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Munoz, Stokes resign from Playhouse

Two more longtime Flat Rock Playhouse employees have resigned as the organization continued to experience turmoil even as its financial situation improved.

The resignations brought a new challenge for the Playhouse and its leaders just when it seemed to have survived a rocky five-week trial and set a course toward long term stability. The Playhouse has raised almost $500,000 in public and private money since leaders announced in mid-November that it was out of cash and in danger of shutting down. The cash infusion enabled the organization to make payroll and finish the 2012 season. It announced a 2013 season with an ambitious lineup of plays and musical tributes that leaders project will have broad box office appeal.
Production manager Billy Munoz and public relations director Sharon Stokes resigned this week. Eric Leach, the YouTheatre music supervisor, also resigned but his resignation to tour with a commercial theater production had been in the works for some time. Munoz's resignation was a surprise because he had led a social media-based effort that raised thousands of dollars from current and former Playhouse actors locally and around the world.
Munoz said he left over a difference of opinion in the management approach that producing artistic director Vincent Marini has taken. Munoz said he tried in two meetings with the board, one with Marini present, one not, to explain that longtime employees needed to be heard and needed input on the direction of the theater.
"I don't want to stir the pot or create a stink," he said. "It's a difference of opinion in how the management should be done in the future and I'm steering away from that."
Munoz, who is also an actor and drummer, said he tried to foster "an open dialogue" between disillusioned employees and the board and management. He accused Marini of "mismanagement of time, people and money."
Munoz and Stokes follow a growing parade of mid- to high-ranking veteran leaders who have quit in a difference of opinion over the theater's direction or to pursue other theater jobs.
The triumvirate of Scott Treadway, Paige Posey and Dale Bartlett have all resigned over the past three years. Business manager Dale Jones resigned on Dec. 2.
Marini said he won't talk about personnel matters but confirmed that the Playhouse will be hiring a new head of public relations and social media to replace Stokes and a head of production with a restructured scope of duties.
"There are many many people that work there that are great employees," Marini said. "Billy is a great employee and a great guy but there are many other people that work out here. It's time for those people that have been critical about what we're doing here to recognize that we're doing everything we can to make people feel good about the future. We need to move forward and that's where we are. At some point we've got to start thinking about people that are here instead of those that are not."
"People can say whatever they like to say," he said. "The thing I'm focused on is what's best for the Flat Rock Playhouse and the people have to make decisions from their own lives and what's best for them."
The theater administrator, who took over three years ago, said he hoped the Playhouse staff can focus on getting ready for the 2013 season rather than on the politics and turmoil of the fiscal crisis that has rocked the venerable theater for the past five weeks.
Munoz said he is not sure what's he's going to do now. He said he'd return to the Playhouse, where he has worked for 25 years, if Marini were gone.
Just two days ago Munoz praised Playhouse supporters and the effort they made to rescue the organization. Munoz helped to spearhead and his wife, Neela, directed the "For the Rock" benefit on Dec. 11 that raised $16,718.
"It's amazing to think what has occurred in five weeks," he wrote on the Save the Playhouse Facebook page. "I am really humbled by the action taken by an incredible community whose sole purpose was to keep a legacy alive. We have shown that the power in human connection is invaluable. With our efforts, we have secured the Playhouse to stay afloat, have some breathing space, to be able to look ahead and cautiously proceed forward. I will be eternally grateful to all of you who gave, either monetarily, artistically, spiritually, all without condition. Your work was not in vain. The Playhouse has been given a second chance."