Stage & Dance

Actors Guild lays off 'hero' artistic director, goes into 'hibernation' over money woes

Eric Seale
carried the company on his back, board chairman Jim Gleason said.
Eric Seale carried the company on his back, board chairman Jim Gleason said. Angela Baldridge

Actors Guild of Lexington has laid off its artistic director, Eric Ryan Seale, the last employee on the theater's payroll, and has gone into "hibernation," its leader says.

Last month, Seale said the group had left its home in the South Elkhorn Village shopping center off Harrodsburg Road because it was no longer able to pay for the space it had occupied since late 2010. Seale told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday that he understood that the guild intended to re-emerge in another location, possibly the Downtown Arts Center.

"They have decided the best thing they can do is remove the expense of a full-time employee, so they're letting me go," Seale said. "It's because of money. There's just not enough of it."

Actors Guild board chairman Jim Gleason said, "I cannot emphasize enough, this is not a reflection on performance. Eric has been a hero and carried the company on his back the last four years."

Gleason said that both Seale's layoff and the departure from the South Elkhorn Theatre were necessary for the company to regroup financially and continue.

"We're going into hibernation, not dissolving, not shutting down," Gleason said. "We're getting into a place where we don't have the burden of overhead and Eric's salary, so we can figure out a way to reboot and continue to do the work we do."

Gleason said he hopes that Seale, 33, will be part of Actors Guild's re-emergence, but he also understands that the director needs to get on with his own life and career.

The developments are the latest travails in the turbulent history of Actors Guild, which at one time was viewed as Lexington's flagship theater company. The most recent crisis was a 2009 financial meltdown that resulted in the theater departing from its home in the Downtown Arts Center. At the time, artistic director Richard St. Peter and managing director Kimberly Shaw departed to pursue other opportunities.

Seale was named acting artistic director and eventually artistic director, and he led the theater's move from downtown Lexington to the Harrodsburg Road area.

"I have sacrificed several years of my life entirely to its survival," Seale said of Actors Guild. "It was gone. It was dead, and I said I was willing to try to breathe life into it.

"It was incredibly hard, and if I have any regrets, it was things I missed out on while working those 18-hour days," Seale said. "I guess now I will have a chance to look into some of those things I missed out on."

Gleason and Seale said that although Actors Guild had numerous successful productions in its nearly four years at South Elkhorn, the loss of several streams of financial support made staying there unsustainable. The organization lost rehearsal space, limiting the number of money-making shows the theater could produce.

"Ticket sales were good," Gleason said. "But as we often say in this business, we can't survive on ticket sales alone. We need support from the community and hope we will find that."

In the past year, the Downtown Arts Center's management was taken over by the Lexington Parks and Recreation Department after LexArts said it wanted to give up that role, and LexArts has hired a new director, Ellen A. (Nan) Plummer, who will start work Nov. 17. Gleason said he hoped that both of those developments will help create a more supportive environment in which Actors Guild can re-emerge.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Gleason said. "We're taking a breather."

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