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    Wednesday, March 09, 2005

    Englert - More Thoughts

    I wasn’t going to comment on this anymore, but today’s PC article about Kerchner’s resignation and comments I’ve heard on the radio have brought me back in. It isn’t enough for him to go away – he has to make self-serving, disruptive statements as he goes. Sadly, that appears to be par for the course for him. Here’s the first paragraph from the PC article.

    After nearly one year as the Englert Theatre's executive director, Eric Kerchner has resigned, saying many in the organization and the community no longer shared his vision for the historic venue.

    Give me a break. The community never shared your vision. Maybe some members of the board did, but many did not. And really, if you’re coming into a situation where there has been a community effort to purchase, renovate, and open a facility, shouldn’t you be trying to share the vision of the community that conducted that effort instead of the other way around?

    "I wanted to make sure I could get the building open, then I had to assess whether everybody was on board," Kerchner said. "I just felt like everybody was not. I think the organization wanted to go in another direction, and I don't think I was the right person."

    In other words, you took the job thinking you could sway the public from what they wanted, then decided to leave when you realized you couldn’t. Nice.


    Kerchner's resignation comes at the height of the downtown theater's performance schedule, which includes renowned singers such as Leon Redbone and Greg Brown in April. Patrons are unlikely to notice any immediate change in the venue's operations, said Mike Partridge, president of the Englert's board, and the schedule is well set through fall.

    I love Leon Redbone. Really, I do. I own Leon Redbone albums and cds. I was one of about, oh, fifty people who bought tickets to see him the last time he was in Iowa City in the late 70s. When he was popular. When people knew his name. When he was still releasing new albums. But renowned? Not so much.


    "I am sure there will be quite a bit of people that will be happy to know I am leaving," Kerchner said.

    Eric? Are you lurking here?


    And from board member Matt Hayek: "Certain personnel matters just aren't appropriate for public discussion, I think that's fair to say. ... It was nothing short of a Herculean effort, but it was a stressful job. There's no doubt about that."

    This doesn’t just fall into the “Things That Make You Go Hmm” category, it falls into the “Things That Make You Go HMMMMMM!” category. But while I am sure our next poker game will be filled with speculation as to what this quote is talking about, it would be wrong to talk about it here.

    Really. It would be.

    I’m not going to do it, no matter how tempting it would be. Move along.

    Challenges in the past year included construction and finances, which resulted in considerable borrowing, as well accommodating national acts and local groups. Kerchner said outside criticism added to internal differences, making it harder for him to lead.

    "I was feeling the negativity was coming from more directions than just one," he said, also pointing to the public and the press. "I was feeling that people were losing faith in me."

    Yep. Tell people one thing, do another, and then blame everyone else for catching on to how you operate and not being happy about it. Again, nice.

    Kerchner said he began sending out his résumé a few months ago, sensing there were people involved in the project that didn't want him around any longer. He has yet to land another job, however.

    Now who thinks the horse’s head we left in his bed was a bad idea? Anyone? Anyone?

    The rest of the article is fluff stuff – nothing particularly objectionable. Or more pertinently, mockable.

    But wait! There is more from other sources. I was listening to KXIC this morning, as is my wont, and heard several news stories on this. In one Kerchner was quoted as saying that promises were made to ICCT before he came on board that were unrealistic, such as not having to pay for rehearsal space, and that ICCT members were upset when he wouldn’t honor them.

    First, there weren’t promises. There was an agreement. A contract. Some of the terms of that contract have been honored by the Englert. Some haven’t. But if push came to shove, I am confident we could prove the existence of that contract in court. Second, there was a reason that the amount we offered per ticket worked out to be so much higher than the flat rental rate. That’s because that ticket price would have included funds for rehearsal time. Finally, we were upset not because he refused to honor the terms, but because by his words and deeds he showed that he didn’t think we were a particularly worthy organization for the facility and that he didn’t think community performers in general were appropriate.

    I said this in an earlier post, I’ll say it again. If Eric had come out and said “In the first year or so we are open, we will need to rely more heavily on touring performers and higher ticket prices to ensure that we survive, but after we get our feet firmly planted we will start to open up the schedule to more local performers and open up the prices to more reasonably meet expectations” none of us would have questioned what happened. None of us. He said something similar to me on several occasions. That he wouldn’t say that to the community as a whole, particularly as the Englert started to draw some fire for the lack of local performers, is very telling. To me it says he didn’t want to say in public something that he eventually might be held accountable for saying.

    I don’t know if anyone is reading these posts beyond my usual readers, anyone like someone from the Englert Board or from the local media, but just in case, it is important to state some things. First, we don’t want to see the Englert fail. Far from it. For one thing, the only hope ICCT has of getting any return on the investment we made in the Englert (and it was an investment – we gave the money with the hope that it would help us grow and ultimately survive) is for the Englert to be a success and for us to be doing shows there. That increases our audience base, which increases our volunteer base, which increases our funding base. We need a healthy, active Englert, and we need it bad. While other community arts groups haven’t tied their future success quite so closely to the facility as ICCT, the same general thought applies. We don’t want to see the Englert fail.

    Second, we don’t think the Englert calendar should consist of nothing but community performers. The original Englert group, the original Board, the original volunteers made it clear that a mix of touring productions and community artists would be needed to make the facility viable. What we have been objecting to the past few months is the path the Englert appeared to have taken towards touring productions with local productions as an afterthought when they were thought of at all. It is becoming clear that the trip down this path was Eric’s idea, and that there was resistance within the Englert Board itself about this path. It’s a fine line, but a distinct line: You can be a community performance space that books touring productions in order to stay in business, or you can be a touring performance space that is willing to occasionally book community productions. It’s entirely about the focus. We wanted the former. He wanted the latter.

    Finally, we are realists. We, the performing artists of the community, realize that the things that were talked about when the project first started have changed. We realize that goals change, that things that once seemed realistic might not now be realistic. We understand that fact. We are willing to adapt. What we want, though, is a fair and open discussion about these things, not handshakes and press statements designed to get people off the Englert director’s back. We want results, not glad handing.

    We want the Englert to succeed, and we want to help it succeed. Let us. Don’t close us out, let us.

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