, Chanelle Vigue will direct Closer, the Patrick Marber play that uses partner-swapping as a way to contemplate physical appetite and love. It’ll also be produced at the RVA Event Space. From May 16 to 18, director James Ricks will helm a production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome to benefit TheatreLAB, featuring a glittering roster of Richmond theater.
Spectrum, a youth outreach program that TheatreLAB is partnering in with Richmond Triangle Players, allows LGBT self-identified youth to apply for a theater residency. They’ll learn to tell their own story and develop a character in order to tell another person’s story, and this will become an evening of theater. Spectrum runs from June 4 to July 27.
The company wants to open the new basement space with the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The subterranean setting should aid a gritty play about an East German transgendered rocker. It's tough, romantic, funny and affirming. But what a ride. All the way to the bottom. And back.
Three events a mile and some subject matter apart are occurring roughly at the same time tonight, and it tells us something about Richmond that if possible, we’d want to be at both. No correlation exists between them save for the basic human desire for expression, one way or another.
First, civil rights activist Edward H. Peeples, Jr. , with Nancy MacLean, has published his autobiography, Scalawag, through the University of Virginia press. At a free and open event beginning at 6:30 p.m. at VCU's W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, there’ll be a talk, speakers and a book signing.
His fascinating story begins, “My mother picked a helluva day for me to arrive on this earth: April 20, 1935, the same birthday as Adolf Hitler, who at that very moment was engaged in the violent creation of his Aryan empire. This proved to be a strange coincidence, because I contended all my adult life with some of the ideas that Hitler and the German Nazi regime had borrowed from America’s white supremacist ideology, especially as it applied in my native Virginia.” As Peeples explains, Virginia a decade prior to his birth passed its own Racial Integrity Act that defined who was white and made intermarriage illegal. At the same time, the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act sanctioned forced sterilization on the underclass, mostly black, but also white, and among those considered mentally incompetent or physically infirm — “useless eaters” as the Nazis termed them.
This is the world that Peeples came into at St. Luke’s Hospital at Harrison and Grace streets. Raised in Jim Crow Richmond, he was like many whites of his time in that his only interaction with African Americans was essentially to bully them. Until age 14, Peeples didn’t see any African Americans in newspapers or magazines unless concerning a sports figure. Radio gave him Amos n' Andy (of whom "Amos," Freeman Gosden, was a Richmonder) and Jack Benny’s valet, "Rochester." He ended up at Richmond Professional Institute, then a “scruffy little institutional vassal of the prestigious College of William and Mary.” His first attempt at higher ed didn’t go well, ending in drunkenness and broken furniture, but reinstated, his life changed.
He took courses under sociology professor Alice Davis, who’d earned her doctorate through Howard W. Odum’s renowned Southern regional studies program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Davis didn’t assign readings and gave no tests, but engaged her classes in discussions ranging from social justice, women’s reproductive rights, environmental conservation and world politics. This was the McCarthy era, and some students suspected Davis and her colleague, Russian émigré Nadia Davilevsky, as subversives. This potential enhanced the teacher’s campus popularity.
Peeples took whatever class “Dr. Alice” taught. “Each one,” he says, “no matter the title, was the same: a salon where, without the usual academic fanfare, we would debate ceaselessly the great ideas that drove the second half of twentieth century.”
A defining moment came when, out of nowhere, Davis asked the class to take out a blank sheet of paper and trace their family back 10 generations. Most of the students couldn’t get past four. One called out that tracing back 10 generations was impossible, too long ago, and too many people. Davis waited several long minutes until issuing a challenge: “Are you sure you are not a Negro?”
“Her question singed my ears,” Peeples writes. “I thought of all the boasting of sexual conquests of black women I had heard from men in my family and my acquaintances over the years. Her question drove a dagger into the heart of the racial myth that governed our lives … After all, we followed the ‘one drop’ rule for assigning race. After class, all of us white Southerners filed out of the room in dead silence. In the months to follow, I began losing my comfort with white supremacist notions. She never knew it, but Dr. Alice redirected my life with the dagger of truth. It was my first day as a race traitor.”
