Byrd Theater

The Byrd Theatre hires first ever Executive Director

The Byrd Theatre hires first ever Executive Director

Closure due to COVID-19 isn’t stopping the Byrd Theatre from continuing to focus on the strategic plan and its long-term future. When closure happened in Mid-March, the Byrd Theatre Foundation was already well into a national search for the first Executive Director to lead the non-profit theatre as part of the Phase 2 Strategic Plan. Thanks to the more than $1,100,000 raised in early lead gifts toward a second phase of the Strategic Plan, funds have been earmarked for both capital improvements and restorations as well as opportunity funds to finance this leadership position at the theatre. 

Stacy Shaw, the new Executive Director, as of July 1, 2020, comes to the Byrd Theatre with 30 years experience as an arts administrator having worked for 2 other historic theaters in her past, The Wells Theatre in Norfolk, Va and The National Theatre in DC. She spent the last 6 years at The National Theatre as the Director of Institutional Advancement establishing corporate, capital, endowment, and major donor campaigns while expanding foundation and government support. She lives in Petersburg, VA with her wife who teaches at Virginia State University. 

“We are so thrilled to have someone with Stacy’s experience and expertise join the Byrd as its first Executive Director. We are confident in her ability to lead the organization through the current times and into a successful future.” Said, Ted Haynes, Byrd Theatre Foundation President. Stacy has already started to engage at the theatre on a volunteer basis. 

“In my experience Stacy Shaw is a talented arts administrator who brings an amazing amount of knowledge, passion, and heart to everything she undertakes.  I have no doubt that she will bring that same energy to the Byrd Theatre and its mission.“ Sarah Chaplin, former Executive Director of The National Theatre and current President and CEO of The State Theatre of New Jersey.

While the Governor’s Phase 3 opening date is July 1st, the Byrd Theatre will remain closed for now. Shaw has worked with the Board of Directors to make the decision to remain closed and focus internally on updating cleaning and seating protocols to meet COVID-19 standards. The Theatre is hopeful a late summer soft opening could occur. This is a difficult financial decision, continued closure means operating funds are slim, but the increased cost to open and operate the theatre under the COVID-19 standards make the margins challenging. The Theatre was fortunate to get a PPP loan early on that allowed the Theatre to continue paying the primarily part-time staff until mid-June when the funds ran out. 

Stacy Shaw said, “We have already reached out to our wonderful patrons for their input to make sure they feel confident about their attendance at the Byrd as well as following updates on cleaning protocols. We are particularly fortunate that the Byrd has a large seating area that social distancing is easily accomplished when compared to the movie theatres of today. Meanwhile, we are utilizing this time to do as much cleaning, updating, and capital improvements as possible. One of the most exciting projects has been the completion of a total renovation of the Wurlitzer Piano in the upper left balcony!”

There are capital funds earmarked for Phase Two capital improvements that will begin to happen late summer and into 2021. 

Planned Phase Two Capital Improvements include, but not limited to:

Renovation of the women’s restroom and addition of an ADA stall

Concession area improvements 

Replacement of the carpet and expansion of the seat replacements

A range of replacements of various systems:  lighting, mechanicals, PA system

Replacement of rear doors

A range of front of stage improvements

Further care of the Wurlitzer Organ 

Stacy Shaw said, “I am excited to be part of the organization and to be joining at such a pivotal moment in time.” With Phase Two fundraising underway, Shaw also said, “We are excited about the next multi-year phase of restoration and growth. The Foundation will be expanding its philanthropic efforts to meet the estimated goal of $2.4 million and to offer donors a range of unique naming and commemorative options.”

Phase One projects replaced the roof as well as heating and cooling systems; installed a digital server and state-of-the-art 4K projector; organ repairs; restored historic plasterwork and center seats; and created a wheelchair accessible seating area and ADA family restroom.  A start-up office operation was created and a development program begun.

While closed, the Byrd Theatre is not bringing in operating funds, therefore, the theatre is actively looking for creative ways to bring film out into the community. Look for the Byrd Theatre to partner with different organizations and spaces for drive-in and other movie night type events throughout the summer and fall. The Virtual Screening Room will remain up and active as well, bringing new films not able to be seen on the big screen to your living room. Renting a film from the Byrd Theatre Virtual Screening Room supports the theatre while you enjoy a film! 

