Mere weeks after reporting respectable attendance and cash receipts for its 2004 edition `"Fringe stays afloat in parted waters," July 8`, the Orlando International Fringe Festival has experienced some unforeseen, perhaps even seismic upheavals. At a July 19 meeting, the Fringe's board of directors parted ways with business manager Rob Ward and executive director Ed DeAguilera, the latter of whom had five months to go on his contract to oversee the affairs of the 12-year-old, non-juried performing arts festival.
DeAguilera says the split came when the Fringe's board, responding to unexpected shortages, asked him to work unpaid for one month and raise an extra $10,000 in funds if he wanted to keep his job. As he tells it, the aftermath of this year's operations found the festival owing $40,000 and with assets of only $5,000 as of the July 19 meeting. He says he didn't know of this dire state of affairs until one week previous, and that a good deal of the debt was left over from previous installments of the festival (with which he, as a first-time hire, was not involved). The existence of that holdover debt, he claims, was not shared with him.
"I don't want to blame anyone specifically," says DeAguilera, who nonetheless asserts that he was not "conferenced" frequently enough on the subject of the Fringe's financial status. He also believes that the festival suffers from a philosophical "disconnect" between its board and its producing staff, as well as a lack of a clearly defined operational strategy.
"I must be critical of the board," DeAguilera says. "There are members who have no idea of how a not-for-profit and a theater organization run. `They` have no clue of how people collect money for not-for-profits."
Officially, the Fringe board has had little comment, preferring not to discuss the circumstances of DeAguilera's departure. Says president Cid Stoll: "We had our regular monthly board meeting on Monday `July 19`, where we talked about this year's successes and what we needed to fix for next year. We made some staff changes, and, as is true of nearly every arts organization in Central Florida, we have less money in the bank than we'd like. But we are moving forward towards the new season with passion and dedication. We have several fund-raising events in the works, and are sending out our annual appeal this month, as always."
Other sources close to the situation are more willing to vigorously dispute many of DeAguilera's claims. While they admit that the Fringe has found itself in a financial hole and not for the first time they deny the existence of a standing debt. (The festival's most recent tax records, dated June 30, 2003, show the organization with assets of $19,398.) According to some seasoned participants, the recent crisis can be pegged solely to a discrepancy between the 2004 festival's operating expenses and its success in raising funds and processing them accurately.
As of late last week, board members were reportedly working overtime to determine the true extent the Fringe's debts and make restitution with anyone who may have been shorted in the confusion. Donations are coming in from concerned third parties, and the fund-raising events Stoll mentioned are going forward though Fringe veterans admit that it's dismaying to again be in the position of greeting the community with a hard-luck story and an extended hand.
On a more positive note, associate producer Beth Marshall who accepted a shift to volunteer status when the financial crisis was at its worst is now being paid again. A board retreat is planned for August, when several matters of import will be discussed, including finding a replacement for DeAguilera and determining the general makeup of next year's staff.
Meanwhile, there's one sure sign that the Fringe's current woes will not totally short-circuit its future: Dates for its next edition have been set for May 19 through 29, 2005, at performance locations to be determined.