This is what I hear: She was fired. Some talk about her negotiations with Disney as if she's leaving us for them voluntarily. I am assured, however, that her possible gig directing another bloated Broadway spectacle (Hunchback, perhaps?) is merely a well-timed piece of luck. I'm talking about Sharon Ott, by the way, Seattle Rep's departing artistic director. Not that anybody cares. Or do you?

I'm surprised by the public silence surrounding Ms. Ott's mysterious departure--if Bill Clinton taught us anything, it's that dissimulation and dodging turn embarrassing back-page truths into front-page controversy. The Rep's party line is that she's leaving of her own free will for reasons she and the board refuse to enumerate. Meanwhile, the gripevine buzzes with speculation. Nobody I know disputes the f-word in private--even reporters at other newspapers (who spoke off the record, of course) said they thought she'd been canned. So why aren't they, you know, reporting that? It could be laziness. It could be politeness. Worse, it could be professionalism.

"Responsible journalists don't print rumors and innuendos," opined Misha Berson of the Seattle Times. "So far neither Sharon Ott nor members of the Seattle Rep's board of directors--the only people who really know what happened--have agreed to speak on the record about why she isn't staying." (Through a Rep spokesperson, Ott and board members refused to comment for this story.)

Ergo, it is my duty as an irresponsible journalist to crack the oyster that hoards the precious pearl of Rep politics. Surely the possible dismissal of the head of Seattle City Light or the Seahawks would get a proper degree of investigative attention. Our arts chieftains deserve no less.

So what happened? In an April interview with me, Ott complained about her board: "It's a generational thing--some like a certain kind of play, and that play isn't Topdog/Underdog" (her shorthand for good, relevant theater). Reportedly, the board wasn't in love with her, either. As one former employee tells it, a few board members showed up to an Ott-led staff meeting a year ago and witnessed her "famous foot-in-mouth-after-only-five-minutes trick." As time passed, more and more board members showed up at meetings until they were all there and Ott wasn't. Then she resigned--or "resigned."

Who's right, her fans (there are many) or her detractors (ditto)? Was Ott a visionary too tough for her candy-ass board or an artistically tone-deaf blunderbuss? To find out, you'll have to rely on our old friends Innuendo, Opinion, and wretched, lowdown Rumor.

* * *

Confronting gossip face on, On the Boards' departing managing director Diane Ragsdale and Artistic Director Lane Czaplinski flatly deny the rumor that one recently punched the other in a fit of pique. "No, she didn't hit me," Czaplinski laughed. "We're great friends."

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