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Actors' Theatre will get rid of artistic director's job

The board president says chose unpopular plays; says the real issue is artistic control

Actors' Theatre will not renew artistic director Peter 's contract. The theater's board of directors decided to do away with 's job quietly last month, then reaffirmed the decision this week by a count of 6 to 4 in a secret ballot over protests on 's behalf by some high-profile supporters.

's involvement with the group apparently will end after next month's Sylvia, which produced. guided the Talent-based community theater for five years.

Board president Creighton Barnes said the decision was an economic one prompted mainly by 's continued unwillingness to choose enough plays with wide box office appeal.

We wanted Peter to put on a season we knew would attract an audience, Barnes said.

He said the board likely will replace the artistic director ' the theater's only full-time, paid position ' with an executive director.

said he believes the real issue is not economics but artistic control. He said he saw his role as one of presenting the diversity of contemporary theater, while a majority of board members, many of whom are new to the group, want warm and fuzzy plays.

The wedge was financial, said. But it was a reaction against anything that might be considered controversial.

He said one board member counted the number of times the f-word appears in the first several pages of American Buffalo but had not seen, and did not read, the edgy drama by David Mamet, a play that was made into a movie with Dustin Hoffman that did not get wide distribution.

A last-minute campaign of support for in the theater community included phone calls to Actors' Theatre board members from such heavy hitters as Libby Appel, artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Actors' Theatre founder Michael O'Rourke was also among those who spoke for at Wednesday's board meeting, as was OSF associate artistic director Timothy Bond.

Barnes said has lost money with each of four productions so far in this year's season of six plays. During that time, the group's bank balance has dwindled from about &

36;26,000 to about &

36;7,000, he said. He estimated the nonprofit company needs to take in &

36;12,000 to &

36;14,000 per play to stay afloat and has not been doing so.

said the theater was &

36;20,000 in debt when he came and had no subscription season, no reading series and no school for artists. He said the theater is now debt-free except for a mortgage, has a six-play season with 250 subscribers and more than 20 adult and child students in an ongoing theater education program.

The group's report to the Oregon Arts Commission said it took in &

36;162,000 last fiscal year and spent &


Actors' Theatre plays must do well enough to recover costs because the board raises virtually nothing.

If the board raised money, they could have a business manager, said actor and former board member Jonathan Farwell, who remains close to the group.

has been responsible for the operation of the theater as well as choosing, producing, directing and acting in plays. Barnes said the group could afford an artistic director or an executive director.

We can't have both, he said.

It's not clear how plays would be chosen, produced, cast and directed. At least one board member circulated a memo saying it wasn't clear how a community theater could get by without an artistic director.

Barnes said had trouble accepting the board as his boss.

My boss to do what, said. If they tell me to do something I do it, but I'm not going to have the artistic prerogatives of the theater usurped by people who know nothing about it.