Arts & Culture

Piedmont Players Theatre Board Breaks Silence on Controversial Firing

Tuesday meeting could lead to reinstatement of Bradley Moore

Cast members in Piedmont Players' Theatre's December 2023 production of 'Puffs.' dressed in Harry Potter-esque clothing onstage
Cast members in Piedmont Players’ Theatre’s December 2023 production of ‘Puffs.’ (Photo by Tim Coffey)

Following the sudden January firing of Piedmont Players Theatre artistic director Bradley Moore, a meeting has been called to address community concerns and potentially remove members from the board of directors in hopes of reinstating Moore. 

Scheduled for Feb. 13, the meeting will be open to members only. The members who called the meeting hope that ousting select board members will lead to a vote to reinstate Moore as artistic director of the Salisbury-based theatre company

The meeting, which comes after weeks of petitioning, online controversy, and speculation regarding Moore’s termination, will reportedly consist of 15-minute speeches — one by interim board president Edward Norvell in defense of the board’s decision to fire Moore and another by Caroline Forrester, who has been public in her support for Moore and launched a petition calling for his reinstatement.

Learn more: Piedmont Players Theatre Removes Artistic Director Mid-Season, Raising Questions

Some members of the Piedmont Players Theatre community argue that the firing signals deeper issues within the board membership, including claims that homophobia played a large part in his removal. 

Norvell, who replaced Taylor Hutchins as interim board president after Hutchins stepped down due to health concerns, is now taking responsibility for not only dealing with the community backlash that has resulted from Moore’s firing but clearing the name of Piedmont Players in the wake of allegations of LGBTQ discrimination.

While the board originally refused to comment on Moore’s firing, citing privacy concerns, Norvell is now speaking out in support of the decision to part ways with Moore in the lead-up to Tuesday’s meeting.

  

In an interview with Queen City Nerve, Norvell addressed the timeline leading up to and after Moore’s firing. He recalled being on the committee that hired Bradley Moore, who was brought on under the title of managing director following the controversial dismissal of Reid Leonard as artistic director in 2020.

“The situation with Reid was a horrible shot to the system … I consider him to be a close friend. But the business part of the theatre was not being handled well,” Norvell stated. He recalled that Leonard “tried to do it all” in directing shows and managing the organization’s finances and fundraising efforts. 

Norvell asserts the company has continued to struggle in keeping a balance between artistic and administrative duties under Moore, which played a role in January’s firing. Looking back at the events that led up to the termination, Norvell listed ways that the board attempted to prevent it, including changing Moore’s job title to artistic director with plans of hiring another person to manage the business aspects of the theatre.

But as the organization kept struggling to fundraise and maintain their regular programming under Moore’s leadership, the board ran out of options by December 2023, Norvell insisted. He said the board waited until after the holidays to make their decision, though the timing was not ideal. 

“It was a very difficult decision. The worst part was the fact that we were in production. That’s what I regret,” Norvell stated in reference to canceling a run of POTUS, a show that he sponsored, days before it was set to open.

Norvell refuted the allegations that Moore was terminated due to homophobic beliefs among some board members, a claim central to the argument posed by those petitioning to reinstate him. 

Since those claims were published in the Salisbury Post and Queen City Nerve, longtime supporters of Piedmont Players have come out in defense of the organization and their commitment to serving the LGBTQ+ community in Salisbury.

Tamara Sheffield, cofounder of Salisbury Pride and currently Salisbury’s mayor pro tem, addressed these concerns in an email inquiry for a statement from QC Nerve. 

“As a founding member of our first Pride in 2011 — PPT was a sponsor and for several years allowed Pride to use their Norvell facility as a dressing room, hospitality center and storage before and after events. They have also hosted fundraisers and shows for Salisbury Pride,” she wrote.

Sheffield also asserted, “Since the inception of Salisbury Pride, PPT has been supportive of our festival and events. Also, there have always been out LGBTQ+ community members involved with PPT and from my experience I have never experienced a bias.” 

She went on to state that she “never personally experienced any homophobia under any director or board member — as a Salisbury Pride member and an actor that has done shows at both the Meroney and Norvell [theaters].”

Queen City Nerve also received a statement from Karen Christensen, a Charlotte resident who has worked with Piedmont Players for 26 years.

“Because of the spirit and passion of all involved in PPT during my tenure, I have driven uncountable hours from Charlotte to Salisbury for rehearsals, performances and fundraising events. It was worth it,” Christensen wrote. “PPT and their Board of Directors have always been an ally of the LGBTQ+ community. Never once have they swayed from their commitment to bring its members together.”

Norvell, who cited his role with the HIV/AIDS Task Force in the 1980s, expressed that he felt personally offended that anyone would make such claims about the organization he leads. “It cuts me personally to the quick to be accused of being associated with an organization that is homophobic. Knowing the history of our organization, it really offends me.” 

He addressed the particular incident that Moore’s supporters have used as evidence of anti-LGBTQ thought on the board after a member pulled their production partner status from an upcoming show due to the presence of a Salisbury Pride table in the lobby during a run of Rent at PPT in October 2023. 

Norvell said he could not speak to this board member’s reasoning, but maintained that they had never used homophobic language and actually made a motion to endorse PPT’s statement of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation following those claims.

Other concerns also worry the PPT community. Though two different boards handled the terminations of Leonard and Moore, the controversy surrounding the firings will surround the search for a new artistic director should the upcoming meeting not result in Moore’s reinstatement.

Norvell believes that the current management model of Piedmont Players may be to blame for the recent difficulties with its leadership. He hopes that the organization’s strategic planning period, which will occur in April, will bring about necessary change. 

“We’d like to look at some other models and talk to the other theatre groups and get their suggestions,” he stated. “Once the dust is settled and once we know who the board is going to be, that’s what we will do.”


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