Omission of a word from an article on the Folger Theatre in Tuesday's Style section changed the meaning of a sentence. It incorrectly described Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) as believing that the Trustees of Amherst College are committed to the theater. In fact, Oakar said she does not believe that the trustees are committed to the theater.
Former Folger Library director O.B. Hardison said yesterday that the library has plenty of money and could support a theater "if it wants to."
Hardison testified before the House Administration Committee's task force on libraries and memorials, chaired by Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio), who has proposed legislation that would funnel $500,000 to the Folger Theatre through the Smithsonian Institution. The library, which administers the theater, announced a two-year reprieve for the theater late last week, after saying six weeks ago that the theater's deficits presented an unacceptable drain on the library's finances. Oakar said she went ahead with the hearings despite the reprieve because she is convinced that the Amherst College trustees, who administer the library, are "really committed to the theater."
Hardison, who headed the library from 1969 to Dec. 31, 1983, said the income available to fund the library from the endowment left by Henry Clay Folger and from other sources grew from $1.6 million in 1974 to $5.1 million in 1984. The endowment grew from $21 million in 1974 to $29 million in 1984, Hardison said.
"This is not the image of an institution being dragged into bankruptcy by a prodigal theater, but of an institution growing vigorously by any measure and in spite of the adverse financial climate of the 1970s," Hardison said.
He also noted that the theater generates some income ($1.2 million this year) while other aspects of the library's work do not. "Why single out the theater for special accounting except for the fact that the library's trustees refuse to acknowledge that the theater is a proper and legitimate part of the Folger's mission?" he said.
Oakar, a former drama teacher and director in her native Cleveland, said she was concerned that after the next two years the library might once again jettison the Bard's band. The library has promised the theater $300,000 to defray expenses as well as picking up substantial operating costs for the building in which the Elizabethan-style theater is housed.
Under the plan announced last week, the theater will become an independent entity with its own board of directors and fund-raising agenda and will be financially independent of the library after the two-year period.
Hardison questioned the wisdom of the plan, saying the theater is one of the library's "chief assets" and that the visibility of the group promotes fund-raising that was worth more to the library than the amount of the annual deficit.
"For the Folger to divest itself of its theater is as illogical as it would be for the Reverend Timothy Healy to announce in tones of triumph that Georgetown University had finally managed to divest itself of its basketball team," said Hardison, who was the most forceful speaker during the sometimes tedious four-hour hearing, "and that Georgetown had paid John Thompson and his players an exorbitant price to set up a corporation under a separate administration to compete with Georgetown University rather than cover it with glory."
Oakar said she had invited members of the Amherst Board of Trustees to testify, but they had declined.
Werner Gundersheimer, who took over Hardison's job last July, said in response to Oakar: "I love the Folger Theatre and I want it to be a part of the library," but added that he was speaking personally and not on behalf of the trustees. He noted that during a previous crisis, in 1980, several Amherst trustees "dug deep into their own pockets" to save the theater.
"It [the theater] is a very dynamic organization, but a very expensive one," Gundersheimer said, adding that the theater constituted 40 percent of the library's budget last year.
Oakar noted that The Washington Post reported on Saturday that valuable Capitol Hill property owned by the Folger is vacant, and said that "if the trustees decide to sell any of it, I hope they will use the money to set up a trust fund for the theater."
Phillip S. Hughes, undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution, said the Smithsonian would not be able to give any money to the theater without cutting back on its own programs, and that "the Smithsonian should not be used as a pass-through."
Other witnesses included former congressman Orval Hansen, City Council member (and former Folger employe) Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) and Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.), who said the closing of the theater would be "tragic and stupid."
The hearing began on an unusual note, with Folger company members Mikel Lambert and Roderick Horn enacting a scene from "Much Ado About Nothing" in costume. The acoustics were not very congenial, but the crowd was SRO.
Chris Downey, a member of the theater's advisory board and the wife of Rep. Thomas Downey (D-N.Y.), noted that "politics is the lifeblood of this city, and the trials and tribulations of a small Shakespeare theater may not seem very important to Washingtonians. After all, this is a city where if you ask people if they've seen a 'Comedy of Errors' they tell you about the last Federals game . . . mention 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and people around here think you're talking about plans for recess. Imagine how much worse it would be without the Folger."