1 of 2
Tim Kaine (left) during rehearsal for "Richmond Hot Shots" with Robert Grey (center) and then-Del. Anne G. "Panny" Rhodes. (Photo by: Harry Kollatz Jr.)
2 of 2
"Richmond Hot Shots" rehearsal with director Jeff Clevinger at lower right and Tim Kaine far left. (Photo by: Harry Kollatz Jr.)
So this is my Tim Kaine story.
It's from another world and time ago, long about 1996, when I was involved with creating what was then the Firehouse Theatre Project.
We got this idea of a fund-raiser called “Richmond Hot Shots.” Board members recruited city personalities who’d be game enough to participate in a variety show for our nonprofit cause. Kaine was among those who agreed, and he was probably one of the first. This was pre-mayor; he was a lawyer and Second District councilman.
Then-City Manager Robert Bobb and Kaine approved special use permits allowing shows to be produced at the old firehouse. A couple years earlier, the city had mothballed old Station No. 10 and to prevent damage to the pipes, kept the water hooked up and the lights on to dissuade troublemakers. Then they let us show people in there. The Firehouse became the cheapest arts program that the city never funded.
I wrote the opening for the evening, which put our celebrities behind a painted cityscape in the Woman's Club on East Franklin Street. There were cut spaces for doors and windows, through which they’d emerge to give quips and clever observations. The idea was stolen right from “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”
One of the participants was WRVA radio host Jim Jacobs. A commercial client he promoted on his "Big Show" was a basement de-mildewing firm. In his bit, Jacobs waxed eloquent about the benefits of the company and as I recall, he ended on words to the effect of, “Isn’t that right, Tim?” Kaine popped out of his window and blurted, “Dammit, Jim, I’m a lawyer not a contractor.” He enjoyed the oblique Star Trek reference, too.
During rehearsal with director Jeff Clevenger, Kaine came to me and asked if he could change a word. Sure, I replied, which one? He said, “Can I say, ‘Dammit, Jim, I’m a politician, not a contractor?’”
He did, it got a laugh, and well, here we are.
Tim Kaine during rehearsal (photo by: Harry Kollatz Jr.)
During that show he also acted in a micro-short play by David Mamet called "Deer Dogs." His scene partner was attorney David Baugh, and I remember them sitting on stage going through their cues dressed as hunters, but from today’s perspective, Tim looks like a checker-shirted hipster complete with ironic cap.
In 1999, after his fellow council members chose him as mayor, the dinged-up station house came to the verge of getting put up for sale. Tim met with us one afternoon to see what he could do; he basically put his foot in the door of the process to keep it from slamming. Still, the Firehouse needed to raise more than $80,000 in 90 days. He assured us that we'd raise the money. My nightly pleas from the stage drew sympathy but no checks, until one evening when Roy and Barbara Sutton walked in, prompted by having heard me and founding artistic director Carol Piersol on the radio address the Firehouse’s predicament. The Suttons bought the building and eventually gifted it to the company.
Tim Kaine later appeared on the stage in his civic capacity to give opening remarks and introducing at various times playwrights Israel Horovitz and Edward Albee. His remarks were always relevant and full of wit. While governor, he and his wife, Anne Holton, came to see a couple shows. That was always exciting for us.
My wife, the artist Amie Oliver, and I ran into Kaine and Holton at Agecroft Hall during a 2014 production there of Shakespeare’s "Richard III." During intermission, I buttonholed him to ask about comparisons to his view from the U.S. Senate. He laughed, cocked the now famous eyebrow, and replied, “We don’t fight with swords so much.”
Say what you may about his politics or stances, but Kaine and Holton didn’t just talk about the value of arts and culture and supporting it throughout the region. They attended shows and showed up in places you didn’t always expect. They came and trooped through 1708 Gallery’s InLight events and generally seemed to enjoy themselves.
So seeing him up on that big stage at the Democratic National Convention was gratifying, but also somewhat disorienting. That’s Tim Kaine up there. Wow.