Ashland Contemporary Theatre seeking public input on group's future

Ashland Contemporary Theatre is regrouping and seeking ideas from the theater community after its artistic director announced she would cut back on her duties because of health reasons. (See correction, below.)

Jeannine Grizzard, who just finished a successful run in ACT's one-woman show “Pompadour,” said an adrenal-related stress disease is slowing her down after three years at the helm. Whether she remains as artistic director will be up to the ACT board of directors, she said. She will continue to offer administrative support and may produce a show a year for ACT, she said.

ACT's board of directors is holding a public meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, in the Gresham Room of the Ashland library to brainstorm ideas on the theater's direction and how to keep the group running on volunteer support.

Board president, playwright and longtime ACT supporter Ruth Wire said ACT has had a "strong captain" model and may be interested in trying management by committee, she said.

Under Grizzard's leadership, ACT shifted from being a community theater that produced well-known plays to a contemporary theater that tries modern works and gives local playwrights the opportunity to see their works performed, get feedback and "re-write to perfection" — a system that will continue, Wire said.

"I'd like to do the best of shows from the 1980s on, so it's not 'Arsenic and Old Lace' all the time," Wire said. "It's kind of important that we do contemporary plays and cater to the local playwrights."

Wire said she'd like to see ACT be all-volunteer, but finding people with the talent and time is difficult.

"In this town, with a plethora of talent, people expect to be paid in those main positions — stage manager, technical lighting, sound design, playwright, artistic director. I'm not sure we can get takers (as volunteers)," Wire said.

Wire said she'd step down as president if another member would like to fill that leadership role, but she will remain on the board. . (See correction, below.)

Grizzard said a larger board is needed to set the agenda for the theater.

"We seek input from the community of theater artists. We don't have money for a salaried artistic director," said Grizzard, who added she is no longer willing to sacrifice her health for an "ensie-weensie pittance."

"I did it to get it rolling and build up patronage and sponsor support," she said.

Wire confirmed Grizzard was paid very little and some months not at all.

Grizzard said the company did well enough financially on "Pompadour," however, that it is not under pressure to produce another play for the rest of the year, although it has three tentative slots at Ashland Community Center in 2013.

Board member Evalyn Hansen, who has directed several works for ACT, said she'd like to see a strong artistic director who is freed of the business tasks, which should be taken over by a managing director. There should be maximum volunteers, with stipends for the main jobs, she said.

Plays should include those from the 1960s on and include works by local playwrights, she said.

ACT was created in 1991 and has had a variety of homes, most recently the Bellview Grange before it was ousted to make room for other programs. It has since been producing plays with limited runs in the Ashland Community Center, which has seen good attendance but must be rented one production at a time and requires that scenes be taken down after every performance, Wire said.

"We've been looking for a home for six years," Wire said. "Once you have a settled home, it gives you more legitimacy."

In three years, ACT has produced 20 plays and has been paying staff with honoraria, Grizzard said.

Because of its small size, ACT is unable to seek foundation grants, Grizzard said.

As the theater seeks a new direction, "every type of structure is on the table," she said. She said she will not attend the Feb. 28 meeting.

"We want to hear from experienced theater people who can put on quality shows in an affordable way," Grizzard said. "We need to have more people involved and I'm here to support the vision of the community."

Those attending the meeting are asked to reserve a spot with Wire at 541-482-7742.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

Correction: Contrary to a story that appeared Feb. 21, Ashland Contemporary Theatre Artistic Director Jeannine Grizzard and board President Ruth Wire said they have not yet resigned and may continue in their roles, depending on what direction the theater takes as it regroups in the coming months.

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