Friday, September 25, 2015

A surreal UA invasion of the performing arts

Salvador Dali might be hard-pressed to create the surreal scene erupting at the University of Akron as   the handiwork of an overzealous regime  that has set out to fix what in many instances wasn't broken. My talks with knowledgeable campus denizens who were in the UA ranks long before the Scarborough goodwrenches  arrived from Toledo  tell of the day to day horrors of trying to salvage some clarity from the woozy game plan to eliminate the school's debts.

Nothing demonstrates UA's  rocky path more than the published report that after many weeks of hazing the programs and staff at E.J.Thomas Hall the university has signed on with Playhouse Square in Cleveland to manage its Broadway road shows at the hall.  This bubbly relationship replaces  the director and staff  whose contracts expire in January.  That includes E.J.'s executive director, Dan Dahl.

The move has puzzled some of the  affected staffers.  And one person quite familiar with the operation asked a reasonable question:  If the series already had a Broadway producer, why did they replace it with another one?

As usual,  reasonable responses to reasonable questions have not been the forte of the Scarborough team. It prefers self-promoting slide shows to community groups.  

The turmoil has damaged the health of one of the area's prized possessions,  Tuesday  Musical's series at the hall.  TM has had a strong national reputation  for showcasing some of the leading classical music artists, a respected organization that apparently didn't impress the new UA regime enough to recognize its value. It messed up the preseason ticket sales, closed EJ's box office and  created a hunt-and-peck  system that discouraged many would-be ticket buyers from renewals, which are said to be down by at least 160 from last year.   

Here's what I encountered Thursday:

A call to Tuesday Musical's office  was unanswered. A call to the Akron Civic Theater box office for direction  was cautiously answered by someone who told me he was prohibited from talking.  I was told to call the Akron Symphony's office, which appeared to surprise the person at the other end of the line who also was on lockdown about the situation.  

 More frustrating calls around town to  folks to find out more about this  absurdity.   It came from the top, one source said:   Scarborough & Company.

I've had years of experience that often led me to the arts community. Even managed a couple of Elderhostels anchored by the Broadway series at  EJ.  But that was long before it was subjected to the current heavy hand that altered the course.

Oh, Thursday also was  the day when several scholarship foundation donor reps  met with  Lawrence Burns UA's import from Toledo  and now titled the vice president of advancement.    One complained to me that Burns, into a selfie, recounted his own career and seemed out of touch with some of the UA's donors, including an important foundation.

And the official reaction to the critics of the new regime's soiling of UA's reputation with its monstrous rebranding scheme?

"They don't give a shit!"  exclaimed one who sat painfully through the Burns meeting. 

Unapologetically graphic in a polite society of classical music lovers?

Perhaps.  But really, I sort of look at it that way myself.

No comments: