Strawberry Hill changes ticketing policies for the Big Race … 

Street Talk

Strawberry Hill Tries New Ticketing SystemGrammys Hire Richmond ArtistsCity Hall Chiefs Are Just ActingAt the Weimar, Reluctantly Strawberry Hill Tries New Ticketing System Calling all minivans! The organizers of the annual Strawberry Hill Steeplechase Races, besieged by complaints last year after turning away hundreds of race-goers, think they've come up with a solution: car pooling. Instead of charging people to get into the race, they plan to charge a flat fee of $65 per vehicle, which would cover everyone packed inside. "After last year we knew we had to do something else," explains Dick Harman, media relations coordinator for Atlantic Rural Exposition Inc., which sponsors the races. "We had to make sure this didn't happen again." For many attendees, last year's races — the first time the event had moved from the State Fairgrounds to Colonial Downs in New Kent County — proved horrific. The race's organizers underestimated the need for parking space, and torrential rains wiped out unpaved overflow lots. The result? A backup on I-64 and customer refunds totaling $55,000. Even Jay Lugar, community relations director for ARE, couldn't get his own party in. His wife and 12 friends were stuck on the highway and got nowhere near a horse. "I feel the pain," Lugar says. This year's event, scheduled for April 14, returns to Colonial Downs. But it should prove less painful, according to organizers. They've counted the paved spaces — there are about 1,700 of them — and say people should end up paying less if they coordinate their travel with friends. Got lots of friends? Take a bus for $600. If you manage to cram 100 people on, that's $6 a person. The overarching goal, Lugar says, is to preserve the tradition of Strawberry Hill races until it can take up its more permanent home at the new StateFair Park (General Assembly willing). In the meantime, he says, "We didn't want to just not have it." With the new ticketing system, Lugar hopes to gain back any confidence lost last year: "I think people want more than anything to know that they can get in." For more information, call the Strawberry Hill Races ticket office at (804) 569-3212, or go online at www.strawberryhillraces.com. Jason Roop Grammys Hire Richmond Artists For two Richmond illustrators, the news was music to their ears. "I was dancing around," says local artist Robert Meganck. "It's a pretty big deal to me," says his colleague Sterling Hundley. They're bubbling over some high-profile assignments they landed last month: illustrations for the printed program of the 43rd Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Soon after the awards show announced Grammy nominees on Jan. 3, Meganck received a phone call from the graphic designer in charge of the show's program. She had seen Meganck's work on the Web and asked him to illustrate one of the nominees. She started running down the list of singers, Meganck says: 'N Sync … Dixie Chicks … Paul Simon. "I said, 'Well, stop. I'll do Paul Simon.'" Meganck told her. "I've been around long enough to appreciate him." With a week to submit his sketches for approval, Meganck, who works for Communication Design Inc. and teaches illustration at Virginia Commonwealth University, started cranking out ideas. Meganck suggested that Hundley, a former student, try for an assignment, too. He phoned the program's designer, and soon was slated to draw the rock band Radiohead. It was a good match, Hundley says: "Their sound is real melancholy, so it suited pretty well with the direction that I'm going now with my work." Plus, he happens to be a big fan. Today, with the portraits completed, Meganck and Hundley keep thinking about their star subjects — and the rest of the Grammy show's audience — who will open their programs on Feb. 21 and see their illustrations. For Hundley, 24, it's a potential career-launcher. "It's getting in front of my heroes in the music industry," he says. "You never know who's going to see it. And that's what the illustration world's about — getting published." And for Meganck, it's about as close as he'll come to the Grammys, he laments: "I'm not allowed to sing in public — not even in church." J.R. City Hall Chiefs Are Just Acting Power is fleeting at City Hall. Six of the directors leading the 14 departments in Richmond government are either "acting" or "interim." The jobs have been shuffled around to balance out a flurry of reorganizations, forced resignations and unexpected departures. "A lot of these acting positions, in many cases, are the result of a ripple effect," says Michele Quander-Collins, spokeswoman for the city. (She, in fact, is in an acting position until a full-time spokesperson can be hired.) All the job-swapping and ladder-climbing has created an unsettling state of affairs at City Hall. Here's what we mean: Mack Lockhart, formerly head of the Richmond Real Estate Assessor's Office, resigned in July. So Bernard Wray, director of the Department of Budget & Strategic Planning, stepped in as interim director. That left a gap in Wray's old department, so Daisy Weaver took over as acting director. When City Manager Calvin D. Jamison created the new position of deputy city manager and chief financial officer, he turned to Lee Ann Dunbald, the director of the Department of Finance. That left a vacancy. Andrew Rountree has filled it — but only temporarily as acting director. Jamison has also been trying to restructure the social services operations in City Hall. That's created a double whammy. Michael A. Evans, formerly director of social services, was moved into an interim director spot at the Department of Human Services. In Evans' place is Glenn Butler, acting director of Social Services. Wilber McConico has stepped in as acting director of the Department of Public Utilities, after former director George R. Kolb was forced to resign in late January. Talk about temporary fixes. But Quander-Collins says the musical-chair directorships actually signal good things for the city. Jamison, she says, is "reorganizing his executive staff" and "looking at more efficient ways of operating departments." Some people are starting to settle, too. Charlette T. Woolridge, previously acting director for the East District Initiative, was appointed to be full-time about a month ago. Nancy Ross was recently hired as full-time director of Juvenile Justice Services. And Jamison is very close to selecting a full-time public health director. And this week, the city is announcing the appointment of John Woodward — who has been acting director of the Economic Development Department since last summer — as full-time director. Woodward, 34, is a native of Richmond. After graduating from The Collegiate School, he attended Georgetown University where he earned a bachelor of science in foreign service and took a job as a trader for a foreign-exchange firm. Then he took off for New York, where he earned his M.B.A. at New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business and worked for the private commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. Now Woodward's doing what any good full-time director does: strategic planning. He's beefing up the department, which he says is undergoing an "overhaul." J.R. At the Weimar, Reluctantly At first, when the Master of Ceremonies blithely appeared in the Kit Kat Klub in "Wilkommen," the opening number in Sam Mendes' revived version of "Cabaret," the audience at the Landmark Theater seemed aglow in Broadway-style haze. But by the time Andrea McArdle should have charmed the audience with her depiction of innocent, tragically unlovable Sally Bowles in "Don't Tell Mama," the hall was gripped in tight-jawed silence. Richmond, it seems, just isn't ready for the exquisitely decadent Weimar Republic. Or maybe just not impressed. It comes as little surprise that some Richmonders find the new "Cabaret" a little hard to swallow. Most season-ticket holders probably best remember the version from the perky 1966 original Broadway production, which celebrated bohemian life in pre-war Weimar Germany. The current touring version presents a darker, decadent, diseased image of the play. While the original Kit Kat girls resembled a can-can troupe, the current versions slouched on stage like emaciated New York models in a junkie's paradise. Occasionally, a thin ripple of laughter drifted from the audience. But mostly the crowd sat silent. A few people slipped from the theater during the imaginatively staged — and eyebrow-raising — "Two Ladies." "People kept fidgeting because it was so graphic," says one season ticket holder. "There was an awful lot of groping." Sally's "Cabaret" finale should have brought the house down. It didn't. During intermission, the lines to the restroom stretched endlessly. And while they waited to visit the bathrooms, no one asked each other about the show. They didn't even criticize it. They just chatted about anything else. - Brandon Walters

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