For the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 2015 was supposed to have been a year of celebration — a 25th anniversary season spotlighting the company’s reputation as one of Orange County’s premier presenters of dance, music and theater.
Instead, at least four prominent donors have said they are withdrawing financial support following a clash between board chairman Robert Farnsworth and former president Douglas Rankin, who left the company in August. The family of the late Dr. George and Arlene Cheng, who donated $750,000 to the Barclay the year it opened, have taken the unusual step of demanding that its name be taken down from the Barclay’s 756-seat Cheng Hall.
In a letter to Farnsworth, city leaders and officials at UC Irvine, where the theater is located, Jennifer Cheng said her family and her late parents’ foundation are “compelled to cut all ties” with the Barclay, including the removal of the Cheng name from the building, brochures, programming and other material. The letter praises the work of Rankin in the last five years, criticizes the “unwelcome” naming of Jerry Mandel as Rankin’s interim replacement and accuses the Barclay of leaving artistic programming to “a committee of individuals who have no or very little programming experience of ability.”
Farnsworth fired back by email, saying a Barclay programming committee that includes Mandel, the theater’s operations manager and its finance, marketing and development directors is “standard operating procedure.” His note, sent to Cheng, Mayor Steven Choi, UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman and other officials, points out that Mandel is the former head of the Orange County Performing Arts Center (now the Segerstrom Center for the Arts) in Costa Mesa and that a search is still underway for a permanent president.
Farnsworth’s email also says Cheng pledged $62,500 in March, and “we would like to know when we can expect a check.”
Jennifer Cheng in an interview this week confirmed that she resigned her board seat in April but said she was unable to discuss other Barclay matters, due to board confidentiality. She said the Cheng Family Foundation has donated an estimated $2 million to the Barclay over the years but will offer no support moving forward.
When reached by phone, Rankin said he was unable to comment on his departure because of his agreement with the company. But he said that “it was widely known” that he and Farnsworth “didn’t enjoy each other’s company.”
Longtime Barclay supporters said Rankin and Farnsworth sparred over various issues, including Rankin’s international travel and the hiring of Farnsworth’s girlfriend, Lori Grayson, to a consultancy position for special events and fundraising. Interim president Mandel said in an interview that Grayson will become the Barclay’s full-time director of development starting Jan. 1.
Farnsworth called the accusations of conflict of interest “totally unfounded.”
He said he disclosed his relationship with Grayson at a board meeting in April 2014 and “played no role in the hiring of her.”
“It was president Rankin’s sole discretion to retain her,” said Farnsworth, who is head of Irvine-based Sonnet Technologies, a computer and networking company. “I haven’t since interfered with Ms. Grayson’s relationship with her manager.”
Mandel said Grayson “has been a consummate professional in the handling of her duties” and that Farnsworth “has never interjected himself into any of my interactions with staff members, including Ms. Grayson.”
Los Angeles Times photographers document the year in arts and culture.(Los Angeles Times)
When the Mariinsky Ballet performed “Cinderella” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Oct. 8, even the wondrous Diana Vishneva as Cinderella couldn’t bring unity to the movement, but she danced with flawless, fearless authority. Read more >>(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins leaves a rehearsal of his play “Appropriate,” opening Oct. 4 at the Mark Taper Forum, to eat first with a reporter, then later with his agent and some unspecified Hollywood people, who presumably hope to lure him away from the field and city where he has experienced meteoric success in the last five years. Read more >>(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Kerstin Anderson takes charge of Maria von Trapp with a spirit so joyful, a physicality so lithe and coltish, and a soprano so flawlessly soaring that only Frau Schraeder, Capt. Von Trapp’s jilted fiancée (Teri Hansen), could possibly resist her charm. Read the Oct. 1 review >>(Los Angeles Times)
Soprano Abigail Fischer performs Oct. 7 in the opera “Songs from the Uproar” at REDCAT in Los Angeles.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Moisés Kaufman’s muscular revival of “Bent,” which played at the Mark Taper Forum, opening on July 26, renders what many had written off as a parochial drama about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany into a gripping tale of love, courage and identity. Read review >>(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Malaviki Sarukkai performing at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on July 19, 2015. Sarukkai is the best-known exponent of South Indian classical dance.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Bramwell Tovey conducts the L.A. Phil with pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Hollywood Bowl on July 14, 2015.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Argentine dancer Herman Cornejo performs in the West Coast premiere of “Tango y Yo” as part of the Latin portion of BalletNow.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Jake Shears plays Greta in Martin Sherman’s play “Bent” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles through Aug. 23, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dancers rehearse a one-night-only performance choregraphed by Raiford Rogers, one of L.A.'s most-noted choreographers. This year the dance will be to a new original score by Czech composer Zbynek Mateju.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley in Los Angeles on July 9, 2015.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Mia Sinclair Jenness, left, Mabel Tyler and Gabby Gutierrez alternate playing the title role in the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre. The three are shown during a day at Santa Monica Pier on June 16, 2015.(Christina House / For The Times)
