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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 44.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Strollers Theatre returns to Bartell after a rollercoaster month
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Strollers Theatre is back. The reborn theater company will not close this spring and it will continue to produce at the Bartell Community Theatre.

The company announced in an official statement Thursday: "Recent news articles indicating that Strollers Theatre Ltd. was on hiatus have been superseded by a transition plan and interim board of directors to replace those who have retired and resigned."

It's been a rough five weeks for Strollers. In that time the troupe has had three different board presidents and saw at least five of its board members resign. The company pulled out of the shared venue it helped found, the Bartell. Strollers also announced that it was going to cancel the rest of its season and shut down as of April 5.

But a new Strollers board was empaneled at a meeting Monday, March 3, during which longtime leaders Leo and Lee Ann Cooper resigned. The refreshed board took fast action, meeting with the Bartell two days later.

There remains the public relations damage, of which interim president Tony Trout is very aware. "These kinds of things can cause a rift in a theater company from which it cannot recover," he says. "[But] this is a great theater company and there are a lot of people who are very committed."

Trout says that the previous decision to shut down related primarily to concerns over whether Strollers could successfully produce The Miss Firecracker Contest, which opens May 13. But after personnel met with the Coopers, "They turned it all over to us with their blessings," says Trout. "They were very happy that we stepped up."

The interim board of directors includes Lauri Roman as vice president, Miranda McClenaghan as treasurer, David Lawver as secretary and Don McCoy as past president. All will serve until annual elections are held in April.

Job number one will be to produce Firecracker, says Trout. "My second responsibility is to try to amend our bylaws with the hope that institutionally we could better address these kinds of crises."

Strollers' return to its home stage was negotiated with the Bartell board Wednesday, March 5. "There was actually quite a lot of discussion about it because, of course, the Bartell has been injured by the actions of Strollers," says Trout. "Specifically the question came up, 'Does a participating theater company actually have the option of resigning?'"

The speed at which events have occurred this time worked in Strollers' favor; legalities aside, the Bartell had yet to act on the company's departure.

"What it boils down to, after a lengthy discussion, [is that] we have a contractual obligation," says Trout. "And second of all, the Bartell board took no action against the previous Strollers board announcement, to the press and in an e-mail to the Bartell board. The opinion of the Bartell board was that there was no change in the relationship between Strollers and the Bartell." The recent controversy unfolded in little more than a month:

  • Jan. 31 -- Longtime Strollers leader Leo Cooper argues backstage with the director and cast of the company's production of Noises Off, which he is producing. The argument is so loud that it disturbs Mercury Players Theatre, also working in the building.
  • Feb. 1 -- Cooper's wife, Lee Ann, managing director of the Bartell, responds to the concerns of a cast member whose children were present. Using her Bartell e-mail account, she writes, "If your kids have never heard the word fuck before, they need to get out more."
  • Feb. 6 -- Again using her Bartell account, Lee Ann asks Strollers personnel to not speak with the press. Leo resigns from the Strollers board.
  • Weekend of Feb. 9 -- Leo Cooper returns to the board to serve as acting president, following the resignation of three others, including president John Varda.
  • Feb. 19 -- Lee Ann Cooper resigns as Bartell managing director; Strollers' board votes unanimously to pull out of the Bartell.
  • Feb. 20 -- Acting Strollers president Leo Cooper tells Isthmus that the company is going on hiatus and "will not be producing shows anywhere" after April 5.
  • March 6 -- Strollers announces its return.

Strollers will announce its 2008-09 schedule later this year. A copy of the company's announcement is available in the relate downloads at right. For more information, visit the its new blog, strollerstheatre.org.

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