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Editorial: Children's Theatre drama is a tragedy

Original post made on Feb 6, 2008

A wave of sorrow swept through the Palo Alto community when news broke Jan. 24 that the Palo Alto Children's Theatre was closed indefinitely due to a "financial crimes" investigation by police.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 6, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (7)

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Posted by Suzan Stewart
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 6, 2008 at 10:29 am

I very much appreciate the editorial in today's Weekly reminding people that there must be a presumption of innocence until individuals are proven guilty. There is, of course, a perception that "someone must have done something wrong" because the police rushed to close the Childrens' Theatre in the middle of a rehearsal. Such action might be justified if there are questions of molestation, drug pushing, or weapons--certainly not the case here.. It is hard for a community to "presume innocence" when such drastic action occured. Now the investigation seems to be focused on the Friends of the Childrens Theatre--an organization that has done wonders to fund raise to supply items for the theatre beyond what the City could supply. This is the organization that established the FIRST public-private partnership with the City, to build the outdoor stage, contributing well over a million dollars to a public facility. The work of the Friends has become the model for other such partnerships in the City. What is happening is disgraceful. Hopefully this "fishing expedition", casting a net of suspicion over good people of this community, will soon end. Suzan Stewart
1550 Middlefield Road
Palo Alto, CA.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2008 at 10:40 am

From reading the various threads on this topic over the past week or so, I would say that the "innocent til proved guilty" aspect is in the vast majority. Most posters cannot possibly see that anything was amiss unless it was accidental or carelessness.

No, there have been some comments about there not being smoke without fire, but I think that Palo Alto is on this story for once not condemning anyone other than the City and Police for daring to assume anything amiss with the "wonderful" theatre.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2008 at 5:54 pm

talk about melodramatic!

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Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 6, 2008 at 10:46 pm

Hummm. I think the Palo Alto Police must have given the children that were present when the CT was being shut down one hell of a performance.
No kudos there.
Theatre talk....Break a leg....

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Posted by A-Little-Truth-Please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2008 at 9:45 am

> One of her latest reports, the 85-page "Service Efforts and
> Accomplishments Report for 2006-07,"

This is the most positive contribution of this auditor. The scope and detail of this data has increased over the years; unfortunately, the data itself is unaudited, and subject to whatever error is introduced by the various departments which provide the data.

> There is gold here for critics ..

There really is very little of value in this report. Anyone who is truly critical would have to get the raw data from the city via public information requests and then do his/her own analysis.

> Erickson's approach to her job is in marked contrast to that
> of her predecessor, Bill Vinson, who resigned abruptly in
> August 2000 after eight years on the job — almost the same
> tenure as Erickson.

And the author of this editorial would know this how? How many times did the weekly run articles about Bill Vinson--condemning him for his performance? For that matter, how many articles did the Weekly run even analyzing Mr. Vinson's performance? And when Vincent left, what did the Weekly do to investigate his "disappearance"?

> But his tough, some felt overly harsh approach to the job left
> people feeling hostile and defensive to the point of creating a
> chasm. Some top officials reportedly refused even to read his
> reports, not conducive to their effectiveness.

And just who works for whom in this city government? If the auditor's reports are not being read--then the city manager needs to have a session with the department heads. But then again--the city manager at that time was June Fleming--another "Palo Alto Pearl".

> Not so with Erickson's recommendations.

And how do the complaints about her recommendations not being followed jive with this comment?

> As the City Council proceeds with the search for a new auditor,
> finding someone who fits the "Erickson model" would serve the
> city well for the next eight years or so.

This city needs an auditor and a city manager who will audit the fire department, the police department and the utilities at least every five years. And now we have to add the Children's Theater to the list , it would seem.

While Ms. Erickson might be a "nice" person, she has not demonstrated remotely what an auditor needs to do for a city with as many fingers in as many pies as this one.

(Oh, And the city could also use a new editor for the Weekly too--one with a little experience in the real world--not just being an apologist for one of his biggest clients.)

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Posted by Olivia Killingsworth
a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2008 at 8:37 am


I tried out for my first show at the Palo Alto Children's Theater in 1994. It was GODSPELL, and I didn't get in. I volunteered to work on the backstage crew instead. Michael Litfin's staging called for the whole cast to remain onstage for most of the show; as a result, it was pretty quiet and lonely backstage. I watched them from the darkness, yearning desperately to BELONG to the laughing, dancing, singing family they'd created for themselves onstage; at the time, I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere.

