Saturday, September 06, 2008

The outlook at ARt

Attributing the season-cancelling financial woes at Actors Rep to "carelessness" on the part of the board and managing director prior to June 2007, ARt board president Jim Barthelmess nonetheless has hopes for the theater's future.

ARt's next board meeting is on Sept. 18; soon after that, says Barthelmess, the press and subscribers will receive a letter outlining the theater's plans.

"My suspicion is that some of this board will want to resurrect ARt pretty soon, but not as ARt," Barthelmess says. "I'm suggesting 'The Phoenix Theater,'" he adds with a smile.

Since early this year, he says, "What became clear to us is that there was no business plan. We didn't get the books -- we got boxes full of receipts and check stubs. It was almost impossible to create a financial past, which put us in a bad, bad place in applying for grants. We were blindsided by what we had to contend with. We would apply for royalties, only to be told, 'Well, you still haven't paid the royalties from back in 2004.' It added up to thousands of dollars, but we have paid up -- back taxes and royalties and back printing bills."

As for what artistic director Michael Weaver and former managing director Grant Smith (who was associated with ARt until August 2007) should have realized, Barthelmess says that "We're just looking at carelessness." Major problems started to become evident, Barthelmess says, by February -- "but we're not going to go back and do recriminations." Instead, he's looking to the future.

"If ARt comes alive again -- as ARt or as some other theater -- and I have anything to do with it, we will have a business plan and a budget, credibility and transparency," he says.

"I have theater friends in Cleveland [where Barthelmess, a retired college professor, taught for many years]. And I know how it is -- a lot of it is crisis management, with people saying, 'Oh, we don't have any props, but we've got to get the play up.' I understand that. But if you send out a flyer announcing one of your plays, you'd better have enough money to pay for the postage."

Barthelmess says that ARt still has "staff to pay off, one last payroll, bills to pay, minutes and files to be stored." It's a sad prospect: "I wish with all my heart this hadn't been the outcome," he says, adding that he's felt "physically sick" for much of the past month over the decision.

He says the ARt board considered closing immediately, or at least trying to stick it out through December. "Initially, our impulse was to try to do the season," he says. But it wasn't possible, even though the cast for ARt's intended next show, *Doubt,* was already in town rehearsing.

But that big bill from the state of Washington for workman's compensation payments had come due, with interest and penalties. Financially, "there was just a wall we ran into -- that's a good image for it," he says.

A year from now, Barthelmess speculates, "ARt will not exist, probably. But we're not trying to get rid of it. We're just mothballing it."

Michael Weaver, Barthelmess adds, "was not fired. He was part of this decision."

Barthelmess says that after he announced the season's cancellation at the performance of *The Importance of Being Earnest* on Aug. 29, "people came up to us, Michael and me, and some of them were weeping, and they shook my hand and said how much they had enjoyed Michael's shows. They understood. There's a great deal of goodwill among our subscribers."

The board had to be reactive and not proactive, he says. "We were always putting out fires. But I'm pretty confident that we did the right thing," he says, while adding that "I don't know that I'd like to preside over a train wreck. But please know that we tried to do our best in difficult circumstances."

Former ARt business manager Reed McColm and former ARt managing director Grant Smith have not yet been contacted in connection with this story. More details will emerge, especially after the Sept. 18 ARt board meeting.

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At September 07, 2008 7:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Mr. Barthelmess was the first creditor paid? How does a theater run out of money so soon in the season with all the subscriptions coming in?

At September 09, 2008 9:39 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think he was pretty clear about where the money had to go, "thousands of dollars, but we have paid up -- back taxes and royalties and back printing bills."

At September 09, 2008 6:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

do they really think that even though they are pointing blame at past managers and board members that the people of spokane would support them in a new venture when they have proven they cannot solve a problem? major as it was - they have proven that they 'd rather fold than work harder.

At September 10, 2008 9:54 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anonymous 09:39 - Do you seriously believe everything you read as the truth?

At September 10, 2008 11:52 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now will someone please look at the mismanagement of Interplayers, before we loose another beloved institution. The days when theater management can hide its head in the sand and pretend that the I.R.S.,O.S.H.A.,The State of Washington,creditors, employees and patrons will ignore shoddy business practices are over.

The Spokane theater community is getting repeatedly screwed by Interplayers management and accepting it with a sad smile.

I beseech the theater audiences of Spokane to stop accepting the mediocre product Interplayers is giving us and demand something better.

At September 17, 2008 9:37 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a subscriber for the past several seasons of ART, I'm very sad and disappointed. But, as a business person, I can't fathom how ART managed to sell and be paid for 2008 season subscriptions without knowing they were so nearly bankrupt they might not be able to deliver that for which they'd received pre-payment. I want a refund for this sooner rather than later, given that the first missed delivery of "Doubt" has already occurred. If the Board hopes to ever revive ART in any new iteration, they surely cannot succeed if they leave subscribers without refunds in these very difficult economic times.


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