Salt Lake Acting Company: Staging a management changeover

Stage » Salt Lake Acting Company board to meet two weeks after leader dismissed.
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Salt Lake Acting Company's board is scheduled to meet today in its first meeting since the abrupt dismissal of the company's new executive artistic director.

In the wake of a messy management upheaval at one of Utah's four professional nonprofit theater companies, insiders and patrons have been asking about the future of SLAC's trademark production, the satirical annual musical "Saturday's Voyeur."

Questions are arising about the nonprofit company's unusual contract with a for-profit company, "Saturday's Voyeur Inc.," owned and operated by "Voyeur" writers and former SLAC leaders.

In 2005, the company signed a contract with the "Voyeur" company, owned and operated by Nancy Borgenicht and co-writer Allen Nevins, who until 2008 served as SLAC ex-officio board members. Borgenicht, who served as the volunteer interim executive producer of the company before Bruffy's hiring, didn't return a call from the Tribune .

In the year ending August 2008, the for-profit company received $101,645 royalties, as well as $60,000 commission, and storage rent for $1,500. The royalties were calculated -- not on net production expenses, but a formula of 20 percent gross ticket sales from the 2008 production.

The contract was reported in the theater company's 2009/2010 application for Salt Lake County's Zoo, Arts and Parks funding, but the for-profit contract with former company managers doesn't appear to be specifically listed on SLAC's 2007 990 IRS tax report, the latest on file.

Such arrangements, which might not be illegal, should raise red flags because of the "appearance of impropriety," said Bruce Olson, lawyer with Ray, Quinney & Nebeker, speaking generally about nonprofit management.

If such deals are struck, "it should be at arms' length, and that person should not be involved with making the decision or setting the salary," Olson said. "Public trust is essential in this area. Nonprofit corporations are receiving a subsidy from the public, so they have an additional duty to be above board and full of integrity.

SLAC has been without a leader since executive artistic director Jason Bruffy -- with the company for three months -- was dismissed Jan. 5. His departure was followed two days later by the resignation of board president Anne Stewart Mark.

Bruffy was hired after a nationwide search, following a restructuring in December 2008, when the company, with an annual budget of $1.5 million, laid off four of seven staffers, after facing a $145,000 deficit.

Theater spokesman Joel Morris blamed the latest split on a difference in artistic vision. At his hiring, Bruffy was lauded for his financial expertise in managing Cincinnati's nonprofit Know Theatre.

The dismissal came as a surprise to community members who served on the search committee. "I'm enormously disappointed in their action," said actress Anne Cullimore Decker. "For us to have done a national search and have everyone so unanimously be in favor of him -- and then to terminate his contract before he has even planned his own season -- it's extremely disappointing and frustrating."

The 2008 staff layoffs, and Bruffy's dismissal, adds up to a "blight" on SLAC's reputation, said Decker, who performed at the company in an October production of "Master Class."

Salt Lake Acting Company

Salt Lake Acting Company Board of Trustees will meet at 11:30 a.m. today in the Green Room at the theater, 138 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City.