John Ashton is back in charge at The Avenue Theater

Chas Lederer, Haley Johnson and Erica Fox in Bright Ideas. Photo by Jennifer Walker

Chas Lederer, Haley Johnson and Erica Fox in ‘Bright Ideas,’ which will continue as scheduled at The Avenue Theater through Oct. 3. Photo by Jennifer Walker.

Gavin Mayer’s tenure as Executive Director and Artistic Director of the ever-shaky yet uncommonly venerable Avenue Theater has ended after only three months because of a dispute over nonpayment of wages.

The board of directors moved immediately to name John Ashton as Mayer’s replacement. Ashton ran The Avenue from 1990 to 2005 and until just two months ago served as president of its board of directors.

John Ashton quote“There are great challenges to be dealt with, but I can assure you that anyone who has a contract with The Avenue, and anyone who has work scheduled coming up at The Avenue, will be paid,” Ashton said of the boutique theatre that moved to its present home at 417 E. 17th Ave. in 2003. He said he can make that promise because “there has been some quick fundraising from people who support The Avenue Theater.”

He added that all presently scheduled programming at The Avenue through the end of the year will go on as scheduled. That would include The Avenue’s current production of Bright Ideas (running through Oct. 3), Equus (Oct. 29-Nov. 21) and Santa’s Big Red Sack (Nov. 27-Dec. 20), as well as Phamaly Theatre Company’s Baby With the Bathwater (Oct. 8-25).

READ THE WESTWORD REVIEW OF BRIGHT IDEAS

Ashton also confirmed next year’s scheduled production of Legacy of Light, written by Karen Zacarias (Just Like Us) and directed by Christy Montour-Larson (DCPA’s Shadowlands). That production will run March 10-April 16, 2016, and just yesterday Montour-Larson finalized her A-List cast of Paul Borrillo, Ed Cord, Emily Paton Davies, Heather Doris, Susie Scott and Sean Scrutchins.

Mayer was scheduled to direct Equus, which will now be led by Warren Sherrill, who recently helmed the Edge Theatre’s Jerusalem and is directing Phamaly’s Baby With the Bathwater.

When Mayer took over The Avenue on June 1, he said he was offered an annual salary of $48,000, but he said it became quickly apparent that the board had not yet established a reliable income stream to pay for a full-time salary. So Mayer was asked to be paid temporarily as an independent contractor, with part of his wages deferred to a later date. By the end of August, Mayer says, he was owed $7,000. Mayer’s stop-gap freelance contract expired on Aug. 30, and Mayer decided that, rather than run the tab up further when he a working three other jobs trying to make ends met, he would leave at that time.

Mayer and Ashton then met for 90 minutes to facilitate what both have called a friendly and orderly transition.

“There are no hard feelings, and certainly I hope that they can keep the doors open,” Mayer said of the 30-year-old theatre founded by Robert Wells in 1985. “The Avenue Theatre has a storied history, and there just aren’t many of those that come around.”

Board president Jane Shirley said was not expecting Mayer to leave on Aug. 30. She said that that once a review of Mayer’s work is completed, “and if all of the terms of his contract have been met,” she said, “he will be paid in full.”

Shirley said the problem was one of expectations stemming from what she cited as a common difficulty for many small theaters: “Cash flow is always a problem,” she said.

Gavin Mayer quote“I am confident that we were fully transparent with Gavin in terms of how payment would be made. We told him that cash flow was going to be an issue until our fall fundraising efforts kicked in, and I thought he understood that.”

In 2005, Ashton and business partner Robert Roehl sold the Avenue theater back to Wells and his business partner, Dave Johnson. The theater was converted to a non-profit operation at that time, but it has been beset by a series of administrative changes ever since. Ashton is The Avenue’s fourth Executive Director in just the past five years. Because he has a longstanding emotional stake in the Avenue’s future, his primary concern at present is not his personal compensation – it is the theater’s survival. So he has agreed, for now, to work for free.

“I am sorry to see Gavin go, but at the same time, I am glad to be taking over,” Ashton said. “I am just sorry for the circumstances.”

Shirley said The Avenue ended the fiscal year in June in the black, and that The Avenue’s future looks bright.

“Let’s be honest – this is a really, really hard job,” Shirley said. “But the only reason I am still around is because I know this is absolutely doable, and I am really confident that with John Ashton at the helm – with his contacts and his history and his passion – that this is going to work.”

Bright Ideas
Presented by The Avenue Theater
Written by Eric Coble
Directed by Pat Payne
Through Oct. 3
417 East 17th Avenue
303-321-5925 or avenuetheater.com

Previous NewsCenter coverage of this story:
Avenue Theater changes direction under Gavin Mayer

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