Go Do This: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the ballet

What it is

I want to say that you’ve definitely heard of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aka one of the most popular Shakespearean plays of all time. But who knows! With Betsy DeVos as the head of our educational system, I can’t tell what anyone knows or doesn’t know.

But seriously, though, if you’ve never heard of it, that’s fine. I’ll sum up:

Midsummer is a beautiful play about fairies and humans and kings and queens and mischievous scamps. There’s real love and fake love and plays within plays…it’s really the perfect thing for a pick-me-up during a season of never-ending bad news.

Elena Bello and Fernando Sabino in rehearsal, 2017

The Midsummer BALLET includes the musical stylings of Felix Mendelssohn and the choreography of William Soleau. And this is all well and good, but the really neat thing that Richmond Ballet’s production includes is…narration!

TALKING! IN A BALLET!

That’s right, humans with voices will be adding the Bard’s gorgeous words overtop of the gorgeous dancing and the gorgeous music (Richmond Symphony in the house!) and the gorgeous costumes. It’s so gorgeous, I may just throw up!

The ballet is always above and beyond expectations when the Symphony’s added to it—there’s something thrilling and just more in-the-moment about the live music, and the dancers seem to be animated by it. And with narration? WILL WE EVER RECOVER?

Who’s Behind It?

My favorite tiny dancers, Richmond Ballet produced this same ballet back in 2008, to much acclaim. (The photos in this piece that feature costumes are from that production.)

I spoke to Valerie Tellmann-Henning, who plays Hermia alongside her real-life boo Kirk Henning. She was, in a word, enthusiastic. “I get to play a lover with my lover!”

Val had a lot to say about the performance of her friend and colleague Elena Bello, who plays Puck. “You can’t even tell if she’s a creature, if she’s a boy or a girl, she just is adorable.” She also loves Fernando Sabino as Oberon (and envies his costume—“He wears a little leotard and a big ol’ cape and he has glitter in his hair, he has to look like something that’s not mortal, so he’s just kind of perfect…you know?”).

Maggie Small and Matt Frain in rehearsal, 2017

You know what, let me just put all of Val’s words here, so you can truly get the sense of her. It’s way better in person than I can do justice with here, but you’ll just have to imagine it.

“Midsummer is hysterical, everyone should really come because it’s hysterical. I do love doing comedy…

“…Helena and Demetrius are Cody and Trevor (also lovers). I get to play Hermia so I’m just the prim and proper and polite Southern little belle [said with sarcasm, in real life, she is more “very funny and straightforward lady”]. And I just run around doting on Lysander, and I just go weak in the knees. Hermia just follows him around and never speaks her mind, just like me. [again, sarcasm. Is there a sarcasm font?] Elena comes out with the magic flower and puts the magic potion in Kirk’s eyes and he falls in love with Cody, and then the real Val comes out and I get all “Get away from my man!” Cody and Trevor are adorable, she just runs after him and he wants nothing to do with her, and then he gets the potion and wakes up and is all about Cody. She is hysterical in this as well.

“Maggie [Small] is Tatania, and she’s stunning, she looks so beautiful. She does a great job of being a queen with all her little fairy minions around her, and she looks great with Fernando as we all know. That chemistry is bangin’. Matt Frain as the donkey, and it’s tutu much, ha ha. He really just goes to a whole new level. He’s got donkey moves down pat. He’s real shy of Tatania at first, but she coerces him to dance and at the end he falls in love with her, of course.”

Val explained to me that there’s a lot of little ticks and nuances in the choreography that help the ethereal folk seem more ethereal, the way the fairies breathe, the way the elves turn their heads. “So the dancing is classical dancing but obviously it’s got these little quirky things added to it, which is fun for the dancers.”

From the 2008 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

There’s a sweet little RB story involved, in that Anthony Oates had been in the 2008 production as a little changeling boy and now is dancing in this production as a grownup elf. The years, they do fly by!

“We have the spirit of glitter in our soul, but after we leave there’s going to be glitter everywhere. I feel sorry for the Carpenter cleanup crew.”

Where it is

The Carpenter Theatre at 600 E. Grace Street.

When it is

This weekend only. February 10 at 7pm, February 11 at 2pm and 7pm, and February 12 at 2pm.

How much it costs

$25 – $125. You can buy tickets online or by calling the box office at (804) 344-0906.

Other things to note

There are various decks around Carpenter, and street parking. The former costs up to $10 and the latter costs nothing. Or, you can take the bus. Or, you can take a cab.

Val tells me this is a very family-friendly show, but I wouldn’t necessarily take kids that are too young. These ballets tend to be fairly long and the shine might wear off after the first hour—that is, unless your kindergartener is a whole lot different than mine.

What’s this Saturday’s “March on Monument” and Why Should You Be There?

Let me answer your question with a question: Do you feel that Richmond should show that it is an inclusive place to live and visit? Do you like a pleasant walk and an opportunity to connect with volunteer groups that might be able to use your help?

Before you get confused, this article is not about the Women’s March on Washington, it’s about this weekend’s March on Monument in RVA.


Like many of us, Melissa Brooks and Beth Fuchs found themselves with their jaws on the floor as the General Election results became clear. It felt like we were on course to reverse any progress we’d made in the efforts to secure the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, practicers of all sorts of religions, and LGBTQ individuals. They also experienced the same electric jolt to do something, anything, that would help.

Over the next few weeks, little groups focusing on various inclusivity efforts started springing up alongside calls to help out existing groups. The Women’s March on Washington (set for January 21st) was established, and signups reached impressive levels within days. The energy was good, but it felt scattered, and these two friends wondered what could be done to help people, women in particular, to connect the dots.

Where, in Richmond, could they find kindred spirits with which to organize? How could they all come together to make a statement that our city has a thriving community of welcoming individuals? What would show the nation that Richmond is determined to remain a safe haven for its citizens as well as its visitors?

Well, a giant peaceful gathering sure might do the trick!


What is this gathering of which you speak?

The March on Monument is an event that Melissa, Beth, and some other fine folks have organized for us. Thank you, Melissa, Beth, and folks!

They’ve done all the confusing and often frustrating permit stuff, raised the money for those permits, organized volunteers, secured a great program of speakers and a whole slew of volunteer organizations to come have a presence, and they’re spreading the word themselves.

All we gotta do is show up!

Where: The March begins at the Lee monument on Monument Avenue and N. Allen Street

When: This Saturday, January 14 from 1:00 – 3:00 PM

Objective: Connect social justice-minded Richmonders with other social justice-minded Richmonders, give volunteer organizations a chance to get their word out, and show the rest of Richmond that they’re accepted no matter who they are.


Who should come?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, this event is for you:

  1. Do you want people to feel like they are accepted in Richmond regardless of their sex, color, or creed?
  2. Do you worry that this may not always be the case?
  3. Are you a woman and/or a person who believes that women should be on an equal footing with men? (Bonus! If you answer this one positively, congratulations, you are a feminist! Maybe you had no idea!)
  4. Do you want to know what you can do in your community to make a difference?
  5. Do you feel overwhelmed and unsure where to start?

Well, come on down to Allen and Monument, friends, because that’s your starting point.

In the words of march co-organizer Melissa Brooks, “Start here, come here, be here together. Let others hear and see you, and hear and see others. Let Richmond see you.”

“That’s a power move that women have not traditionally taken,” she continues. “Women are in the background, they’re behind the scenes, they’re working. We want to say, ‘Here we are, and we have concerns. We’re not going to go quietly in the night. It’s really a unification for men and women.”


What’s going to happen?

Beginning at 1pm and lasting until 1:45pm, you’ll have an opportunity to walk around and talk to some folks from various volunteer organizations. Then, a few strong and inspiring women will take the stage.

The lineup includes:

And then we march, walking the eight blocks to the Boulevard. Bring a sign, bring your friends, bring your family, bring your neighbors (particularly the ones without transportation), and…don’t bring your dogs, please.

Then at the end, newly elected State Senator Jennifer McClellan will do her motivating thing (and she is very motivating!), sending us all off for a life that will have more connections, more ideas, and more solidarity.


Let’s just get this out there, what if I voted for Trump?

Listen, you are welcome. If you answer any of those questions above positively, then you will show the powers that be that intolerance has no place here. It doesn’t matter who you voted for, it just matters that you show them you mean business.


What will I get out of this?

You’ll know that there are things you can do, and that you aren’t alone. You will show others that they aren’t alone. You will feel hope and you will pride. And then maybe you will go get a tattoo to commemorate the experience and benefit Planned Parenthood. Not required, but pretty cool.

Go Do This: GardenFest of Light 2016

It’s back, and it’s a good one. Here’s why we recommend it for you and/or your family.

What it is

GardenFest of Light is a winter wonderland slash Main Street Electrical Parade slash garden tour put on by Dominion and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

Only this year, you can add another slash to that—GardenFest of Light reminded me very strongly of Rainbow Road. You know, that super-tough stage at the end of each MarioKart game that mesmerized you with its multi-colored beauty but was quick to drop you into space if you made any sudden moves?

Wait, don’t be scared, GardenFest doesn’t drop you into space, unless you count a wayward child who might wander into an unlit spot and start wolf-howling (like mine does) until you find them.

Basically, you buy a ticket, walk through a sea of light exhibits (that is, made mostly with tiny string lights) in all sorts of shapes and sizes, buy some hot chocolate halfway through, and basically let your children run around in the dark with their little pink cheeks and dangling mittens.

This year’s theme is Living Color, and it’s simply gorgeous. Pinks, blues, reds, yellows, greens, whites, purples—it’s all there and it’s pretty disco-y delicious. This isn’t exactly a Christmas thing. There’s no lit-up Santa, no reindeer, it’s not that thing that happens up at Meadow Event Park. It’s truly a work of art.

That thing at Meadow Event Park may be awesome, by the way, I don’t really have any idea.

Who’s behind it

Dominion, the people who deliver our electricity, and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, the people who bring us a lot of beautiful flora and even fauna (those butterflies!). Also a ton of volunteers who help set up all the lights.

Where it is

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is at 1800 Lakeside Avenue on Northside. If you’re arriving from the south, keep right, even though you’ll be turning left. There’s a sudden turn lane situation at Hilliard that screws me (and everyone else in front of me) over every time. You won’t miss the entrance, there are police officers helping to direct traffic, and it’ll be where everyone else is going as well.

When it is

Nightly admission through January 9, excepting December 24 and 25. Members get in free on January 9! Hours are 5 – 10pm.

There are also various nights in which events happen, like caroling and crafting and all sorts of things. Check those out here.

How much it costs

If you’re a Lewis Ginter member—something I highly recommend—you greatly benefit with a deeply discounted ticket. Member adults are $7, non-member adults are $13, kids are $5 (members) and $8 (non-members). Littles under 3 are free.

It can add up to an expensive night, particularly if you partake in the hot refreshments. I’d argue that it’s worth it, my child thoroughly enjoyed himself, and not just because there was a room with an impressive model train situation.

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You will take this exact photo, I would bet money on it.

You can buy tickets ahead of time online, but you’ll have to pay a convenience fee. You might as well just buy them on-site. The lines aren’t that long.

You do not need cash at the hot beverages stand or anywhere else. Hooray, 2016!

Other things to note

There are free cruisin’ strollers that I recommend making use of if your child is under three. It’s a ton of walking and potentially a ton of cold walking. If they get tired and refuse to move their little legs anymore, you’ll have to do a LOT of carrying. Plus it can be an easy way to keep track of them if they start wilding out.

Lewis Ginter is doing a social media contest, and you can win a membership and other stuff! More about that here, but basically you follow @lewisginter on Instagram, post a pic, and tag them as well as #GardenFest. Good luck, and be careful around those sharp Rainbow Road turns.

Go Do This: 1776 at the Virginia Rep

This show is hot as hell (in Philadelphia) (but also here).

What it is

1776 is a musical about the Continental Congress and its dithering over declaring independence.

Man, does that sentence sound like I could be leading you down a path of boredom! Fear not, my fellow Americans. The musical adaptation of a Founding Moment and the creation of compromise can be really, really fun. Oh wait, you’re all obsessed with Hamilton, so you already know that.

