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Performing arts squabble at FAC 

Rumors are flying about the recent hire of Sandy Bray as the Fine Arts Center's new Director of Performing Arts, a position that oversees an annual budget of approximate $500,000.

While it may just be the standard fallout that follows in the wake of any major institutional administrative changeover, the controversy raises some important questions about the way the museum handles its internal affairs.

The story began in November, 2001 during the FAC Repertory Theatre's production of The King and I.

Bray, former drama teacher and theater manager at the prestigious Colorado Springs School since 1992 who has many acting and directing credits to her name, had been hired by then-Director of Performing Arts Rob Geers to direct the show.

During that production, long-time FAC employee and volunteer Cliff McCullough complained to Geers that Bray was consuming an alcoholic beverage onstage in front of the cast, which included many children. When Geers took Bray aside to remind her of FAC policies against drinking on the job, Bray "let loose with a completely unprofessional display in front of the cast necessitating a subsequent apology. I was there. I witnessed this display," said McCullough in a letter obtained by the Independent that he later wrote to FAC Director David Turner.

In April 2002, just before she was slated to direct the FAC's production of West Side Story in May, Bray resigned from the show for unspecified reasons.

Shortly after Bray's resignation from West Side Story, Geers also resigned his position as Director of Performing Arts.

Despite the King and I controversy, Bray was recently hired as Geers' permanent replacement, a move that has further outraged McCullough and several other former employees and volunteers at the FAC.

In the letter sent to Turner on April 14, 2002, McCullough said Bray often had exhibited an "abusive" and "volatile temperament" with her production staff which he had personally witnessed during the many times he had worked with her during his 14-year tenure at the FAC.

Despite these complaints from him and several other staff members, said McCullough, Director Turner did nothing to investigate the allegations.

McCullough also claims that Turner later withheld his knowledge of Bray's temperament and the events that transpired during The King and I

from the Performing Arts Selection Committee that recommended Bray.

When contacted, however, David Turner said he "shared his knowledge of past events" with the selection committee, but not McCullough's or anyone else's letter. Turner also noted that the final decision of who to hire was entirely his to make.

Once Bray was hired, McCullough wrote a letter of resignation to the FAC's Board of Directors dated Aug. 1, 2002 in which he detailed his many experiences with Bray including several incidents when Bray allegedly reduced her stage crew to tears.

"Sandy is not an asset to the Fine Arts Center," said McCullough. "She is abusive to her design staff. She is insubordinate to her superiors. She has a volatile temperament."

When asked for comment, Bray said only: "I have nothing to defend and I am not going to respond."

McCullough was the first of three people to resign his position in the wake of Bray's hiring. Assistant Director of Performing Arts Amber Carlton and contract Costume Designer Anita Marciano also resigned soon after. Both declined to comment.

While McCullough and others believe the hiring merits investigation by the board that oversees the museum, also at issue are Bray's ties to the board itself. A close friend of board member Sally Hybl, Bray also has many connections from her years of work at the prestigious Colorado Springs School.

In her cover letter to Turner, also obtained by the Independent, Bray says as much: "As the Fine Arts enters its capital campaign [for the planned addition to the museum], I know that my reputation among community leaders will be a great asset."

FAC Board of Trustees Chair Steve Gaines declined to comment, noting that policy prohibits board members from commenting publicly on personnel issues. Board Co-Chairman Buck Blessing, however, said that he thought Bray was a good hire and noted that she had taught his children at The Colorado Springs School.

Turner, meanwhile, didn't deny that Sandy's connections would be an asset.

"I feel very strongly that Sandy can step in here and do a great job for us," he said. "I like the fact that she has many good local connections in theater in the Colorado Springs area. ... Being a local candidate was a positive piece because she could jump right in there and get things going. I'm sorry some people have left. But that happens in many situations when there are changes in leadership."

-- nblack@csindy.com

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