Mark Twain and the Future of Theatre – Virginia Stage Company

Words by Moriah Joy.
Image courtesy of Virginia Stage Company.

While social distancing may feel isolating, technology is being utilized like never before in order to keep our sense of community and human connection strong. This is especially true in the arts community as artists are finding new ways to come together and continue to tell stories. Platforms like Facebook Live, Google Chats, Zoom, and many more are creating spaces for artists to connect with their audiences and foster creative spaces. Ryan Clemens, the Lead Resident Theatre Artist at Virginia Stage Company, shared his thoughts on overcoming these challenges both in workshops and performing. 

This past Wednesday, Ryan hosted a monologue workshop to help local actors with auditions and expressed the unique experience of webcam classrooms. 

“It‘s interesting because… as artists it’s all about the life and the connection between the performer or teacher and the audience or students and the liveness that you experience with the online situation is tentative and delayed. It’s an artifice of sorts. It takes a little while to figure out the technical components as people come into the chatroom and… establish how things work. It takes a special kind of patience when there’s a lag or… someone’s microphone turns them into a robot voice. … Also the idea of communicating to one another without really truly being able to look at one another. In hosting a monologue workshop, I asked the students to look at their camera and imagine it as the face of the person their character is speaking to. So it works… and I’m pleased to say that that’s been a great lesson and a great discovery that we’ve been making. It’s just, it requires a little more patience and a little more time to figure out the idea of connection in that space.”

With each online platform, there are different levels of connection that can be facilitated. While Google Chat and Zoom allow you to see your audience, there’s a limitation on how many people you can directly see at one time. With Facebook Live, the only feedback from a performer’s audience are quick scrolling comments and emojis that flash across the screen.  This creates a completely different atmosphere compared to hearing the hushed (or not so hushed) whispers, laughs, tearful sniffles, or other reactions experienced during a live performance. Ryan is also going to be performing a version of his one man show about famous family member Sam Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, as a way to maintain community engagement despite his reliance upon webcams and technology. He expressed his curiosity to see this dynamic play out with his performance.

“Because when I perform as Mark Twain though it’s all a one man show, it’s a show where it’s one person communicating with a whole audience and I need that interaction, I need to hear their response, I need to feel their energy. It’ll be a unique experience to see how Mark Twain… is learning to communicate through the medium of the webcam.”

Ryan has had to change the dynamic for his show to fit the new medium. His typical one man show performance consists of him starting out as himself and changing into different characters in front of the audience, including versions of Mark Twain throughout the course of his life. Whereas for this version, he’s changed the story so that Mark Twain has been staying with Ryan Clemens and his wife and telling different stories. 

 Ryan explained that since he will not be performing on a stage, he has established his own setup to create a relaxed atmosphere for his performance. Since he has been performing the show for over a decade, he has collected enough memorabilia to act as the background.

“….books and photographs and souvenirs from different shows and gifts that people have given me…I’ve got all kinds of jumping frogs and Mark Twain dolls and I’ve got my rocking chair in that corner [where I’ll be performing.]”

Patrick Mullins, the head of the Public Works program, is also working with Ryan to make sure that the performance is accessible to many members of the community. 

“[Patrick]’s been working feverishly to figure out things like how to broadcast with captions for members of our audience who might be deaf or hearing impaired…It’s a whole different kind of technical job too.”

With having to get creative and find new avenues for artistic outlets, Ryan is still hopeful that while this may impact theatre temporarily, in offering time for people to create, the overall dynamic and the way that we view theatre will not change.

“I think the reason that theatre continues and the reason that we are still drawn to visit actors who are doing their work on the stage is because [of] that essential liveness and connection that film cannot provide and other mediums like the internet cannot provide. To be in the same space as a performer and hear those words and breathe that same air and make that real tangible connection is at the [core] of theatre. Since there’s nothing that can replace that I think we’ll always find that people are drawn together and tell stories in the same space. Hopefully there will come a time soon… where we will be able to get together again in our theatre spaces… There’s perhaps inspiration to be found at this time but I think more than that it’s an opportunity to practice patience and to reflect upon what’s important to us as people and as individuals.”

Ryan has been working with Virginia Stage Company for over ten years and has a BA in Theatre from Western Washington University and a MFA in Acting from Regent University.

Tune in Sunday, March 29th at 2pm to watch Meet Mark Twain: Live on Facebook Live, no registration is required. Ryan will also be hosting a monologue workshop for anyone 18 and older, registration is required.

For more information about future workshops and performances with Virginia Stage Company please visit their web page as they are updating their information daily.

Virtual Theater Offerings: Virginia Stage Company

Words by Moriah Joy.
Image courtesy of Virginia Stage Company.

