Theater 'defense fund' raises quick $12,000

Fund founders call for reinstatement of three suspended Children's Theatre staff members

After only a week, the Palo Alto Children's Theater Legal Defense Fund has raised $12,000, co-founder Mac Clayton said Wednesday.

Fundraising is ongoing and the money will be used to pay for attorneys for Director Pat Briggs, Costume Supervisor Alison Williams and Production Assistant Rich Curtis, the three remaining staff members who are on paid administrative leave due to an investigation of "financial crimes."

"The outpouring of support has been touching and wonderful," Clayton said in a prepared statement. Donors range from young theater participants contributing their allowances to community members who heard about the theater staff's plight, Clayton said.

In announcing the fund's creation Feb. 27, Clayton said the staff members need "good lawyers, and good lawyers cost a lot of money."

The three fund founders -- Clayton, Suzie Stewart and Beth Broderson -- have called for the reinstatement of Briggs, Williams and Curtis. Assistant Director Michael Litfin, who was also placed on leave Jan. 24, died a week later -- he had been under treatment for cancer.

Information recently provided by former theater supervisor Leon Kaplan adds a "fresh perspective," the three fund founders wrote. (See the initial report in the Weekly, Feb. 29.)

Kaplan said he was questioned by investigators in November about costume sales, an early 1990s theater-rebuilding project and parent-funded trips to take young actors to see performances in Ashland, Ore., or Southern California.

"It now seems likely that the police investigation has been based more on misunderstanding than criminal conduct. Given Pat's, Alison's and Rich's many years of service to our community and our children, we urge the city to give them the benefit of the doubt."

The employees could be restricted to non-administrative roles until the investigation is completed, they wrote.

"This would be a humane and sensible step that could go a long way toward healing the wounds in the community and restoring the health and vitality of this precious community asset," Clayton, Stewart and Broderson wrote.

Additional information on the fund is available at


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Posted by born raised and finally left
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2008 at 11:08 pm

This is the Palo Alto I remember. A community that cares about the important things in life. I am so glad to see there is some remnant of what made Palo Alto the quality place it was.

Pat Briggs is Palo Alto to me: a constant presence my entire life. She was there to entertain me so thoroughly when I was three that I famously jumped on my chair and cried"Run Piglet Run" disrupting a production of "Winnie the Pooh" She was there modeling what a powerful, dedicated adult woman should be like. I remember crying when the production of GingerBread Boy I was in came to an end because I knew the camraderie and magic that had been created was over. Pat Briggs created the climate for the magic and she also taught me it could always be found again in the next show even if I wasn't the star anymore but only on the crew.And then She was there for my children. Nothing is so reassurring as letting someone you trusted as a child help guide your children.
What has been happening at the children's theater has broken my heart and I know it has shaken countless people. Thank you thank you everybody that is supporting these wonderful people. Allison is so dedicated and talented and Rich has always been such a welcoming presence at the box office.
I cannot wait until this ridiculous misunderstanding is all cleared up. I just hope the theater will ever be the same.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2008 at 7:54 am

Three letters appeared in the PA Weekly today from people associated with the PA Children's Theatre. They were all extremely critical of our Police and City Staff in relation to the Children's Theatre investigation.

What puzzled me was all these extremely critical letters had been written by people, supposedly associated with the theatre; two from Menlo Park and one from Portola Valley.

Do these people get a free ride at the expense of Palo Alto taxpayers who financially support the Children's Theatre? If they are so critical of procedures in Palo Alto, perhaps they should stay in their own cities.

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Posted by Take It Private
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2008 at 1:13 pm

> Do these people get a free ride at the expense of
> Palo Alto taxpayers who financially support
> the Children's Theatre?

Absolutely they get a free ride--unless they are contributing in ways that are not visible.

They would have to pay whatever costs a Palo Alto resident pays--but the per-child cost of this operation includes an almost 800 dollar subsidy.

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Yes Res and TIP, I noticed those letters too. We are definitely offering a community service here. It isn't unusual to have resident and non-resident fee levels for various facilities (pools, golf courses), and certainly seems appropriate here.

In the end, though, I tend to agree this makes more sense as a privately funded program, which gets use of the theater building for some appropriate fee - similar to the way the non-school sports leagues get use of athletic fields and gyms.

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Posted by Daniel
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 6, 2008 at 4:54 pm

As a Palo Alto resident, I use Menlo Park and Mountain View Libraries. I enjoy the Los Altos Animal animal parade. I use the farm in Mountain View. These are publicly sponsored venues that are free to the public that wants to use them regardless of residency. Curiously, it's Palo Alto that places restrictions on use of city resources - by limiting access to Foothills Park to residents only. You guys are poor-spirited - and want to make everyone else that way. I suggest you crawl out from underneath your rocks and lighten up.

