May 18 2010 12:00 AM

Lansing Community College board of trustees votes down potential partnership with closed Equity theater

    The curtains closed on BoarsHead Theater Monday night as the
    Lansing Community College Board of Trustees voted not to pursue a proposed
    partnership with the now-bankrupt company.

    “We’re dead,” said BoarsHead interim director George Orban
    after the vote.

    By a vote of 4-2 the LCC trustees rejected a union with
    BoarsHead, which closed its doors last December in the face of declining ticket
    sales and high-profile personnel shake-ups.

    boarsheadOUTSIDE.jpgLCC Dean of Liberal Studies Michael Nealon presented the
    findings of his feasibility study to establish a residency for the theater
    company, but a post-presentation discussion showed both support
    and skepticism among the trustees.

    LCC Board Chairwoman Deb Canja saw the possible benefits,
    although she wondered if it would be absolutely necessary for BoarsHead to
    mount four shows in its first season at LCC. “Could we do two?” she asked.

    Nealson responded that because BoarsHead is an Actors Equity
    theater, it might be “hard to be recognized” by the theater union with only two

    LCC President Brent Knight spoke in defense of BoarsHead,
    which would have had to generate approximately $112,000 in ticket sales and
    $150,000 in grants and gifts to sustain the partnership.

    “Currently, BoarsHead is defunct, they are bankrupt. We’re
    not rescuing anyone,” he said. “The BoarsHead people are working hard to
    reconstitute themselves to once again be a viable theater company in Lansing.
    Without us, they’d have to go back to the drawing board.”

    Questioning the presentation’s suggestion that LCC theater
    students would benefit from working alongside professional actors, directors
    and technicians in BoarsHead shows, LCC Board Vice Chairman Edward Woods III
    asked pointedly, “If BoarsHead was still viable, would these same opportunities
    be presented to our students?”

    Woods expressed concern about the $15,000 LCC would be
    paying for what Nealon termed “assets that BoarsHead would still need to hand
    off,” as well as the estimated $86,000 per year LCC would supply in in-kind
    contributions to house the theater and provide support for its shows. He added
    he had not heard from any students who saw the partnership as an opportunity.

    “I’m sorry about what happened to BoarsHead,” Woods said. “I
    think it’s an outstanding community treasure. But as much as I’m sympathetic to
    their condition, I’m having a hard time supporting this proposal.”

    LCC Board Secretary Robin M. Smith, who was monitoring the
    meeting by phone, also said she saw possibilities in the partnership, although
    she worried that “it seems we are bailing out mismanagement at BoarsHead.”

    Trustee Jerry Hollister — whose father, David Hollister, is
    a BoarsHead board trustee — asked when LCC would need to purchase the $15,000
    of BoarsHead assets. “Why do we need to take action on this now?” Hollister

    Orban responded BoarsHead has three off-site storage units
    in which a substantial amount of costumes, props and equipment are being
    stored. The rental fees on the units are past due. “If somebody doesn’t pay
    within the week, those items will be sold at public auction,” Orban said.

    The rent is 60 days past due, Orban said after the meeting.

    Trustee Robert E. Proctor said Nealon’s presentation wasn’t
    persuading him. “I’m not here to talk you into or out of it,” Nealon replied.
    He said LCC already has a budget for performing arts of “over a quarter of a
    million dollars, just for student shows, over 50 performances.”

    Whereas some student shows can be put together on a
    shoestring, an Equity theater has much bigger needs, Nealon said.

    “We can’t look an Equity theater in the face and say,
    ‘Here’s $200 to do a show,’” he added. “There’s rules, there’s regulations,
    there’s protocol. You can’t do it.”

    LCC Board Treasurer Larry Meyer, acknowledging he has a seat
    on the BoarsHead that predates his joining the LCC board, recused himself from
    the vote. Woods praised Meyer for “dealing with integrity” throughout the
    entire process of the BoarsHead discussion; Canja called Meyer “very
    scrupulous” in his approach to the situation.

    In the end, the vote came down to two yeas — from Canja and
    trustee Thomas Rasmussen — and four nays — from
    Woods, Hollister, Smith and Proctor.

    “I’m heartbroken,” Orban said as he left the meeting. “But
    we move on.”