Randy Strawderman did not quit his job as artistic director of Barksdale Theatre.
Instead, Strawderman says, he was asked to "resign gracefully" not by the people who run his theater but by Phil Whiteway and Bruce Miller, the founders and bosses of Theatre IV.
Strawderman's departure comes as Whiteway and Miller are in the midst of discussions with Barksdale about helping the financially strapped theater.
Miller, Theatre IV's artistic director, confirms that he and Whiteway have spoken to Strawderman, but says, "It is not my place to comment on relationships between Randy and his employer." Miller adds, "As we have told Randy, we hope that whatever happens will involve his continuing participation."
Julia Rogers, president of the Barksdale's board, declines to discuss Strawderman's departure because it is a "personnel matter."
Strawderman is not going quietly. Though the Barksdale board has offered Strawderman a severance proposal that includes a gag order, Strawderman's attorney has let the board know he will not accept the offer.
"It is so hard to know what to say right now," says Strawderman, who is clearly shaken by this turn of events. He got his first professional job with Barksdale in 1972 and developed a close relationship with the theater's founders. "I only want the best for Barksdale, which I think has been Richmond's most grounded, sincere, passionate and diverse theater."
Theatre IV's talks with Barksdale are a result of hard financial times at Barksdale, Richmond's oldest continually running nonprofit theater. Earlier this year, Strawderman warned Barksdale supporters in a fund-raising letter that "[t]he Barksdale Theatre may not be here tomorrow."
At the time, the theater had a nearly $100,000 deficit. The Barksdale has an annual budget of about $850,000. By comparison, Theatre IV is Virginia's largest theater, with a $5.2 million budget. It focuses primarily on family-friendly fare.
When Theatre IV's Miller received the letter, he says he called Barksdale and said Theatre IV "would help in any way that we could."
"That phone call was returned to me by Barksdale leadership, and the conversations have proceeded from there," Miller adds.
Miller acknowledges that "the rumor mill is flush" with reports that Theatre IV is taking over Barksdale.
But discussions between the two theaters are "in their infancy," Miller says. "It is untrue that any conclusive action has been taken regarding the future working-together of our two organizations."
Barksdale board president Rogers also denies that the theater has made any deals with Theatre IV. "We are having some friendly discussions," she says. "It is early in the process. We are not at a crisis point."
Strawderman disagrees. "I needed a partner at the new Barksdale, a business mind," he says. "I could handle the innovation in the theater. I needed the innovation in the front office. If Theatre IV can provide that, then I wish them well. And if they feel that I have no place in their plan on an immediate and consistent level, then there is nothing I can do about that.
"My only fear is that Theatre IV has seemed to be more about quantity than quality. Their 'helping hand' keeps reaching out and grabbing more. For the community's sake, I hope they know what they have got with the revered name 'Barksdale Theatre.'"
Miller says Strawderman and the community have nothing to worry about. "Theatre IV is keenly interested in Barksdale's survival as Barksdale," he says. "I believe all the players have nothing but Barksdale's successful future in mind."
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