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After last year's phenomenal ARTS Unite benefit, organizers are coping with too much of a good thing. 

The Stress of Success

Sometimes success can be more daunting than failure.

Last year, a collection of local theater professionals organized the first ARTS Unite benefit in order to raise money for the Fan Free Clinic's HIV/AIDS programs. The benefit ran over two nights at the Barksdale Theatre and proved to be among the most exciting events in Richmond theater. Each evening's performance — set up like a variety show with an MC introducing different acts — played like a "greatest hits" collection of local talent. The effort raised about $5,500 and set the stage for an explosion of interest this year.

"People who didn't really know about [ARTS Unite] last year know what it is now," says Tamara Hubbard, a local actress and stage manager who originally came up with the idea for a benefit. "This year, everyone wants to be involved. We have enough material for five benefits."

To accommodate the burgeoning interest, ARTS Unite organizers have narrowed the focus of the event. Instead of presenting a general revue of local stage shows, this year the benefit will offer a retrospective of Richmond musicals over the past 20 years. The time frame was chosen to recognize the 20 years that have been spent fighting HIV/AIDS since the identification of the virus in 1981. The retrospective will go back as far as the production of "Funny Girl" that ran at Swift Creek Mill Theatre in 1981 and continue forward to "When Pigs Fly," the Richmond Triangle Players' comedy that just closed in August.

There will be other changes as well: The benefit will run for one night instead of two and will be held at Theatre IV's Empire Theatre downtown. ARTS Unite is also incorporating a silent auction into the evening (among the items to be auctioned is a movie script signed by John Grisham) and has kicked off an in-store donation campaign in Carytown. With the larger capacity of the Empire, plus the other fund-raising efforts underway, Hubbard says the event should easily double last year's total amount raised. "I had no idea it would get so big so fast," she exclaims. "It's been overwhelming."

Covering such a large time frame makes possible some unique onstage reunions. One of the most remarkable will be the gathering of more than 15 members from three different productions of Theatre IV's "Quilters." The show was a 1986 smash and is arguably the most popular show in Richmond theater history; it was revived in 1991 and 1999.

Organizer Lauren Leinhaas-Cook was in the original cast and says that when shows were being considered for representation in the benefit, the consensus was that "Quilters" had to be done. "[The show] has had such an enduring impact," she notes. "There were women who came to see it 10 times."

The "Quilters" reunion, as well as several other reunions planned, will bring together many prominent local actors. The amount of talent committing to the benefit is indicative of the event's success, says Hubbard. "Our goal was to unite the theater committee behind this cause," she remarks. "We've done that and now we're working on uniting the whole Richmond community."



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