An Interview with Laine Satterfield & Anna Senechal Johnson of Cadence

by | May 30, 2024 | ART, DOWNTOWN RVA, NIGHTLIFE, PERFORMING ARTS

Close to a million years ago, I went to Douglas Freeman High School. Laine Satterfield of Cadence and all of its many, many educational and community offerings, was a classmate. This elegant dancer whom I totally didn’t have a massive crush on graduated ahead of me and disappeared into the footlights of New York City stages. I admired her to no small degree and always expected the best from her. Eons later, I return from that very same city, having moved back eventually, to find she’s set up a sprawling theater education kingdom right back where we started, in Richmond. 

Cadence is so many things. A school, a summer camp, a film studio, a theater company, a grant and scholarship mill, a two ton kaiju in tap shoes. Maybe not that last one. But it’s a LOT. It feels great to chat with an old friend and inspiration alongside her stage partner Anna Senechal Johnson. It feels even better to see all of the potential futures Richmond has available to itself, through their non-profit.

Christian Detres: Let’s hear about you guys individually. Where are you coming from? What’s your history with theater in Richmond? 

Laine Satterfield: Laine Satterfield, Director of Education for Cadence. I’ve been with Cadence for the last 11 years. I met Anna out in Sun Valley, Idaho when I was working out there with a stage company. 

CD: Typical. Everybody’s out there. 

LS: It’s crazy, everybody. We have a very similar training background. I started out as a dancer with Richmond Ballet. I moved to New York for a while and then Italy. I went from Italy to Idaho, which was quite a culture shock. And yeah, now I’m here. I’ve been a theater artist for many, many, years. I’m very fortunate to be able to act, direct, teach, build budgets, and lead our grant writing for the company. 

CD: How about you Anna?

Anna Senechal Johnson: I grew up in Richmond. I think back to when I was little, and I just had this drive to perform. My friend and I used to write films and cast our parents, shoot in our backyards, and share it with the neighborhood. We charged for popcorn.

CD: Perfect training for running your own theater company. 

AJ: My parents were aging hippies. We did a lot of traveling when I was little. I spent a lot of time alone. I graduated from Trinity High School. I was kind of at a loss as to where to go from there. I ended up getting accepted to Sarah Lawrence College. So I went to New York for four years with one year at the British American Drama Academy in London.

CD: All this globetrotting and you two met in Idaho? Ha, it must have been kismet. 

AH: I came back here after college and co-founded the Firehouse Theatre with Carol Piersol and Harry Kollatz, among others. I majored in theater and dance with a minor in economics. I became obsessed with the techniques Rusty Wilson taught during my time at Firehouse. I first encountered Meisner technique when I saw a show Rusty directed at Barksdale—Tennessee Williams one-acts—and I knew I had to learn it. The technique was incredibly liberating. Eventually, Rusty had an opportunity in Idaho, and I moved there, falling in love with mountain life and remaining for 13 years. I became deeply involved in the community, both as an actor and a resident. My daughter was born there. However, the recession brought us back to Richmond. With no job prospects, I founded Cadence in 2010, although obtaining nonprofit status was challenging.

Initially, Cadence produced about three shows a year, mainly small musicals like The Fantasticks and Godspell, and we rented spaces at Firehouse and Richmond Triangle Players. I also directed Godspell at a church on River Road. Discussions with Bruce and Phil from Virginia Rep led to us becoming a resident company at their theater gym, which felt like a film set and prompted our pivot to film during COVID. We created three short films for the Sightlines BLM Action Film Festival, premiering at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture and traveling to venues like William and Mary Orchard House School, celebrating Black voices and sharing stories in Virginia, particularly Richmond.

COVID also inspired us to start a web series, offering a safer outdoor set experience. We’re nearly finished filming and will soon move to editing, with consultations on distribution and marketing from professionals in Atlanta and LA.

Our branding has also evolved, led by Alexyn Scheller, a former senior brand manager at Procter and Gamble. We’ve undergone a comprehensive restructuring and now operate simply as Cadence, encompassing Cadence Theatre, Cadence Cinema, and our educational initiatives under Film and TV.

CD: Yes, please talk a little bit about your education platforms. 

LS: We have a ton of educational programs, and they’re just growing and growing. The demand is high, which is great. We’ve got camps, rehearsal, and performance programs for ages four through 104. We offer trained pre-professional acting training for ages 12 to 18, which includes college prep. We have adult acting classes and the Unstaged class. We added a class with Morrie Piersol called Practical Acting, a Meisner-based class. We had an On Camera class with Erica Arvold when she was in town. We just conducted a voice acting class this weekend where participants go to Red Amp Audio and get a 15- to 30-second demo reel. That just happened yesterday. We have outreach programs and Cadence TV, which are very much part of Bloodlines, the current working title of our web series, but it may change because there are many things named “Bloodlines.”

We have the Stage Write program that has been in RPS schools for 11 years. It involves college prep and workforce readiness. So, it is theater training, but it also teaches how to present yourself, how to speak clearly, and communicate with passion. It’s a writing program as well. Each year, we have a theme, and the students write PSAs. We film the PSAs, which are also on our website. Then, we started a new project called the PSA Project because RPS came to us and said, “We love your PSAs with the high school students. What about getting some of the elementary and middle school students’ voices on there?” We started that this year, and they’re on the website now. We’re doing Pippin this summer. We did Carrie, the musical, with many of our students. We do a Cadence Cabaret in the summer. We’ve got Jammin’ in July camps, Jammin’ in June camps. It’s busy.

