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Response to last week’s 3 Flat Rock Playhouse columns


By Robert Danos –

There were three columns in last week’s issue of the Hendersonville Tribune regarding the Flat Rock Playhouse. Two of those writers did a disservice to the readers.

First, let’s take Mr. Steve Carlisle’s ongoing FRP columns.

Mr. Carlisle has been a critic of the FRP since 2009, with his fire aimed at the new Producing Director Vincent Marini. Fair enough, right?

Well, yes, except for a glaring conflict of interest which he has not shared with the readers of the Tribune, nor apparently its editor. That conflict is that Mr. Carlisle also applied for the position that Mr. Marini now holds but he was rejected, and his diatribes against the “management” haven’t stopped since. Maybe his opinions were never colored by his losing out to the object of his pen or maybe every column is meant to undermine the man who beat him out.

The second problematic column was the front page’s “Open Letter” by an actor named Michael Edwards.

Mr. Edwards sets up his piece by stating that he has “not been asked back to Flat Rock since 2009 since I expressed my nonsupport of the current management.”

That is false. Mr. Edwards has not appeared at the Playhouse since 2009 because he refused to have to audition for a part. To the actors there at the time he seemed genuinely shocked that he should have to. In fact many of those same actors also had disagreements with the new head honcho and even asked to be considered for the job themselves. They however have continued to appear at FRP to this day.

Mr. Edwards then states that employees at the Playhouse “lie” when they have described him as “retired” or “not available” when anyone asked about his absence. He should thank them. The honest answer of “he wouldn’t audition like the rest of us” would have been less kind.

Now on to the meat of the matter – the unbiased points raised in the third column, by Publisher Mark White, regarding business plans, show selections, etc…

I start with a question – why are top notch businessmen such as Dave Adams, Jeff Miller and Bud Hunter working so hard to get the FRP on solid long term footing again?

The answer is simple: economics. If the Playhouse goes down (taking 60,000 out-of-county visitors a year with it), it will mean the loss of more than $10 million a year that it pumps into our economy.

The huge pump of tourism-driven sales tax dollars is one of the primary reasons we are able to maintain a property tax rate lower than almost every county in the state of similar size.

My job for the past 21 years has been working in the summer camp business where you become very familiar with tourism-related economic impact studies. So how has Henderson County been able to build and sustain such an economically powerful year-round travel and tourism sector?

We all know what the “pillars” of Henderson County tourism are. You will find them listed in any guidebook about visiting WNC. The Carl Sandburg Home, the Playhouse and, more recently, DuPont State Forest are the year-round legs of the stool that build our industry, with the Apple Festival and apple orchards rounding out a fourth strong seasonal leg.

They are what make conditions ripe for tourists to explore and support our Main Street, museums, stores, farmers markets and restaurants. Without them, Hendersonville would be just one more small town on the interstate, except for a brief fall spurt.

As for the pragmatic questions that Mark White and others are asking, in each case I find answers that make good sense

Some ask, “Why can’t they stand on their own two feet?” The Playhouse is a nonprofit with an educational mission that was never designed to stand alone.

The Playhouse’s YouTheatre program accepts every kid regardless of family income. It provides free and low-cost access to classes to more than 10,000 county students per year. It provides classes to Boys & Girls Club kids at no charge.

Its ticket prices ($40 or $20 for rush tickets) are far below the actual cost of production, which is why comparable professional for-profit theater tickets in major cities cost $100 and up.

“Didn’t the Playhouse make some bad financial decisions?” Yes. Even though theaters nationwide have suffered in the recession, the Playhouse’s current situation was made worse by some capital expansions with too much borrowing. However, the financial team in place now has a strong, conservative plan.

“Has there been too much rough language in some shows the past few years?” Yes. There were a handful of shows, such as “Art,” “A Few Good Men” and “Red,” that pushed the edge past what some of its most loyal patrons wanted. I can tell you however that the 2013 season doesn’t contain a single show I wouldn’t watch with my own mother.

This 60-year old partnership has pumped vastly more into our economy than it has ever taken out, and with the prudent, conservative decisions being made now, it will continue to do so.

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