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.”