Patrick Mullins currently works as the Director of Public Works at Virginia Stage Company, where he has worked for fourteen years in various positions. Virginia Stage Company is currently working on hosting various classes, workshops, and performances to help keep the theatre community alive during these difficult times. Patrick will be hosting a workshop focused on Shakespeare Friday March 27th, 2020 at 12pm. I had the pleasure of video chatting with Patrick to learn more about him and how the theatre community is evolving as we face uncertainty.

Moriah Joy: Was there a show that inspired you to pursue theatre professionally?

Patrick Mullins: Well, I grew up doing theatre in church. I think I didn’t see my first professional show until I was in high school… Les Mis. I was in the nosebleeds at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. I came into theatre more through a community viewpoint… church community. I enjoyed it and it just kinda grew. So I don’t know if there’s a first show that inspired me except I really liked performing, my MFA is in Acting but I really found my niche in the directing world. I just like storytelling. 

MJ: Where did VSC get the idea to host online workshops, the Shakespeare workshop in particular?

PM: Well, I’m a Shakespeare nerd which is different from a Shakespeare expert. I really love it. I grew up in a really conservative world. The church that I mentioned earlier, we were only allowed to use the King James version of the bible which is that same era. I really grew up with that kind of text in a different way. As the world is ground to a halt, we’re just looking for a way to connect and serve the community. If me nerding out with some people about Shakespeare sounds like a good time then I’m all for it. I think what’s brilliant about Shakespeare is, we know that he coined a language that didn’t exist before. But Herald Bloom also credits him with the creation of the human almost. As he has some of the earliest three dimensional characters that are complicated and life is complicated and there’s a lot of people wanting it to be easy. With such beautiful language and poetry that expresses some of that. I love that- for his time period- that it was super accessible and populous. I yearn for that kind of theatre again, personally. And so there’s a little bit of hope to be found in that we can get back to that.

MJ: What do you find is the most challenging aspect of Shakespeare/ Shakespearean text?

PM: The most challenging aspect is the perceived challenge, the language. That it gets difficult or hard and it does. It’s technically not archaic but it is out of the common vernacular. But I think once you apply some rules to it, it becomes a little more transparent. And once you understand a little more the rules or the rhetoric, the language construction, it makes a little more sense. It really was the spoken word of its day in many ways. 

MJ: What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned while working with VSC?

PM: I guess the core thing of what I believe about theatre is when a community comes together to make something it’s always bigger than something you could make on your own. That’s true when you’re working on a project with a group of professionals or through our Public Works program. Art is more than just craft or skill it includes cultural expertise and knowledge and personal experience and when people bring their experience together with a sense of openness to make something more you can achieve really amazing, beautiful things. I think that’s the thing, no matter how much I think I know some days, I’m humbled by the fact that there’s such bigger things out there and how transformative that can be. 

 MJ: Do you have any advice for artists as we navigate these uncertain times as our platform that is dependent upon in-person interaction?

PM: I think the advice is how do we take advantage of the moment as far as sharing what we have. It’s amazing how many Broadway stars and so many more are offering masterclasses for free and how people are sharing their experiences. I think when the world is reordering itself in times like these, it’s really difficult but it’s also where opportunity lies for a lot of people who are looking for it. And a lot of great art has come out of these times and a lot of people who are already making great art have found great opportunities. If there is a positive spin, it’s that. I have a hard time talking about it because we have so many friends who have lost contracts, and jobs, and gigs because of this. I also think there’s no pressure to do anything but take care of yourself at this moment and that’s okay too. 
For more information about the upcoming productions and workshops visit VSC’s Virtual Stage Page for more information. Workshops and new material are being added daily.

My Daughter, the Doctor

Words by and Photos Courtesy of Penny Neef

It’s a cliché, especially now, but life as we know it has changed for every single one of us. If your life hasn’t changed, you had better be making some changes now- for your safety and for ours.

Here’s a big change for me. I have a daughter, Haley, who lives far away in Michigan. We miss her like crazy, but she visits here and my husband and I visit there. She’s good about calling a few times a week to tell us about her family, the news at work, and her two cute French Bulldogs.

Since Covid-19 reared its ugly head, she calls every single day. She’s not calling to tell us about her Frenchies or the crappy weather in Michigan. Nope, she’s calling to make sure we’re still healthy. She’s calling to find out what our plans are for the day, which means she’s calling to check we are not going out and doing anything stupid. 

Haley Neef with her frenchie dogs!
You didn’t think we would mention puppies at a time like this and NOT show them to you, did you? -the Editor

Now that I think about it, I might have done something similar to her when she was in her “formative” years. Haley has turned into the parent, which means we have turned into the children.  

To be fair, we have another daughter, Lindsey, who lives right up the road. She’s been telling me the same thing, “STAY HOME!!” Lindsey will not even let me get near my grandkids. I moved from Michigan to Virginia just to be near those grandkids. I guess I just have to be patient and safe.

