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You Had to Be There

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Dear Dan [Tamarkin],

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I feel I must address many of the issues you raised in your letter to the editor run by the Reader April 19, 2002 ("If You Knew Kelly Like I Know Kelly") [re: "Sweetback Stabbers?," Culture Club, April 12].

To begin with, I find it amusing that you would characterize yourself as a "long-standing member of Sweetback Productions." Since it was founded in 1994, Sweetback has produced 22 shows. Including shows presented prior to my joining the company in 1996, as far as I can determine, you contributed to 4. (I include your work on The Birds despite the fact that it consisted of two days--out of a rehearsal and production period of approximately 11 weeks). Prior to The Birds, the last show you worked on was in 1997. By the way, while you maintain you were "unpaid," our financial records indicate you received $100. A small amount, I grant you, but 100 times more of a salary than I've ever received from Sweetback.

To put this in perspective, in the period 1996 to 2002, I worked on a total of nineteen (19) shows for Sweetback. In addition to my responsibilities as Managing Director, I've acted, directed, produced, coordinated public relations and publicity, created and maintained the mailing list, and coordinated our first benefit at the Theatre Building.

Amusing too, is the fact that "never, in more than 15 years of theater experience, have [you] heard of such blatantly slanderous and inflammatory rhetoric..." In my 25 years of theater experience, I've learned never to pass judgment until I've heard both sides of the story. Too bad you chose not to contact me. I'd have been happy to give you (numerous) examples of why we were forced to do what we did.

To address the matter of the four cast members from The Birds who have chosen to work with Kelly again: have you spoken to the dozens of theater professionals who have adamantly refused to ever work with her again? I admit, despite the troubles I witnessed on Plan 9..., I chose to work on her next show, Female Trouble. Of the six others who worked on both, none returned for any additional shows. I confess, I naively believed Kelly's empty promises that she would strive to behave in a mature and professional manner. It was a lesson that took me several years to learn. I can only assume that some cast members from The Birds have not learned that lesson yet.

As for the notion of "a molting of founding board members" (nice Birds reference, by the way), we did not ask Mike and Kelly to resign because they were founders, but rather because of Kelly's wildly outrageous behavior and because of Mike's unwillingness or inability to see any point of view but Kelly's.

We did "attempt to adapt" and to "reconcile differences." Despite the fact that we were a legal corporation, with six equal members, Kelly had no reluctance to make company-wide decisions and give us (frequently) the ultimatum, "This is not up for discussion!" Numerous times over the past several years we tried to work it out. In fact, the final settlement was our third offer. When the details were revealed, numerous Sweetback alumni informed us that, considering the various contributions of the six board members, it was more than fair and long overdue.

If there is humiliation, the blame rests solely with whoever contacted the Reader in the first place. We were content to put out a press release announcing the split in the company based on a desire to pursue different objectives. Kelly and Mike, being the first parties to speak with Ms. Isaacs, revealed the details of the split.

If there were cold E-mails, it is because when you've been emotionally and verbally abused by someone you love, you tend to shut down emotionally for self-preservation.

As for nasty allegations, these allegations I know to be fact.

I'll address the self-critique of your modus operandi by saying I only ever found you to be thorough and professional. Driven, yes; exacting, yes; but always thoughtful and courteous to your peers.

I did not, as you say, shed my love for Kelly and Mike. I only came to recognize that I could not work with them again without winding up hating them.

I must take issue with your statement that "inherent to theater processes is a certain amount of spousal abuse." Never before, in any of the dozens of theaters where I have worked, has deceit, verbal abuse, and emotional blackmail been "inherent." For that characterization, I feel you owe the entire theater community an apology.

As you say, Kelly Anchors is brilliant, and I love her, too. But I can't work with her anymore. I wish luck to her and anyone who works with her.

You say you "will never know what exactly led the board to act so coldly." You would, if you had bothered to ask those who had been there for the past five years.

Steve Hickson

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