Maryland Theatre to limit media contact

March 27, 1997


Staff Writer

Maryland Theatre employees, including the theater's new managing director, are not allowed to speak with the media, the theater board's president said Wednesday.

Board members in late February approved new policies forbidding employees and volunteers to speak to the media after the theater's creditors expressed concern about newspaper articles that focused on the theater, said Patricia Wolford, board president.

The board already had in place a policy under which no information was to be made public unless the board gave authorization, Wolford said. The new policy is more explicit, she said.


Don Wiswell, who assumed the job of theater managing director in early March, said that his contract stipulates that he isn't allowed to speak with the media.

"I'm happy to work here. I'm an instrument of the board's will and they're my boss, so I do what they ask," said Wiswell, who is co-owner of the Washington County Playhouse at 44 N. Potomac St.

Wiswell said it's not unusual for an employer to ask employees not to speak to the media.

Board member W. Kennedy Boone III said the no-talking policy as it concerns Wiswell is subject to change. After Wiswell, who is being paid about $25,000, becomes familiar with the theater's daily operations, he should be able to speak with the media, he said.

"It was really a board decision," Boone said. With the theater receiving a lot of publicity - some correct and some incorrect - theater officials thought the board needed one spokesperson, he said.

After several articles about the theater ran in The Herald-Mail newspapers, the theater's creditors, which included Farmers and Merchants Bank and Trust, had expressed concern to theater officials about employees and volunteers speaking to the media, Wolford said.

The newspaper articles focused on the historic South Potomac Street theater's debt and the resignations of four board members in a one-month period.

"We put a lot of money into that paper" in advertising, Wolford said. "We think we were treated unfairly. I don't know why the newspaper wants to come after the theater."

Gloria George, executive editor of The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail, said the newspaper is not out to get the theater.

"Obviously, there is tremendous community interest in the theater's well-being. Whether it's doing well or it's doing poorly, we believe the community wants to know. We have reported when it was doing well and we will report when it's doing poorly," George said.

"We have provided a fair, balanced and accurate portrait of this community treasure," she said.

Theater officials seek donations from supporters and receive taxpayers' dollars from the City of Hagerstown, and therefore should be willing to share financial information with the public, George said.

Theater officials this month paid a $130,000 balloon mortgage payment to a group of local banks, including F&M. They got the money for the payment by taking out a six-month loan from Bulldog Federal Credit Union, Boone said.

The $250,000 mortgage was taken out in 1994 when the theater was in the midst of a funding crisis.

After a financial audit covering the period July 1, 1995, through Dec. 31, 1996, has been completed, theater officials will negotiate a long-term loan with Bulldog, he said. The audit is expected to be completed in mid-April.

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