You've heard the stories about the scores of kids who passed through Palo Alto Children's Theater; how they started out as awkward nobodies in the wings, and eventually moved on to bigger and better things. I'm one of them: I'm a professional actor, living and working in New York City. But you’ve already heard that story from countless other alumni. So I'll spare you.

But let me say this: the Palo Alto Children's Theater's brand of theater education is a rare one. It’s simple, honest and, for most participants, free. More than that, though, it creates something that I like to call the Ripple Effect. It's an effect that is common to all theater - and all art, for that matter - when it's created with dedication, respect and love. It's simple: theater inspires people. It inspires them with a kind of inspiration that is so strong, it bubbles over to the people around you. It's infectious - that sense of joy in creation, of shared purpose, of hope, of belief that we can be and do more than what we think is "possible." Our beloved Michael Litfin was especially skilled at creating these little ripples in people’s lives – we can still feel them today, as remembrances and appreciations of him pour in from across the country. It is the Children’s Theater Ripple Effect, more than anything else, which makes it such a unique treasure - one which the City of Palo Alto should think twice about before recklessly endangering the future of the program, as it appears to have done in recent weeks.

I'm a very slight person, with youthful features. When I work as an actor, I typically play kids and teenagers. So you can imagine my friends' and family's reactions last year when I told them I'd be taking a teaching job with a theater company, running a workshop with a group of all-male juvenile offenders at a detention camp in Los Angeles (code for "poor underage black and Latino gang members.") I soon discovered that these kids weren't that different from how I'd been at their age. They had low self-esteem, and they didn't fit in at school or at home. They were used to rejection; a lot of them pretended to be "tough" in order to bear it, but they all secretly yearned to BELONG. The only difference was that they hadn't had the opportunities I'd had. There hadn't been a Palo Alto Children's Theater in any of their neighborhoods; instead, they had found community, empowerment and self-expression in the thriving gang culture of Southern California. They had decorated themselves with tattoos instead of makeup and costumes; they had memorized gang signs and rap lyrics instead of dance steps and musical librettos; and instead of coming to a deeper understanding of themselves and others by working together to solve problems in rehearsal and production, they resolved their disputes with each other in the only they way they knew how: with violence.

However, when we offered them the opportunity to write, rehearse and perform their own play as an alternative way to make new friendships, express themselves and gain the respect of their peers, many of them responded in amazingly positive ways. The program was a huge success; we introduced them to a "high" that was better than any feeling they might get from beating each other up or doing drugs. Many of them thanked us for believing in them when others wouldn't, and they kept in touch with us once they were "on the outs." Watching their transformations, I discovered a new "high" that felt almost as good as the “high” I get from performing at the peak of my potential: the one that comes from inspiring others to perform at theirs.

And that, truly, is the Ripple Effect in action. If I hadn't watched Pat, Michael, Allison, Rich and Andy, and all the other staff at the Palo Alto Children's Theater through the years, working so hard to inspire us and push us to do our best, I would NEVER have known where to start with those kids. I would never have been able to inspire them to be more than what they, and most of the rest of society, thought they were. But because I'd been a Children's Theater "kid" for so long and seen the program in action, I truly believed in the transformative power of theater. So I jumped in with those "scary gang members", helped them learn their lines, wished them broken legs, and sat in the back row and yelled "DICTION!!!" at the top of my lungs.

My students frequently asked me how I could be their teacher and do so much to help them, when I wasn't much older than they were. Did I go to a special school, they wanted to know? "Nope," I answered. "I just grew up in this awesome place. It's called Palo Alto." Please, please: don't endanger one of the wonderful institutions that makes Palo Alto such an awesome place in which to grow up. Don't stop the ripples.

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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 8, 2008 at 12:33 pm

In all of my years, I have seen nothing like this!

Some of us are friends with the director or have a relationship with the theater in one way or another. That does not change the fact that some illegal things may have been done. Who knows? Haven't you been shocked and said to yourself, "No! Not him! How could that be? He always kept to himself! ...."

It is wonderful that as a society and community that we believe in innocence until proven guilty. I am glad to hear that most people are supportive of that. I do not, however, blame the police for their methods. They are the experts in investigation and I do not believe that they would waste their time searching through records, bank accounts and the like for no reason. Let's give them time.

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

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