Sunday, February 22, 2015

Is Spokane Civic Theatre Broke?

That's what I'm hearing. I obviously can't vouch for the extent to which this is the case. That could be minor or major hyperbole, but all indicators point to the situation being dire.

I heard several days ago that Larry Wooley and Bob Mielbrecht were no longer on the Board of Directors. I confirmed this on Civic's website, but I didn't know why. After some digging around, I was informed that Wooley was "kicked off" the board. I'm told he spent over $200,000 in five months and signed a four-year lease on the new costume shop with no exit clause, leaving Civic with virtually no cash on hand. I was told that Jason Heppler, Wooley's right-hand man, was removed from the board as well, but his name continues to appear on the theater's website.

I've also been told that Marnie Rohrholm is out as managing director, but for all the right reasons: I'm told she resigned so that a member of the technical staff could stay on-board and keep health insurance that is critical for his family at the moment. (Rohrholm, too, remains on the website as of this writing.)

As for the new costume shop at 125 S. Cowley (apparently now known as the Little Shop of Rentals), I'm told it is already being vacated and relocated back to Spokane Civic Theatre, despite the lack of an exit clause from the four-year lease. The facility opened just this past October.

Gosh, I sure hate to be the type of person to say "I told you so," but if this is all true — and I have no reason to believe it's not — I don't really see any way around it. I've been warning for years of behind-the-scenes shenanigans that could only lead to continued disfunction and decline, but everyone was too busy ooh-ing and aah-ing and patting themselves on the back over the ousting of Yvonne A.K. Johnson that they didn't want to hear it. Everybody just wanted to get back to their regularly scheduled programming without acknowledging or addressing the underlying rot.

One could be forgiven for thinking that I am suggesting that this might not all be going so poorly if Civic had just done the right thing with regards to my grievance. I am not. I do, however, think it is self-evident that an organization doing things the right way would have done just that. In other words, Civic's failure to address this situation even after Johnson's departure was a good indicator of how it would operate on any number of levels.

Civic has been plagued for too long by people who are spineless and/or completely self-obsessed. No one wanted to make hard decisions or sacrifices. And nature abhors a vacuum. When problems are not addressed head-on, with integrity and courage, one of two things happens: either they fester (as Civic's problems did while Yvonne A.K. Johnson ruled with impunity for years) or opportunists swoop in and use the situation to their advantage (as Wooley & Co. did back in 2013).

Neither has had optimal results.

Ah, well...I tried. And obviously it is too early to have any idea how this will turn out. But it will be a real shame if more people are put out of work and a community asset is lost to the abject failure of so many sad, little people. And just think how delighted Yvonne A.K. Johnson would be to hear that Civic floundered and foundered without her...

Anyway, I'll keep you posted if I learn anything new. One last thing: I noticed as today that Civic Doody had just ticked past 88,000 page views:


Friday, February 6, 2015

Lies, Damned Lies and Eristics [sic]

PLEASE NOTE: This is obviously NOT the official site of Spokane Civic Theatre. That can be found at www.spokanecivictheatre.com. 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.

***In philosophy and rhetoriceristic (from Eris, the ancient Greek goddess of chaos, strife, and discord) refers to argument that aims to successfully dispute another's argument, rather than searching for truth. -Wikipedia
I often use too many words to say something relatively simple. My last post was a pretty good example of that. In retrospect, perhaps a simple thought experiment would have sufficed. So let's do that now, and [relatively] briefly.

I'm going to ask you to imagine that I had, in the course of writing various posts over a period of some time, made some or all of the following statements. Mind you, these statements are 100% fabricated falsehoods. They have no basis in reality whatsoever as far as my knowledge is concerned. I'm asking you to consider what would have been the reaction if I had ever published these entirely fictional assertions about the people who are in a position to retract the entirely fictional assertions made about me by the organization they represent.

