Allan: Theater needs to reverse course to avoid ‘death spiral’

June 10, 2017 GMT

As a 29-year volunteer and donor to the Rochester Civic Theatre, I think the last good thing the RCT Inc. Board of Directors did to further the theater’s mission was to accept the resignation of the former executive director.

Since then, I believe the board’s leadership has made several poor decisions and started an RCT death spiral:

1. A group of volunteers redrafted the RCT bylaws to update them and remove serious inconsistencies. Board President-elect, Kay Hocker met with the group, discussed the proposed changes briefly, and then the board acted almost exactly the opposite of what the draft intended. Membership in RCT was removed as a concept; the board is no longer responsible to any local constituents. This change indicates a complete misunderstanding, if not an outright repudiation, of how community theaters work.

2. Former Executive Director Gregory Stavrou caused enormous damage to the RCT volunteer base; volunteer counts shrank steadily during his tenure. According to the 2007 Volunteer Appreciation program, prior to his arrival, RCT had 387 volunteers, about a third of whom attended the annual volunteer event. By the 2016 event, just 43 bothered to attend, indicating a volunteer base of about 150 people. Board leadership continuing the failing policies of the former executive director is clearly not desirable and again demonstrates the board leadership’s failure to understand community theater.

3. Prior requests for information and transparency by the volunteers have been ignored or denied; this is not new behavior and unsupportable in this age of expected transparency. Tony Drumm and Tommy Rinkoski, guests at a June 1 informal meeting with three RCT board members, have said that on being questioned about public availability of bylaws, meeting minutes and attendance by the public at RCT board meetings, Hocker stated these were not required under Minnesota law, so the board has no legal obligation to provide them. Such a statement from an officer of a nonprofit budgeted to receive $200,000 from Rochester city coffers in 2017 is astoundingly politically naïve.

4. Good art isn’t created by just anyone; Greg Miller honed his to our tastes for 27 years. You don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs when your budget is already short or when the goose has contacts through the community via the volunteers to mobilize a significant fundraising effort. Yet board leadership chose his removal; this does not bode well for increased attendance next season.

Therefore, I call on current board president Heather Holmes, the president-elect and anyone else supporting the former executive director’s failed policies to resign immediately. If they do, I call on the remaining board members to add people with 10 or more years of community theater experience from within Rochester and the surrounding communities.

I then call on the reconstituted board to publish externally the volunteer-proposed bylaw changes and rationale documentation, review them internally, and explain to the public before Aug. 1 why they should NOT be implemented. This explanation should be a public forum on the RCT main stage, held when the public is likely to attend and has had time to review.

Above all, I call on the board to immediately end their non-transparent behaviors and become transparent to the public, the volunteers, and the remaining staff.

Lastly, I strongly suggest the board reconsider the removal of the artistic director position, and if they do, see if they can rehire Miller before he gets away.