Here’s the difference. Lindsey is an attorney. She is smart and a whiz with numbers. She understands the whole “flattening the curve” thing. I will listen to her, but Haley is a doctor. Haley is a doctor at a large university (Go Blue!). My daughter the doctor is following this pandemic very closely. She treats children who are critically ill, children who are transplant patients, children who are immunocompromised. It is her passion and her business. Dr. Haley knows her business.

The following is an actual conversation I had with Haley last Tuesday, March 17, which seems about a year ago now:

Haley – What are you and dad up to today? (she’s making sure we’re OK and not doing anything stupid) 

Me – We’re going out, we need to do a few things. (I’m going a little crazy, been in the house for the last 2 days)

Haley – Like what?
Me – I need a pedicure.
Haley – NO!
Me – Dad needs a haircut.
Haley – NO!
Me – We need some groceries.
Haley – OK, but go early and get in and out fast. Wash your hands! (I used to tell her and her sister that after they had been outside playing with worms.)
Me – Love you.
Haley – Love you too mom.

Dr. Haley cancelled her vacation this week so that she can be at the hospital and cover for one of the doctors who is immunocompromised. Dr. Haley calls us EVERY morning to check up on us.

Here is a conversation from the very next day, Wednesday, March 18:

Haley- What’s going on today?
Me- We’re in the car …..
Haley(interrupts) – NO!!!!
Me (continues calmly) – …going to the Botanical Garden for a walk.
Haley – Oh, that’s OK. Have fun.

A walk outside is good for the body and good for the soul. It is also doctor approved. I wrote about my walk and the measures they have in place at Norfolk Botanical Garden right here.

I’m officially old. We have zero health problems, but my husband and I are in that high-risk, senior citizen category. I have to start listening to both my daughters, who probably know more than I do. Big change.

Haley and Lindsey Neef as kids playing outside.

Dr. Haley calls every day, usually on her way into the hospital. As I write this, Michigan has gone into official lockdown. I expect Virginia will do the same soon. We’ve been in lockdown for a while, because I listen to my daughter. You should listen to Dr. Haley too.

I couldn’t be prouder of the daughters we raised who are a little bossy, but then, so is their mom. Love you so much, Haley. Love you so much, Lindsey.

I told Haley the other day that this may be the biggest battle of her life, but she’s ready for it. Love and good thoughts to all the health care workers out there. Listen to Dr. Haley.

Postscript, March 24 – 
Dr. Haley called us on her way home from work last night. She knew we were planning our weekly run to Kroger this morning, during official “senior citizen hour” from 7:00 – 8:00 am:

Haley – You still going to Kroger tomorrow?  Wear a mask, take the wipes, get in and out fast. Wash your hands like there’s no tomorrow when you get home. DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE!!
Me – Yes ma’am.

This is my new normal. Yours too.

Walk It Out, Smell the Roses, Stay Safe @ Norfolk Botanical Gardens

Words and Photos by Penny Neef.

Social distancing, self- isolation, flattening the curve. It’s happened so fast.  I had my hair cut ten days ago without a worry in my head. Just in the nick of time as it turns out. My daughter, the doctor, calls from the University of Michigan every morning to check up on us and find out where we’re going and what we’re doing. More on those calls in another article.

There is one place besides the grocery store and our own backyard that has been daughter/doctor approved. That is the Norfolk Botanical Garden. They are still open and welcoming visitors. The Norfolk Botanical Garden is art and natural beauty at its finest. It is right here in our own backyard. It is our backyard, if we had 175 acres with more than 175 varieties of rhododendrons and azaleas, 3000 rose bushes, maybe a million daffodils, an enchanted forest, a cute little veggie garden, 16 miles of trails, a lake and turtles.

Michael Desplaines, President and CEO of Norfolk Botanical Garden, says, “There’s lots of room. People can spread out. You’re never in close contact with anyone here.”

The silver-haired guy I live with and I were there just the other day. We love the NBG. We have been members since the first day we visited, seven years ago, shortly after we moved to Hampton Roads. I call it my happy place. Who doesn’t need a happy place right now?

A stump seat surrounded by pink flowers at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

The Norfolk Botanical Gardens is being smart. You must buy your ticket or membership online to get in. You stay in your car down the long driveway to enter the gardens. There is a booth at the gate. The friendly attendant reaches out and scans your ticket- no physical contact. All events and classes have been cancelled. The main building and gift shop are closed. They have left several restrooms around the garden open. Bring your own snacks or even a picnic lunch. For a complete rundown you can check ou the NBG’s “Commitment to Safety”. 

Those 175 acres of natural beauty are open people. The garden is beautiful anytime of the year. There is always something blooming, but this time of the year may be my favorite time of the year at NBG. The cherry trees are blooming. Thousands of daffodils line the banks of the canal. It smells like spring, like rebirth, like renewal. It smells like hope.