He’s retired now as emeritus associate professor of preventive medicine and community health at VCU. He’s a character, in the best sense of the Southern word, and one you’ll want to meet, whether in person or in his pages.
Meanwhile, down the street at the Black Iris Studios, at 7:30 in the speakeasy bar in the back, is an intimate concert by Jonathan Russell, founding member of the Head and The Heart. “We managed to pull it off before he heads off for the next Head and the Heart tour,” says curator/programmer Benjamin Thorp.
This is part of the co-hosting duties that Black Iris is holding in conjunction with the 1708 Gallery’s 35th anniversary art auction, March 29. Russell’s music, out of the country/folk/alt-Americana genre, addresses his years of traveling and, as the pre-publicity puts it, reflects on “the contradiction in values that shape our world.”
"Quilting Bee of Clouds," 2013, VCUAnderson Gallery
Russell’s performance closes the evening of an exhibition opening from 5 to 7 p.m. by textiles artist Andrea Vail. Her "WOVEN" is a three-part community-focused collaboration that aims to connect individuals within the Richmond Arts and Cultural District by collecting donated crochet materials, unraveling them to reclaim yarn, and inviting Richmonders to join the artist in a public re-weaving of the yarn into an original work.
The project culminates in the presentation of the final woven piece.
The message of this evening: We are made from many strands, woven by experience, pulled apart and put back together, and through this process, eventually made whole. But the work never ends.
One might say, if one was predisposed to lame puns, that it’s out of this world. But I wouldn’t say that, not to you, The Hat audience expects so much more of me.
SMVA CEO and Chief Wonder Officer Richard Conti explains that this was one of the first domes of its kind, built in 1983, and there aren’t many like it. “They don’t literally build domes like this anymore,” Conti says, “Around our planet, one this size was constructed in the past five or six years.”
You sit in comfortable rocking chairs with cup holders, surrounded above by a quarter acre of screen — the Old Dominion's largest — comprised of 480 fitted aluminum panels. The new, five-unit Christie projection system can throw out 29 million pixels. “Because this is a state contract, we had to count all those pixels,” Conti assurs us. I’m assuming, too, that all the pixels are documented aliens. You know, otherwise the Men In Black might show up.
The visual information comes from 40 computer servers containing 40 terabytes of data. “Whatever arcane galaxy you want to see, we got it,” Conti says.
No brag, just fact.
I was hoping for some drama when the new Dome commander Justin Bartel took over — some kind of Star Wars-y or Doctor Who-y music, but no, he just took us out to the night sky. And the new 2014 hotness quite soon obliterated the 1983 old busted hotness.
Bartel nonchalantly piloted us through the starry universe beginning with tonight’s night sky two hours afer sunset, offering a slight wry apology about scale. Despite the immense size of the screen, “Our stars are kind of squished together. The universe is a bit bigger than this room."
He then gave us the constellation Orion, from its component stars to the mythic mighty hunter. He gave us a mnemonic for finding our way — Never Eat Soggy Waffles — pointing out that Orion is in the Soggy Waffles quadrant. Which reminded me that I arrived too late to take full advantage of the breakfast buffet. Then the figures of 84 constellations appeared on the roof, like that HBO commercial where they digitized all the characters from their various series into one awkward dinner party.
Bartel sadly didn’t ask “Have you been to the moon lately?’ but “Who’s been to the moon before?” Nor did he play “Fly Me To The Moon,” or a cut from Dark Side of the Moon. But it zoomed us close enough to see the craters. “Take a few pictures. Make sure your space suit fits,” he instructed. It gave us a real “The Eagle has landed” moment.
Then we were whisked off to Mars, which looked vivid and real enough to walk on, and we soon descended through the perpetual spinning avalanche of rock and ice that make up Saturn’s rings.
Then Bartel really opened her up and let the throttles roar (in my mind) on the warp drive, through the Oort Cloud where comets are born, past “blue circles we know that have solar systems,” we got the impressive effect of our universe filled with whirling and tilting galaxies. Outside the Milky Way, which in technical terms is a “Barred Spiral Galaxy,” located in the Local Group that sounds like a development firm that sponsors science programming on PBS.
