Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre board fires founder, artistic director Paul

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The Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre board of directors today fired founder and artistic director Andrew Paul and told him he would not be working on the four plays he was scheduled to direct.

Mr. Paul, who founded the company 17 years ago, moved to Las Vegas two years ago when his wife got a job there and has been splitting his year between his family and Pittsburgh.

He had a plane ticket to return to Pittsburgh in a week to begin rehearsals when he received a phone call today saying he had been dismissed in a unanimous board vote.

Alan Stanford, an actor-director whom Mr. Paul brought into the PICT family, has been named interim leader of the company. He was already set to direct two of the six shows this season. Co-founder Stephanie Riso will stay on as operations director.

"It was out of the blue," Mr. Paul said. "I was given zero notice. The board has had concerns about this from Day 1 when my wife got this job, but the company has been doing fine. Artistically we've been thriving. In a lot of ways I feel like when I'm in Pittsburgh for six months out of the year, I'm able to work twice as hard because I don't have to deal with my kids, so I feel like my work hasn't tailed off at all. In fact, we've been named best production of the year in the Post-Gazette the past three years running, which is seemingly what your goal would be, to be the best."

Board president Eugene O'Sullivan said the decision was about Mr. Paul's absence for part of the year and not about the financial or artistic success of PICT.

The company has been operating at break-even in recent years while holding some debt and operating at a ratio of about 45 percent ticket revenue to 55 percent contributions, a balance shared by most nonprofit companies.

Subscriptions were said to be down but not dramatically during last season's Chekhov festival.

The firing came just weeks before a season conceived by Mr. Paul was set to begin -- and in which he was to direct shows including the season's opening work, "Our Class," which opens April 10.

"The board has been discussing this right along, and more intensely since October," Mr. O'Sullivan said. "We've given it thorough deliberation. Once the decision was made, it had to be delivered."

He added, "Andrew has been a terrific leader and we have the greatest respect for him."

Mr. Paul, who has worked without a contract since he founded the company, said he was looking into hiring a lawyer because of the "very small compensation for 17 years of work" offered by the board.

He has tangled with the board before over budgets and risky choices, including opening the season with "Our Class," a story that takes place during the Holocaust.

"I tried to explain to Gene this morning, you can't conceptualize the play and cast it and work with the playwright and then change directors with two weeks notice and assume it's going to be fine," Mr. Paul said. "It doesn't work like that."

"We don't expect any problems," Mr. O'Sullivan countered. "It's a wonderful season with some very attractive shows, and they will go on."

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Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.


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