Carol Piersol forced Retirement from Firehouse Theatre Project

 

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The Theatre Community in Richmond was rocked last week at the news that the Board of Directors of the Firehouse Theatre Project presented Artistic Director and Founding Member, Carol Piersol with a letter informing her of her “non negotiable” retirement on June 30th of 2013.  Piersol responded with a figurative “F*&%$ You” and resigned immediately from the company she has grown over the last 19 years. Since then the theatre community and the Richmond community at large have circled their wagons around Piersol.  Virginia Repertory Theatre hosted a rally at the November Theatre yesterday in support of Piersol where about 250 people came to show their support, many others sending good wishes via social media.

Here is a copy of Carol’s words from yesterday:

Most of you are aware that, without prior warning I was given written notice of a forced retirement that would happen no later than June 30th. This was to be non-negotiable and confidential. I did not feel that my accepting this would be honest or ethical so I chose to resign as Artistic Director effective immediately.
Richmond is a wonderful community – we have a great abundance of houses of worship, libraries, schools, cultural organizations, art galleries and of course theatres. Each is as important as the next. Each helps us find meaning in our lives and helps us understand why we were put here on earth. One of the great questions of life is why are we here? Art exists to wrestle with this question. Theaters exist to bring comfort to people, not often by giving answers, but rather by asking the right and important questions.
For me, theaters are holy places – places where any subject that affects human life is appropriate material for a play – where freedom of speech should exist without censorship – where imagination leads life.
I have always seen the Firehouse Theatre as a holy place – a place where we might bring comfort to people by presenting plays that provoke, inspire serious thought, and serious conversation. Plays that may give people a deeper understanding of life and perhaps make them see the world through different eyes.
I have learned in my 20 years leading the Firehouse that what interests the public isn’t always in the best interest of the public. Sometimes we bring our audience subjects and characters they would normally cross the street to avoid. I love to see our audiences fall in love with people that they thought they could never love. Because in the end we are all just people trying to have the most fulfilling lives we possibly can before we die.

I would like nothing more than to return to my position of Founding Artistic Director of the Firehouse Theatre Project. My work is far from done. However, in order for me to do so the current Board of Directors would have to be dissolved and a new board formed around the vision, culture, core values, and ethics of this holy theater that Bill, Anna, Janet, Harry, and I founded in 1993.
Thank you all for your love and support.

Today Harry Kollatz, Jr. posted his resignation letter demanding that Piersol be reinstated, the board all resign and write a public apology.

Here is a copy of his letter:

Dec. 23, 2012
To the Board of Directors and
Administration of the Firehouse Theatre Project, Inc.
Greetings:
This is the last document I will write pertaining to the Firehouse in its current configuration. Indulge me.
First, we are grateful to the small staff of workers and volunteers caught in this maelstrom. The FTP couldn’t have gotten this far without you.
It is sad and ironic that our own peculiar drama started unraveling about the time as Death of A Salesman closed. Most of you likely experienced this monument of U.S. theater yet you don’t appear to have absorbed its lessons. What was done to Carol Piersol is similar to the fate of Willy Loman: your decision to summarily toss her out with the same disregard is shocking and sad, yet the metaphor isn’t completely right. Carol isn’t delusional and her future plans for the theater are robust and exciting. And she’s a better driver. Further, she delivers the artistic goods. She has for 18 years. People respect her and more than that, they love her.
What’s been done here is a travesty.
The cheap machinations working to undo years of committment and artistic success are unworthy of those committing them and appear more like cardboard villains in a serial melodrama rather than the actions of real people who understand consequences.
This sacrifice of Carol is, at best, unnecessary, and at worst, cruel.
I’m not naïve, nor a total cynic. I also realize that an organism, or an organization, must adapt or die. Change is the universe’s first order of business. Change may come all the sudden, like an Icelandic volcano, or gradual, like the erosion of rock by water. The decision to dismiss Carol was ill-considered and unwarranted in its impatience.

Change at a small, non-profit theater in Richmond, Va., ought not come through these strange methods. Most of the present board, its president and the managing director have acted in some almost comic, dire haste, as if pressed by ominous circumstances.The supposed end of the world? (If so, what does any of it matter?)
You have yet the opportunity to make this right:
• Resign.

• Carol Piersol should be reinstated to her full capacities as Founding Artistic Director of the Firehouse Theatre Project.

• Publish a full public apology to the Carol and the Firehouse Community. Everyone understands someone willing to confess the error of his or her ways.
The damage may, in time, be repaired, and the legacy of the institution restored.
If these measures are not taken, the current board’s mishandling of our mission and founding artistic director will not be forgiven and you will not have a theater – much less the support or artistic foundation to continue the work we have committed the past 18 years to.
You may redecorate the firehouse building from the lobby to the attic, change its name to hide the infamy of your dark deeds, but the Firehouse Theatre Project, as known to this community for 18 years, will have ceased. In your clumsy effort to wreak sudden and traumatic alterations to the company, you’ve become the bloody surgeon who rushes out, announcing to worried relatives: “Great news! The operation succeeded! Oh, but the patient died.”
As long as the current configuration exists I see no further need for my services to the current organization of the board of directors for The Firehouse Theatre Project. Consider this my resignation as an emeritus board member and Chair of the Firehouse Theatre Project’s 20th Anniversary Committee.
Sincerely,
Harry Kollatz Jr.
Co-founder, Past President, Firehouse Theatre Project

 

It will be interesting to see how this drama all plays out.  At worst, the Firehouse will cease to exist as patrons and artists abandon it in droves (I personally know of one annual donor who is sending their money elsewhere this year due specifically to this debacle). At best, this incident will have a similar effect on local theatre as the Nancy Kerrigan attack had on figure skating …people started paying attention and buying tickets in droves.

To follow the saga up close and personal with regular updates click here

 

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