A few more galaxies popped up, some 100 billion of them given original names like Abel 2124, 2107, 1983, Fornax Cluster (which I think is used to clean dirty bathroom tiles), Perseus Pisces Supercluster, and something called the Great Attractor (not my nickname). Beyond all that is the cosmic microwvae background radiation, the leftover light from the Big Bang. Then back home to the 300 billion or so stars of our Milky Way.
All that emptiness and silence teeming with gas giants and icy rocks and stars — you get to feeling lonely.
The film "Great White Shark" will show Saturday in the newly renovated Dome.
Then came a trailer reel and swooping and whooshing clips from upcoming shows, which you can see mentioned here – finally we got a booming soundtrack appropriate for the The Dome. The titles presented a mixture of nature, history and cosmic wow: Tornado Alley, The Last Reef, The Earth Wins, Mysteries of the Great Lakes, Flying Monsters 3D, Exoplanets, Earthquake, The Little Prince, Cosmic Advenures, Robot Explorers, Lamps of Atlantis and so forth.
Conti brought us back to Earth: “You are officially late to work. When they ask you, 'Where did you go?' You can tell them.”
Afterward, I chatted up Prabir Mehta about the Cosmic Expeditions programs, and a week from today, Mehta and Bartel will team up for the monthly astronomy/space show. Expect there to be some fun with the Moon Elevator.
This Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m., you can go from the Anchor to the LoveBomb and all around town. It’s the second annual 1708 Gallery artists' studio tour and covers not only the city’s geography but its artistic and cultural history and life.
It’s connected to the gallery’s 35th anniversary and its annual auction on Saturday, March 29. But unlike the white gloves used to present the art at the formal festivities, this tour takes you into studios that are established and those that are still in the making.
Director Emily Smith explains that the initial impulse was to offer an opportunity for the public to gain access to working spaces and practices of artists. “We’d like to cultivate a collector’s base,” she says. Based on the success of the first tour last spring, the gallery chose to connect it more closely to the auction. The featured artists are contributing work to the bidding.
The participants include those who've been involved with 1708 for decades, as well as some artists who are new to the area and others who work in established spaces or who have moved to different places in town. “It reflects the spectrum and also allows people to see the seriousness with which the artists are working. We want to share that in a way that’s fun, engaging and rewarding. We hear often how our general audience likes to interact with the artist. They want to know, ‘How did you make that?’ What were they thinking about in the place where they made it.”
Artist’s studios are a bit of a mystery to whose who perhaps have not been in one. There’s the curiosity: Are the spaces messy or tidy, color coordinated or splatters everywhere? “It’s enlightening to see the reality,” Smith says.
Last year’s tour comprised three close together areas, but the 2014 version will take visitors across the city. “This demonstrates the adaptability of an artist,” Smith says, “I’m going to make a space for myself and do it here. It’s intriguing.”
And full disclosure: Having married into it, I’ve sunk work gloves into rubbish heaped behind the building near Hull and Pilkington streets that my partner-in-art Amie Oliver is rehabilitating to serve as studios for herself and others.
If you want to know how to find them, after the auction ticket purchase, which includes the tour, you’ll receive a map. If you can’t make the auction, separate admission is $35 per person through the 1708 website or by calling 1708 Gallery at 643-1708.
Finally, the 1708 Auction, “35 Candles,” is on March 29. The honorary chair is New York-based painter Kristen Baker, who burst upon the scene with paintings that referenced auto racing. The new work created for 1708 Gallery’s Annual Art Auction is emblematic of this signature style. Baker is not new to Virginia, though. Her painting The Prig is in the collection of the VMFA.
“35 Candles” includes live and silent art auctions, featuring work from more than 50 of the region’s artists. Baker is contributing a large work and an edition of silk screens, all made especially for the event.
There’s also a raffle for three custom portraits including a Man’s Best Friend Portrait by Matt Lively, a Free-Motion Embroidered Portrait by Michael-Birch Pierce and a Miniature Papier-Mâché Portrait by Rachel Leah Cohn.
Raffle tickets are $20 each or six for $100, and can be purchased in advance at 1708 Gallery. The drawing will be held at the auction, though the winner does not have to be present.
