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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The Lion Roars at ASC

I know I have said it before but I ADORE Staunton, Va!

It has a Mayberry like historic downtown and some fantastic restaurants and of course the American Shakespeare Center.

Yesterday I ventured over there from Charlottesville  with a friend, stopping at the bucolic Pollack Winery along the way for a tasting and a relaxing chat on the veranda overlooking gorgeous rolling fields, a pond and the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It was my first visit to Polloack and of the nine wines I tasted I liked the Chardonnay, Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Meritage the best but I am uncertain if those were my exact favorites because I left my tasting notes on the tasting counter- a result of having tasted nine wines on an empty stomach.  We did get some yummy swiss to counter the tipsy effect but they only have french bread to go with it and I need a gluten free option.

Anyway, my companion purchased a bottle of Merlot and off we went to Staunton for dinner and a show.  The first thing I always do when I get to Staunton is stock up on my favorite granola in the world, Kazzies Granola.  You can only get it in Staunton because the guy that makes it lives there and he creates this delectable concoction of dried fruit, oats and seeds (maybe not oats, I don’t have the bag accessible at this time but whatever is in it is all yummilicious goodness).  So we stop into Cranberry’s Natural Foods and Cafe to pick up some Kazzie’s.  Once I am secure in my granola fix we walk a block to enjoy a fabulous dinner at Zynodoa before the show.  Zynodoa is a small version of a chic big city restaurant with food to rival any of the top chef’s around with a menu that features ingredients mostly (if not totally) curated from local farms.  My friend and I split a Mole Hill Bib Salad and the brined then grilled chicken breast.  See descriptions from the menu:

Mole Hill Garden Bibb Salad   8

shenvalley apple batons | oak spring dairy red wine derby
candied pecans | vinegar works shallot vinaigrette

Polyface Brined & Grilled Chicken   25

yellow squash & zucchini pancake | sauteed swiss chard
vinegar works sage gastrique

REVIEW

Fed and happy, we walked the half block to the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Theatre for THE LION IN WINTER the second play in their Summer “Wicked Good” Season.

The play was written by James Goldman and ran on Broadway for something like 83 performances (not many in Broadway lore) in 1966, is the depiction of a typical  family Christmas gathering amongst Franco-Anglo royals in 1183 from the pot Freud view point of the mid-twentieth century.  In other words, these people are MESSED UP, bitter, plotting, manipulating, and longing for love and affection with no glimmer of capacity to either give or accept it.

My take on the action: 

Older man who has taken on a hot young mistress who happens to have been raised in his home as his daughter (modern reference:Woody Allen) is lamenting over the death of his heir and trying to ensure his legacy is protected and that his favorite son, the youngest gets to be king after he dies.  His wife, wants her favorite son to be king instead and the middle child is left to whine about how nobody cares about him (contemporary reference for sibling dynamic: Downton Abbey).  The oldest son had a love affair with the mistress’s brother who happens to be the new King of France and is over for the holiday.  Everybody’s insecurities and egos are exposed as they are each played by the other to gain power, property and a general upper hand. Sounds like fun, right?

What worked for me:

  • Gregory Jon Phelps as the middle son, Geoffrey:  He simply personified that middle child resentment and longing to be special.  His line delivery was spot on in its tone and irony and he was just great in the part.  He totally made the most of it without being obnoxious or upstaging.
  • The costumes:  were beautiful and well chosen for the different characters.
  • Rene Thornton as Philip, King of France:  He is regal yet just as nasty as the rest of the characters.  Thornton plays him with a finesse that makes him stand apart.

Problems:

  • Historical Inaccuracies:  This is the fault of Goldman not ASC. Syphilis is mentioned but my theater buddy pointed out (correctly, I checked) that it was unknown in Europe until over 300 years later when Columbus’ crewmen brought it back with them from the New World. The other is the reference to Christmas trees.  Christmas trees were not a part of English or French Christmas customs until the early 19th century or even in Germany before the 1400’s at the earliest. It is in the script so what are they gonna do?
  • Casting issues: Tracy Hostmyer makes a great Eleanor of Aquitaine throwing out barbs with stealth and working some good chemistry with her King Henry (James Keegan- not his best work, I am sad to say.  I just didn’t buy into him for some reason.) but she looks awfully young for the role. John Harrell as the youngest prince, John- Harrell is a great actor but the boy is supposed to be 16.  There are younger men in the company who may have been better choices for the role this go around. Tracie Thomason as Alais- Thomason lacks voice and tends to deliver almost every line with a  breathy flat cadence that almost drove me insane.  I felt zero chemistry between her and Keegan which is sort of key to the madness of Alais being  played with  like a chess piece.

Overall opinion:

This is a tough play.  The plot twists and turns and the characters along with it.  I can only imagine the cacophony of inner dialog that must go on in the actor’s heads to be dizzying as the show goes on.  It is also relentless in its revelation of the ugliness of human nature (greed and lack of moral compass in particular), a two hour marathon of emotionally charged slings and arrows which can be exhausting to watch. The content is charged as well in this little geographic corner of conservatism adultery, promiscuity, hints of incest, and the possibility of an non-consentual homosexual relationship without much humor to keep the audience from slitting their own wrists in despair by the end.  But it makes sense to produce it as the modern play during the summer season as a prequel to KING JOHN which will be part of the fall season.  It is worth seeing but you might want to space out seeing this alongside THE MERCHANT OF VENICE which is also a hard hitting production bearing no good guys in the end.


 Tracy Hostmyr and James Keegan in THE LION IN WINTER- photo courtesy of American Shakespeare Center

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