Orleans Academy Teachers Find New Home in Harwich

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Arts

Starting next month, dance teachers Terry Norgeot, David McCarty, and Suzette Hutchinson will be giving their classes at The Arts Center of the Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre. Standing behind them is Anne Kiefer, an original incorporator of the Academy of Performing Arts, the Orleans school where the teachers were faculty members. ED MARONEY PHOTO

Several longtime teachers of the Academy of Performing Arts school in Orleans will be offering their classes at the Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre's Arts Center in Harwich Center next month.

The switch is more fallout from the financial difficulties of the Academy, which laid off production staff at its theater in January. The venue has since reopened for shows, and a modern version of “Romeo and Juliet” will debut tonight (Aug. 20). The Academy is no longer producing its own shows at the theater.

The Academy's school on Giddiah Hill Road has been in turmoil, with longtime faculty citing missed paychecks, lack of communication, and even finding the locks at the building changed. As with the theater, the Academy's board wants to change its role from employer to a provider of studio space for classes that former faculty and others would run themselves.

As the weeks passed, dance teacher David McCarty said, he got in touch with CCTC producing artistic director Nina Schuessler about opportunities for his colleagues and himself to teach in Harwich. Instructors such as McCarty, Suzette Hutchinson, and Terry Norgeot were no strangers to CCTC, having directed and choreographed performances there for many years.

It's a move McCarty said he makes “with incredible regret.” In a joint interview with Hutchinson, Norgeot, and one of the Academy's original incorporators, Anne Kiefer, he recalled being the Academy's first full scholarship student in 1976. He remembered “excavating” a space behind the box office with Kiefer—who taught him fencing—for an office space.

The teachers said some traditions ended around 2000 when the Academy board brought on Peter Earle as the theater's artistic director. Opportunities for faculty to direct, choreograph, and otherwise involve themselves in productions diminished.

“I feel like Peter was an answer (for the board) to be very frugal,” McCarty said. “but also to allow the board not to necessarily aggressively fund-raise.”

“I don't think Peter should be blamed,” Kiefer said. “He was hired by a board who ignored him. The board never knew and still doesn't know what's going on.”

“They don't bring money,” Norgeot said. “I asked right out to one member, 'What do you do (to raise funds)?' The answer was, nothing. I asked how many grants were written, and I was told none. How many fundraisers? None.” The teachers said they would have been happy to organize fundraisers, as they had done in the past, if the board had been open with them about the financial situation.

The teachers credit an active parents group for finding the funds to support a spring semester and a final show at Nauset Regional Middle School. After that, they said, the Academy proposed that they become independent contractors, but the instructors found the financial arrangements and support services lacking. Another offer involved ensuring only a fall semester, which the teachers felt could be disruptive for their students.

When the Academy instructors contacted Schuessler and Tamara Harper, the Harwich company's director of education and community outreach, they were welcomed as familiar colleagues.

“I've known them for 20 and 30 years,” Schuessler said. “They've been our choreographers, directors. It's not a new relationship by any means... We never offered dance classes because they were working at the Academy. We offer mostly drama and technical theater classes.”

Cape Cod Theatre Company has two properties, its theater in West Harwich and The Arts Center in Harwich Center, which it leases from the town. “It's an old school,” Schuessler said, “beautifully set up with rooms that are nice wide open spaces... They thought it would work.”

Needs such as mirrors, barres, and sound systems are being acquired in part from funds the company received from the Seaside Lemans race for education and outreach. “We're bonded and insured in this building,” Schuessler said. “They're not paying rent. They're coming under the umbrella of the Cape Cod Theatre Company, just another part of our education program really.” She's excited about the potential for collaboration, looking forward to “bringing in dance students who might be interested in honing theater skills and (having) our theater kids become interested in developing [other skills].”

Said Schuessler, who taught at the Academy for 10 years before becoming producing artistic director in Harwich and was succeeded in Orleans by Harper, “These relationships are historic. We wish the Academy all the best.”

Academy Reaches Out to Faculty

In a letter being sent this week to faculty, trustees chair Greg DeLory and vice chair Sarah Mumford offer apologies and an invitation to work together again.

“Please accept our sincerest apologies...on behalf of the board for our lack of timely communication as we sought solutions to the Academy's financial difficulties,” the letter states. “We are grateful for the heroic efforts of our parent population and of the APA faculty members who stepped up at a time of crisis, raised new funds, invested extra time without compensation, and accepted unfunded paychecks to finish the school year as planned. While the board has worked diligently to the degree that it has been able, we recognize that the summer has gone by quickly and the lack of clear resolution and communication has led to misunderstandings, disappointment, anger, and divisiveness.”

Recognizing that “our teachers are the core of the Academy's success as an educational organization,” the letter expresses understanding “that time has passed and that many have found new teaching opportunities elsewhere. If we lose your services, we will be disappointed, but we offer our thanks for your good service, and we wish you the best in the future.”

In the letter, the Academy board proposes an operational model that will “enable the faculty to administer the educational program, sparing the APA institution the expense of administrative oversight and employment expenses.” Studio space, scheduling and communication support, cleaning and maintenance, and insurance would be offered for $15 an hour for music studios and $35 an hour for dance studios. Teachers would be allowed to set their own rates for classes.

“The school's not closed,” DeLory said in an interview this week. “The APA directors weighed many options to maintain a viable education facility... Rather than being an employer, APA will provide desirable facilities for qualified teachers acting as independent contractors.”

The board is acting to preserve its mission, according to DeLory.

“What we're doing is the best we can for the circumstances of having no money,” he said. “Throughout this difficult time, our mission has been to secure the survival of the school and the theater. The school's operational model had not changed in many decades. Continuing in the same direction, there was a real risk of closing the doors and selling the buildings.”

One renewed source of funds may be rental of two apartments on the second floor of the Giddiah Hill building, now being used as additional studio space, storage, and a business office. It's been about two decades since the rooms were used as residences. “We're not in it to make a profit,” DeLory said. “We're non-profit. We'd love to break even on the school building.” He added that the Academy “did have a development arm, but it wasn't very effective.”

Although “it was unfortunate that things happened the way they happened,” DeLory said, “the theater and the school both have new operating models that don't involve a lot of outlay on our part such as meeting payroll and paying royalties. We've eliminated those obligations while at the same time still maintaining our mission.”

In a follow-up email reply, DeLory wrote, “We are providing a venue for Academy level classroom instruction. We are furnishing a showcase for the students as stated in our letter to the teachers. We will have workshops and master classes at the theater. We do have an art gallery at the theater; we just had an opening last Thursday. We do provide a venue for all kinds of entertainment. We will offer all of this to the public without discrimination.”

The email contact for information about Academy school studios and classrooms is apaorleansinformation@gmail.com/. To learn about classes at Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre, go to capecodtheatrecompany.org or write to infor@capecodtheatrecompany.org