Firehouse Update: Another Founder Resigns

Following a week of public protests – including one Saturday at the November Theatre that drew about 250 — over the ouster of Firehouse Theatre Project founder and artistic director Carol Piersol, another high-profile founder of the 19-year-old community theater project, Harry Kollatz Jr., has tendered his resignation from the emeritus board he joined earlier this year.

In an email letter sent Sunday to all current board members, Kollatz, who was a part of the committee planning for the 20th anniversary of the theater’s founding, announced that he was resigning effective immediately. In doing so, he also called on all members of the current board to do the same, stating that the theater’s public image had been irreparably tarnished by the board’s actions in canning Piersol, but that redemption might still be possible if the board resign after reinstating Piersol and writing a public letter of apology for their actions.

Kollatz’s letter is just the latest dramatic turn in a week of drama that became public on Dec. 18 as Piersol herself went public with a letter resigning rather than concede to the board’s ultimatum that she be forced to retire by June 30 of next year.

Founders of the Firehouse Theatre Project included (clockwise from top) Carol Piersol, Bill Gordon, Harry Kollatz Jr., Janet Wilson. Not pictured: Anna Senechal Johnson. Last week, the current board of the Firehouse voted to oust Piersol from her 19-year position as the theater's artistic director.

Founders of the Firehouse Theatre Project included (clockwise from top) Carol Piersol, Bill Gordon, Harry Kollatz Jr., Janet Wilson. Not pictured: Anna Senechal Johnson. Last week, the current board of the Firehouse voted to oust Piersol from her 19-year position as the theater’s artistic director.

 

The email from Kollatz had few minced words, taking the board to task for detonating a vaunted and respected community organization.

“You may redecorate the [F]irehouse 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,” he wrote. “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’.”

On Friday, Open Source RVA first reported that board’s ultimatum date of June 30 was in accordance with the demand of Jo Kennedy, former executive director of the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, who is set to take over the presidency of the Firehouse on June 30 and who read aloud an email from herself during a Dec. 9 emergency meeting of the Firehouse board at her house in which she said she would not take on leadership of the board if Piersol was still employed there as artistic director.

The following day, Piersol and the theater’s recently hired managing director, Gini Mallory, participated in a remediation session at the urging of the board — a decision made during the Sunday meeting. Afterwards, Piersol wrote an email to current Firehouse board chair Kay Holmes thanking her for the board’s leadership in facilitating the meeting. Holmes responded in a reply email obtained by Open Source that she believed “there is a middle ground and that everyone will be able to work effectively and happily with the continued success of Firehouse as the goal.”

Instead, the next day, and its regular monthly meeting, the Firehouse board voted to end Piersol’s employment as of June 30, 2013. It also voted to expel fellow board member Joe Walton, who was accused of leaking information from an executive session of the board to Pearsol related to her pending ouster.

Below is the full text of Kollatz’s email to the Firehouse Theatre Project board of directors:

 

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

5 thoughts on “Firehouse Update: Another Founder Resigns

  1. Quite eloquent, Harry. Kudos to you for standing up for your co-founder and speaking out against injustice. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things and the FTP board has mirrored the unethical method’s of the UVA board that tried to oust Teresa Sullivan. It is good to know that the community refuses to condone such distasteful behavior.
    I applaud your efforts to articulate the sentiments at large, Harry, and may the FTP board understand that you, the theatre community and the theatre going community shall abandon FTP until the situation is righted as per your suggestions.

  2. Everyone on this board should resign. A board member that votes on a resolution, especially one that decides the fate of an organization’s leadership, WITHOUT SAID RESOLUTION PRESENTED IN WRITING is not doing their job. May a new board be populated with individuals that understand the value of keeping everything “above board” and transparent.

  3. UPDATE: Despite continued correspondence with the Firehouse Theatre Project’s Board leadership and a request by a Board member that it be placed on the agenda for its February meeting, there is still no confirmation that the proposal for resolution of the situation offered on January 24 by members of the Richmond theatre community will, in fact, be heard by the full Board. Members of the public interested in seeing a positive resolution of this situation are encouraged to contact members of the FTP Board’s executive committee and request that they allow presentation of this proposal to the full Board.

  4. Pingback: The Firehouse: Still Burning? | RVA Open Source

Leave a Reply