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Posted by Take It Private
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2008 at 6:05 pm

> I use Menlo Park and Mountain View Libraries.

The State provides compensation to public libraries to facilitate an "open door" policy at libraries .. which are open to ALL the public.

The Children's Theater is not an essential service, and does not receive any compensation from the State or local governments to offset the cross-boundary use of non-essential services by non-residents.

Given the severe long-term budget issues facing Palo Alto, transferring over a million dollars every ten years to non-residents via participation in this very non-essential service (and this is a very conservative estimate of the cost to non-residents)--it's time for Palo Alto to look seriously at restricting non-resident participation, or at least demanding full-cost recovery, as it does for so many essential City services to residents.

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Posted by Curious
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2008 at 6:40 pm

I'm curious Take It Private - how long have you been a resident of Palo Alto?

Like this comment
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 6, 2008 at 8:49 pm

He has not been here before 1995

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Posted by art lover
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 6, 2008 at 8:57 pm

If Picaso or Van Gough or Georgia Okeef were to teach at the Palo Alto Comunity Center You would say they arent worth $100k. Hell I have seen people blow more cash on their Kitchen remodel.
Pony Up the Cash You Cheapskates without recognition of the Arts we are as ignorant as animals.

+Without the Arts we are as low as an ameaba.

+Withuot the Arts life is worth nothing.

+ Withou the arts The louvre would be empty,.

+Without the Arts The MOMA would be deserted.

+Without Playwrites the Royal Shakespear Company would be Silent.

+ And Silence at the MET and Carnagie Hall.

+ And what of our Talented Brilliant Children of Palo Alto?
+ Don't they deserve Picasso? Van Gough? Georgia OKeef? Dali? Rodan? Di Vince? Shakespeare? Arther Miller? Aeschlus, Sophocles, Euripides? George Abbot? Shaw, Oh I forgot you you do not know who I am talking about do you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mabe if you had spent some time at the Childrens Theatre You would.
Palo Alto dosent knoe a good thing when they have it in their hand.

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Posted by jp
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2008 at 11:00 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Jonathan Erman
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2008 at 2:45 am

An inappropriate comment, JP. No one has been accused of a crime in this matter——the police have not even been able to say if any criminal activity has in fact occurred. More importantly, no one is suggesting that any type of physical abuse is involved. You may think you are being cute, but the comparison you draw is un-funny, un-helpful, and in poor taste.

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Posted by H Hilborne
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 7, 2008 at 6:02 am

JP go to another board you are out of line

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Posted by Meg Waite Clayton
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 7, 2008 at 8:41 am

JP, I want to echo Jonathan Erman's sentiment. Your comment is in the worst of taste. And I am putting my real name here to show how seriously I mean this. Perhaps you'd like to do the same?

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2008 at 1:21 pm

When one's own children are prominent in a theatre,it is not surprising someone would step up to help the organization in a time of need. I am not against the fact that PACT has supporters.
It's something else that bothers me - how I "found out" the city supports THIS particular group. What about the rest of us parents who are supporting this organization via our taxes, but who have kids involved in other equally worthy Palo Alto cultural organizations? It is incorrect to act like PACT, however nice, is the only one.

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Posted by renee deutsch
a resident of another community
on Mar 9, 2008 at 8:28 am

Hi Meg and Jonathan,
I am with you. I suggested some time ago that real names should be used in this debate, but the idea was rejected, vehemently I may add. What is so special about anonymity? Why not back up your opinion with your name? I cannot believe that it is modesty or shyness. Renee.

Like this comment
Posted by pootie
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2008 at 3:38 pm

"Take It Private" certainly has a big axe to grind, being all over every one of these theatre threads, aggressively spreading the "privatize it" fertilizer, notwithstanding the fact that this economic philosophy is increasingly being discredited. I also wonder just how long TIP has been in this community. One gets no sense of caring for tradition or the community...nothing beyond the "money-is-the-only-thing-that-matters" value system that has so damaged this country.

As for using our own names...maybe Ms. D. isn't concerned that some nutcase who disagrees with her might follow-up in some disagreeable or even dangerous manner, outside the bounds of this online forum. You just never know. Not everyone has an unlisted telephone number, for example. Maybe you want to expose yourself and your family to this but most of us do not. None of the blogs I have participated in on the Internet have required a person to use their own name. You are certainly free to do as you wish but the rest of us may have some valid reasons for doing otherwise.

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Posted by Paul Wanless
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2008 at 8:50 am

Does anybody know if the staff has returned to work yet, and if not, when it will happen? I was told at Michael's memorial that the leave was originally scheduled for three weeks and that they were "close" to being allowed to return, but haven't heard anything since, and it's been nearly a month since that wonderful tribute. Are they still on paid leave?

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

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