Sherman Edwards wrote this musical, which opened in 1969, and he wrote it to be informative, funny, inspiring, thought-provoking, and even racy at times.

There’s a whole scene where John Adams and Ben Franklin are literally waiting outside for Tom and Martha Jefferson to finish doin’ it!

So racy, guys!

1776 is also a 1972 movie, starring many of the same people from the Broadway cast (including William Daniels, whom you may remember from Night Rider and/or Boy Meets World, depending on your age).

The film version was one of the handful of musicals I fell in love with at a young age and watched over and over—jury’s out on whether that INFORMED my love of all things Founding Generation or whether our frequent trips to Colonial Williamsburg and Philadelphia did. Who cares. Sit down, John, we’ve got one of the most fun musicals ever to discuss.

Scott Wichmann (John Adams) and cast. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Scott Wichmann (John Adams) and cast. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

The musical has John Adams as its hero—an obnoxious and disliked representative from Massachusetts with independence on his mind. He teams up with Ben Franklin and Jefferson to try to convince the rest of Congress to just declare independency so they can form a new nation already, dammit. Jefferson is whatever about helping out because he’s trying to get home to his young wife, but they convince him to stay and write something or other. Meanwhile, the rest of Congress is rolling their eyes, then taking it a little more seriously, then discussing some tricky issues, and then finally…well, I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say, we live in the country they created.

The music is beyond catchy, the lyrics are clever as all get-out, and the whole thing goes from impassioned to funny to tender to transfixing-in-a-legal-drama-way so smoothly that you wonder why Sherman Edwards didn’t go on to write a thousand more treasures.

Who’s behind it

Virginia Repertory Theatre, who has a brand new Artistic Director, Nathaniel Shaw. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do with this already top-notch company. So far, so good.

As far as the cast goes, I was thrilled to see Landon Nagel back as Jefferson—he had me at his performance in Firehouse’s Maple and Vine last year. I’ve got a major soft spot for ol’ TJ and his individualistic and enlightenment thinking, despite the best efforts of all my Hamilton-loving pals, and this show comes from a time when it was still cool to be into Jefferson.

Scott Wichmann’s performance as the little, fiery Adams was undoubtedly the casting high point. One would hope that he started his acting career planning for this role, because he was certainly made for it. Likewise Alexander Sapp was perfect for his performance of the sometime villain but actually pretty logical Edward Rutledge (representative from South Carolina who convinced everyone to keep the infamous “let’s get rid of slavery” clause out of the Declaration of Independence). Dude’s drawling confidence gave me chills.

Alexander Sapp (Edward Rutledge) and cast. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Alexander Sapp (Edward Rutledge) and cast. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

Worth noting also is Jason Marks as Ben Franklin (funny if somewhat overacted) and Sarah Kate Walston as Abigail Adams (sweet if somewhat underused).

My favorite part in the movie, though, was also my favorite part in the play—a small but heart-wrenching ballad featuring the courier who keeps bringing messages from George Washington. It’s a rare moment of 100% seriousness, when we remember that it’s not just about these men bantering in Philadelphia. There are also men dying in Washington’s Continental army. Really young men, who often weren’t even old enough to leave their mothers. And now they’re crying for them as they die, forgotten, under a tree.

Even thinking about it makes my stomach hurt. Keaton Hillman, who played the Courier and who just graduated from William and Mary, sang with the voice of an angel. I can’t believe I just said “voice of an angel,” but he made me cry, so, there it is.

And lordy, those sets (Rich Mason), those lights (BJ Wilkinson), and those dang waistcoats (Sue Griffin)—intricate, super useful for marking time, and gorgeously detailed, respectively.

Director Debra Clinton, you’ve done a wonderful job. 1776 is one of those shows that has to be directed well for it to remain fresh (it’s a lot of actors sitting and standing in one room). But from the very first drumbeat, I was like “Oh noooooo, that’s one drumbeat closer to the end. AND IT SHOULD NEVER END.”

Where it is

The November Theatre, Marjorie Arenstein Stage, aka that big place on Broad Street with the well-lit marquee. 114 W. Broad Street.

