Virginia Rep was created by the merger of Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV in July of 2012 to form one of the largest performing arts organizations in Central Virginia. Virginia Rep’s commitment to high artistic quality, education, and community engagement continue the legacy established by our founders - Muriel McAuley and Pete Kilgore from Barksdale Theatre and Bruce Miller and Phil Whiteway from Theatre IV.
Barksdale Theatre's History
On August 1, 1953, six actors, two children, a dog and two pigs moved into a historic ruin called Hanover Tavern. The transplanted New Yorkers founded Central Virginia’s first professional theatre, and named the company in memory of a deceased college friend, Barbara Barksdale.
When they learned that their new neighbors looked forward to eating on evenings out, they combined favorite recipes and created the nation’s first dinner theatre. They lived upstairs, performed downstairs, and served hearty meals in the historic rooms that fell in between. Committed to the “decentralization of American theatre,” these six 20-somethings not only saved what has now become a national landmark, they also founded what is today the nation’s eighth longest operating professional regional theatre.
During the first six years, four of the original founders moved on, leaving Pete Kilgore, Muriel McAuley and newcomer (and newly-wed) Nancy Kilgore firmly in charge. In the seasons that followed, Pete, Muriel and Nancy produced Greater Richmond’s first professional productions of plays by Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, George Bernard Shaw, Noel Coward, Thornton Wilder, William Inge and Edward Albee.
They also became dynamic civic leaders. In defiance of Jim Crow laws, Barksdale was Virginia’s first performing arts organization to open its doors to integrated audiences. Barksdale launched Greater Richmond’s first “studio season,” converting an old country store into an experimental theatre. Barksdale conducted Virginia’s first professional theatre classes for children. In 1973, Barksdale produced Virginia’s first professional play based on African American experience, Lorraine Hansberry’s To Be Young, Gifted and Black.
In support of their theatrical mission, Pete, Muriel and Nancy continued the endless task of restoring the Tavern. In 1990, the Tavern was sold to the Hanover Tavern Foundation. In 1993, Pete, Muriel and Nancy retired after 40 years of exemplary service. John Glenn was named Artistic Director. In 1996, to accommodate a full restoration of its beloved home, Barksdale left the Tavern for new facilities at Willow Lawn. In 1997, John Glenn left to pursue other opportunities, and Randy Strawderman was hired to replace him.
In 2001, leadership was transferred to Bruce Miller and Phil Whiteway, Artistic Director and Managing Director, respectively. Under their leadership, the company’s reputation for artistic excellence continued to grow. Subscriptions increased by 700%, and after a ten-year separation, Barksdale returned theatrical programming to Hanover Tavern in January 2006, renting the space from the Hanover Tavern Foundation to complement its five-play Signature Season at Willow Lawn.
In 2012 Barksdale merged with Theatre IV. In 2016, Bruce Miller transitioned from Artistic Director to Founding Producer, and Nathaniel Shaw took on the role of Artistic Director. Today, productions at the Tavern are ongoing as part of Virginia Rep's Hanover Tavern Season.
Theatre IV's History
Theatre IV was founded in 1975 by Bruce Miller and Phil Whiteway as Virginia’s first professional theatre for young audiences. It focused on four areas: the arts, education, children’s health and safety, and community leadership.
Dedicated to children, families, and schools, for over 30 years, Theatre IV performed in every school district in Virginia and toured regularly to major performing arts centers throughout 32 states on the eastern half of the nation. The touring arm continues today as Virginia Rep on Tour.
One of the earliest productions of Theatre IV, a dramatization of African-American folk tales, was selected to represent the United States at the International Children’s Festival at Wolf Trap Farm Park, and recorded for international broadcast over Voice of America.
Over the years Theatre IV produced many educational plays to address social issues. In 1983, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Social Services and Prevent Child Abuse Virginia, Theatre IV created and began touring Hugs and Kisses, Virginia’s principal child sexual abuse prevention program. Since that time, Hugs and Kisses has been presented to over 1.5 million children in every school district statewide. Over 15,000 Virginia children have come forward for more information or help after seeing a performance of Hugs and Kisses.
In 1985 Theatre IV produced Do Lord Remember Me based on the oral histories of former slaves interviewed during the Federal Writer’s Project, and received the Award of Excellence from Branches of the Arts for “The most outstanding play relating to African-American experience.”
In partnership with the National Network of Runaway and Youth Services and the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, Theatre IV created and began touring Runners, a landmark delinquency prevention program, based on interviews with 42 runaways living in Virginia’s halfway houses and emergency shelters.
In 1986, Theatre IV purchased and renovated the historic November Theatre (formerly the Empire), one of Richmond’s two Broadway style houses. It was further restored in 2011 when Sara Belle and Neil November made a $2 million gift to Theatre IV and Barksdale. The November now serves as Virginia Rep’s headquarters and home and anchors the Arts District.
Bruce Miller and Phil Whiteway assumed the leadership of Barksdale Theatre in 2001 and operated both theatres, sharing administrative resources but operating as two separate nonprofit theatres.
In 2002 the Pentagon selected Theatre IV’s production of Buffalo Soldier, written and directed by Bruce Miller, as a morale booster after September 11th. Theatre IV became the first professional theatre in the nation to perform within the Pentagon walls. The performance received a standing ovation from the packed auditorium, and was broadcast live throughout the Pentagon.
Bruce Miller and Phil Whiteway have received numerous awards on behalf of Theatre IV, Barksdale Theatre and now Virginia Rep. Among the most notable are: the Commissioner’s Award from the US Dept of Health and Human Services, the Excellence in Arts Instruction Award from the Board of Education, the Governor’s Ward, and Style Weekly’s “100 Most influential Richmonders of the 20th Century.”
Virginia Rep Today
With a budget of $5 million, four distinct venues, an educational touring arm, and an annual audience over 550,000, Virginia Rep is the largest professional theatre and one of the largest performing arts organizations in Central Virginia. In July of 2016, Bruce Miller transitioned from Artistic Director to Founding Producer, and Nathaniel Shaw took on the role of Artistic Director.