By Rosalind Bentley
A group of former employees and board members of the now-defunct Theatre in the Square in Marietta rescinded their request on Wednesday for a $50,000 grant from the Marietta City Council to start a new theater.
The group, led by former Theatre in the Square interim-managing director Susan Reid and former board chair Michael Russell, sent the letter saying it no longer wanted the grant just days after asking the council for the money.
Their initial request sparked outrage within the artistic community because the group, which incorporated as Trackside Theatre Company, seemed to purposely exclude Theatre in the Square founder and artistic director Palmer Wells.
Wells helped led Theatre in the Square for 30 years, until the theater’s board, led by Russell, voted in mid-March to close the Marietta institution because of financial trouble. But less than a month after the vote, on April 11, articles of incorporation for Trackside were filed by Reid with the Secretary of State’s office.
“I had no idea this was going on,” Wells said. “I’m disappointed in them because I think a lot of things were going on behind my back. It I think it was duplicitous.”
Russell did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
As the board met back in March to decide Theatre in the Square’s fate, Wells said he identified more than $200,000 in grants that would come to the theater within two to three weeks, including a $100,000 foundation grant, and explained that to the board. The theater had brought in $725,000 in revenue for its 30th season and Wells thought it was on track to bring in $1 million by season’s end. The theater had already raised about $375,000 during an emergency fundraising drive that ended at the start of this year.
“I personally guaranteed $25,000 in pledges or my own personal funds,” Wells said. “So naturally I was suspicious about the vote. In my estimation it didn’t have to close Theatre in the Square unless they knew this other thing was in the works. They closed down a theater with a 30-year track record.”
In rescinding its request for start-up funds for Trackside, Reid stated that the group had to iron out issues to receive its 501c3 status, said Matthew Daily, Marietta city spokesman.
For now the main stage will remain dark. Building owner and Marietta City Councilman Philip Goldstein said on Thursday that interest beyond Trackside’s had been expressed in the space, “but my preference would be a viable theater group.” He said he wants to rent the space for between $7000 and $11,000 per month.
The building also has a smaller 125-seat theater. On Wednesday Goldstein leased that space to Next Stage Theatre, previously based in a Marietta shopping center. It is slated to begin shows in August, he said.
When Wells packed up his belongings and left the building back in March, he said that he hoped there might be a way to restart Theatre in the Square at some point. But after the events of this week, Wells said he simply wants to rest and move on with his life.
“It would have been easier if the former employees had done this on their own rather than in concert with former board members,” Wells said. “I was quite upset about it, especially since I was left out.”