Irvine Barclay Theatre chairman steps down following internal dissent

At the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine, board chairman Robert Farnsworth has stepped down.

At the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine, board chairman Robert Farnsworth has stepped down.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The embattled chairman of the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Orange County announced a leadership change Wednesday during a board meeting in which some longtime supporters criticized his management.

Robert Farnsworth will remain on the board of the Barclay, located on the UC Irvine campus, but said he will turn over the chairman position to Ken Rohl.

In an interview Thursday, Farnsworth emphasized that he was not stepping down early. His term ends Dec. 31, he said, and he called the change “a natural transition.” He also emphasized that all board members and officers had been elected unanimously.


After the Wednesday meeting, former board member Jennifer Cheng said the Cheng Family Foundation will no longer request that its name be removed from the Barclay’s 756-seat Cheng Hall. In a Dec. 5 letter, the family asked that its name be removed from the performance space and all official Barclay publications.

The letter excoriated Farnsworth’s leadership of the Barclay, saying the venue’s programming had been left to a committee of individuals lacking the skills to make artistic decisions.

Some supporters of the theater also accused Farnsworth of a conflict of interest in the hiring of his girlfriend to a consulting position at the Barclay.

At the time, Farnsworth defended himself, telling The Times last week that the accusations of a conflict of interest were “totally unfounded.”

Its letter came after the sudden departure in August of the Barclay’s longtime president, Doug Rankin. Last week, Rankin told The Times that “it was widely known” that he and Farnsworth “didn’t enjoy each other’s company.”

In the last year, the Barclay has seen at least four prominent donors, including the Chengs, withdraw support for the company.


“I am very encouraged that Mr. Farnsworth has stepped down,” said Sally Anne Sheridan, a former Irvine mayor and a supporter of the Barclay since its beginnings. “Because of him, other board members have left and taken their money with them.”

Sheridan, one of several people who spoke Wednesday at the board meeting, said Rankin’s departure in August occurred “under questionable conditions.”

She later expressed confidence in Rohl, who had served on the theater’s board, including a stint as chairman.

Since opening in 1990, the Barclay has become one of Orange County’s preeminent performing arts institutions, presenting dance, music and theater companies.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT