What's Really Going On At The Magic Theatre?
January 9, 2009
It's been a long time since I've come across a more vitriolic collection of reader comments than the nearly 60 responses that follow Robert Hurwitt's December 31 feature story on the San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate.com site about the Magic Theatre's dramatic appeal to raise $350,000 by today, January 9, or face closure.
The anonymity of the online response system makes people comfortable about being rude, of course. And there are always going to be pissed-off individuals out there writing negative stuff just to let off steam. But it's alarming to see just how much anger and cynicism greeted the news of the 42-year-old San Francisco new play bastion's financial woes. Many responses have been deleted from the comments list because they "violated SFGate's terms and conditions." A high proportion of the comments that haven't been removed range from the couldn't-care-less ("Never heard of it when I lived there-guess I won't miss it") to the glib ("If they really are the Magic Theatre they can just conjure up some money.....can't they?") to the the venomous ("I've seen better productions and actors/singers at the local high school's shows.")
What's behind this cavalcade of abuse? I don't think all these people can be embittered, out-of-work actors angry about not being hired by the Magic over the years. Could this outpouring be justified in some way? One has to wonder what's really going on over at Fort Mason when, within the space of less than a year, an artistic director doesn't get his contract renewed, a new artistic director comes in, the managing director gets fired, vast amounts of supposedly unknown debt surfaces and the company embarks upon an "emergency campaign". One of the article's respondees, kwoh910, doubtless echoes many concerned theatregoers when he/she writes: "I was going to donate to help save this theater, but now will reconsider. How did they get themselves in such a mess? Why did their managing leader suddenly leave? Was he responsible for this? To have debt that they didn't know about leads me to believe there is severe mismanagement going on. I don't want my donation to go into a black hole. I'd rather give to a more solid and trustworthy organization."
I personally would like to see the Magic Theatre pull itself out of this hole. The company is an important part of this country's arts legacy and I've been impressed so far with what I've seen of new artistic director Loretta Greco's work. I donated to the Magic's campaign despite certain misgivings of the type espoused by kwoh910.
But there seems to be a lot of smoke and mirrors type stuff going on which makes me feel nervous. Today, the emergency campaign deadline day, the company announced on its website that it would be extending the deadline for three more days. This makes the original ultimatum look rather arbitrary. The fact that the company has started rehearsals for its next production also calls into the question the seriousness of the Magic's plight. It's not that I don't believe that the company is in severe financial straits. It's just that I don't think it is being completely honest about the state of its debt and operations. "We parted ways about 10 days ago. That's all I can say," Greco is quoted as saying of ousted managing director David Jobin in the Chron article. If the Magic wants to attract donors, don't those donors deserve to know the cause of Jobin's departure? As kwoh910 hints, it's really just a matter of trust.