Personality: Jeffrey M. Gallagher
Spotlight on board chairman of Virginia Repertory Theatre
1/21/2021, 6 p.m.
The largest producing theater in Central Virginia.
The first theater to perform a live theater production before an integrated audience in post-Reconstruction Virginia in defiance of Jim Crow laws.
Those are major milestones in the history of Virginia Repertory Theatre, which traces its early roots back to 1953 through the Barksdale Memorial Theatre at Hanover Tavern.
Officially formed in 2012 by the merger of the Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV, Virginia Rep, as it is called, has collectively been many things and faced many challenges across its long history in the region.
Right now, the biggest challenge is COVID-19, which has stopped all of the theater’s earned revenue since March. Virginia Rep was forced to cancel all of its performances and tours and cut most of its full-time staff and reduce the pay of the few who remain.
But for Virginia Rep and its board Chairman Jeffrey M. Gallagher, the show must go on.
“This phrase shows that the world knows that theater people find a way,” Mr. Gallagher says.
It’s also a phrase that applies in many ways to Virginia Rep in recent times, as Mr. Gallagher is helping coordinate Virginia Rep’s 9th Annual Anything Goes Gala, “The Show Will Go On!” a virtual fundraiser 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23. The free and entirely virtual affair will feature live performances by many local artists. It also features an online auction of getaway packages, wine, spa and kayaking adventures and luxury items.
To sign up for the virtual performances and to see the items up for auction, go to va-rep.org.
During the pandemic, Virginia Rep has been working to adjust. It is producing recordings of several of its popular tour shows and offering them on demand. It also is providing without cost the videos to children at elementary schools that have a high percentage of students from low-income families.
Mr. Gallagher says all of this work is done to meet his biggest goal: Supporting Virginia Rep employees as best as possible during the pandemic, and preparing the theatre so they can “emerge with renewed strength and focus” when they can again play live to audiences.
The impact of COVID-19 led Virginia Rep’s board to extend the terms of its officers by one year. Mr. Gallagher, now in his third year at the board’s helm, has the responsibility of guiding Virginia Rep through a hard and stressful point in its long history.
Mr. Gallagher is more than willing to meet this challenge.
“I wanted to give back in some small way for all that Virginia Rep has done for our community, and help it reach new audiences in new ways in the future,” says Mr. Gallagher. “The theater has made an enormous impact on young people and on the performing arts community Downtown and across this region.”
Meet a theater lover, live theater advocate and this week’s Personality, Jeffrey M. Gallagher:
Volunteer position: Chairman of the board, Virginia Repertory Theatre (Virginia Rep).
Date and place of birth: Jan. 8 in Cleveland.
Where I live now: Richmond’s North Side.
Occupation: Retired in 2019 as a biotech executive; now a consultant in the field.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Harvard University, 1973; J.D., University of Wisconsin, 1978; and LLM, master of laws degree, University of Virginia, 1993.
Family: Wife, Dr. Catherine Howard, retired in 2019 as Virginia Commonwealth University provost, community engagement; daughter, Nan, 27, and son, Joseph, 25.
Virginia Rep is: Central Virginia’s largest producing theatre. A pioneer of arts in the city. A national leader in bringing the power of live theater to community health and wellness and education.
Founders: Peter and Nancy Kilgore, Muriel McAuley, Bruce Miller and Phil Whiteway.
Virginia Rep’s mission: “To entertain, challenge and uplift our communities through the power of live theater.”
When elected board president: 2018.
Why I accepted position: I wanted to give back in some small way for all that Virginia Rep has done for our community and help it reach new audiences in new ways in the future. Like many others, our own kids first fell in love with theater at the children’s shows. Cathy and I and groups of our friends have had dozens of fun or challenging nights sparked by a play we’ve attended together. The theater has made an enormous impact on young people and on the performing arts community Downtown and across this region.
No. 1 goal or project as board chair: To support our people to pursue our mission as best we can during the COVID-19 shutdown of live performances, and to do the preparation now so we emerge with renewed strength and focus when we can again play live to audiences.
Strategy for achieving goals: Keep the fabric of the company together, take a fresh hard look at our business model, listen to the needs of the community in these changing times, draw on the vision and talent of our artists, and call on the passion and commitment of our board and supporters.
Theater in Richmond is: Blessed with talent and heart far beyond what would be expected in a community of our size; collaborative across the- aters and the other arts; and intent on being a force for good for our community.
Racial equity and Virginia Rep: In 1954, our production at Hanover Tavern was the first live theater production to be performed before an integrated audience in Virginia post-Reconstruction, breaking Jim Crow laws. For 67 years since, the Virginia Rep has tried in many ways and many times to work for racial equality and justice. Our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force of board and staff is helping us by increasing our understanding, focusing on important issues and shaping real actions. Some ways that our theater impacts racial equity are obvious, others are subtle or systematic and each provides an opportunity. Easy to see are the choice of show and its author and theme, the actors we cast, the theater artists offstage who make it come to life, the business staff, staff leadership, board membership and board leadership. It takes a different lens to see the pinch points in the system, the attitudes and assumptions and behaviors that create barriers to equitable and inclusive participation by all in creating theater and in experiencing it.
How COVID-19 is impacting Virginia Rep: Profoundly. One hundred percent of our earned revenue was cut off in March as we canceled performances at all four venues and schools canceled our touring performances to comply with restrictions.
Favorite stage performance at the Virginia Rep and why: “The Color Purple” in 2018. The theater artists brought folks together from all walks of life and lifted us up together with a story of love and hope and guts.
All-time favorite anywhere and why: “Les Misérables,” New York City production in 1989. I identify so much with Jean Valjean. He is given another chance by grace, and he is just trying to act with integrity and love in an ever-changing world. Plus, the music and storyline are like an intricate puzzle that I go back to time and again and learn something new.
Upcoming Virginia Rep performances: We will open this summer with “Ella and her Fella, Frank” (Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra), featuring Desiree Roots and Scott Wichmann. And we’re planning to resume full seasons in the fall of 2021, assuming circumstances permit.
How Richmonders can support Virginia Rep: Let us know what you want to see on stage and how theater can contribute to our community. When you feel comfortable and safe, attend our productions, invite your friends and help support live theater and theater artists in Richmond.
How I start the day: Quiet time and a book of daily devotions — and coffee.
Three words that best describe me: Listener, creative and servant.
Best late-night snack: Peanut butter and carrots.
How I unwind: Finding a place to sit or walk by the river and watch it roll by.
Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Watch “A Bad Day at Work” and “Animal Rescues” channels on YouTube.
Quote that I am most inspired by: “It’s not about you.”
At the top of my “to-do” list: Be the best husband and father I can be and listen for where I am being called.
Best thing my parents ever taught me: Look for and try to bring out the best in others.
Person who influenced me the most: My dad. In many ways I’m similar, in many ways not. I hear “his voice” or recall an action of a couple times a week and take strength and perspective from him.
Book that influenced me the most: “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck. It’s always time to face up to reality, to extend oneself in love and to take our role in the healing of the world.
What I’m reading now: “A Knock at Midnight,” the sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My wife Cathy and I took a road trip last February along the Civil Rights Trail in Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama looking through the lens of Dr. King’s faith in action. It was a transformative experience for us and I keep this nearby to keep that alive and dig deeper.
Next goal: Finish well a consulting project I’m leading for VCU and the Richmond-Petersburg region that will reduce barriers to quality affordable medicines and create local jobs; do it with the team and present recommendations that are actionable and impactful in ways that matter.