The azaleas are just beginning their spectacular bloom. The NBG was started as a WPA project in 1938. It began as an azalea garden, with over 200 African American women and 20 men clearing the land and planting four thousand azaleas and two thousand rhododendrons. The azaleas are my favorite part of the NBG. Take a stroll through the Enchanted Forest in about two weeks and you will be walking through walls of red, pink, purple and white azalea blossoms towering over your head. It is one of Mother Nature’s greatest works of art.

My grandchildren love Norfolk Botanical Garden too. It’s a place to get outdoors and just run. It’s a place to follow a path through the woods. It’s a place to spot turtles. There is a giant sandpile to play on, bring wipes.

A LEGO spider dangles from a tree at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

From now until June 7th, there is a special exhibit around the garden, “Nature Connects – Art with LEGO Bricks”. Thirteen larger than life LEGO sculptures are scattered throughout the garden. There is a giant LEGO spider hanging from a tree made of thousands of LEGOs, a gorgeous peacock, and a family of deer. Each sculpture, by LEGO artist Sean Kenney, has a sign indicating the number of LEGOs involved. It’s a lot.

This June, the “Flamazing Flamingos” will be in full bloom throughout the garden. These giant flamingo topiaries will be made up of over 80 plants.  They will be planted and maintained by the flamazing gardeners at NBG. 

The gardeners and volunteers are still at work all over the gardens. I had a lovely socially distanced conversation with a volunteer master gardener in the vegetable garden the other day. We maintained our distance and talked about the right time to plant kale, spinach and lettuce seeds. That would be right now. I’m still getting used to these mild Virginia springs.

Did I mention that you can bring your dog along for a walk through the garden on Sundays? There is fresh water available throughout the garden but they ask that you BYOB – bring your own bowl for Fido.

A path with trees at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

Now is the time to become a member at the Norfolk Botanical Garden.  Memberships are a great deal. For all the details on membership options, you can click here

It’s good to get to the garden early, when there are less people around. We only passed one other person in the Enchanted Forest area the other morning. The garden opens at 9:00 am daily. Of course, do not go if you are self-isolating for any reason.  

If you need to get out, walk a little or a lot, enjoy the colors and the smells, Norfolk Botanical Garden is a perfect place. I promise you it will soothe your soul.

Remember, at this time, you must purchase your tickets or membership online here BEFORE heading out to the gardens. 

An American Daughter at Little Theatre of Virginia Beach

Words by Christopher Bernhardt.
Photos courtesy of Little Theatre Virginia Beach.

The Little Theatre of Virginia Beach presents this political drama that looks at the double standards facing women in politics that ran rampant in the 90s and are still so very prevalent today. 

In Wendy Wasserstein’s play, Dr. Lyssa Dent Hughes is pending the confirmation for her nomination by the President of the United States to be the U.S. Surgeon General. As the action unfolds, we begin to see how things that happen in the life of a professional woman with a career and children are viewed and treated differently than that of a man, if he had been in the same position.

The production presented by LTVB is a valiant attempt at tackling such a difficult piece of theatre. Line flubs and under-developed characters took away from the drama of the show but the performances of two amazing actresses; Catherine Gendell and Isis Marne’, make this production a “Must See”.

In the role of Dr. Lyssa Dent Hughes, Catherine Gendell is phenomenal and drives the action of the play from start to finish. Throughout the production, we watch as Gendell creates a woman who starts off as confident and determined; and evolves into a stunning and strong fighter who does not buckle against her emotions, the political patriarchy of the country or the needs that are required by a woman who loves her family and gives 100% of herself in everything that she does. Watching Gendell in this role felt like watching a master class from the most experienced and expert performer. She performs with such raw and powerful emotion that you can only root for her to rise above the hurdles that are placed in front of her and celebrate her as she finds her way out of the political turmoil created by her career, the media and her family.

A scene from LTVB's An American Daughter. Two actors chase each other around the stage with a pillow.

As Dr. Judith B. Kaufman, Isis Marne’ is a fantastic supporting stage partner for Ms. Gendell, and as they say, she makes her partner look good while still managing to have her shining moments in the spotlight. As an “African American Jewish feminist” doctor, Ms. Marne’ brings some honest and raw emotional moments that make you feel the struggles that she is going through within her own life while still trying to be there for her best friend. These two women provide some of the strongest and most outstanding performances that I have ever seen at the Little Theatre of Virginia Beach.

The reminder of the cast is adequate in their roles; however, as an audience member, it felt like several of the cast members waited until only a week or two before production to learn their lines or even start developing their characters. Luckily, Ms. Gendell and Ms. Marne’ are able to rise above this and take this production to the next level.