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The Byrd Theatre Temporarily Closes due to COVID-19

The Byrd Theatre Temporarily Closes due to COVID-19

Out of deep care and concern for our dedicated  staff and our wonderful Byrd community, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend all films and special events effective Saturday, March 14th 8am 

This is a precautionary and voluntary measure as we currently have no known cases of novel coronavirus COVID-19 associated with the Byrd Theatre. 

Given the recommendations from the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control about social distancing, we believe this is the most responsible and prudent action to protect the well-being of our community and staff. 

The Byrd Theatre will still be accepting financial donations. Public support is especially appreciated during this time and will help the Byrd to reopen with minimal disruption as soon as it is acceptable to do so. 

All previously purchased tickets for cancelled screenings will be refunded.

We appreciate your support in this unprecedented time and will share our plans as we re-evaluate.

Be Well & Wash Your Hands,

The Byrd Theatre

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Coronavirus Update

Coronavirus Update

Dear Byrd Theatre guests, 

We are continuing to actively monitor the VDH and CDC and listen to the Governor, the Mayor and other officials in the developing impact of COVID-19 in our community. In an effort to protect you, our guests, and allow you to practice social distancing, we are capping our attendance for our shows at 175 people moving forward, this is 25% of our seating capacity in our lower auditorium. 

We hope this will provide an escape to the movies you want, while allowing you the ability to practice the recommended social distancing space needed. Please remember, if you are sick, or have symptoms to stay home for the safety of all of our community. 

We continue with increased frequency of cleaning common areas and sanitizing high touch surfaces, including spraying and wiping seats, between screenings. Our staff has increased hand washing and using gloves at the box office. You’ll also see we are no longer tearing tickets to avoid hand to hand contact. 

We’ve reminded staff to follow standard precautions, including frequent hand washing, and to stay home if they feel ill. We also request patrons do the same by not coming to the theatre if you have a fever or feel ill or are experiencing symptoms. 

We will continue to monitor and follow guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as local and state authorities. 

Thank you for your support and cooperation. 

Byrd Theatre

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A note about Coronavirus

A note about Coronavirus

Dear Byrd Theatre guests, 

Our priority at The Byrd Theatre is the health and safety of our audience members and our employees. We are actively monitoring the development of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and its potential impact. 

The risk of COVID-19 is low in our Greater Richmond area. We have implemented precautionary measures as recommended by the VDH and the CDC, including increased frequency of cleaning common areas and sanitizing high touch surfaces, including spraying and wiping seats, between screenings. We are also providing hand sanitizer for our patrons and staff. 

We’ve reminded staff to follow standard precautions, including frequent hand washing, and to stay home if they feel ill. We also request patrons do the same by not coming to the theatre if you have a fever or feel ill or are experiencing symptoms. 

The theatre is operating as usual. We will continue to monitor and follow guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as local and state authorities. 

Thank you for your support and cooperation. 

Byrd Theatre

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Q&A with the Byrd Theatre

Q&A with the Byrd Theatre

You have questions. We have answers. We’re breaking down the answers to some of your pressing questions. This installment is all about our programming. Let’s get to it!

Q: Are you becoming an art house theatre or a first run theatre? 

A: We’ve always tried to include a mix of films that you might not necessarily get to see in the more commercial movie theaters and we plan to continue to do that because we hear from our community that those opportunities are important. We program a mix of sub-run films and repertory films. The repertory films include our Big Screen Classics series, Marathon Mondays, Family Classics and other special events. 

Q: Seems like the films you showed in January and beginning of February feel different than your normal programming, are you sure you aren’t changing your programming?

A: January and February are tough times in the sub-run movie business. Sub-run is the majority of our screenings. Here’s a bit on how it works. The big distribution companies hold films in first run as long as they can if they have an Oscar nominee, which limits the number of available sub-run films. In addition, January tends to be a slower month in terms of releases in general. All this makes it incredibly difficult to get the big films or the Oscar nominees in this time period. Our strategy has always been look for other opportunities in this timeframe. We showed a documentary because it was getting some great reviews and had good attendance numbers and was an Oscar nominee. We chose the others based on what was available and what we thought would appeal to our community. This happens at this time every year as we struggle for good sub-run films. 

Q: I heard you hired a booker from Massachusetts to book the films. How is this person going to know this community? 

A: We did hire an experienced film booker who is based in Massachusetts. She works with many independent theaters all around the country. While she has excellent relationships with the studios and can help us score great films she’s not booking anything without working closely with us. All of our films are being thoughtfully chosen and curated for our audience by the programming committee. 

