Friday, December 19, 2008

Chase, Steve, Catherine, Adam and Bob

Posted by Bruce Miller
As many of you know, last spring Phil and I determined that Barksdale and Theatre IV needed to eliminate five staff positions over the next year in order to responsibly face the declining economy. Assessing financial realities and accepting that we need to lose five valued staff members was the easy part. Deciding which positions to eliminate was tough.

We looked first at attrition. Who on staff had expressed an interest in leaving in the near to not too distant future. It’s much more supportive of staff morale to eliminate a position that has been voluntarily vacated than to yank a job away from someone who truly wants and needs it.

Chase Kniffen had already decided to leave Barksdale and Theatre IV to start his own company, Stage 1. The wisdom of that decision is now easily discernible to all. So we chose not to fill his position of Special Projects Manager. Among other responsibilities, Chase had managed Barksdale’s Bifocals Theatre Project and our SOAR high school externships. It was an easy decision to put Bifocals touring and the externship program on hold, at least during the first half of 08-09. His other responsibilities were divided among remaining staff members, adding to their already full plates.

Steve Perigard had been talking about moving on to other opportunities for at least three years. In the spring of 08, Steve told me that he thought that the time may have come. Who can blame him? Someone with Steve Perigard’s intelligence, initiative, job experience, talent and skill set can do much better than serve as an Associate Artistic Director year after year. Steve asked if he could contemplate the move during the summer. I said he could take all the time he needed. In the early fall, he made it official—he wanted to move on.

I’m told that the rumor mill is now putting forth the notion that Steve was “let go” or “fired.” That rumor is in no way true. Everyone should know of the friendship, respect and admiration I have for Steve. There’s no way in this world that I would have let him go or fired him. Steve made the difficult decision to move on from Barksdale and Theatre IV because he feels like it’s in his best interests to explore other opportunities. I wholehearted support him in that decision. Being an Associate Artistic Director is in many ways a thankless job. He deserves more, and I’m confident he’ll quickly find several wonderful, fulfilling and lucrative opportunities.

It is Steve’s stated hope, and mine, that he will continue to work with our two companies as a freelance director and actor. More about that in the coming weeks and months.

We did not decide to eliminate Steve’s position because we can afford to be without an Associate Artistic Director. We can’t. But his position can now be one of the five we need to eliminate, or at least put on hold. Not filling the position of Associate Artistic Director is a better option than firing someone else.

Simply writing down the many jobs that Steve has masterfully performed here is filling up a book. During January, we will finalize the determination of who will assume each of his responsibilities. It will not be easy to make these decisions. Frankly, I’m scared to death. I know that it will be rough going without him. However, I also know that we will make it work. We are blessed with many capable staff leaders who can effectively perform any task that is put before them. Institutionally, dealing with transition can ultimately strengthen a company. In our case, it can help prepare the company for Phil’s and my retirement in 7 ½ years.

The third position to be eliminated was Catherine Dudley’s position as Marketing Associate. Catherine had just completed her course work to be an ASL interpreter. She’d been talking for well over a year about leaving Barksdale to pursue her “dream job” working as an interpreter with deaf students. In June, I asked Catherine to consider making this transition earlier rather than later. I was confident that she would find immediate work in her chosen career. Because she loved working with us, and vice versa, it was a tearful conversation. But she understood and accepted my request. Sure enough, in September she began working as an interpreter for Chesterfield County Public Schools, and from day one she’s been thrilled by her new job—and enjoying a significant pay increase.

Best of all, Catherine has continued to work for us as translator and sign instructor for Sanders Family Christmas and Children of a Lesser God. It’s been a perfect transition. Catherine’s many responsibilities have now been added to the overflowing plates of Sara Marsden, our Marketing Director, and Billy Christopher Maupin, our Marketing Associate and Publications Manager.

The fourth and fifth positions to be eliminated were Adam Tiller’s job as Office Manager and Bob Albertia’s job as Group Sales Manager. Adam has been a favorite son and valued employee at Barksdale and Theatre IV for years, in many capacities. But his ultimate goal was to return to grad school. He’s a brilliant young man, and frankly, his many talents were somewhat wasted in his part-time job as Office Manager. His major responsibilities included manning the front desk as a receptionist, and accepting, recording and depositing all incoming revenue. At the top of the new year, we hope to be recruiting volunteers to fill the first of those two tasks. The financial responsibilities have now been shifted over to other employees.

Bob Albertia is one of Richmond’s theatrical cornerstones. He is and always will be irreplaceable. Bob has now retired, a privilege and opportunity that he well deserves. His group sales responsibilities have been split in half. Tony Foley is handling the aggressive sales work. AnnaMarie Epps in our box office is handling the more passive job of taking and servicing orders. No one can possibly assume Bob’s particular panache in dealing with enthusiastic group leaders. But we’ll all do the best we can, and we'll make it through.

Our hope and expectation is that we will continue to work with Bob as a volunteer providing team leadership to our Bifocals Theatre Project and working with us on a variety of other artistic projects.

The big question in everyone’s mind is, “Do the cuts stop here?” In all honestly, I don’t know. We believe we made responsible and effective decisions in a timely manner, and it is our fervent hope that no additional layoffs will be forthcoming.

But that is not a promise. The economy will do what it will do. And we will respond responsbilty. The Boards, Phil and I are addressing proactively the various financial challenges in every way we can. We will ride out this storm. And we will honor our commitment to our incredible staff to the very best of our abilities.

--Bruce Miller

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your very gracious, courteous announcement of these changes to the community at large. Clearly, the parties you've mentioned in your post reflect stalwart commitment to the Richmond performing arts, through Barksdale/Theatre IV or otherwise.

For those moving into other markets, best wishes and warmest regards where that came from. As for those staying in town and moving on to other local opportunities, we look forward to seeing your invaluable contribution elsewhere in town.

I know that the economy has had both literal and non-literal effects on the collective consciousness of where Richmond theatre is going. Certainly, we can't be naive to this situation, especially when downsizing and job elimination becomes necessary.

To all involved, please know that this current economic situation is TEMPORARY, and can only "take us down" if we allow it to...starting with the manner in which we think about it. Regardless of the variable reactions that many nevertheless have to matters ranging from casting, job changes, new management, and so forth - Richmond has, and will continue to have, a thriving, substantial arts community with enough for all. For lack of better words..."This, too, shall pass." "Where one door closes, another one opens."

Best wishes to all involved, and many thanks to all referenced in this post for your contribution to the performance medium we call home.