Under the direction of Kathy Strouse, the show has some fine moments but it felt like some of the scene changes took too long and the audience was left sitting in the “dark” while watching the forms of the set crew make minor changes that should not have taken as long as they did. Some of the longer scene changes could have honestly been done under that regular lighting since it was mainly the camera crew and equipment coming to interview Dr. Hughes about her pending confirmation. The action of the play could have moved along without the blacks out or the long scene changes and helped build the intensity of the situation at hand. Ms. Strouse adeptly helped her actors create their characters; however, there are several who could have used a little more attention that would have only elevated this production even further. 

One big faux pas, was a combination of the set design by Bob Sauls and the direction of Ms. Strouse, there is a moment in the production where a character goes and looks at the books on the wall and even makes an attempt to touch one of the books; however, the books are not real and are painted onto the piece of the wall. This brings unneeded attention to a piece of the set that, if it remained untouched, could have been a nice enhancement. 

The most effective technical element of the show were the costumes designed by Tiffany Shortridge. They were appropriate for the time period and the setting of the show. Ms. Shortridge captured the last nineties very effectively and made me feel nostalgic for a time in my past. 

A scene from LTVB's An American Daughter. Two actors are sitting on stools talking like in an interview.

With all of these elements combined, this is a very interesting, thought provoking and empowering show that will leave you asking when things will change. When will women and men truly be treated as equals and receive the same treatment and scrutiny when applying for jobs, careers, or even confirmation or a political position? Even now, over 20 years after this show is set, women are still fighting for their rights to be treated fairly and equally and Little Theatre of Virginia Beach’s choice to present this show was a wise one to show where we were, how far we have come and how much farther there is still to go. 

Thanks to the performances of Ms. Gendell and Ms. Marne’ and the words and story of Wendy Wasserstein, An American Daughter is a show that is not to be missed and will hopefully leave you wanting more. 

At the time of publishing, Little Theatre of Virginia Beach has announced that the show will play its remaining dates from May 22nd – June 7th. Tickets are available here.

Virginia Arts Festival Postpones or Cancels Events Through May 4

Words by Penny Neef
Photo courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival

There are so many feelings churning around my head.  You too? I am grateful for the health of my loved ones and the basic necessities of life.  I am happy that cell towers and WiFi are working. I am optimistic that most people will step up to the plate and do the right thing.  I am hopeful that our leaders will lead.

I’ve got those “other” feelings churning around up there too, but I’m trying to push them right out of my head and wash them right out of my hair by concentrating on the items in paragraph one.  Let’s all stick to paragraph one.  

Many events and performances have been cancelled or postponed.  Most venues for the arts have closed down. In fact, SevenVenues, Norfolk’s public assembly buildings including Chrysler Hall, Scope Arena and the Attucks Theatre have all temporarily shut the doors.  It made me realize what a vibrant arts community we have. If you lived in Supai, Arizona, your choices would be limited. The 208 residents of Supai have to make their own entertainment and art. That’s going to be our new normal for a while.

This is the time of year I look forward to Virginia Arts Festival. Each spring, there are hundreds of performances by artists from around the world in venues both big and small.  At the same time, VAF hosts educational outreach opportunities throughout Hampton Roads for students of all ages. Rob Cross and his amazing team of people at VAF spend the entire year curating the events and performers.  Bus-loads of people come from outside our area for the Virginia International Tattoo, one of the premier events of VAF. This year, let’s hope that we will be able to emerge from our social isolation to enjoy some of the scheduled performances for later this spring.

Virginia Arts Festival is working hard to postpone and reschedule events that were scheduled for March, April and May. Some have been rescheduled for next year’s VAF, some rescheduled for this fall, and some have had to be cancelled.  Here is a partial list of postponements and cancellations.  For a complete list, go to their message.

North Shore Point Downtown
James Mc Murtry – POSTPONED to September 18 in VAF Outdoor Courtyard
Originally scheduled for March 26

Attucks Jazz Club
Stephanie Nakasian, vocalist – POSTPONED to October 3
Attucks Theatre
Originally scheduled for April 4

Sing-a-long to Sound of Music – POSTPONED – date to be announced
Chrysler Hall
Originally scheduled for April 25

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – POSTPONED – date to be announced
Sandler Center for Performing Arts
Originally scheduled for April 29

Virginia International Tattoo – CANCELED
Scope Arena
Originally scheduled for April 30 – May 3

Norfolk NATO Festival – CANCELED
Downtown Norfolk
Originally scheduled for April 30 – May 2

The Virginia Arts Festival is offering several options for ticket exchanges and refunds.  Click here for all the details.

In the meantime, let’s hunker down, take care of ourselves and our loved ones.  If you can, reach out and help your neighbors in need. Enjoy the many options of performing and visual arts online.  Try and make your own art. Find that guitar that’s been stowed in the closet. Pull out those paintbrushes or just pick up a pencil.  Art soothes the soul. We could all use a little soothing about now.

What’s 20% of Nothing?