[Okay, so the whole point of this was to make some obviously false statements about real people so they could possibly find a way to relate, but I couldn't bring myself to leave actual names of relevant board and staff members even though removing them severely dilutes my point...and not an insignificant amount of comedy. I would invite you to plug the name of board or administration member into the blanks below. A fun game might be to guess which fictional statement I originally attached to which real person. You can find a complete list at the bottom of this post.]


  • ______________ likes little boys and is a lifetime member of NAMBLA 
  • ______________ is embezzling money from Spokane Civic Theatre 
  • ______________ is a closeted homosexual who patronizes male prostitutes regularly
  • ______________ is a raging alcoholic who sexually harasses female staff and volunteers
  • ______________ tortures puppies in her basement
  • ______________ has a micropenis
  • ______________ is a Nazi war criminal hiding in America
  • ______________ has a penchant for underage, transgendered, Asian prostitutes
  • ______________ is addicted to prescription painkillers 

Again, every last one of those despicable statements is absolutely, incontrovertibly, unquestionably false. (And again, this disclaimer is not really necessary now that I have removed the names.) I am not asserting any of them as fact. I am, in fact, asserting all of them as complete and total bullshit. They are all lies. They are all vile, disgusting lies of the sort that Civic told about me when I was terminated. They are all the sorts of things that would be very convenient (or satisfying, if you're a crazy person) to say about the people who run the institution that did such damage to me. Just as it must have been very convenient (or satisfying) for the people who ran that same institution to disseminate vile, disgusting lies about about me.

If I had ever published any of those statements as assertions of fact, the victim(s) of my defamatory words would certainly have sought all available recourse against me. It is hard to imagine that they would stop at anything to undo the damage—and I doubt they'd be happy with anything short of a full-throated retraction and apology. And they would be right to seek that. No one should have such vile, disgusting lies spread about them and left hanging in the air with ramifications that can be devastating. (If they could afford it, they might seek legal recourse. I couldn't.)

And yet, they would like me to simply swallow the travesty that the organization they represent perpetrated against me. But while I have had to fight as an individual, from the outside, they have the luxury of hiding behind the curtain of an organization. They appear to be comfortable dismissing any personal obligation to right the wrong, even though they are the only people who can do anything about it.

And this is what disgusts me these days. These sad, little people have abdicated all personal responsibility and decided that they have no duty whatsoever to restore and uphold the integrity of the organization and repair the damage they did to a family that was bamboozled by the appearance of integrity when they took the leap to come here. They've attempted to recreate the appearance of integrity without cleaning out the rot.

End of rant. Now, a couple other miscellaneous things...

There is still nothing to report about Yvonne A.K. Johnson's appeal of the SLAPP ruing against her (in a suit that Spokane Civic Theatre provided startup funding for). It has been over five months since the hearing, which is much longer than we expected. While this doesn't necessarily change my assessment of the likely outcome, there's really no way to read this as bad news. It could mean that the justices minds weren't necessarily as made up as we feared.

Also, you should watch this video from The Guardian, which is about the theft and dissemination of private photos by psychopathic miscreants.

[WARNING: This video contains tasteful nudity.]


Here is Spokane Civic Theatre's Administration and Board of Directors:
Managing Director: Marnie Rorholm   
Artistic Director: Keith Dixon 
  • President : Larry Wooley 
  • Vice President : Jason Coleman-Heppler
  • Secretary : Julie Watts
  • Treasurer : Bob Francis 
  • Member-at-Large : Barry Jones 
  • Honorary Life Member : Margot Ogden 
  • Board Members:
    • Janice Abramson
    • Kathie Doyle-Lipe
    • Robert Mielbrecht
    • Ron Rector
    • Ted Redman

Monday, January 5, 2015

Protecting the Children (from hypocrisy and other bad stuff)

PLEASE NOTE: This is obviously NOT the official site of Spokane Civic Theatre. That can be found at www.spokanecivictheatre.com. 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 sometimes forget to lead with the important stuff. So let me say right off the bat that I have discovered that Spokane Civic Theatre currently employs an individual who had his teaching license revoked by the State of Washington for a seriously inappropriate relationship with one of his high school students. Now let me tell you why this is important...

