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.