Q: What is this programming committee? 

A: The programming committee has been curating our repertory film programs for about 5 years. It is made up of board members, community representatives and theater staff. It originated  the family classics, big screen classics and the other repertory film series we do. More recently, the committee has been overseeing the selection of all of our films. The programming committee helps plan special events as well.

Q: What’s up with the big Capital One banner? 

A: Capital One has been a generous sponsor of our Family Classics Series for a couple of years now. We are so grateful to them and their support of our programming that we wanted to recognize them for their generosity as part of their sponsorship package. 

Have other questions? Email us at info@byrdtheatre.org 

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Miyazaki ponders future of Earth in “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”

Miyazaki ponders future of Earth in “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”

The Byrd Theatre’s repertory theme for January is “The Future Is Now.” Personally, I spend a great deal of time worrying about the future. Not only my own, but the future of Earth. Humans have already destroyed so much of this planet, is it even possible to repair our home? 

I can tell this is a question that is also on Hayao Miyazaki’s mind. The Japanese writer and director is known for “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” and “Howl’s Moving Castle”, amongst many other animated classics. Miyazaki is a known environmental activist and the majority of his movies showcase his distrust in technology and manmade advancements, and feature spellbinding depictions of the natural world. 

Miyazaki's Sea of Decay from Nausicaa of the Valley o the Wind
The Sea of Decay

Released in 1984, “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” is Hayao Miyazaki’s second film. It tells the story of battle on a planet on the verge of death. A thousand years ago, a global war called “Seven Days of Fire” has wiped out most of humanity and civilization. Toxic plants and gigantic mutated insects grow and form the Fukai, a sort of swamp of life and death. However, humanity still exists in scattered, small pockets. The film centers around Princess Nausicaa, a skilled, nature loving young warrior who reigns over The Valley of the Wind, a small island where the strong gusts of air from the ocean nearby serve to protect its inhabitants from the spores spread by the poisonous plant life and fauna within the Fukai. 

Nausicaa on her glider from Miyazaki's Naussicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Nausicaa on her glider

Miyazaki drew influence from Homer’s “The Odyssey” for his protagonist. When Odysseus shows up shipwrecked on the coast of Scheria, Nausicaa, native to the land and daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete, discovers him and invites him to their home to recuperate. When Odysseus bids her adieu, she tells him, “Never forget me, for I gave you life.” Miyazaki based his Princess Nausicaa off of a Japanese translation of The Odyssey by Bernard Evslin, in which she is portrayed as a lover of nature. In this film, Nausicaa too creates life. She spends her time cruising on her glider into the toxic jungle, where she studies the growing plants and beings there and collects samples to grow in her lab for study. She has a way with animals, and can tame the feistiest of creatures. “What a mysterious power she has,” one warrior wonders to himself. Nausicaa can also communicate with Ohmu, giant caterpillar-like creatures who guard the Sea of Decay. 

Nausicaa in the battle scene from Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

In an article entitled “Nature and Asian Pluralism in the Work of Miyazaki Hayao,” Sugita Shunsuke writes; “By conventional human standards, the Sea of Decay is neither idyllic nor lovely to behold, yet Princess Nausicaä pronounces it beautiful. In Miyazaki’s view, there is far more to nature’s wonder than pretty flowers and trees. In the Sea of Decay, which continues to thrive and evolve amid discarded metal and ceramic objects and radioactive waste, Princess Nausicaä perceives a higher order of beauty, the sublimity of nature’s ever-changing vitality.” 

Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind landscape

Miyazaki wants to show us that the natural world is more powerful than humankind and everything we could possibly invent combined. In fact, his current project is the creation of a nature sanctuary. In 2016, Miyazaki announced he will be designing and opening “The Forest Where the Wind Returns,” a 10,000 square meter park within the Zendo Forest Park in Okinawa, Japan. It will be devoid of food courts, gift shops, and all capitalist ventures, and will instead be a dwelling where children can explore and grow enchanted with the natural world. It will also include a large library and sleeping quarters. The design will have little impact on the land and will outsource local labor and talent to make it all come to fruition. 

Miyazaki can effortlessly combine awe with social commentary. In movies like “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind,” he is simply reminding his audience of the magic around us. We cannot ignore our dying planet. We must recaptivate ourselves with the wonder that Miyazaki sees, and calls on all of us to see. 

“Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” will be shown at the Byrd Theatre on Saturday, January 25, 2020 at 10 am as part of the Family Classics Series. 

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The Polar Express and the Era of Motion Capture

The Polar Express and the Era of Motion Capture

“The Polar Express” is an early 2000s hit turned Christmas classic. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it tells the story of a young boy who takes a journey to the North Pole during the holiday season and learns that the Christmas spirit, and really the wonder of life in general, never fades if you believe.

It’s a beautiful story and includes some great songs/ musical numbers (“Hot Chocolate” is my personal favorite), but many have dubbed the film “a little creepy” because of it’s hyperrealism. The movie premiered in 2004, and it was still jarring to see such “real” animation. “The Polar Express” was the first movie ever made entirely with performance captured technology. Also
referred to as motion capture or “mo-cap,” this technological technique had been used before, in movies such as “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” but never for an entire film.

Motion capture actually dates back to 1915. According to an article by Jessica Conditt for engadget, “Max Fleischer, the animator behind “Betty Boop” and “Popeye,” invented a technique called rotoscoping, wherein animators would film an actor, project that performance onto a transparent plane, and then trace over their movements frame by frame.” This development set the wheel in motion, and later on, in the 1960s, “The Animac” was invented. Dubbed “the grandfather of modern mo-cap,” this machine utilized analog circuits and cathode ray tubes, so when performers were hooked up to the machine, the animators were able to record movement in real time. The actors essentially wore an early, more primitive version of a body suit similar to the sensor-studded ones that spring to mind when we think of mo-cap today. Movements were able to be recorded much more fluidly, and motion capture was forever changed.

Today, motion capture is achieved by using a combination of advanced cameras, body sensors, and various software tools to create uber lifelike movements and facial expressions for characters in animated films and video games.

There’s probably a good chance you have used motion capture before on your phone! “Memojis” – a popular tool on the new apple ios software is a very simple form of motion capture technology. By using your front facing camera, you can animate your own digital character. It simply copies the facial expressions you make and takes an audio recording of your voice, and viola! You have a motion captured avatar. We are living in the digital age, and with so many technological advancements launching all around us, it’s extremely easy to forget that this same technology was being used by the top animators, filmmakers, and video game makers just a few years ago. I personally think the “Memoji” feature is pretty creepy, partly because of how simple it is. It also seems invasive to me, and I constantly worry about what the cameras on our phones are receiving and doing…but alas, that’s a different story.

However, and I am glad that this tech is becoming more and more accessible, as that can only mean a new wave of animators and artists growing up with the tools they need to produce their work, and not having to worry about the cost of creation being exorbitant. That is extremely
important.

Tom Hanks actually performed six different roles in “The Polar Express,” including the Hero Boy, the Conductor, and the Father. The animators were able to create multiple vastly different characters in the design process, but relied on Hanks to bring them to life using exaggerated facial expressions and movements. Fifteen years ago, the sensors were not as strong, so the
motion captured performers had to be…animated themselves. Nowadays, sensors can record the slightest movement, so these more “theatrical” performances are no longer necessary.

The most difficult part of animating “The Polar Express” was creating realistic looking hair. You can’t attach motion sensors to hair, so the artists behind the film actually had to illustrate and create each and every strand from scratch, then animate it to move and fall in a realistic way. This process was extremely difficult and time consuming, but because the creators behind “The Polar Express” refused to neglect a single detail, the movie itself is so lifelike. It’s a real wonder.

“The Polar Express” will be shown at The Byrd Theatre on Saturday December 21, 2019 at 10am as part of the Family Classics Series.

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night brings beauty to vampires

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night brings beauty to vampires

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a 2014 Persian-language film written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. Deemed; “A new vampire classic, one to treasure endlessly” by The Playlist, this movie does away with all the classic vampire tropes. Our unnamed protagonist is a vampire teenage girl who travels by skateboard and preys solely on men who harm and disrespect women.

The film contains such an enjoyable eeriness. Even the seemingly unsettling shots of the dark and empty streets of Bad City (the fictional Iranian town where the film is set) feel comforting. This is because the “monster” in this film isn’t a monster at all, instead she’s more of a Robin Hood figure, turning her thirst for blood into vengeance. And we’re rooting for her the entire time. I don’t think Amirpour intended to scare her audiences, but instead give them the same feeling of power that “The Girl” has. Watching this movie makes me feel like her – strong, cunning, observational, and calm.