Words and Picture by Melissa Corrigan.

On the normally loud, boisterous evening of St. Patty’s Day, a small group of service industry veterans stood huddled around the fire pit at local restaurant and bar, Torch Bistro, in the Chelsea district. They wore Chucks and Vans, each sporting the T-shirt of their respective employer, clutched PBR tallboys, and talked quietly while Dropkick Murphys played in the background.

Any other year, this would be a huge tip night for them. But this year, they’re out of work. 

As coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has swept across the nation, restaurants have been faced with tremendously difficult decisions. Close or not close? Limit service to take-out/delivery options only? Major consequences hung in the balance…the health and safety of employees and patrons vs. the annihilation of already slim profit margins and their employees’ livelihoods.

Ultimately, most restaurants have closed their dining rooms or closed altogether, and hundreds of service industry workers have been put out of work. Although national and state legislation is being passed at record pace to ensure these affected individuals won’t be evicted or face utility shut-off, these individuals still need to eat and have a basic standard of living for themselves and their families. Since traditional fundraisers are typically held live, that’s simply not an option.

We are, however, living in the new digital age. Bartenders and servers can now accept ‘tips’ via cash apps and PayPal, ensuring they can continue putting food on their tables and maintain their households. A brilliant and currently anonymous employee at the Center for Ethics and Policy in Pittsburgh created a simple Google form for the Pittsburgh Virtual Tip Jar. This individual had the foresight to include simple instructions for replicating the model in any city, which we’ve done for Hampton Roads.

Our Hampton Roads Virtual Tip Jar is now live, and the list of bartenders and servers is growing by the minute. You can find your favorite drink slinger or burger server on the list and send them some financial assistance directly via Venmo or Paypal. While local and national nonprofits are working as fast as possible to set up specific funds and application and distribution processes, those endeavors take time and our service industry friends need cash now

Below are two links: the first is the direct link to the Hampton Roads Tip Jar. The second is a document with a list of resources, including some national funds and projects, for restaurant employees who have found themselves suddenly under or unemployed.

Hampton Roads Tip Jar

Hampton Roads Service Industry Resource List

Many restaurants in Hampton Roads are still offering take-out and delivery options that may keep these businesses afloat through the coming days and weeks, but the vast majority of bartenders and servers find themselves with no income, effective immediately. Please consider looking up your favorite server, or finding a friend on the list, and sending them some direct assistance. 

Hampton Roads is a diverse, vibrant, and generally close-knit community, especially those in the service industry. In times like these, all we truly have is each other…and just try to figure out 20% the value of a friendship or a neighbor’s financial stability. Tip now!

Modern Age – Court Street Company Single Drops Friday (online)

Words by BA Ciccolella
Album Art by Harry Slater 
Photos by Jeremy Bates

One of the many events cancelled due to the latest state of emergency was Court Street Company’s single release party, which had been originally set for this Friday, March 20th at the Taphouse Grill in Norfolk. Luckily for everyone stuck at home these days, although the party has been cancelled, the single release has not!

I got a sneak peak at Court Street Company’s new single. I’m not going to try to fake my way through anything that might seem like an official review- I’m a theatrical designer and technician by trade, and when I worked for the local Symphony, the musicians used to kindly shake their heads when I got excited about how “I know that one from Looney Tunes!” (I was upfront with the band about my lack of skills in this area, and yet still were cool with sending me a preview of their new single, which makes them pretty awesome people.)

Court Street Company standing in the sand by a tree.

The band was kind enough to send me a write up about the single itself. Here we are- direct from Court Street Company’s mouths:

“Modern Age” is the lead single from Court Street Company’s upcoming full-length album. The track is bright, upbeat and anthemic. The song blends huge driving guitars with waves of vocal harmonies and big danceable drums in an almost Killer’s-like fashion. It marks an evolution in the band’s songwriting and sound yet remains true to Court Street Company’s sonic identity of alternative rock meets harmony-centric power pop.

That all sounds right to me, and what I can tell you additionally is that I loved it! It’s catchy, it made me smile during a very stress filled week, and I think it will be a great tune for everyone to dance along to in their living rooms on Friday while social distancing. Then once all this is over, we can find their next gig, and hear it live- together!

So everyone send a HUGE congratulations to Court Street Company this Friday (but do so from at least 6′ away, or maybe hit them up on their Facebook). We will be updating this article with the link to their single once it is released- so remember to check back!

Attention Everyone: The Single Is Available!!
Music Video

Court Street Company standing in the sand.