CD: I’m hearing about a lot of really good intentional projects and programs. Who’s paying for all this? 

LS: The outreach programs are grant funded, and the tuition programs pay for themselves. 

AH: Oh, we’re not done. We have the Pipeline New Works Fellowship Program, which was founded by Chris and David Lindsay-Abaire. David and Chris went to college with me at Sarah Lawrence and they’re really dear friends of ours. When we founded Cadence, I asked Chris to be on our board. David was the writer of Kimberly Akimbo, the musical that just closed on Broadway yesterday. He’s written a Pulitzer Prize winning play. He is an excellent teacher with a passion for teaching. 

He decided to create a program for Virginia writers to create brand new work. That is also grant-funded from a Foundation out of Texas. It started out just playwriting but we now have another collaborator named Clay Chapman who’s from Virginia, originally. He oversees the screenwriting cohort. And so we now have mentorship for new writers on both sides. 

CD: What are the hopes? What’s the endgame? What’s the Richmond theater, film community that you’re hoping to see, by virtue of doing all of this?

AH: We just, we just want to continue to share important stories and to inspire the next generations to become great storytellers. Our tagline is elevated storytelling. We have a certain, specific way of approaching art. We create community. We also just like telling a great story. 

Because we’re a nonprofit, it’s kind of tricky to get investors for our film projects. My dream is to get somebody to help us sell The Taylows to make the money we need to be able to continue producing the work. We want to find a way to monetize our Sightlines, Black Lives Matters story to schools or organizations that want to dig deeper into some really important topics.

LS: So we also want our own space we really

CD: Well, let’s talk about that. You said you were working with Virginia Rep for a while, right? And currently what does that look like when you need to when you’re doing these classes and you’re putting these programs on? Are you just renting other spaces? 

LS: We have offices at the Richmond Performing Arts Alliance, and then we’re going to be at Firehouse. Our summer programming is at Gottwald and Maggie Walker. 

CD: So yeah, but a space that has your name on it though. That’d be nice. 

LS: It would be lovely to have a big flexible black box space. One that can be transformed into either a black box space, which is perfect for this sort of theater that we do, or a soundstage. What we want is a huge rectangular box.

CD: The ambition at this table is staggering.  

LS: We definitely are committed to staying in the city of Richmond. Yeah. And ideally north of the river. All of our students, a lot of our students, are from Church Hill, Broad Street. Northside has some interesting areas, some good areas to set up. It would just have to be the right space at the right time. Our board of directors, they really want to take time to figure out a permanent space for us, but that’s a dream. We do so much. I feel like we deserve a space, haha. 

CD: I’ll make that a key point of this article. Do you feel that you guys have been successfully integrated into the theater community at large? Have you felt you’ve had a positive impact on the Richmond theater community?

LS: We meet with a couple other theaters with similar annual budgets to see how we can help lift each other up. It’s not easy, especially post COVID. To get people in the doors and in the seats, unless you’re doing something like the big splashy musical, is super hard.

We are all committed to contemporary voices in America and around the world but mostly American artists. We just want to be able to figure it out. We are a theater and film company, an arts education company that inspires and uplifts, and tries to make an impact.

CD: Is there any search for accreditations that would put you in a place to exist fully within the educational sphere? Anything the community as a whole should know that you’re working towards? 

AH: We got the Best of Richmond – Best Acting Studio award recently. Most of our teachers either have their BAS or BFA, or they have their masters or career equivalency. We try to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s going on in other BFA programs around the country and Laine often will tweak and model her program for the college prep to match what the trends. To make sure our students can matriculate into some of the best schools in the country.

The fact that so many of our interns and people that work with us were students once is inspiring. They come back into the fold and bring their talents home. It’s a beautiful mission. Yeah, that’s the thing that I love so much. Creating that community and then watching the young people go off and create their own career paths. When they come back and share it, that yes, that’s the beauty right there.

CD: I’m just happy after having been that guy who left Richmond several times – each time to pursue something I felt like I couldn’t get in Richmond. I wasn’t willing to give up the dream of getting what I wanted simply because it wasn’t here. I feel like Richmond has woken up to their cosmopolitan potential, essentially. I think its borders seem more open because it is refined enough that people want to come here. It’s a cyclical thing. Self perpetuating. It gets a little bit better, people move in. People move in, and then it gets even better. It’s a beautiful thing. Seeing Richmond theater, in its current state, taking more risks with presenting contemporary, relevant, and potent messages is exciting.

Find out more about Cadence HERE

Christian Detres

Christian Detres

Christian Detres has spent his career bouncing back and forth between Richmond VA and his hometown Brooklyn, NY. He came up making punk ‘zines in high school and soon parlayed that into writing music reviews for alt weeklies. He moved on to comedic commentary and fast lifestyle pieces for Chew on This and RVA magazines. He hit the gas when becoming VICE magazine’s travel Publisher and kept up his globetrotting at Nowhere magazine, Bushwick Notebook, BUST magazine and Gungho Guides. He’s been published in Teen Vogue, Harpers, and New York magazine to name drop casually - no biggie. He maintains a prime directive of making an audience laugh at high-concept hijinks while pondering our silly existence. He can be reached at christianaarondetres@gmail.com




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