Children's Theatre fans rally for program

Council and theatre lovers honor Assistant Director Michael Litfin, who died last Friday evening

Wearing "I Love Children's Theatre" buttons, more than 100 people filled the Palo Alto City Council chambers Monday night.

About 30 speakers lavished praise on recently deceased Assistant Director Michael Litfin and chastised the city for its heavy-handed handling of a police investigation into "financial crimes" at the theater.

Litfin, who was undergoing treatment for stomach cancer, died Feb. 1 after suffering stomach pains during the week that hospitalized him twice.

At the outset of the council meeting, Mayor Larry Klein and Councilman Jack Morton, both approaching tears and with catches in their voices, praised Litfin.

"Several generations of Palo Alto children were enriched by Michael's enthusiasm for theater," Klein said.

Litfin's mother was invited to accept a resolution from the city, but was too upset to attend, Morton said.

"Michael's philosophy was encouraging self confidence and teamwork that allowed young people to be themselves," Morton said.

Rather than a traditional moment of silence, Morton said Litfin would have appreciated a round of applause, eliciting an enthusiastic response.

"Michael, after you get all the angels in line it will be a great production," Morton said.

Litfin was a "brilliant curmudgeon," Rick Saal, a member of the Friends of the Children's Theatre, said of Litfin's personal view of himself.

"He was a leader and a maker of leaders. We are forever grateful," Saal said.

Jeremy Erman, who said he grew up and worked at the theater, said he was "disappointed and appalled" at how the police investigation has been handled.

"I do not understand why they don't just call people in and ask them questions," Erman said.

"On the last week of his life (the city) took away from a man what was most important to him," he said.

The city's insensitive management of the investigation is troubling, several people agreed.

"What has gone on has raised very serious questions in the minds of many people in community about the judgment of the city manager and the police department," Suzan Stewart said.

"I want to add my voice to those requesting a very speedy resolution to this terrible (situation)," a woman said. "Imagine what it's like having the closest family member humiliated for unknown reasons. ... It's like a chapter out of Kafka."

The investigation and death of Litfin, coming together, have dealt a heavy emotional blow to dozens of children involved with the theater, several speakers said.

The city should consider providing counseling, one man suggested.

"We need to figure this out because these kids are asking what's going on," mother Anna Thayer said. She acted in the theater when she was young and was motivated to return to Palo Alto to give her children the same opportunity, she said.

The audience couldn't hold back its applause when Patty McEwen left the microphone.

McEwen joined the year-old theater as an elf in 1933, eventually becoming a member of the Friends of the Children's Theatre Board of Directors.

"I have seen the entire history of the Children's Theatre unfold," McEwen said. "I've seen it go through good times and bad times, and this is a very bad time."

She asked the city to finish the investigation quickly and restore theater programs.

"An irreplaceable resource is being destroyed," board member Ralph King said. Auditions have been canceled and productions delayed.

"Operations are in disarray," he said.

City leaders did work with the theater community to allow staff members Pat Briggs, Allison Williams and Richard Curtis -- currently on paid administrative leave and barred from talking to each other or outsiders -- into the theater for Litfin's memorial Feb. 17, Friends President Paula Collins said.

According to council protocols and public-meeting laws, council members cannot respond to public comments. After the meeting, however, Councilman Pat Burt asked city staff about the status of the theater's operations.

Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison said the city would release a plan for the theater by Friday.

As the investigation finishes its second week, members of the non-profit Friends of the Children's Theatre have begun declining comment and some have responded angrily to questions from the media.

Several members referred questions to Friends' President Collins, who said Monday she is not willing to meet with or answer questions from the Weekly.

Theatre, Friends, other storage units searched


Like this comment
Posted by PoorBecky
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 5, 2008 at 9:36 am

"As the investigation finishes its second week, members of the non-profit Friends of the Children's Theatre have begun declining comment and some have responded angrily to questions from the media.

Several members referred questions to Friends' President Collins, who said Monday she is not willing to meet with or answer questions from the Weekly."

Aaaaah... Poor Becky Trout cannot get the Friends to talk to her! What is she hinting at here? That perhaps their silence has something to do with the investigation? If I may be permitted to advance an alternative theory: maybe they are not talking to her because she incredibly liberal in editorializing their comments in pursuit of a sensational story. The Weekly (this time not by Trout) could not even report on Litfin's death without spending some valuable newspaper space on the on-going police investigation.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 5, 2008 at 12:11 pm

It troubles me the fact that the local media was fast to report on the closure of the theater, and reporters/photographers were at the theater's door when the theater re-opened for rehearsals. They were trying to get parents and children to talk about the closure of the building and they were taking many, many pictures of the kids as they entered the building. But where were them on the opening night of The Giver? There were not there, and they have not written a single review about the play. Instead they have been having front page reviews of events that are happening somewhere else.

Why is our local media not interested in writing about this wonderful play? And why they keep pushing the controversial aspects of the investigation?

Like this comment
Posted by PACT LOVER
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2008 at 12:58 pm


End this madness

Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 5, 2008 at 5:18 pm

Bottom Line: Sometimes the people you least expect, even good people, are capabale of making bad choices; even those that rise to a criminal level. I am confident that the City of PA and Police Department considered the stir this case would cause before it began. With that in mind, I am quite sure the circumstances left them no choice but to investigate the case. Financial crimes have to be extremely complicated. This type of work does not get done overnight. It's not the TV world. In the real world, cases are not investigated and solved in the confines of a one hour television program. I also understand why matters have to remain confidential, including respecting the privacy of those being investigated. Again, bottom line, be patient and try to understand the complexity of situations. Spare us the emotional response until matters unfold, realizing that yes, even crimes may have occurred. Let the police and city do their job. So many of you so critical for things you likely know little or nothing about.

Like this comment
Posted by Look for the money
a resident of another community
on Feb 6, 2008 at 7:38 am

If you suspect a serious financial crime you need to look at the spending of thepeople under investigation. Do they have any unusual possesions, expensive homes or expensive habbits? I suspect that the people under investigation live a fairly average lifestyle for thier income and have no red flags in their background. After all they have lived in the community for years and in some cases decades, and not a hint of scandal.

As to the overtime, the hours of the children's theatre program are unusual to say the least. With multiple shows in production realizing that on any given day there are rehearsals for one, and peformances for another on the same day. Not to mention planning other productions, special outreach programs and the other activities that are required in a city department. I also think the theatre staff has stayed the same over the last several years.

The only real question is how many hows of overtime went unclaimed.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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