Friday, November 14, 2014

To Be Or Not To Be [Professional]?

I haven't paid too much attention to the goings-on at Interplayers / Lake City Playhouse / The Modern Theatre, but I have noticed with interest the consternation over the ultimate fate of Interplayers. This angst has been met largely with assurances like "Trust us," and "Please have patience," and "We're trying to save a theater here." Some of that is fair, but I also think some of the questions are eminently reasonable and deserve more careful consideration.

Part of the problem, perhaps, is that the questions have not been articulated well. Until this morning, I could not put my finger on what exactly the fundamental issue is. I think I can now. I think the question is this: Are you trying to save a professional theater company or are you attempting to salvage a theater space by turning it into a community theater? 

Those are two entirely different things. As I've pointed out before with regards to Spokane Civic Theatre, running a professional theater company, where artists are paid for their work, is a vastly different enterprise (and an exponentially more difficult one) than fostering a venue where non-professionals donate their talents and skills to the cause. Ask any business owner how much easier it would be to succeed if the labor was free and/or cheap.

Theater is unique in that way (the availability of free labor) and I don't really intend to make a value judgement here. I merely intend to say that it is extremely reasonable for stakeholders in the community to wonder what the mission of this new entity is so that they can judge for themselves whether and how they wish to contribute capital, time, talent and other forms of support.

Of course, it is not difficult to read between the lines. In the absence of a clear mission to sustain a professional theater, it is a more or less foregone conclusion that the pressure to drive down costs will lead inexorably toward the community theater model. And that's absolutely fine. We all know too well that Interplayers struggled for many years and failed many times trying to stick to its mission. But let's not beat around the bush. Either it is the mission to retain a professional mission at Interplayers or it is not.

Vague, dismissive answers about the mission of a community asset are not helpful, professional or in the best long-term interests of the organization. And one would think that the Spokane community would have learned by now that blind fealty to an unaccountable leader is a recipe for trouble. Relevant, probing questions are important and necessary in forging the kinds of institutions you want as a community.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Four Years On

PLEASE NOTE: This is obviously NOT the official site of Spokane Civic Theatre. That can be found at This site is here for the purposes of commentary and criticism. There is nothing for sale on this site, nor is the site itself for sale. If you would like to purchase tickets for Fiddler on the Roof, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Women, A Christmas Carol, The Servant of Two Masters, Orphans, Nunsensations!, Clue: The Musical, Sherlock Holmes and the Curse of the Sign of Four, Sylvia, The Music Man or any other event at Spokane Civic Theatre, please visit THIS LINK to Spokane Civic Theatre's ticketing page. 

If you're new to Civic Doody, you can catch up on things HERE.

Part I: It's Fappening

Happy anniversary! It has been exactly four years since a malicious psychopath hacked into our lives and upended our world with the all-too-willing help of Yvonne A.K. Johnson and Spokane Civic Theatre. I knew then that this incident had to be a tip-of-the-iceberg symptom of what was about to become a real cultural problem. That  was reinforced when I became aware of the  2010 documentary “Catfish” and the 2013 Manti Te’o scandal at the University of Notre Dame.

Victim of assholes, Jennifer Lawrence.
The “Fappening” (the leak of hacked nude celebrity photos) and, more recently, the “Snappening,” (the leak of thousands of hacked nude Snaphat user photos) have confirmed the suspicions of those of us who understood the implications of this trend beyond the salacious details—specifically, that the dregs of the earth are going to invade our privacy one way or another. The real questions are these: How will decent people respond? Will we encourage their bad behavior by looking at Jennifer Lawrence's nude photos? Will we punish the victims of these crimes at school and work?

Of course, none of this foresight was necessary to understand the situation that unfolded at Spokane Civic Theatre in October of 2010. The facts were abundantly clear. The most conservative possible reading of the circumstances would have gone like this: A completely unknown person with completely unknown motives emailed Civic out of the blue with a bunch of private stuff of completely unknown origin and a message implying that they should fire these employees "or else." And Civic did. Sight unseen. Facts uninvestigated. Boom. A more accurate reading (the version I told from the beginning) which would not have taken any effort to verify, was that a sick con-artist had obtained this private stuff and used it to attack us for reasons that remain unknown to this day. (The determination of Civic not to even scratch the surface for more information certainly lends narrative credence to the conspiracy theory I've referenced before - about someone from Civic being involved in the whole setup - but let's not get into that again.) 

