A week after the Firehouse Theatre Project ousted its founding artistic director, both sides hint at reconciliation.
"We are working to find a mutually agreeable solution," says Kay Holmes, president of the theater's board of directors. On Dec. 20 the board invited Carol Piersol, who co-founded the Firehouse 19 years ago, to "participate in a mediated discussion," Holmes says. The meeting hadn't taken place as of Style Weekly's press time Friday.
The turnabout follows a week of public outcry after the theater company's 15-member board unanimously voted Dec. 12, with one member abstaining, to force Piersol's retirement. She was given the option to remain with the theater in some capacity until June 30. Without citing specifics, Holmes says the decision was based on management issues and a desire to mold the Firehouse into a "tier-one" organization.
"Over the years," Holmes says, "there have been issues with management and her responsiveness to the board and things like that."
Piersol says the board never addressed any management problems with her.
"Frankly, it was stunning," Piersol says. She cites sold-out and extended runs of the Firehouse's last three shows, as well as a new play festival and partnerships with the Modlin Center, Richmond CenterStage and SPARC as evidence of her good stewardship. "There was no sit-down discussion of retirement," she says. "I was given an ultimatum without any prior discussion of how it would work."
Piersol's abrupt exit unleashed a torrent of online comments and a small protest outside the Firehouse on Dec. 18. And about 250 people attended a rally in Piersol's honor on Saturday at Virginia Repertory's November Theatre. Some members of the theater community say they're boycotting the Firehouse until Piersol is reinstated, including Bill Patton and Keri Wormald, who were scheduled to direct the company's remaining two shows this season.
Also at the Dec. 12 meeting, board member Joe Walton was voted out. "I'm disappointed, but it pales in comparison to what they did to Carol," Walton says. "Carol is the Firehouse and the Firehouse is Carol."
Recent sources of tension at the Firehouse include the hiring of a new managing director and the possible successor for board president.
According to Walton, board president Holmes' presumed successor, Jo Kennedy, said at a meeting Dec. 9 that she no longer wished to be affiliated with the Firehouse as long as Piersol was there. Kennedy didn't return phone calls, and Holmes denies the statement.
"It still isn't clear why they got rid of her," says Walton, who served on the board for eight years. "I'm pretty outraged and disgusted by it all."
Piersol says she's open to meeting with the board, and would be willing to return to the position depending on the circumstances. In the meantime, Holmes says that she and other board members have canceled holiday vacations to resolve the matter.
"That's how serious we are," Holmes says. "We are not taking this lightly."