One week after its would-be expiration date, ACT struggles on. The hoped-for "angel" with a $1.5 million check hasn't appeared, but ACT's demise has been put off for at least another month, thanks to the generosity of ACT's ass-on-the-line board of directors. On February 19, the 25-member board voted to donate $40,000 of their own money to cover the salaries for ACT's nine remaining staff members and other essential operating expenses. An additional $8,000 came from individual donations (ranging from $5 to $1,000), while the Actors' Equity Association pledged an "emergency donation" of $1,000.
However, what these stopgap maneuvers fail to address is what landed ACT in such deep trouble in the first place.
This failure was eloquently addressed by prominent local actor Laurence Ballard in a February 23 letter to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Frequently employed by ACT, Ballard bravely put his neck on the line by delineating the two primary functions facing boards of directors of nonprofit arts organizations: First, to raise money; second, to say no.
"The ACT board clearly failed to do the former, and apparently could not say the latter when it mattered most," writes Ballard, alluding to the board's countless missed opportunities to put the brakes on ACT's five-years-in-the-making avalanche of debt. "This was not a failure of artists, but a debacle of the board's," Ballard asserts; he closes his letter with an unequivocal call for the resignation of ACT's board of directors, along with an equally damning suggestion that the present board is undeserving of financial rescue. "If you were one of the modern Medicis this board is hoping to hook," writes Ballard, "wouldn't you think thrice before giving this gang any of your money?"
The resignation of the board might be a good first step in ACT's resuscitation--even though the board's guilt-ridden generosity is the only thing currently keeping ACT's lights on. But exactly whom did the board fail to say no to, and why? Ask this question in a roomful of theater types, and one name comes up repeatedly: Gordon Edelstein, ACT's artistic director during the period when ACT piled up its massive, life-threatening debt. After five years with ACT, Edelstein scooted back to the East Coast in 2002, taking over as artistic director of the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.
Whether or not Edelstein's the villain of the piece, one thing's certain: If ACT hopes to woo the sort of deep-pocketed savior it needs in order to survive, the organization needs to go public with how this debacle happened, along with a solid reorganization plan detailing how it won't happen again.
And if the theater wants the support of actors like Ballard, the current board should submit the reorganization plan along with their resignations.