Though the holidays brought a sense of relative calm to the ongoing drama at the Firehouse Theatre Project, a number of resignations from high-profile board members were tendered over the weekend leading into Christmas day. Those resignations were inspired by the ouster of Firehouse founder and – until recently – artistic director Carol Piersol.
On Dec. 12, Piersol received terms from the board demanding she tender her resignation no later than June 30 of next year, setting off a firestorm of public outrage, protests and online comments. On Dec. 22, supporters of Piersol staged an event at the November Theater attended by more than 250 people during which Piersol indicated that to make right, the entire current board must resign and allow a new board to be formed. The event was attended by all five founders of the theater project.
The following day, Robert Double, George-Ann Jones Broth and James Vigeant all tendered their resignations. Open Source RVA obtained copies of each former board member’s resignation letter. Additionally, according to interviews with sources close to the board, a number of additional board member are considering resigning, even as leadership on the board, including President Kay Holmes and Vice President Jo Kennedy, lobby those members asking that they not break ranks.
Each of the three board resignations offered varying degrees of detail about the events leading up to Piersol’s Dec. 12 ouster.
“I regret, and will always regret that I did not vote “no” at that 12/12/12 meeting to this ill-conceived resolution,” Jones-Broth wrote in her resignation letter sent to all board members.
Vigeant’s letter, also sent to the full board, provides a particularly vivid timeline leading up to the vote, as well as an insider’s view into the meeting at which the vote was taken. In tendering his own resignation, Vigeant has harsh words for the board’s president, Holmes, calling into question not only her leadership but the legitimacy of her actions:
“Kay, you personally, and with the support of the Executive Committee, have kept significant information from the FTP Board of Directors,” Vigeant wrote, “by not informing us that our scheduled board seminar, which was to be during our regularly scheduled December 12, 2012, FTP Board meeting time, had been cancelled, and that a surprise emergency meeting to vote on the Executive Committee’s Resolution was held instead. This decision, I believe, seriously puts into question the legality of our emergency vote on the Executive Committee’s Resolution.”
According to various sources who’ve spoken with Open Source, including former board member Joe Walton — who was removed by the board the same day they voted to oust Piersol — the vote to seek Piersol’s resignation came after Kennedy read aloud from her own letter during a Dec. 9 emergency meeting, indicating that as condition of her ascending to the board’s presidency, Piersol would have to be removed. 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.
Since word first spread of Piersol’s ouster, a number of high-profile arts community leaders and funders have stepped forward supporting her. The first protest, held Dec. 19 [shortly before Open Source first broke the story] was led by Scott Wichmann, currently co-starring in the Theatre IV production of The Producers.
On Dec. 23, the same day as the three board resignations, Tom Lisk, a prominent local attorney who has held a number of prominent arts-related posts, including past chair of the Arts Council of Richmond and of the Hand Workshop Arts Center (known now as the Visual Arts Center of Richmond) sent a letter to the board indicating his support for Piersol.
“As a longtime supporter of the arts community in Richmond, including an annual donor to the FTP for many years, I am truly saddened that the Board is allowing this to spin out of control,” Lisk wrote. “The theatre is in jeopardy – and its loss will be a loss for the entire community. Please step up and demonstrate leadership by finding resolution. Otherwise, please resign and allow others to step forward to try to save this magnificent theatre.”
According to various sources who’ve spoken with Open Source, including former board member Joe Walton — who was removed by the board the same day they voted to oust Piersol — the vote to seek Piersol’s resignation came after Kennedy read aloud from her own letter during a Dec. 9 emergency meeting, indicating that as condition of her ascending to the board’s presidency, Piersol would have to be removed.
Efforts to reach Kennedy via email have not been successful. Last Friday, Open Source sent a letter to Kay Holmes requesting copies of all board correspondence related to the board’s actions seeking Piersol’s removal or retirement.
Below are the unedited letters of resignation from the Firehouse Theatre Project board sent by Double, Jones-Broth and Vigeant. Email addresses have been redacted:
From: robert double <XXXXXXXXX@XXXXX.com>
Date: Sun, Dec 23, 2012 at 5:45 PM
Subject: RE: XXXXXXXXXXXXX
This is a copy of the letter I sent to the Board president and other members of the Board.
I wish to tender my resignation form the Board of the Firehouse Theatre Project. I do this with sorrow because I have been involved with the FTP since it began. I am sorry I did not make a no vote instead of abstaining from the final vote but it meant the same thing… abhorrence of what was going on at the meeting on 12 12 12. It is ironic that the scheduled topic that night, board information, but we got a whole different lesson. I agree with JIM V and Georgann letters. I did the best that I could. May the FTP rise from the ashes of this debacle with the goal of justice for Carol Piersol in the future.
Letter of Resignation from the FTP Board of Directors
To: Kay Holmes (President FTP Board & Chair FTP Executive Committee
It is with great sadness and with some level of pride that I write to you to provide my immediate resignation from the Firehouse Theatre Project Board of Directors.
It was with equal pride that I accepted the invitation to become a member of the Board of Directors that was extended to me, by then President of the Board, Ty Topeke. Ty and I discussed my joining the board many times, before I agreed. I was hesitant to join as I was unsure what specific talents, short of my love of live theatre, I could bring to the table. It hardly matters now what Ty and I finally agreed I could bring to the table; I know what I can bring to the table now.
I did fail my obligation to the theatre, in that I did not maintain my position on the Executive Committee’s resolution for Ms. Peirsol’s retirement, under the board’s plan. I regret, and will always regret that I did not vote “no” at that 12/12/12 meeting to this ill-conceived resolution.