You can certainly contend that Jennifer Lawrence, the affected Snapchat users and yours truly should never have taken those pictures in the first place, but two facts remain central: First, taking/having those photos was not illegal in any way, shape or form. Second, and more importantly, no matter how you look at any of these situations, you cannot remove from the equation the essential fact that some terrible asshole(s) did something malicious and illegal to hurt other human beings.

Consider this analogy: I do not personally like guns. I think there should be strict gun control laws to regulate the purchase and use of firearms and that quite a few of them should be made illegal. Let's say someone were to sabotage the gun of a law-abiding gun owner in such a way that it would backfire and injure the shooter while he was taking target practice, I would not for a single, solitary second even consider condemning the victim. That would be absurd. It doesn't matter how much I don't like guns. The gun owner in this story was minding his own business, doing something perfectly legal and did not deserve to be injured by the malicious act of a third-party. Was he engaging in an activity that had the potential to...ahem, backfire? Yes, but in this case, it only did so because of the malevolent actions of an outside force.

The only picture I could find that was relevant to
both my analogy and my situation.
So the question you have to ask yourself is whether you want the standard to be that you must, in all of your actions, public and private, account for the possibility of attack by malicious outsiders. Is that the kind of society we want to live in? If so, then by all means condemn away and don't come crying when your decision to walk down the street to the grocery store with cash in your pocket gets you mugged and robbed. 

If not, then it is not enough to be apathetic. Apathy is a concession to the attacker. If, in the above analogy, I were to say "Meh...I would never have a gun in the first place so I don't feel sorry for the guy," that would be an affront to basic principles of morality. The same goes for these invasions of privacy and subsequent illegal sharing of ill-gotten goods. Either you're outraged or you're part of the problem.

Part II: The Johnson/Civic Settlement

I'll be totally honest about this: I was, in many ways, looking forward to the day Johnson's suit was settled or dismissed or otherwise closed because I've been promised repeatedly by Bob Francis and Larry Wooley that once they got Johnson's suit out of the way, Spokane Civic Theatre would be ready and able to address my situation. They were very explicit about that. Larry, in particular, said that it had become clear that "bad stuff happened" and that they were definitely going to "do something to make it right." This, of course, was when they were trying to butter me up for one reason or another (e.g. to talk to their attorneys, to stay quiet about something or, as you may remember, to get me to publish some extremely dark and damaging information about Yvonne A.K. Johnson). It remains to be seen whether they will be men of their word.

When I got the news, however, my system went a little haywire. I mean, imagine...just try to imagine. Put yourself in my shoes. It's been four years (almost to the day) since my termination. And now it appears that a settlement has been reached with Yvonne Johnson — almost certainly a confidential settlement that granted her some significant amount of money to avoid going through discovery and trial. Now, one can only guess as to the amount, but if I was a betting man, I'd put the over-under somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000. It just doesn't seem possible, based on the amount she's spent on legal representation alone, that she'd have agreed to settle for less than that. Again, that is pure, unadulterated speculation. It could have been more, but I seriously doubt it could have been less.

I suppose I could be off totally base. Wooley and Francis did talk a lot about financial impropriety and even moral impropriety and repeatedly implied that they had caught her red-handed in some act(s) that would make her termination bullet-proof from a liability standpoint. Maybe they finally revealed those details in the early stages of discovery and Johnson shut the suit down, but that doesn't really jive with my general impressions and research about how this went down. It looks to me like Civic's attorney's hoped to get the case dismissed on summary judgment and when that failed they made an offer.

In all honesty...I don't care what she got or even that she got it at all. That's not my business or my problem. What I do have a problem with is this basic set of deeply disturbing facts:

  • Yvonne A.K. Johnson came to Spokane, wrestled your theatre away from you, ran it with an iron fist for seven years, lured me and my family here, destroyed us (and hurt others) — and then walked away with something approaching $500,000 (that's half a million dollars) in salary, plus whatever she got out of this settlement. So, Yvonne A.K. Johnson's Civic experience netted her an amount pretty darn close to $1 million. 
  • We moved to Spokane and were almost immediately terminated by Spokane Civic Theatre. I was falsely called a criminal and was falsely accused of being a danger to children (under hilariously ironic circumstances, as it turns out) and was hung out to dry, having netted approximately $5,000. 

(To put a finer point on those numbers, in the time since I was fired, Johnson earned something around $250,000 plus whatever settlement she received. So we're talking maybe half a million for her. I, on the other hand, have earned about $50,000 - total - over that same period of time.)

So while I'm sure it feels like you've finally "defeated" the Wicked Witch of the [Inland North] West, that's an awfully rosy analysis of what happened to be declaring too much "ding dong" the bitch is...well, gone. I mean, unless by "defeated" you mean "paid a whole bunch of money to wreak a whole lot of havoc and hurt a whole lot of people."

