O.B. Hardison, former director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, has agreed to serve on a committee looking into ways of saving the theater group, business manager Mary Ann de Barbieri said yesterday. No other members were announced.
Trustees of Amherst College, which administers the Folger Library, announced Monday that the resident theater company, now in its 15th season, would be dissolved June 30. Citing increased and unpredictable costs, library director Dr. Werner Gundersheimer said the first priorities of the library were scholarship, the rare book collection and staff salaries, and that the theater represented an unacceptable risk.
De Barbieri said yesterday the theater had been "inundated" with calls from subscribers, supporters and theater professionals from around the country. "Ironically, our fund-raising appeal, with a cover letter from Richard Chamberlain, is just reaching people in the mail," de Barbieri said. "We want people to know that any money sent now would just support the current season. It won't help us continue after June 30."
The committee, which has been offered office space by the Cultural Alliance, is still incomplete and has an as yet unspecified mandate. "We'll be looking at all possible alternatives," she said, including the possibility of continuing in the Folger Library's Elizabethan Theater under management independent of the Library's trustees.
"Obviously the relationship we had with the Folger trustees is over. If they can cut us loose without even a discussion with the two people herself and artistic director John Neville-Andrews who run the theater . . .," she said.
The library, on the other hand, has received only a "half-dozen calls," said spokeswoman Alexandra Acosta. "I'm surprised there have been so few." Callers are told of the library's plan to have some kind of performances in the theater and that fund-raising, at this point, "is not feasible," she said. "The needs are so great that a fund-raising effort would not be feasible."
Catherine Held, who is both chair of the Folger Theatre Guild (a volunteer support group) and secretary of the Capitol Hill Merchants and Professionals association (CHAMPS), said she was "devastated" by the news and outraged that the community had not had a chance to save the neighborhood theater. "If this is just a financial problem, why wasn't the Washington community given a chance to assist before the decision was made?" she said. "I think people are willing to give money -- certainly on the Hill, businesses and residents are ready to do something."