First, though a little Ferndale Rep timeline for the past three executive directors:
As the result of a national search, Ginger Gene became the exec in 2008. Coincidentally she was, like McCormick, originally from western Pennsylvania. She had worked in various capacities mostly in the southern states, and came directly from Washington, D.C. where she completed her Master of Arts in Arts Management degree at
|FRT's production of Cabaret--Ginger Gene's last as director|
In an interview with Beti Trauth, he said that he found that FRT "had separated itself from the community" and many former supporters had turned away. He felt that FRT should be "a reflection of this community." To that end, he said he was instituting thematic seasons, and the first theme was to be "Family, Friends, Ferndale!" This was to be the 2013-14 season, beginning with Our Town, The Music Man and The Man Who Came to Dinner--a drama, a musical and a comedy all dealing in some way with small towns.
|Victor/Victoria was Brad Hills' directorial debut at FRT--|
and his swan song.
Beti Trauth again had the story, in the Tri-City Weekly. Again, the board would not comment on the reasons for this even more abrupt end. It's usually implied that legal entanglements are why personnel decisions aren't discussed in public.
Hills however wasn't so reticent. In a post on the Humboldt Theater Community Facebook page he touted accomplishments that included improving season ticket and sponsorship revenues, beginning new programs,creating a fundraising campaign and that he had "uncovered vast bookkeeping errors and restored credibility to our financial systems."
In a recent email interview, board member Dianne Zuleger repeated that they could not comment on either the board's reasons or Hills' assertions. "I CAN say that we have several board members with advanced degrees, executive management experience and/or experience running a business, so the decision was not made without some intelligent consideration..."
Matching up those two statements, and without suggesting wrongdoing, I don't know that I need to meet a shadowy figure in a parking lot to suggest that "follow the money" in some form or another might be a fruitful approach in ascertaining what happened and why.
However, changes to the Hills-designed season suggest that play selection was also involved. As noted in the previous post, The Man Who Came To Dinner was the first casualty, though the exact relationship of that cancellation to the Hills' firing is uncertain. But the rest of the season seems currently in flux. Hills had originally scheduled Spamalot to open March 7 and run through March 30. Now directed by Carol Escobar (with Dianne Zuleger remaining as music director) it is slated to open March 14 and run through April 6.
Hills had added two plays under his "Stage Two" programming--same stage actually, but shorter runs and cheaper prices. They were Backwards in High Heels opening April 17 and Spitfire Grill opening July 17. The last "mainstage" show was to be Dixie Swim opening June 5. All three of these plays are likely gone. Spitfire Grill has already been replaced by a musical version of The Wedding Singer.
According to Zuleger: “The board is in the process of mapping out a sustainable business plan to ensure that FRT continues to produce quality, worthwhile live entertainment that appeals to older and younger generations alike.” Technical repairs to the theatre are underway, and the duties of executive director are being divided among board members and volunteers for now, and maybe for longer. (For example, Greta Stockwell is acting as Producer for Spamalot, doing what the exec director normally would do.)
"Once we determine the best option that allows the theater to remain financially viable, we'll be recruiting locally for at least one position," Zuleger said. No new national search of the kind that brought Gene from Washington, D.C. and Hills from Oregon is contemplated. Given what happened to the last two people who pulled up stakes and moved to Ferndale, the attraction to applicants might be questionable anyway.
Some folks who have been around here longer than I have allude to FRT's historic habit of chewing through executive directors and unceremoniously throwing them away. I happened to hit a period of stability, during Marilyn McCormick's 11 year run. That she'd already been involved at FRT for more than a decade when she was hired as exec is something that has probably occurred to the current board. But will staying local be the answer? Stay tuned. Once again, the real drama in North Coast theatre is offstage.