Court Street Company also sent me a bio for anyone less familiar with them:

Serving up harmony drenched rock n’ roll since 2017, Court Street Company formed amid southeastern Virginia’s indie music renaissance and quickly earned the moniker of “Portsmouth’s Rock Band”. Within a year of forming, the quartet released 2 singles, “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Fall Away”, propelling the band from playing coffeehouses to headlining Norfolk’s The NorVa (Rolling Stone Magazine’s Best Venue) twice. In the spring of 2019, they released “Olde Towne”, a 5 song EP named after the historic district of Portsmouth that the band calls home. “Olde Towne” would go on to be nominated as VEER Magazine’s EP of the Year, with its closing track “Indigo” garnering a Song of the Year nomination. 2019 would also see Court Street Company sharing the stage with national acts, most notably heartland rockers Bodeans, power pop legends The Producers, and dream pop pioneers The Ocean Blue. The band returned to the studio at the end of the year to record their debut full-length album.

The Legend of Georgia McBride – Virginia Stage Company

Words by Rebecca Edwards
Photos by Akin Ritchie

There’s always something special about attending an opening night performance. I recently had the privilege and pleasure to attend the opening for The Legend of Georgia McBride directed by Bruce Warren at the Wells Theatre.  The night was electric, and I walked away loving the performance more than I expected. 

The lobby was full of people when we walked in. Cupcakes and champagne had been set out for patrons to enjoy before the show. There were so many vibrant colors and conversations filling the night. You couldn’t help but notice the beautiful queens who had come to see themselves on the stage. Their makeup was flawless, dresses full of sparkle, and an indescribable vibe that spread through the theatre.

I was immediately drawn to this production when I saw it announced during the last season. There was something different, and I couldn’t wait to experience it. I had no clue what to expect. I soon learned that my excitement was well-justified. The Legend of Georgia McBride is the story of a man, Casey, played by Max Falls, who learns to have pride in following his dream. He is a professional Elvis Impersonator who is unexpectedly fired after learning his family is about to multiply. Circumstances change and he must do something he never imagined doing to provide for his wife and family. He discovers that all roads aren’t the same and while some may seem like they’re turning away from the final destination, they are really just helping you learn to love yourself and become the best version of you. No journey is complete without someone to share a little tough love. Miss Tracy Mills, a well-versed drag queen, is brought to life by the phenomenal actor Steve Pacek. She is the epitome of “the glass is half full” and “you make your own destiny”. Together they follow their dreams and find their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

An image from The Legend of Georgia McBride at VSC. An Elvis impersonator performing on stage.

My first view of the stage raised the gooseflesh on my arms. The simplicity of a stand-up mic all alone on the platform in what looked like a dive bar… textured floors, gaudy glowing neon signs, a dingy table for two, and a working set of stage lights to highlight the bar stage… immediately caught my eye. David L. Arsenault’s scenic design was impressive throughout the performance. The nuance and detail was superb. The seamless transition from night club to apartment to backstage was splendid and each had the same painstaking detail. I hadn’t seen anything like it before and thoroughly enjoyed the technical aspect of the set. I itched to go on stage after the performance just to soak it all in! 

The house lights dimmed and we were transported by Sinan Refik Zafar’s sound design. His talent and editing abilities really shone through the lip-sync performances. So many cuts and choices, it was truly impressive. 

The intimate ensemble of five performers were well cast and breathed so much life and personality into these fascinating characters. Pacek created a Miss Tracy that in my mind will never be duplicated or improved. She was soft and strong at the same time. Her presence was mesmerizing. I was particularly impressed later in the show when we see Pacek out of drag and completely make-up free in an emotional scene with Falls. Shortly after he was back on stage in full makeup and flawless- the transformation was magical! Pacek’s solid performance leaves you wanting more. 

Falls brings a wholesome refinement to a naïve Casey.  I admire how he has embraced this character and made it his own. His talent shines through not only his acting, but his singing and dancing as well. 

Samaria Nixon-Fleming’s performance as Jo, Casey’s wife, was sincere. You could feel her frustration as she struggled with her husband who hasn’t quite collected his adulting card. Her love for him was obvious and appeared genuine. 

Club owner Eddie was played by Bill Rogers with gusto. I enjoyed watching his growth from failing bar owner to all-in ally embracing the changes and prosperity that build his confidence. 

Brandon Curry rounded out the cast as Rexy/Jason. He bounced effortlessly between married, straight landlord Jason and over the top queen Rexy. Her moment of truth with Casey absolutely struck a chord. There were two queens in the audience sitting near me and to watch their emotional response to everything was humbling. 

I think we as the average theatre goer don’t realize just how impactful it is to see yourself on the stage under the lights. I saw the impact for the ENTIRE audience and it was moving. 

Lighting designer Akin Ritchie created such stunning images throughout the performance. I loved each of Miss Tracy’s lip-sync scenes. There were a variety of brilliant tableaus throughout the entire production. I enjoyed RASPBERRIES the most! 

An image from The Legend of Georgia McBride at VSC. Two performers with a fan routine.