But I now know what I can bring other than my time, my families time, and my consistent financial support. I now know what I can bring to this board, the most important decision this board can make for the sake of the FTP. Do the right thing for the greater cause, I respectfully ask the entire board to resign.
Allow the Firehouse Theatre Project to rise up from this with the assistance of the founders, patrons, emeritus, others who have voiced their support, so clearly of the FTP this week, and you as well. I am sure there was no ill intended, and I know that you all share in the best for the future of this Richmond “Diamond.” Again thank you for the privilege of having served on the Firehouse Theatre Project, a very special place indeed.
Letter of Resignation from the FTP Board of Directors
Prepared by: James Vigeant
To: Kay Holmes (President FTP Board & Chair FTP Executive Committee)
Kindly accept my formal letter of resignation as a member of the Firehouse Theatre Project Board of Directors. I have honored my loyalty of confidentially to the Firehouse By-Laws and now find it impossible to keep this confidentiality.
As you know I have been passionately vocal internally against the Executive Committee Resolution from the very beginning when on December 9, 2012, the FTP Executive Committee called an emergency meeting to discuss the Executive Committee’s Proposed Resolution. I have been uncomfortable from the beginning with the premise and timing of the Executive Committee Resolution, and I believe that for all that Carol may do that can be disruptive to the Firehouse, the Executive Committee did not exhaust all other options presented by me, and others also in opposition, to properly guide and develop Carol’s transition to the new organizational structure…, a professional organizational structure in which I still believe, and which can bring the Firehouse Theatre Project to a new level of success. I also believe the FTP Executive Committee has not been honest or transparent to the FTP Board of Directors and placed their own agenda ahead of the success of the FTP.
For the record: At the December 12, 2012, FTP Board meeting, after the Executive Committee members presented their individual pre-written scripts, my first motion to the FTP board was to table this Executive Committee Resolution because it lacked the transparency of information that would have allowed the FTP Board of Directors to make an intelligent and well-informed decision, and because there was no advanced notice to the FTP board that we were going to have this emergency vote on the Executive Committee’s Resolution. After some on the board refused to allow more time to transpire, which would have allowed the board an appropriate deliberation period, a vote was hastily moved forward on my motion and it failed 5 yes (to table), 7 no (to table) and 2 abstention. This was the time for patience; however, those 7 who voted no to the motion to table the Executive Committee Resolution preferred to expedite their position.
After over an hour of fierce debate on both sides of the Executive Committee Resolution, and when it became abundantly clear that those in favor of the Executive Committee Resolution were moving forward with this hasty emergency vote, Ty spoke up to be the messenger of the Executive Committee’s Resolution to negotiate with Carol, because it was absolutely clear that no one supporting the Executive Committee Resolution was capable of delivering this negotiation in a fair, mindful or dignified manner. So, to be clear, at least 5 of those 14 who voted yes (to table the resolution) were voting with the hope that Ty could succeed in his mission, and we believed that this was the best way to protect Carol, the Firehouse Theatre and its future from the abomination we are experiencing. In retrospect, I wish I had retained my no position to the final vote; and I will have to live with that.
It is my opinion that:
- The Executive Committee has acted from an overhyped and secretive position.
- The Executive Committee severely underestimated the impact of the outrage that would occur from the theatre community, the donor base and the public at large.
- The Executive Committee failed to provide adequate oversight over Carol’s transition, and they did not guide her in this transition with effective leadership.
- The Executive Committee failed to heed the advice of the Carpenter Foundation recommending hiring an Executive Director to better manage this anticipated difficult transition.
- The Executive Committee has failed in its obligation to the FTP Board of Directors to keep us completely informed and be absolutely transparent about this Executive Committee resolution. Kay, you personally, and with the support of the Executive Committee, have kept significant information from the FTP Board of Directors by not informing us that our scheduled board seminar, which was to be during our regularly scheduled December 12, 2012, FTP Board meeting time, had been cancelled, and that a surprise emergency meeting to vote on the Executive Committee’s Resolution was held instead. This decision, I believe, seriously puts into question the legality of our emergency vote on the Executive Committee’s Resolution. Additionally, during this 12/12/12 emergency FTP Board meeting you neglected to supply the email exchange between Carol, Gini (our Managing Director) and yourself that took place on 12/11/12 & 12/12/12 which clearly demonstrated Carol’s willingness to work together towards a successful transition. Your response in this email exchange was: “Great email Carol. Thank you for being willing to take the first important step. I DO think that 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. Thank you, Kay” This information would have had significant impact on the FTP Board’s decision regarding the Executive Committee Resolution.
- To this date we the FTP Board of Directors have not received written minutes from the December 9, 2012, emergency meeting, nor the minutes of the December 12, 2012, emergency meeting to vote on the Executive Committee’s Resolution, nor any other meeting minutes that have occurred since the December 12, 2012, meeting. Additionally, the FTP Board of Directors have not been issued a written copy of the actual Executive Committee’s Resolution for our records, so it is still unclear to all what has been presented to Carol.
I am grateful to the Firehouse Theatre Project for allowing me the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors and as the FTP Facility Chair. I am asking that Carol, our wonderful supporters & donors, the community at large, and most importantly the Firehouse Theatre Project accept my sincere apology for failing in my efforts to keep safe the future of our Richmond theatrical diamond… and the Hottest Ticket in Town.
Former FTP Board of Directors Member & FTP Facility Chair