And she is almost always silent. In fact, the entire movie is extremely quiet. Bad City is essentially a ghost town and there isn’t much dialogue either. Music fills the absence of words. The soundtrack, comprised of a blend of western compositions and inventive Middle Eastern rhythms is one of the best components of the film. The Girl and other main character, Arash,
form a bond because of music. Arash is hardworking, he looks after his drug addicted father and has no time for anything but work and taking in tunes. Until matters in the drug trade go awry, and Arash encounters The Girl. Although few words are exchanged between them, they form a
strong friendship. It’s not a silent film, but with its utilization of black and white analog, it sometimes feels that way. The cinematographer is Lyle Vincent, who also DPed Thoroughbreds, a 2017 film following two different murderous teenage girls. His camera makes the spaces depicted seem larger than life, and close ups are utilized to get a peek into the characters thought processes. Of course, the black and white effect adds another layer of
beauty.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night was originally a short, and the feature was funded through an IndieGoGo campaign that raised 56,000 dollars. With a budget that small, it’s fair to not expect much. It just goes to show you that you don’t need a lot of money to create a masterpiece. Many reviews call it “strange” or “unusual” – but to me it makes perfect sense. It’s a gorgeously made blend of so many great elements. Vampires. Western style storytelling. And a powerful girl who kills cruel men.

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Rosemary’s Baby – A classic horror film

Rosemary’s Baby – A classic horror film

Rosemary’s Baby is a 1962 film directed by Roman Polanski, adapted from the novel of the same name by Ira Levin. It follows a young newlywed couple, Rosemary Woodhouse (played by Mia Farrow) and her husband Guy, who have just moved into a new apartment in New York City. Guy forms an immediate friendship with the older couple next door, Minnie and
Roman Castevet, who are almost comically welcoming. Rosemary becomes pregnant and there are multiple concerns that she encounters throughout the early stages of her pregnancy, so she seeks out a friend by the name of Hutch, who finds her symptoms strange and suspicious. He does some research and gives Rosemary a book on witchcraft, hoping it will help her discover what’s wrong. She researches using the book and other resources and deducts that Roman has ancestors who are satanists, and she is to give birth to the devil himself.

Aside from the obvious goosebumps that this move causes, it contains amazing design and style. Shot and set in the late sixties, it highlights some of the best fashion from the time. I marvel at all of Rosemary’s chic outfits and shift dresses. In an article by Olivia Singer for AnOther she writes; “(Polanski) employed costume designer Anthea Sylbert to, as she explained,
put people at ease and thus make the impact of the storyline even more disturbing… “He wanted everything to look ordinary. People are put at ease by ordinary…He didn’t want anything in the film to seem sinister.” And so protagonist Mia Farrow was dressed in a saccharine sixties wardrobe, her evil neighbours in garish embellishments and the result was indisputably brilliant.”

Mia Farrow also debuts her “career changing” pixie cut in the film. “It’s Vidal Sassoon. It’s very in,” Rosemary says. The cut cost the budget another 5,000 dollars, but, depending on who you ask, it was well worth it. The cut is iconic, and still referenced to this day. However, it was rumored that her then husband, Frank Sinatra, hated the haircut so much that he served her his divorce papers on set because of it. Although it is true that the couple went through a divorce during the shooting of the film, the haircut being the cause ended up to be a myth.

What I, and I’m sure many others, find so chilling about Rosemary’s Baby is the inevitability of it all. Abortion was not an option. The monster is quite literally inside her, growing within. The offspring is never revealed, which is one of the best choices in cinema history. When Rosemary blurts the iconic line “What have you done to its eyes?,” we don’t need to see the child to feel fear. The expression of sheer horror upon Mia Farrow’s face tells us
everything. It lets the audience paint a portrait of what they personally find horrifying. There are no jump scares, no crazy special effects, nor any screams throughout the film. It’s all psychological. The plot is quite close to everyday life. Again, we invent what scares us.

The film itself is even rumored to be haunted. Of course, Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate as well as four of their friends were murdered by members of the Manson family a year after the film was released. I believe this is coincidental timing but important to mention. Perhaps a creepier fact, Krzysztof Komeda, the composer of the film fell off a cliff in Los Angeles,
mysteriously. He fell into a coma and passed away a few months later, in April of 1969. He awoke only one while he was in comatose. When Rosemary’s Lullaby was played to him.

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