Have I mentioned the costumes?! Oh girl!!! Miss Tracy’s wardrobe was TO. DIE. FOR. Bryce Turgeon’s vision and execution was more than words can ever describe. There were distinct color schemes for each character that carried seamlessly from beginning to end. The feathers, the sparkles, the lace… impeccable! His impressive resume doesn’t give enough credit for what I saw on that stage! The details not only in the dresses, but the matching handbags and hats; the costume reveals beneath other costumes… astonishing! 

The “Costume Pit Crew” was a fun addition to the show and made the transitions fun to watch. It was a smart move to incorporate them onto the stage and into the scenes. Steven Perfidia Kirkham’s wig design was a true complement to the incredible lines and color presented through the costumes on stage.

This show is a MUST SEE for EVERYONE! It maintains a balance between campy, serious, emotional and fun through the acting of Pacek, Falls, and the entire cast. 

Tickets are limited, especially now with the modified schedule. The Virginia Stage Company has announced that out of an abundance of caution, and due to concerns about the Coronavirus (COVID-19), they have decided to cancel the final week of performances for The Legend of Georgia McBride, March 18-22. The production will officially close with the 7:30pm performance on Sunday, March 15. For these final weekend performances (March 13-15), VSC will limit the amount of seats available to keep the gathering under 300 people. 

To see more about their decision and plan of action, please contact the theatre directly through their website. Please don’t let this precaution deter you from taking the opportunity to see this magnificent show.  If you are healthy and looking to do something fun, I strongly encourage you to take a chance and enjoy The Legend of Georgia McBride.

VSC has cancelled all remaining performances. They will close the show with their matinee 3-14-20.

The Legend of Georgia McBride plays at the Virginia Stage Company through March 15, 2020.

Wars Within A War – A Piece of My Heart at Little Theater Norfolk

Words by Nathan M. Jacques
Photos by Lisa Hogan

A Piece of My Heart, written by Shirley Lauro, tells the story of six women who found themselves thrust into the middle of the chaos of the controversial Vietnam War. Although bonded and united by their common duty to care for a multitude of war casualties, each woman faced their own internal battles alone.

Director Kelly Gilliam and Assistant Director Kathryn Finney, taking the helm of the Little Theatre of Norfolk’s production of this compelling piece, have essentially crafted a work of art. The Little Theatre of Norfolk’s production of A Piece of My Heart is easily one of the best presentations personally experienced to date at this venue.

Although this story was based on the Vietnam War, many of the issues presented in the piece are applicable to today’s men and women of the armed forces- particularly the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. The women portrayed in the story must rapidly adjust to their harsh, unpredictable surroundings in order to save American lives during the conflict- clearly foreshadowing their post-war adjustments back into civilian society- which was also harsh for those who returned from Vietnam. 

A Piece of My Heart requires a cast of actors that is able to portray a wide range of characters and also reach extraordinary levels of emotional intensity. Director Gilliam has assembled a dream-team of actors for this production. The cast consists of Peyton Henderson, Corenn Holmes, Louise Casini Hollis, Moriah Joy, Samantha Santee, Sami Topping, and Peter Scheible.  Every actor selected for this production was cast superbly for each role(s).

A scene from L.T.N's A Piece of My Heart. Nurses react to their surroundings.

Witnessing each actor embody and transition into a different character was astounding to say the least. The cast tasked with said transitions demonstrates the impressive level of talent present in this production.  As the show progresses, each character wrestles with the impact of the war on their lives physically and mentally both during the war and years after the conflict.

The show’s pacing reflects that of what one would expect a warzone would have. One moment peace- in the next moment, total chaos.  Lauro’s writing, combined with the skill of this cast and crew, gives a terrifying (and effective) glimpse into the madness of what these American heroes witnessed.

A scene from L.T.N's A Piece of My Heart. An intelligence officer talks about her struggle getting people to listen to her reports.

The collaboration between set designer Terry Flint, lighting designer B. Butterbaugh, sound designer Charles Owrey, costumer Kathy Hinson, and props master Robin Martineau complements and accentuates the journey the actors share with the audience. The set for A Piece of My Heart is simplistic, yet effective.  Impressive also was the fact that every item on stage served a purpose which kept the scenes uncluttered with no distractions.

Without delving too deep into spoiler territory, a handful of scenes often transitioned from serene to intense situations within a matter of seconds. These moments emphasized the powerful lighting and sound design of this production. 

The entire cast, crew, and production team have done a superb job in telling the story of six women who found camaraderie within chaos and reminding us that for some, wars don’t always end on a battlefield.

This particular production, part of the the Norfolk Theatre Festival, is nothing short of a master class in theatrical genius. 

Out of an abundance of caution, and due to concerns about the Coronavirus (COVID-19), LTN has decided to cancel the final two weekends of performances, and ticket sales have been suspended for the rest of this weekend.

A Piece of My Heart runs through March 15th at the Little Theatre of Norfolk.