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Wednesday, June 3,2009

Set to expire

BoarsHead won’t renew artistic director’s contract

by Eric Gallippo

Citing a slow economy, BoarsHead Theater is letting its artistic director go.


“Due to the financial pressures on BoarsHead Theater caused by the poor economy, the theater’s Board of Trustees has notified Artistic Director Kristine Thatcher that her contract will not be renewed on Sept. 1. A reorganization plan is being developed.”

Thatcher will continue to work as artistic director through August. John Dale Smith, the theater’s executive director, said his job at the theater is not changing, and he didn’t have much to add to the theater’s statement at this time. “Single ticket sales are down, donations are down. It’s a pretty scary situation,” Smith said.


When asked about who would fill Thatcher’s role at the theater in the fall, Smith said, “We’re going to be looking at a reorganization of some sort.”


Thatcher said two members of the theater’s board presented her with a letter last Thursday, notifying her that the theater could no longer afford two fulltime executives (meaning her and Smith). “I think the board really wants to save the theater, and I think the board made some decisions to save the theater, and I wish them well. I wish John Dale Smith and the board well,” Thatcher said.


Thatcher got her start in theater at BoarsHead before moving to Chicago, and she returned to Lansing to take the reigns at the theater in September 2005. “This theater was the love of my life. It propelled me into my career, and it was wonderful to come back here and take the helm. I just wish everybody well. I want this theater to thrive.”

Thatcher, who is nominated for a City Pulse Pulsar Award for Best Director of a play and of a musical this year, blamed slumping ticket sales and donations on a sagging economy, and she said she wouldn’t take back any choices she made over the last season. “[Sunday] we closed a gorgeous production of ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ It starred Paula Prentiss and Ross Benjamin. We don’t know what else to do to bring an audience back to that theater. I think every body’s in the same boat; they’re all watching their money.

Larry Meyer, president of BoarsHead’s board of directors, declined to comment on why Thatcher will be let go instead of Smith, who was hired in October 2007. “I will not get into personnel matters. The reason was clearly stated; it was economics that drove the decision.

“This event was required because of economic reasons. We will reorganize and position the theater for success. You’re always working for the continuous operation of the enterprise.”

In February 2007, BoarsHead had to make layoffs because of a budget shortfall left in large part because of the passing of a major donor. Meyer said this time around, there’s no one financial factor causing the layoff. “All measures have been under stress,” Meyer said. “We are a picture of Michigan.”

But a new monthly rent payment of $1,660-a-month to the city of Lansing scheduled to begin in July can’t be helping the situation.

Since the city purchased the building that BoarsHead calls home at Grand Avenue and Lenawee Thatcher, with dog, Caboodle Street in downtown Lansing in August 2008, the city has not collected rent from BoarsHead, said Bob Johnson, director of the city’s Planning and Neighborhood Development office. Instead, the theater had incurred the expense of paying a facilities manager, which was greater than what the theater will pay in rent.


Johnson called the grace period on rent an “indirect subsidy” of the arts. “Had we been collecting rent, they may have been in financial stress sooner than they are now, so who knows, we may have done some good,” Johnson said.


In May 2007, the city gave BoarsHead $25,000 to help pay back rent to the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, the building’s previous owner.

Johnson said the building was acquired as part of a long-term parking strategy and that saving the theater was secondary. “This is still a real-estate transaction,” Johnson said. “While we’re accommodating and patient, we still have to be prudent at the same time.”

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