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The Barksdale Lunchtime Theater program allows playwrights to test works-in-progress in front of a live audience.

A Different Kind of BLT

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People give many reasons for not going to plays. "The ticket prices are too high." "The shows are too long and boring." "I'd rather go to a movie." Etc., etc.

The Barksdale Theatre and the Richmond Playwrights Forum (RPF) undercut all possible theater-avoidance techniques with their Barksdale Lunchtime Theater program (or BLT, get it?). One Thursday a month from noon to 1 p.m., the Barksdale presents a staged reading of a short work-in-progress by a local playwright. There is no admission (that's right, it's free) and you're invited to bring a lunch.

And if that's not great enough already, there is a chance after the show to give feedback to the playwright or the actors. If you've ever wondered what the heck a writer was trying to say, at BLT you can ask him or her.

"For the playwright, it's like baring your soul," says Carole Brendlinger, president of RPF. "It's frightening but exhilarating." Brendlinger knows firsthand how it feels: A piece she wrote was performed as part of last fall's series.

Barksdale's artistic director, Randy Strawderman, proposed the BLT series last year, basing it on a similar program offered by the Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke. "It's a nice thing to provide for the community," he says. "It's fun, too, and good for me as a director. I get to see new talent — new directors and new actors."

When Strawderman picks a script for production, the playwright selects a director who in turn chooses the actors. Everyone involved volunteers their time. Brendlinger says the experience is invaluable for new playwrights.

"Playwrights don't often get the chance to present their work before an audience; it's very difficult to do," she says. "A playwright can study how an audience reacts and tell what they feel about the play. The comments are welcome, too. It all helps the playwright create a better play."

The next Barksdale Lunchtime Theatre productions take place Thursday, Sept. 30 and Nov. 4 at noon at Barksdale Theatre at The Shops at Willow Lawn. Call 282-2620 for details. For more information on the Richmond Playwrights' Forum, call Carole Brendlinger at

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