Now that we know Civic couldn't even fire her competently enough to avoid this settlement, one might also say that I'm the only person who has ever been able to hold her accountable at all. You're welcome. Alas, while you're fiddling away on roofs, I am now left to continue battling Ms. Johnson in court (for what will likely be at least another year or two) over a case that Spokane Civic Theatre's board donated the seed money to launch. 

So I guess the question is whether that's a basic set of facts you can live with. Maybe you can. Maybe you can go back about your business and pretend that it's all in the past and it's time for everyone to move on. I've certainly never been given a reason to expect any sort of collective, principled action, so it's probably pretty foolish of me to even raise the possibility of anyone doing anything about it now. But by golly, if ever there was a time, it sure seems like this is it. It seems like this is the time to say "This is our theater and we want to know when we're going to fix the ugliness that unfolded here."

I try mightily to see the point of view that there was nothing to be done four years ago, when a principled stand by the cast of Buddy or White Christmas might have changed the course of events. It's hard, but I try. It involves reminding myself that there was a terrifying and terrible force of nature standing in the way of everything, always. That obstacle has been removed. Nothing now stands in the way of doing the right thing...unless you allow petty things like stubbornness, selfishness and cowardice to stand where Yvonne A.K. Johnson once stood.

This is the moment at which this all can and should go away once and for all. Johnson's ridiculous suit against me (which Civic donated the seed money to launch) can go on for another year or two (and it will) leaving me no choice but to fight on — or Civic can do the right thing and make bring this all to a conclusion for everyone by making us whole and allowing me to walk away from that battle.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Belated Court of Appeals Notes

PLEASE NOTE: This is obviously NOT the official site of Spokane Civic Theatre. That can be found at This site is here for the purposes of commentary and criticism. There is nothing for sale on this site, nor is the site itself for sale. If you would like to purchase tickets for Fiddler on the Roof, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Women, A Christmas Carol, The Servant of Two Masters, Orphans, Nunsensations!, Clue: The Musical, Sherlock Holmes and the Curse of the Sign of Four, Sylvia, The Music Man or any other event at Spokane Civic Theatre, please visit THIS LINK to Spokane Civic Theatre's ticketing page. 

If you're new to Civic Doody, you can catch up on things HERE.

I have some additional thoughts about the settlement of Johnson v. Spokane Civic Theatre, but those will have to wait a few more days. In the meantime, I've finally gotten clearance to post the following about the Court of Appeals hearing that happened on September 10th...

So, the Court of Appeals hearing happened. It’ll almost surely be at least another month before a ruling comes down. I’d be lying if I said the tone of the hearing made me overly optimistic about the leanings of the court. To be fair, it is new legal territory and the law is pretty vague. Obviously, I think I should prevail based on everything I know about the circumstances of the case. But the court can only consider that which is in the record. Ironically and unfortunately, Johnson’s case was so poorly litigated the first time around that we did not even know what statements Johnson was claiming to be defamatory (likely because there are none). In any event, we submitted a wide variety of materials—and the trial court agreed that the blog was on a matter of public concern. 

It seems to me now that some of what did not make it into the record would have been very useful information for the appellate judges regarding the question of “public concern” as it relates to the specific events of and notoriety surrounding my termination. (They did not know, for example, that my termination was considered newsworthy enough to warrant a page in the Inlander…a fact that almost certainly would have affected the calculus of that determination.) 
Soooo….I would not be surprised if the ruling was overturned. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was affirmed. I’m not saying it’s 50/50, but rather that it’s all but impossible to guess what the result will be. I’m just happy that it is being considered by a panel of highly esteemed judges who will, no doubt, issue a thoughtful ruling on the merits of the case they were presented. 
In the meantime, I’m bracing myself for the disappointment of never seeing that $10,000 check from Yvonne A.K. Johnson – you know, the one over which she was found in contempt of court because she did not pay and did not post bond a while back? That would have been nice. And it still might happen. 
And that brings me around to reminding you what’s at stake here. This ruling has nothing whatsoever to do with the merits of Yvonne A.K. Johnson’s suit against me for defamation and tortious interference. This ruling will only decide whether the court was correct in granting the anti-SLAPP motion and the corresponding monetary penalties associated with it under RCW 4.24.525. And that decision will hinge almost entirely on the very narrow question of whether or not my speech (speech which, so long as it is true, is protected by the first amendment regardless) rose to the level of “public concern,” and was thus protected by the anti-SLAPP statute. (The Court didn’t seem terribly interested in the question of whether Johnson would have been able to show a probability of prevailing on her claims, which was a secondary question under consideration.) 
If I win….well, one can only assume that Johnson will appeal to the State Supreme Court and this will drag on for another couple of years. 
If I lose…we’re simply back to square one, with a case that could just as easily get dismissed on summary judgment because it was so meritless to begin with. Johnson will have spent tens of thousands of dollars just to get back down to the Superior Court with the same totally baseless case that Spokane Civic Theatre helped launch with initial funding. Then again, I could also appeal to the State Supreme Court. 
Whatever happens, it’s pretty staggering to consider that no matter what happens, there is not a single, solitary scenario in which Civic Doody is shut down—or even substantially altered. Johnson’s attorney cited only one—ONE—statement alleged to be false. (And yet she sought to shut the entire blog down.) So the very best they can hope for is that that one sentence (out of how many??) would be removed. But it won’t, because it isn’t false. Johnson’s goal at the outset was to shut down the whole thing—and she’s spent untold tens of thousands of dollars for the hope of possibly, maybe, but probably not, having one sentence removed. Amazing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Case Closed