Park where you can on the street or in Jackson Ward. Or, take public transit. Or an Uber, like I did!

When it is

1776 runs through Sunday, October 23 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights as well as Sunday afternoons. Oh, and some Wednesdays. Just look at the schedule, please.

How much it costs

$36 – $60 depending on your seating requirements. I don’t really see any reason to choose extra premium seats. Get tickets here or call the box office at (804) 282-2620.

Other things to note

In an election year, we should all be made to watch this film. In an election year in which a live version of this musical is available for your eyes to see, we should all be made to go. The play is very critical of conservatives (although throws in some nice Virginia jokes that perhaps mollified the bow-tie crowd, although who knows what they went home and posted to Facebook about it. Not me!), and there’s one whole musical number devoted to calling them overly money-minded and too absorbed in their own self-interest.

Fun fact: In the film, that musical number “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” was deleted! Nixon was in office and, according to the internet, his anti-conservative regime put some pressure on the film’s producers to nix-on the scene.

Musicals pissing off presidents! I love it!

It’s really difficult to dislike 1776. Well, it’s difficult to dislike it and remain friends with me. What would we even talk about, you know?

Go Do This: Richmond Ballet’s Studio One

Richmond Ballet dancers Cody Beaton, Thomas Ragland, Fernando Sabino and Maggie Small in The Moor’s Pavane. Richmond Ballet 2016. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson

You know what I love about fall? Watching musclely people sweat so I don’t have to! Am I right, fellow sloths?

What it is

It’s important to emphatically note that this is Richmond Ballet’s Studio Series. That is, it’s in a smaller, black-box-esque theater, and the program consists of two to four (in this case, two) short ballets that are not necessarily the kind of storyline, tutu-based thing that you’re thinking it will be.

I mean, there might be some tutus sometimes and even a story here and there, but the Studio Series tends to draw from a vast timeline of ballet and modern dance, often including something so very contemporary that it was just choreographed, like, yesterday. No, seriously! Often, Richmond Ballet will commission a new work from a choreographer who will come to RVA from New York or wherever and start working with the dancers a couple of weeks before showtime, sometimes tweaking the work right up until the big day.

This time around, the world premiere is by choreographer Melissa Barak with music by Michael Nyman.

But first…Elizabethan gowns

I dunno, maybe they’re not Elizabethan, but my main takeaway from The Moor’s Pavane, the first ballet of the evening, was, “How luxurious are those dang costumes I CAN’T STOP STARING AT THEM I WANT TO TOUCH ALL THE VELVET gimme the velvet. Velvet.” Pauline Lawrence came up with the original costume design for this 1949 José Limón ballet, which takes the vague plot of Othello and turns it into an allegory for ALL OF HUMANITY.

You’ve got your loving relationship, your frenemies, your green-eyed monster, your insecurity, your handkerchief fetishes, and your murderous strangle-hands. That’s humanity for you!

At the Wednesday night performance, I was treated to Valerie Tellmann-Henning as the Treacherous Friend’s Wife. She’s an expressive lady, and watching her run the gamut from mischievous to mean-spirited to duplicitous to regretful was pretty stirring. Her husband, Kirk Henning, played the Moor himself—which, guys, come on. A White Moor? He danced beautifully but I’m not sure now is the right time to cast a White dude as a character typically portrayed as Black. (In other performances, Thomas Ragland—who is Black—plays Othello). (And turns out [Othello isn’t always Black anyway—sometimes he is “tawny,” which makes me feel weird).

Sabrina Holland as the Moor’s Wife was sweet to watch as always, and Matt Frain as the Treacherous Friend (or as I like to call him, the Treacherous Friend’s Husband) played a convincing serpent.

Company dancers Cody Beaton and Mate Szentes in Melissa Barak's new work, Stepping Beyond the Guards. Richmond Ballet 2016. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.
Company dancers Cody Beaton and Mate Szentes in Melissa Barak’s new work, Stepping Beyond the Guards. Richmond Ballet 2016. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

Next up: A rainbow of fun

Melissa Barak’s new work reminded me of—and bear with me, this is really specific—looking up at the waves of fabric meant to represent Nessie while you’re waiting in line at the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens.

