MCP’s Full Letter (RRCA response is below)

As the Manistee Civic Players’ (MCP) holiday production approaches, many people have been asking us about the change of venue from its usual location at the Ramsdell Theatre. We, the MCP board feel an obligation to our community to explain the changes that have been made.

Since our very beginning in 1939 the Manistee Civic Players have called the Ramsdell Theatre home.  For nearly 80 years we have produced hundreds of plays featuring performers, artists, craftsmen, musicians and volunteers from throughout West Michigan. The patronage and support of the Manistee community have honored us with the ability over the years to donate to the restoration of the Ramsdell.  We have partnered with a variety of managers, at times serving as co-managers, and assisted with programming, promotions, fundraising, and maintenance.

Sadly, at this time the Ramsdell Theatre is no longer our performance home.  The City of Manistee in 2015 contracted a new management entity to oversee operations, programming, maintenance and usage.  The Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts have expressed the desire to proceed in a new direction.  We remain willing to negotiate a partnership. However, at this time we must seek our own new direction and performance space.

This change has not come without significant efforts to remain in our home of nearly 80 years, attempting to facilitate a conversation with the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts. At this time, efforts for negotiations have become frustrating and have begun to stall resulting in the decision to forge forward separately as a community based, not-for-profit 501(c)3) theatrical organization serving the Manistee community and surrounding area.

It is with a heavy heart that the Manistee Civic Players details the following unresolved issues.

At this time, RRCA has:

  • Denied our securing of our traditional performance dates during Sleighbell Weekend, a tradition we have held for nearly 20 years. In addition, they are producing a play in direct competition with our own scheduled play. (For clarity, imagine the Manistee DDA securing dates at the Little River Casino that traditionally have been held for the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce). That would not happen because they work together.
  • Limited our number and choices of rehearsal and performance dates.
  • Denied us use of office space, effective January 2017.
  • Created confusion by using the same donor envelope and donor levels used by the Manistee Civic Players
  • Not been able to have the two full board of directors meet jointly upon our requests. Our requests have been unsuccessful.
  • And, most importantly, RRCA requested the MCP to dissolve its non-profit organizational status, give up our community identity -our name- and become a sub-committee of the new RRCA structure.  This was stated during negotiations in May 2016. No alternatives have been presented in later discussions.  Our understanding then, as it is now, is that the RRCA wishes for the Manistee Civic Players to cease existence and membership to work for them, rather than working with the RRCA.

We are pleased to see how building usage and care have improved.  As members of the Manistee Civic Players and the community, we love the Ramsdell Theatre and will always work to ensure its place in the very center of Manistee area cultural activity.  We have offered to work with the RRCA on joint fund raising activities and will perform there as often as fiscally possible.  We recognize that the facility seeks to reduce its operating deficit.  We look forward to the opportunity to work with the RRCA in order to sustain the beautiful facility, which has been so closely identified with Manistee Civic Players throughout our long, successful history.  MCP will strive to offer as many productions and programs as feasible in the Ramsdell Theatre and related venues.

At this time we have removed our production materials including costumes, lighting, props, and musical equipment to other locations.  We are also currently seeking new office space and re-organizing phone and technology access.

RRCA’s full response

The Board of the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts (RRCA) appreciates the opportunity to respond to an article submitted to the Manistee News Advocate by the Manistee Civic Players. The RRCA values the long and illustrious history of the Manistee Civic Players and the relationships and opportunities that the civic players have long provided to residents in the area.

For the past eighteen months, the RRCA board has focused their efforts on self-sustainability for the Ramsdell, diversifying and increasing both presentations and audiences and strengthening community engagement and business partnerships. In early 2016, the RRCA presented a collaborative idea which would have been beneficial to both groups, and our initial hope was that the Manistee Civic Players would become part of that vision. We presented a “One Ramsdell” model, and as a unified force, we would work toward the stated goals of fundraising, marketing and publicizing together. Disbanding their organization and transferring any assets to the RRCA was not asked for, nor would it have been necessary. We did ask them to temporarily shelve their 501(c)3 status,  easily reinstatable if efforts had not worked out. It’s unfortunate that we could not reach an agreement in our discussions. After numerous meetings, MCP voted unanimously to stay independent and to rent stage time as any other arts organization would who wanted to use the Ramsdell. We were disappointed but accepted their decision.

After several discussions between members of both boards, MCP signed a lease for 2017 which included free storage rooms for costumes, props, set pieces, construction materials, and paint. It included a discounted, non-profit rate for stage time and space used, competitive with many other arts facilities in this state and which is fair and  supportive to all arts groups wishing to rent at the Ramsdell. All of their show times were accommodated, with the exception of the first weekend of December, about which they were notified over a year ago. This was so that the RRCA could bring Dr. Rick Plummer back to the Ramsdell stage for “A Tuneful Christmas Carol.” We offered the MCP the following two weekends, and we purposefully did not compete with them for their show’s second weekend so that theater patrons could attend both.

The RRCA board and its executive director have responded to every request from the MCP board and its executive director. The RRCA presented the same lease opportunity for 2018, including the free costume and prop storage, at which time MCP decided to turn the lease down and have sought other options. We support their decision to run their organization as they think best supports their own vision. The RRCA has only the best hopes for the successful continuation of the MCP. On behalf of the Ramsdell, the RRCA board remains committed to the larger picture that allows the Ramsdell to grow and thrive as an arts center. 2017 has been an exciting year as the board, with the leadership of the new executive director, has worked tirelessly to meet and exceed all our goals. A wide range of artists have appeared on the stage, and audiences and fundraising have shown tremendous growth. 2018 is shaping up to be even more exciting. Perhaps down the road, MCP will make the decision to return, and we will support that decision as well.

RRCA Board of Directors