Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This Weekend Anderson Cooper Speaks Thanks to The Richmond Forum

Listen to the full audio here.

Images Courtesy of The Richmond Forum

On Saturday evening, The Richmond Forum will host Anderson Cooper at the Landmark Theater. The Award-winning anchor of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360° will present "A 360-Degree Look at World Events" to Richmond Forum subscribers.

And The Richmond Forum recently announced a second presentation of the program because of overwhelming interest. On Sunday, Cooper will speak at 2:00 P.M. at the Landmark Theatre and that show is open to the general public.

Bill Chapman, Executive Director of The Richmond Forum, said the event will mark the first ever matinee showing in the twenty-five years of the organization.

“We still have tickets available for that program, and it could not be more timely, he was right in the thick of things in Egypt, and of course those headlines are developing daily.”

He said the additional matinee presentation will give The Richmond Forum an opportunity to introduce themselves to people who haven’t yet had a chance to attend a program.

“When we looked at our 25th season, and when Comcast approached us, who has been a long time supporter and wanted to something special for the season, we zeroed in very quickly on the Anderson Cooper program as being one that would be a real opportunity to appeal to a lot of different people in Richmond and introduce them to The Forum,” he said.

Chapman said the organization brings some of the biggest names in the world to Richmond as a part of its subscription series.

"Probably the best way to explain is just to name some the speakers that have been to The Forum over the past 25 years, world leaders like former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto came to The Richmond Forum, Tony Blair was here a couple years ago, Mary Robinson from Ireland, Benjamin Netanyahu came to The Richmond Forum, domestically we’ve had just about every former U.S. Secretary of State in recent history, from Madeleine Albright, James Baker, and Colin Powell has been to The Forum twice, Condoleeza Rice was here last year, and we have leaders from the arts and entertainment fields as well, Michael Douglas, Robert Redford," he said. "It’s the who’s who, pretty much anyone you can think of has stepped on to our stage in the last 25 years."

He said it is an opportunity for people to experience the guest speakers both literally and figuratively in three dimensions.

“You can not really see the humanity of these people until you see them in person, even if you’re in the back row of the Landmark Theater, there’s still some power of being in the same room with these people,” he said. “Condoleeza Rice was a fascinating speaker last year, and one thing that she did for The Richmond Forum, very special for us, that she didn’t do at any another speaking engagements around the country, is she played the piano, and we got her to agree, she’s a trained pianist, to do a piece for us.”

Chapman said their subscribers represent a cross section of the Richmond community and have varied interests. He said they are entitled to have a seat for all five of The Richmond Forum’s yearly presentations. Being a subscriber is the only way to secure entry to these events.

“Sheerly by the size, 3,600 seats in the Landmark Theater, actually makes that the largest venue in the nation for a speaker series of this type. Which really shows the appeal and the following we have in the Richmond community," he said. "Most speaker series like this across the country are number one, they are affiliated with a university, whereas we are an independent nonprofit organization, most of the series around the country are in significantly smaller theaters, 1,800-2,200 seats, and we are at a 3,600 seat theater, and we fill it for every single program."

The Richmond Forum has a unique process for selecting speakers according to Chapman. He said the process supplies them with many more names to choose from, including some the organization wouldn't have come up with on their own.

“And we do just a blank sheet of paper, tell us who you would love to see come to The Richmond Forum, some other series around the country will give their subscribers a list of eight or a dozen speakers and ask them to vote on which ones they would like to see," he said.

Chapman said the reputation of The Richmond Forum is nationwide and to some degree international. He said this helps them bring in the heavy hitters.

"I’ve only been in my role with The Richmond Forum for the last three years so I can’t take a whole lot of credit for it, but I can tell you that when we extend an invitation to a high profile speaker, nine times out of ten they’ve heard about The Richmond Forum," he said. "They know that this is one of the top series in the nation, and one of the most prestigious series in the nation, and that really helps us to be able to bring some of these speakers to Richmond, they also know to bring their A-game."

An evening with The Richmond Forum kicks off with a reception for corporate patrons and guests, followed by a 300-400 person dinner before the main event.

“The program in the theatre begins with a 45 to 50 minute speech by the speaker, then we take a 15 minute intermission and we collect written questions from the audience,” he said. “Those questions are run 90 miles an hour backstage where they are sorted by a team of volunteers, the speaker is never involved in the selection of the questions, and then after intermission our moderator, who is usually someone from our community poses the audiences questions to the speaker.”

Chapman said the question and answer portion of the program presents yet another opportunity for interaction. He said the attendees are able to see the speaker think on their feet and respond to questions directly from the Richmond audience.

The Richmond Forum has two more speakers coming up this year. In March, Dr. George Church will present “The Personal Genomics Revolution” and in April, David Blaine will present “Does the Human Body have Limits?”

Chapman said this season’s finale show is expected to be slightly different than the rest. And that’s the goal, to provide subscribers, and Richmond, with something provocative.

He said, “one of the ways that we evaluate the success of our program is if our subscribers are leaving with something that they are continuing to talk about.”

- Sarah Freiseis

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