An obscure upstate theater group that receives far more state aid than any of New York’s world-renowned cultural institutions is rife with corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and possibly illegal conduct, according to a scathing report released on Tuesday by the state inspector general’s office.The big-ticket items? Patricia Snyder hired herself as a director and double-dipped on her pension fund through the SSDC (which the article makes sound like some fly-by-night outfit run by either the Chicago Combine or gypsies). She produced an audiobook written by her daughter-in-law, composed by her son and co-produced by her husband. There's some implied stuff about an apartment in the city supposedly for the company but used by her family...which appears to include a number of the artists involved. That's pretty much it.
The report alleges that the artistic director, Patricia Snyder, treated the group as a personal fiefdom, routinely doling out acting roles, directing jobs, production work and other benefits to herself and her family members. Ms. Snyder steered a total of more than $700,000 in payments to her husband, her two sons, her two daughters-in-law and to herself, the report said.
Now, I don't know these folks or the particulars of this case and there may be real actual shenanigans afoot. If not shenanigans, sketchy business practices with state money, which is, obviously, bad. But...at the same time...where's the line between nepotism and what's essentially a small family business? (Again, I'm not saying they should be enriching themselves off of the public teat or not serving their community; but the entire article treats all of this like a RICO indictment and these "jobs" making "theatre" were essentially no-show or no-work jobs that Tony gave to Chris.) Where's the line between building and becoming a part of a community and being a flim-flam artist who's soaking them for their hard-earned dough. I've heard that Diane Paulus has run into some of the same questions up at Harvard with her production of The Donkey Show and when I read the Globe article a few weeks ago, I had some similar reservations. Certainly there are some questionable aspects to it...but part of it is...well, it's the business of show. We marry people we work with. Sometimes we work with people so that we might...um...marry them. We raise our kids in the theatre, teaching them the trade. (Yeah. Let's put it that way.) Our work is often underfunded, undersupported and, because artists are at the shallow end of the payment pool, underpaid. So we figure out ways, sometimes sketchy ways, sometimes less than totally above-board ways, to get paid. When the hammer comes down, though, it's always on the chiseling individual who's betrayed our trust, never on the system that makes it possible...and sometimes necessary.
But when you look at it in cold, black-and-white letters in the paper of record...yeah, it does sound more like Tony Soprano than William Shakespeare. But how do we fix it without making doing theatre an onerous thing that separates families rather than brings them together?