UPDATE: The Firehouse Theatre Project has named Jase Smith as interim director. To read the company's press release, click here. Also, the next two plays, "Any Given Monday" and "Breast in Show" have been cancelled.
Fallout continues from the forced resignation of Carol Piersol, the former artistic director and co-founder of the Firehouse Theatre.
After the local theater community erupted in protest over the decision the Firehouse board has asked former president and chief executive of the Children’s Museum of Richmond, Randy Wyckoff, to advise and help guide the organization for the next few months.
A more immediate problem for the struggling company is the exodus of the theater community, patrons and personnel. After a joint production with the Modlin Center for the Arts and University of Richmond’s theater and dance department of “Zhe: (noun) Undefined” opening Jan. 10, the next Firehouse production, “Any Given Monday” is scheduled to open Jan. 31.
But the director and much of the cast has quit, according to longtime producer Amy Wight, who recently quit after 11 years at the theater. Calls to the Firehouse’s managing director, Gini Mallory, weren’t returned by Friday afternoon.
“I held on for a while hoping talks would resolve something but it looks like the board is determined not to back down and it’s a battle of wills now,” Wight says. “I’m in solidarity with the rest of theater community that has risen up. All anybody wants now, myself included, is Carol to be reinstated and for the executive committee, [those] responsible for this fiasco, to resign.”
“They talk about wanting to make this more of a business. Well there are written procedures with management issues,” Wight says. “And if there were personnel issues with Carol it should’ve been in writing and a formal review process and opportunity to improve -- and that didn’t occur.”
A Jan. 3 statement from the board on the theater’s website states that “we have been working behind the scenes during the ensuing controversy to develop a path forward that respects Ms. Piersol … while meeting the organizational needs of the Firehouse.” Also the board announced that it would be seeking an interim artistic director, with an early candidate rumored to be co-founder Anna Johnson.
But Johnson, who is currently artistic and managing director of Cadence Theater Company, says she simply wants both sides to talk. She proposed a resolution by email to the board that it fully reinstate Piersol as artistic director, but that she would be willing to come in for two to six months to assist as a production manager and assistant. The board has not followed up with Johnson since making its statement Jan. 3, she says.
“My idea was to have the board come back and work with Randy and have him make recommendations,” she says. “In no way, shape or form do I want any artistic responsibility with Firehouse.”
The Jan. 3 statement from the board also opened by saying it had begun talks with Piersol about her transition weeks ago, a fact that she vehemently denies.
“None of it is true, I never sat down about discussing retirement with them,” Piersol says. “I have no idea why they would do this and they never told me why.”
Piersol adds that current board member, Hester Lewis, who recently tried to get her involved with Firehouse’s 20th anniversary, was told that Piersol could not return for the event as an “artistic director.” Style Weekly’s calls to board president Kay Holmes were not returned as of Friday afternoon.
Four board members are now gone due to the controversy: Robert Double, GeorgeAnn Jones-Broth and James Vigeant resigned in protest on Dec. 23, a day after Piersol told 250 supporters gathered at the November Theater that she would like to return to her job as artistic director but that the “current board would need to be dissolved and a new board formed.” Another board member, Joe Walton, was removed in early December, the night that the board unanimously voted to effectively fire Piersol.
“It was impossible to stay,” Jones-Broth says. “I think we all did it in hopes of the greater good. … But I don’t think this is going to be over soon.”