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Last Statement On HHS Trumbauer Bid.

November 18, 2009

Unless something drastically changes, I’m ending my coverage of Huntsville High School’s Trumbauer issues with this post.  I’ve already talked about the Secondary Chair of the Alabama Conference of Theatre (ACT) being somewhat shakey in her answer to my questions.  I passed that on to the President of ACT, Chris Rich, and got a response.  It wasn’t what I was hoping for, and it glosses over some pretty serious issues, but since it is pretty much a “final” statement, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere else to go.

What follows, as requested, is Chris Rich’s entire response.  It’s long, and it goes into the weeds a bit.  Probably my fault, since I questioned the fairness of the process.  I’ll leave that till after, but I do have a real serious issue with the “fairness” of the process

Dear Mr. Malone,

Due to the nature of the issue concerning the Huntsville High School production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I cannot comment out of respect for Huntsville High School or the Huntsville City School District.  I have issued a statement of ruling to Mike Chappell, Max Dashner, District One Chair and Nancy Malone, Secondary Division Chair concerning the issue.  If Mike, his school, and the school district are willing to share the statement with you, you have my permission to use it in its entirety.

As for the issue of fairness of process, I again refer you to Mike Chappell. Huntsville High School’s production of Forbidden Broadway took top honors at state last year and then took top honors at the Southeastern Theatre Conference Convention in Birmingham.  As President of ACT, I supervised the process last year and will supervise the same process again this year.  The Trumbauer Festival is open to the public, for enjoyment or for scrutiny, but is specifically intended for further education of the students and teachers involved.

To answer your question more directly, each one-act production and individual event is adjudicated on the same criteria whether they are from a school that provides funding for theatre education, has a dedicated theatre teacher or teachers, a theater, and technical support or whether they have no dedicated funding, produce in a cafeteria or are headed by a teacher/director who has no specified theatre class and is a one-person department without the support of parents and everyone else in between. Three of the five Trumbauer judges for one-acts are brought in from out of state and all one-act judges are sequestered for the duration of the competition.  They are instructed to not speak about the shows with one another and are seated apart during the competition.  Their results are tabulated individually.  As the head of this organization, I feel that the process is fair and will remain fair.

To be thorough, you should ask all of the teachers directly involved in the state and district festivals if they feel the process is fair, because as a division they write and approve the rules that govern this competition. They dedicate their time to the support and education of these students and through that effort, the state of Alabama has always provided one of the strongest shows at the Southeastern Theatre Conference Convention every year.  If the process were not fair, I do not believe we could involve the close to 2,000 students state-wide in the district and state festivals.  The festival involvement is after all, voluntary.

Lastly, the Alabama Conference of Theatre is a volunteer organization that serves the purpose of improving the quality of theatre arts for community theatres, middle school and high school programs, college and university training programs, professional theatre and theatre-for-youth.  ACT also helps to create closer relationships among theater arts people at all levels and seeks to educate audiences to a greater appreciation of theatre arts.  I encourage your readers with an interest in theatre who would like to be a part of this process and help theatre in the state of Alabama grow in every facet, get in touch with us at www.alabamaconferenceoftheatre.org .

I would appreciate that if you use this e-mail for your publication, please use it in its entirety.  Thank you for being involved in theatre, supporting the theatres around you and showing concern in this matter.

Sincerely,

Chris Rich, President
Alabama Conference of Theatre

Now I’d like to say I’ve got some experience with volunteer organizations, and I know how difficult the process is.  Getting people to volunteer is a pain, getting them to perform their duties, even harder.  I don’t envy Mr. Rich his job, not to mention that he is a volunteer himself.

However, I respectfully disagree that the process is fair and that Huntsville High School was treated fairly.  To make it worse, it isn’t fair to the volunteers any more than it is to the schools.  The Secondary Chair, who is in charge of the process of Trumbauer, is also a competitor in Trumbauer.  The district chair, which is where this issue first arose, is also a competitor, and this time a direct competitor of Huntsville High School at the district level.

I’m not saying that these good people are going to cheat.  But how fair is it that the gatekeepers of any event are involved in the event itself?  In most industries, such an event would be unthinkable.  Once a gatekeeper decides to participate, they can’t be gatekeepers anymore.  It’s basic conflict of interest.

Now I’m sure that ACT is working with what they can.  Setting up a statewide festival is difficult, and they came up with a system and the members vote on the rules and they do the best they can.  After all, they’ve asked ME, of all people, to judge.  And the process is fair and well thought out, for what it is.  But to deny that there is a potential, rather seriously, for a conflict of interest is just silly.

Now this year’s gatekeeper is next years competitor, and that helps keep people honest.  But with the conflict of interest inherent in the system, you would think that all competitors would be given the benefit of the doubt in most any issue and great pains would be taken to avoid even the appearance of any arbitrary and inconsistent application of rules and guidelines.  That is not what happened in the case of Huntsville High School.  Instead, the assumption was of wrongdoing, and arbitrary and inconsistent guidelines and deadlines, which were not followed after they were given, were used.  When these arbitrary application of rules were pointed out, they were reversed, so ultimately fairness won out.  But fairness was clearly stepped upon to get to that point.

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, this isn’t a judgement on the entire process of Trumbauer.  The process, as voted on by the members, is as fair as they can make it with the resources they have.  But the process doesn’t seem to have been followed in this specific case, with moving targets and changing and arbitrary deadlines.  And with the potential conflict of interest, such actions should have been avoided at any cost.  It wasn’t the process itself that was ever in question.

But ultimately, the result is that HHS earned a superior rating and was passed on to state.  The hanky actions of last week aside, the process worked. And that’s the most important thing.

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