Coming up: pictures of musicians and communities off the main highways and an African American musician who collects the paraphernalia of hate groups and a freeform collective on their way to greater recognition inaugurates a music series, right here in old Richmond town, down on Broad Street.
Things start all up and down the Arts District in advance of the First Fridays event.
Tonight (Thursday) from 5 to 8 p.m at the Candela Gallery, there's a preview and artist talk by Lisa Elmaleh for her "American Folk" exhibition and Applachian style music from fiddler Ben Townsend and perhaps others.
Candela’s Amy Ritchie explains how Brooklyn-based photographer Elmaleh goes on the road with a truck that she sleeps in and where she develops her collodion tintypes. She becomes part of the communities she visits. “We think of Appalachian folk music as of the past,” Ritchie says, “but Lisa’s photographing solid, well-thought-of musicians who are keeping this tradition alive. What’s interesting to her is that these are all present-day people very much entrenched in an American tradition. They are alive and breathing, but they have a timeless quality.”
They are not coated by a mainstream sheen. Nor are the images blown up for some false sense of heroics, but human sized – not quite ordinary.
Candela isn’t showing the tintypes — an alternative traditional process — but archival pigment prints, a technical term for a digital print. Thus, a form that goes back more than a century is brought into the present.
Brandon Thibodeaux, “Birds in Field, Mound Bayou, MS,” 2010
Sharing the bill is Brandon Thibodeaux’s “When Morning Comes.” The Dallas-based photojournalist takes digital photographs produced as archival digital prints. Ritchie explains that Thibodeaux went on a “personal vision quest” into the Deep South. He became enamored of communities where Starbucks and 7-Elevens aren’t on every corner. “He met people in these places, established relationships over time and started photographing them.” His work possesses elements of portraiture although the land and architecture figures into them, too. “He’s an outsider coming in to see the community as opposed to how the community sees itself.”
Tonight and/or tomorrow, look for musicians photographed by Elmaleh to provide their interpretation of the scene, including Aviva Steigmeyer and Roy Pilgrim of the Keezletown Strutters, who are coming by arrangement of Elmaleh.
Nearby Candella, at 7:30 p.m., the Black Iris studio gallery presents Love & Radio's newest creation, "Silver Dollar.” This follows along the present exhibition, "Public Eye: A Civil Rights Case Study" an investigation into the worlds of surveillance, race and power as seen in the visual and aural archives of the Richmond Police Department, extended through March 15. New York City's Village Voice will soon print its take on that show.
Curator Benjamin Thorp explains that the Love & Radio creator, Nick van der Kolk, after gigs in Chicago and Oakland, recently moved to Richmond. Since Black Iris is a recording studio, Thorp brings in sound art as parallel programming. He wants to have more of these “listening sessions” when the occasion arises. Silver Dollar is about African-American musician Daryl Davis, who is obsessed by collecting paraphernalia about supremacist groups.
This is a story about understanding hate and the varied ways society reacts to it. The audio presentation will be followed by a Q&A with van der Kolk. Love & Radio is the multiple-award-winning radio program. “It’s the only NPR show with an explicit content warning tag,” Thorp says. The suggested donation for the event is $5 (no one will be turned away), with $4 drinks, and proceeds go to Connor's Heroes.
Tomorrow evening (Friday) around 9 p.m., Thorp is inaugurating what he’d like to see as another series. It begins with Matthew and the Arrogant Sea (MATAS) “giving an intimate performance in the speakeasy-style bar” in the back of the gallery. The group is headed for an upcoming performance on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series. “What I’d like to see is a “Tiny Band” series to start here; after stopping in at the galleries along Broad, they can come by and see a show like this.” But MATAS isn’t tiny, even if the space is intimate.
MATAS’ multiple and rotating personnel — 15, count’em — revolve around the central singer songwriter, Matthew Gray. One critic says that the band moves “effortlessly through different genres, rendering pop, country, folk, and psychedelic rock in spare and compelling form, and another poetically says the members are a “straggly fleet of ships, each bearing a small, sweet story, drifted over some unknown ocean and into Gray’s head. There's a suggested donation of $5 to $7, $4 drinks, with proceeds also going to Connor's Heroes.