PICT board lays out changes, hires temp director

By Alice Carter | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Two days after firing producing artistic director Andrew S. Paul, the Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre board is moving ahead with changes.

The board has appointed actor and director Alan Stanford to serve as interim producing artistic director and Paul’s directing slots are being filled with new directors.

The decision to fire Paul came just as brochures proclaiming the season’s theme — “Scandal!” — arrived in theatergoers’ mailboxes.

“It’s not a good time. But (the board) felt the leadership was too important to wait until September,” board President Eugene O’Sullivan said. “We’ve been wrestling with this since last October. At some point, you have to say it’s decision time.”

On Feb. 26, after the board had reached its unanimous decision, O’Sullivan called Paul in Las Vegas to inform him of the decision and offered him less than five months salary in compensation.

For the past two years, Paul — who founded the company in 1997 with Stephanie Riso, who continues as operations manager — has split his time between Pittsburgh and Las Vegas, where he moved with his wife, Maria, and their children after his wife took a job there.

“I don’t think there’s any blame. It just wasn’t working,” board member Richard Miller said. “Everybody on the board has total respect for Andrew. They like him. It just wasn’t working with him flying back and forth.”

The firing came two weeks before Paul was to begin rehearsals on the season’s first production, “Our Class,” which begins performances April 10.

Paul, who had been preparing to leave for Pittsburgh, said he offered to continue as director for “Our Class,” but O’Sullivan declined his offer.

“It can’t get any worse,” Paul said. “I’ve done everything I can do to make that company solvent.”

He pointed out that he has taken several pay cuts over the past four years, reducing his salary from $64,633 in 2009 to $57,200 for 2013 to help the cause.

Paul said he is in discussions with an attorney who specializes in cases of wrongful termination.

“I’m utterly convinced that the board did not act lightly or precipitously,” Stanford said. “Naturally, it’s a surprise. But it’s a surprise that has been in the works for a while.”

Since 2009, Stanford has become familiar to Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre audiences as an actor in last season’s “The Pitmen Players” and as a director for that season’s “In the Next Room or the vibrator play.”

Paul recruited Stanford, an Irish actor and director with ties to the Dublin’s Gate Theatre, where he recently directed an Alan Ayckbourn comedy. He is artistic director of Second Age Theatre Company in Dublin.

Only two days into his new position, Stanford has hired Aoife Spillane-Hinks, a young director and actress he knows from Dublin, to replace Paul as the director of “Our Class.”

Stanford will direct “Lady Windermere’s Fan” and the season’s closer “Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood.”

Stanford is pursuing directors for the three other shows that Paul was slated to direct — “The Kreutzer Sonata,” “Don Juan Comes Back from the War” and “A Skull in Connemara.”

Although some of the titles and actors are not yet officially under contract, Stanford said agreements are in place, and he expects the season will proceed as announced.

Asked whether he was interested in his new position becoming permanent, Stanford replied: “Anybody would want to work with such a company and such an organization. But at the moment, that’s not the task at hand. The task is to give PICT’s audience the best season as planned.”

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