Preface
My child turned eight years old recently and it hit me that I've been fighting this battle for half of his life now. I'm quite sure some of you are saying "Well, that's your own damn fault..let it go already." All I can say to that is this: If you've never been falsely called a criminal and a danger to children by an organization trying to cover its own bad actions, you can't know anything about how long you'd fight on general principle to have that travesty undone. (If you also happen to lack general principle you'd know even less about it.)

And no, it wasn't just Yvonne A.K. Johnson and Michael Muzatko and Jim Humes saying those things. Their orchestrated campaign to destroy me was undertaken on behalf of Spokane Civic Theatre. Those individuals are all gone now...and the only entity that can undo their damage is Spokane Civic Theatre. The fact of the original perpetrators' absence does nothing to absolve Civic of the harmful actions—and until Civic resolves outstanding issues, the entire organization will live under that shadow.

Also, I found out in November that I would be losing my job at the end of the year. (And for all the right reasons, I might add: Essentially, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act rendered my job obsolete by allowing tens of thousands of low-income, uninsured Washingtonians to get health insurance.) I have thus been in the process of applying for new jobs, which means that I constantly have to indicate whether I have ever been fired and then wonder whether my "yes" answer will affect my chances. I shouldn't have to respond affirmatively to that question and everyone knows it. Civic should have fixed that by now. They have not. So—and I cannot emphasize this enough—as far as I'm concerned, Civic's attack on my life is ongoing in a very real way. 

I started this post way back in August when I came into possession of a bombshell piece of information about a current employee of Spokane Civic Theatre. I wrestled for a long time with the implications of writing about it. I talked to people I trust about how to handle this. I contemplated all of the angles and tried very, very hard to talk myself out of publishing it...because the truth is that I don't want to. I'd really rather not. 


Desperate to avoid this post—and at the urging of a trusted confidant—I made one last-ditch effort to help Civic help itself and protect one of its current employees in the process. I could not, of course, tell them why I was making this request. I could not hold this information over their heads as a threat. That would have been blackmail. Now, in all fairness, they've been amenable to blackmail in the past (see: my termination), but that's just not my style. So I simply asked them politely to do the right thing. I formally requested that they make a minor administrative decision to remedy this ongoing problem. 

Here is the letter I wrote to Marnie Rorholm, the Managing Director of Spokane Civic Theatre: 


November 20, 2014  
Dear Ms. Rorholm,  
As you are undoubtedly aware, it has been over four years since my termination from Spokane Civic Theatre. As you may or may not be aware, my termination was effectuated without even the slightest investigation into the circumstances. I was given no chance to respond to the allegations that precipitated my termination and my separation letter contains numerous falsehoods. Furthermore, when asked by the State of Washington to provide evidence of the allegations contained in my separation letter for the purposes of investigating my claim for unemployment, Civic did not respond and the State subsequently found no wrongdoing on my part. 
I think it is pretty well understood by everyone with knowledge of the situation that my termination was just one of many bad acts undertaken by Civic’s former Executive Artistic Director, Yvonne A.K. Johnson. Still, she did not act alone: other representatives of the theater actively aided her attempt to assassinate my character by calling me a danger to children and a criminal. Their actions were undertaken on behalf of the institution itself and have had a lasting and negative effect on my life and job prospects. Those individuals are gone, but the effects of their actions remain—and the only entity that can intervene to correct them is Spokane Civic Theatre.  
I find myself now about to lose my job at the end of the year due to a loss of funding at the organization I work for. As such, I am applying for jobs and lamenting the need to answer “Yes,” when asked “Have you ever been fired from a job?” Other than my unjustified and unceremonious firing from Civic, I have not ever been fired from a job. I should not have to answer thusly.  
With new management firmly in place, I believe this is the time to right a serious wrong by expunging from my employment record any indication that I was fired for cause. I respectfully request that you take whatever actions are necessary to modify my file accordingly and provide written confirmation of the changes that have been made. I also respectfully request that this process be conducted as expeditiously as possible due to my current work circumstances. 

