|Photo: Mark Simpson|
A short article in the Globe had revealed little more than the press release (which Arciniegas had written), even though the situation was quite unusual, to say the least: both the Publick's artistic and producing directors (Arciniegas and Susanne Nitter) were quitting simultaneously, and the company, while maintaining its residency at the Boston Center for the Arts, had no immediate plans to produce anything - indeed its Board intended to use this "hiatus" to explore "options to continue or retire the company."
This kind of thing doesn't often happen this way (in fact I've never heard of this sort of thing happening this way) - so I had a hunch there was more to the story than the principals were letting on. So I gave Arciniegas a call. But let me say up front that based on our discussion, my guess is he would do well under cross-examination, should he ever face court action for any reason. The press release version of the situation - that he and Nitter had decided simultaneously that it was time to move on (after ten years together on the job) - was his story, and it was clear throughout our conversation that he was sticking to it.
And it may, indeed, be all there is to his and Nitter's personal stories. But another question looms behind the Publick's hiatus - the question of its performance space in Christian Herter Park (above left). For some time the Publick has been producing both a summer season in the park as well as an "indoor" season at the BCA; only last summer it gave over its parkland stage to Gabriel Kuttner and members of the Orfeo Group for a few low-tech shows that could be produced during daylight hours - because, it was explained, the stage's electrical system had been deemed unsafe for the requirements of lighting a full production.
The story back then was that the system was being renovated - but Arciniegas did confirm for me that the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation had not, in fact, completed the work that would have enabled the Publick to return to the space. And the theatre's Board felt it was not feasible to pay for the repairs from its own coffers, as the Department was unwilling to enter into a long-term use agreement with them (surprisingly, according to Arciniegas, the Publick had to go through the process of renewing its agreement with the state every season).
Thus at least part of this story is that the Publick has lost its home base. (And the Commonwealth has lost, at least for the time being, one of its few functioning outdoor theatres.) When I asked Arciniegas if part of "redefining the theatre's mission" (which was mentioned in the press release) included ending its tradition of open-air Shakespeare and focusing exclusively on productions suitable for the BCA, he refused to comment. But it seems more than possible that this particular artistic crossroads, in combination with the joint decision by Arciniegas and Nitter to resign, could be what led the Board to declare the current "hiatus."
The trouble is that "hiatuses" have a way of devolving into "closings," particularly when keeping the company going requires a double search process, and the "option" of closing down operations entirely has already been floated. Let's hope that doesn't happen to the forty-year-old Publick. And let's hope that one way or another, the Commonwealth eventually coughs up the dollars to return the stage at Christian Herter Park to its intended purpose.