My sources are confirming what I found in the Superior Court record just a little while ago. A "motion to dismiss with prejudice," was entered yesterday. I'm told that the "case has been resolved" and "neither side can comment."

Another source (on Civic's board): "The matter is resolved. Period. End."

This obviously means that the case was settled. Most likely, this means that Johnson was offered some amount of money to walk away. It could also, in theory, mean that information was uncovered in the discovery process that prompted Johnson to walk away rather than revealing sensitive information. But that doesn't really sound like her, does it?

I had a feeling this was going down (as I hinted on the Civic Doody Facebook page). Johnson was spotted in town right around the time that my site analytics showed that terms like "settlement" and "resolved" had been used in connection with "Johnson" and "Civic."

So it sure looks like Johnson got some money out of Civic. Four years later, I haven't even gotten a retraction of my termination letter. Or an apology for calling me a criminal and insinuating (under mind-bogglingly ironic circumstances) that I was a danger to children. Or anything...

Stay tuned for details as they develop.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Q: Why did the Luddite cross the information superhighway?

A: He didn’t.

Okay, so it was a trick question. It was also not an entirely accurate answer. Most technophobes interact with the world of information technology countless times per day—because it makes their lives easier. Very few things we do nowadays short of hiking through Yellowstone are disconnected from the vast web of data and electronics that are rapidly becoming the primary infrastructure of modern society. And yet, as is often the case when it comes to sex, apparently all the rules are different in the eyes of some people.

If your mail is taken from the trash, or your hard drive hacked, or your wallet stolen, and the obtained information or materials are used to steal your identity or make fraudulent charges on your credit card or stalk you—no one will say “Well, you shouldn’t have had credit cards, or a wallet, or put your trash on the curb.” No…they will rightly condemn the actions of the perpetrator of the crime.

Dare, however, to engage in the commitment of erotic images to anything other than your own mind—as human beings have been doing for as long as we’ve been capable of putting chisel to rock and brush to easel—and the same crime somehow becomes justifiable to a certain kind of asshole.

Now listen…if you’re the kind of person who is appalled by the idea that anyone would ever take a nudie picture, well…I’m not going to run the terrible risk of adding any excitement to your life by arguing with you about that. Go forth and have no fun.

If, on the other hand, you see no problem with participating in an activity as old as written history itself—an activity, mind you, that has, at various points in time, been revered as art—then you cannot argue that this isolated aspect of human life should somehow be exempted from the transition of nearly all human activity and interaction onto the grid.

Our lives have been digitized—our public lives and our private lives. You can view this as a good or bad thing, but your opinion will not change the fact that malicious theft is malicious theft, whether it occurs in your bedroom or in the cloud; whether it is perpetrated by an acquaintance, a family member, a disgruntled ex or a complete stranger. Your stuff is your stuff. People who take your stuff and use your stuff for their own benefit are the problem. Period.

Righteous indignation is all well and good, but guess what? Your high school and college-age kids have naked selfies. They’re sending them to other people. Those photos could get hacked or stolen or sold or inappropriately distributed without your child’s permission. They’re also sending personal emails and texts to friends, lovers and family members that have no business being seen by prying eyes.

So you can be all morally superior about Jennifer Lawrence or you can protect your children’s futures by turning your ire toward the appropriate target. You can dismiss this episode as people getting “what they deserved,” or you can take a stand for fundamental human decency and privacy.

You can protect the victims of these disgusting acts—or you can throw them under the bus, as Spokane Civic Theatre did when it happened to us.