It seemed an eminently reasonable request to make now that new leadership has been established (Ms. Rorholm and Keith Dixon, in particular) and Johnson's lawsuit against Civic is in the past. I was hopeful. Civic could very easily have done the right thing (as Larry Wooley and Bob Francis assured me they would once Johnson's suit had been disposed of). It would have been a simple matter of decency, honor and a minimal amount of moral fortitude. 

Instead, as they've always done, they took the coward's way out. Here is the letter I received from Civic's attorney:


Thank you for your letter of November 20, 2014. Please be advised that this office represents the Spokane Civic Theatre regarding this matter. Please direct any and all further communications to my attention. 
The current policy at the Spokane Civic Theatre should address your concern. Like many organizations, the Theatre does not distribute information about a former employee's performance or the nature of a former employee's departure from the Theatre. If a potential employer were to contact the Theatre to seek information about your previous employment, the Theatre will simply provide confirmation that you were, in fact, employed, and the dates of your employment. 
I trust this explanation addresses any concern you might have with respect to your employment record.

Well, suffice it to say, that explanation did not, in fact, address my concerns. I responded thusly:


I am in receipt of your letter of December 17, 2014. Thank you for the timely response. I am grateful for the information regarding Civic’s current policy. This sets my mind at ease somewhat as I continue to apply for jobs. Unfortunately, it fails to address a much larger concern. Specifically, representatives of Spokane Civic Theatre labeled me a criminal and a danger to children in public speeches and on government documents—all in direct relation to my termination. As such, anything less than a written retraction would clearly be morally indefensible unless and until your client would like to present evidence demonstrating the veracity of those statements.  
In other words, either I was a criminal and a danger to children who deserved to be fired...or I was not. If the latter is the case (which it is), then it is incumbent upon Spokane Civic Theatre to correct the record formally. Your letter somewhat disconcertingly implies that the theater’s current policy would grant full protection to actual criminals and endanger-ers of children, at least insofar as their employment record was concerned.  
As there is nothing specific being negotiated and no legal action pending, I do not anticipate that further discussion will be necessary or productive, but I thought it important to provide the courtesy of a response. If I do not hear from you by the end of the day on Monday, December 22, 2014, I will assume that this correspondence has concluded.

I forgot to make one very important point in my reply: Civic's policy does absolutely nothing—zip, zilch, nada—to alter the fact that when asked on a job application "Have you ever been fired from a job?" I must answer "Yes." But also, please pay particular attention to that second-to-last paragraph. Their position seems to be "We still think you're a criminal and a danger to children, but mum's the word. Cool?"

So here we are. Civic could and should have done the right thing. They did not. This leaves me with no choice but to continue defending my own reputation by pointing out the absurd hypocrisy of their continued assault on my life.



Hypocrisy
What kind of people do you employ????? The attached [materials] are outrageous. Do I need to go to a higher authority......or maybe the press. Megan Wilson.
Remember that? That's the text of the anonymous blackmail message received by Spokane Civic Theatre that precipitated my termination and attempted character assasination. Well...I am now forced to ask the same question...

What kind of people do you employ?????

Information came into my possession recently concerning a long-time employee of the theater who had his teaching license revoked in 2007 because of an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year old student at a high school where he was employed. (I would like to add that I did not go digging for this information; it was brought to me by a concerned member of the community.) 