Yeah!

The colors of those banners, aligned in a gradient fashion, are similar to the costumes of the company (not the ones pictured above), and there’s a part in this sometimes-surreal piece that is actually supposed to bring sea creatures to mind.

Plus, waiting for a roller coaster is exhilarating, and when you’re on that roller coaster you might even feel weightless like a tiny dancer.

After the intensity of Othello and Co. and all their Terrible Human Impulses, it felt cleansing to open yourself up to the bubbly joy of this piece. Mate Szentes is so strong in both acting capabilities and movement, and when you combine him with Cody Beaton, who can basically do anything, the result is truly a sight to see.

By my calculations, I’ve been a regular at Richmond Ballet’s studio series for seven or eight seasons, and I’ve never left it feeling so cheerful. Moved, yes. Amazed, certainly. Weeping, sure, and I’m not the only one. But this time just felt like I’d eaten a satisfying healthy meal followed by a little trip down Rainbow Sherbet Road. I am INTO that kind of diet.

Who’s behind it

Richmond Ballet, which is the official state ballet of Virginia, AND is starting this season under the favorable auspices of a brand-new rebrand!

Check out that new logo, plus some really stunning publicity photographs for the season that incorporate Richmond street art.

There are a couple of new people in the company, but nobody quite got a chance to shine this time around except the principals. That’s OK, guys, your time will come.

Where it is

So this particular iteration of the Studio Series goes like this, because I know you have “I’m New to This Ballet Thing” anxiety:

  1. Get to the Richmond Ballet on Canal Street (407 E. Canal Street, to be exact), park on the street or in the lot, be greeted by a younger non-company dancer, make your way upstairs, find your seat.
  2. Watch a 30-minute dance very close to your eyeballs.
  3. Clap.
  4. Go stretch your legs during a 15-minute intermission. Look woefully at them as you consider how they’ll never be as sleek as those of a dancer.
  5. Buy an alcoholic drink and take a look at your legs again. Looking a little bit better now, am I wrong?
  6. Get back to your seat, people are looking at you!
  7. Watch a short film that features an interview with choreographer Melissa Barak, who explains her inspiration for the dance you are about to see.
  8. Watch a 25+ minute dance very close to your eyeballs.
  9. Clap a lot.
  10. Leave 1 hour and 45 minutes after you arrived.

When it is

Studio One runs through Sunday, September 25th with two shows on Saturday and Sunday. Check out the schedule and buy tickets online.

How much it costs

$41. Here’s that link again!

Other things to note

If you can’t get to this one, there are two other Studios in the Series throughout the year. You may view them here, and I recommend you do.

What exactly it is we are trying to do, here

Great news, guys!

Presenting This Dang City, an internet location that features articles about Richmond, Virginia, including, but not limited to, the following subjects:

  • Transit: What’s It All About and Why You Should Care
  • Those Characters at City Hall and Their Entertaining Antics
  • The Mayoral Candidates Who May-or May Not Be Running Our City One Day, God Help Us All
  • Public Art! (If You Leave Out the “L” It’s a Funnier Subject)
  • Go Do This: This is Actually a Real Column Format in which Susan Makes Plans on Your Behalf
  • Fascinating People™
  • Humortown
  • Purple Stuff

Our past

My pal Ross Catrow and I used to work together to run an online magazine called RVANews. It was magical and wonderful and we got to yell at each other every day, but we also had to do a fair amount of stuff we didn’t want to do—coverage that didn’t interest us and explaining that things are jokes.

Our present

Now, we’ve got different jobs that we are happily focusing most of our considerable energy on. But it’s hard to stop ourselves from babbling about Richmond stuff, so we figured why not get it down on internet-paper.

This isn’t RVANews 2: Cruise Control. This isn’t an independent news source. We don’t make money, we don’t care about getting a scoop, we’re biased all over the place, and you can feel free to read or not read. Get excited, y’all!

What to expect

Postings at irregular intervals about Richmond-specific issues and events in a voice and tone that’s easy to read without being boring. We’ll probably pull in some guest posters every once in awhile, because we sure do know a lot of good ones.