American Contemporary Ballet Company members Zsolt Banki and Cleo Magill perform a dance routine originally done by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This performance was presented as part of "Music + Dance: L.A.” on Friday, June 19, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Miguel, a Grammy-winning guitarist, producer, singer and lyricist, is photographed in San Pedro on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. His new album "Wildheart,” explores L.A.'s “weird mix of hope and desperation.”(Christina House / For The Times)
Los Angeles-born artist Mark Bradford is photographed in front of “The Next Hot Line.” This piece is part of his show “Scorched Earth,” installed at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, June 11, 2015.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
The Los Angeles Opera concluded its season with “The Marriage of Figaro,” with Roberto Tagliavini as Figaro and Pretty Yende as Susanna, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
“Trinket,” a monumental installation by Newark-born, Chicago-based artist William Pope.L, features an American flag that is 16 feet tall and 45 feet long. The work is on display at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA through June 28.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Alex Knox, from left, Carolyn Ratteray, Lynn Milgrim and Paige Lindsey White in “Pygmalion” in spring 2015 at the Pasadena Playhouse.(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)
On March 17, Google celebrated the addition of more than 5,000 images to its Google Street Art project with a launch party at the Container Yard in downtown Los Angeles.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Ric Salinas, left, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya, of the three-man Latino theater group Culture Clash, brought their “Chavez Ravine: An L.A. Revival” to the Kirk Douglas Theatre to mark the group’s 30th anniversary. The play ran from Feb. 4 through March 1.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Opened in 1990, the Barclay was created as a public-private partnership between UC Irvine and the city of Irvine, which support operating costs, and a nonprofit organization whose board raises money to cover programming costs. It was named after Richard and Marjorie Barclay, who pledged $1 million for the building of the venue, which consists of the Cheng Hall auditorium, rehearsal rooms and other facilities.
The departure of board members and major donors, however, has left the Barclay in rebuilding mode. The theater said it has 11 full-time and two honorary board members, down from 21 members in 2010. Of the 13 current members, some are nondonors who represent the city or university.
“It’s a tragedy,” said Richard Sim, founding chairman of the Barclay and a longtime supporter. He and his wife have given money since the theater’s beginnings, he said, but they stopped in the most recent fiscal year.
Sim, a former executive at the Irvine Co. real estate development firm, cited Farnsworth’s “rogue” leadership style, including the making of decisions without consulting the full board. He also cited the way Rankin’s departure as president was handled.
Sally Anne Sheridan, a former mayor of Irvine and a longtime supporter of the theater, said the dispute has left the Barclay board “toxic.”
“This has become such a mess, and the board has become so divided and nasty.”
She worried that if the Barclay fails to raise enough money for programming, it could be vulnerable to a takeover, potentially by the university. Such a takeover, she feared, would alter the artistic identity of a company they worked hard to build.
The Barclay is primarily a presenting organization, attracting groups such as the Mark Morris dance company of New York and Ballet Preljocaj of France to perform on its main stage. It has been a frequent venue for the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, and it conducts community outreach for disadvantaged youth.
“It’s a complicated place in terms of how it is governed, and Doug was adept at keeping that balance going — and keeping the quality high,” said Dean Corey, former president of the Philharmonic Society.
The artistic programming of the Barclay operates on an annual budget of about $3.5 million, according to recent tax filings. The theater estimates that close to 2 million people have attended its events since the opening 25 years ago.
But the internal quarreling has put some Barclay donors on edge.
“It has sent my head spinning,” said Bobbi Cox, a donor and former board member who said she has given money consistently since the Barclay opened.
“If things continue to spiral down the way they are, I will have to reevaluate.”
Times staff writer Deborah Vankin contributed to this report.