According to the complaint, this included advances made during the 1995-1996 school year. Upon graduation, but before the girl turned 18, according to the "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of law set forth" in the "Final Order of Revocation" [of his teaching license] he:

…Told [her] that he loved her; made inappropriate comments to [her]; kissed her; groped [her] breasts and genitals; kissed [her]; exposed himself to [her]; provided [her] with alcoholic beverages; and had sexual intercourse with her.

From a newspaper in the area (in 2005):

“The woman, now 27 and living in the Bellevue area, alleges that they began having sex after she turned 18, and that an affair continued until she was a junior in college, [her attorney] said.”

[Her attorney] said his client’s main concern was to prevent another minor from having the same experience, which, according to her counselor, has interfered with her ability to have successful relationships.
 
 “She was still a minor at the time this took place,” [her attorney] said. “We felt she was taken advantage of by a person in authority.”

This happened almost 20 years ago. It appears to have been an isolated incident. In the best possible light, this employee may well be a completely decent human being who simply made a very poor series of choices quite a few years ago. Washington’s age of consent is 16, so it appears that no laws were broken. 

The point, for my purposes anyway, is that something highly inappropriate was alleged—something inappropriate enough to warrant revocation of his teaching license and resignation from the school ten years after the alleged events; certainly something significantly more inappropriate than the allegations that resulted in my termination from Civic. Actually, I guess something can't be "significantly more inappropriate" than something that wasn't inappropriate at all in the first place, but you see my point.

Do I think this employee should be fired? Absolutely not. I believe in redemption, reform, second chances. I’m sure this was a terribly painful episode for his family and I do not wish additional pain for them. (That is why I will not publish the employee's name here. I don't pretend that leaving out his name will prevent some degree of personal pain. His identity is already know by some and will surely not remain a secret for long among the immediate community. I can, though, at least attempt to spare him the awfulness of a "Google problem" as a result of this—a problem I was not spared. To make clear that there is no blackmail happening here, I must belabor the point and say that there is nothing I want or would accept from this employee. I will never publish or publicly reveal his name.)

But here's the thing: He was and continues to be employed by an organization that caused terrible, terrible pain to my family by firing me to "protect the children." We'll never know if he could have played a constructive role in helping us at the time, because as far as I can tell, he never tried. In fact, it is my understanding that he became a staunch defender and ally of Yvonne A.K. Johnson for some period of time after my termination. I understand the "keep your head down" approach, but it has its downsides. Keep your mouth shut about wrongdoing by the organization you work for and it just might come back to bite you in the ass one day—especially if your ass is exposed. 



A Self-Inflicted Wound 
Remember, as I've said many times before, that I have no choice but to regard the institution as a single entity against which my grievance must be lodged. This is how corporations work. It is Spokane Civic Theatre that unjustly terminated me, and called me a criminal and a danger to children, in public and on government documents. It is Spokane Civic Theatre that has never backtracked one iota from the moral outrage that sparked those events. 

Civic's official opinion—tacitly, if not openly—is that my termination was perfectly justified. They've never retracted, redacted, repudiated, expunged or otherwise apologized for the travesty that was my termination. From where I'm sitting, silence on these issues constitutes continued endorsement of them—and it sets an extremely high moral bar for Civic to live up to with regard to the moral character of its employees.

Now...I would be a real asshole if I was divulging information that Civic did not already possess. (I would also be arguably engaged in tortious interference, except for the fact that everyone at Civic is an "at will" employee, so it probably wouldn't even apply if they didn't already have this information, which they do.) If Civic had no knowledge of this situation whatsoever, they could not rightfully be called hypocrites. Buuuuut, they do...

"How could they have known?" you may ask. Well, first of all, it shouldn't matter. They should have done the right thing by now regardless of whether or not they had a scandal to hide. Nevertheless, I have confirmed that board president Larry Wooley has known about this all along. Larry Wooley was not president of the Civic board at the time of my termination, but he is now and has been for a year and a half.

And so the only response I can have to Civic's phony continuing position on my termination is one of phony outrage that they have not yet terminated the employee I am referring to, despite having this information in their possession. Because, as you can plainly see, it would not be rational to simultaneously hold the positions that I should have been terminated while he should not be/have been. And the very instant anyone in the leadership at Spokane Civic Theatre was in possession of this knowledge, it became a liability for the entire organization because of the obvious hypocrisy involved.

In other words, if my continued employment was such a dire threat to Civic's existence, then surely Employee X's continued employment is too. And surely it is my civic duty to alert the community to this crisis. Right? 

Here's another way of thinking about this: Failing to acknowledge that my termination was absolutely wrong is the same as saying "We invite all people with adverse information about our employees to share that information with us so that we can do whatever it is you're asking us to do on the basis of that information." Civic has never admitted that they were wrong to respond to the demands of a malicious blackmailer. As such, they have cultivated an atmosphere in which this should be expected.

It's a shame we have to play these games. Alas, here we are...

We must now examine the possible range of positions Civic could, with moral and intellectual consistency, legitimately hold with regard to these two different situations. For convenience, I will refer to the other guy as "Employee X":
  • Civic could, I suppose, with moral and intellectual consistency, hold that both Employee X and myself are/were unfit to work at Civic—though, in my case anyway, this would set an impossibly high moral bar, especially for a theater.
  • Civic could, with moral and intellectual consistency, hold that both Employee X and myself are and have always been fit to work at Civic and that I should never have been fired.
  • Civic could, with moral and intellectual consistency, hold that Employee X is not fit to work at Civic while I am and always was.
What Civic cannot do, with any semblance of moral or intellectual consistency, is hold the position that I was unfit to work at Civic (and should have been fired from that position two months after moving across the country to take it) while Employee X has been and continues to be perfectly fit for the job. If Civic's reputation was in grave danger over the allegations that led to my termination (which it was not), it would certainly be in danger over Employee X's past (though it probably is not). If the children need to be protected from me (which they do not), they certainly need to be protected from Employee X (though they probably do not). 

NOTE: Washington State investigated and documented the actions described above and revoked Employee X's teaching certificate...literally to protect the children. Washington State also investigated my case and found absolutely no wrongdoing on my part.


What is so terribly, terribly frustrating and tragic about this is that if they'd just done that one little thing—retract and apologe for the termination letter and subsequent statements insinuating that I was a criminal and a danger to children—a  tiny, symbolic gesture—I wouldn't be writing this right now. If Spokane Civic Theatre had cleared up it's own internal hypocrisy just in principlewith no money having changed hands (an important point, given the fact that they like to insist that I'm some kind of "gold digger")—I would be a real asshole for publishing this. And I wouldn't have...because I'm not an asshole. But they haven't. And I have to wonder if the employee in question has ever urged them to.

I hate this. It is stupid and totally unnecessary. Healing should have started the day Yvonne A.K. Johnson was fired from Spokane Civic Theater. It did not. Civic is merely trying to pretend that era never happened. But it did. I was there. And now another employee has been wounded by Civic's cowardice and hypocrisy.


Here is the Spokane Civic Theatre Administration and Board of Directors:

Managing Director: Marnie Rorholm   
Artistic Director: Keith Dixon 
  • President : Larry Wooley 
  • Vice President : Jason Coleman-Heppler
  • Secretary : Julie Watts
  • Treasurer : Bob Francis 
  • Member-at-Large : Barry Jones 
  • Honorary Life Member : Margot Ogden 
  • Board Members:
    • Janice Abramson
    • Kathie Doyle-Lipe
    • Robert Mielbrecht
    • Ron Rector
    • Ted Redman


  • Chairman : Wendy Klaue
  • Endowment Members : 
    • William Fix
    • Robert Mielbrecht
    • Robert Morgan
    • Robert Ogden
    • Charles Shannon

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 www.spokanecivictheatre.com. 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.