All the World's an Empty Stage

For the locked-out founder of Eulipions, the playís still the thing.

Nulan doesn't doubt that there was a 120-day deadline. But, he says, "After 120 days, the board decided to continue. The bylaws of the organization allow that."

Actually, the bylaws of the organization say nothing about interim boards, so it is unclear whether they even permit one. And the old board's resignation letter doesn't address how a new board was to be selected after the 120 days were up.

(The bylaws do mention that the board of directors is supposed to hold "an annual meeting of the members," who are defined as anyone who pays a membership fee, set at $5. Nulan says there is no membership, and therefore no need to meet with it. Keel, however, insists that the membership of Eulipions has hovered between thirty and sixty people since the early '80s. She says that testimony of longstanding members and ex-boardmembers who have hosted membership parties in the past will eventually bear this out.)

An unhappy exit: Eulipions founder Jo Bunton Keel.
An unhappy exit: Eulipions founder Jo Bunton Keel.
Unreal estate: Eulipions' current building, the former El Jebel Shriner Temple.
David Rehor
Unreal estate: Eulipions' current building, the former El Jebel Shriner Temple.

The new loan with the city and the new parking deal were completed in June, about a month after the 120 days were up. With the board casually entrenching itself, relations between its members and Keel deteriorated. At first Keel felt that the new board brought badly needed skills to the table, but by the fall of 1998, she began to hear questions from the community: Where were the shows?

When Eulipions moved into the temple, it completed its 1995-1996 theater season. Through the end of 1996 and into 1997, its actors toured the Front Range. In 1998 the company presented only one show -- The Black Nativity -- and when a cast member overheard talk that the board was planning to cancel that show, even though it always recouped the $20,000 to $30,000 it cost to put on, battle lines were drawn. In a letter to Nulan this past June, Keel complained that the '98 production was marred by "complaints of rudeness to our longtime supporters and others, rudeness to the cast, long waits in line, shows starting late, no credit card services and confusing ticket procedures, all resulting in lost revenue."

Vinson blames Keel, saying that funding she had promised for the show fell through, and boardmembers "had to raise money by strong-arming friends" at the last minute to keep the show from folding.

Even though the show went on that year, it would be the last one at Eulipions. The backstage drama, however, started to heat up. Long-term members of Eulipions increasingly viewed the board as insular, aloof to the arts. "All these people have other jobs," says Andre Freeman. "This was not a priority. Grimes came in and asked me where the cabaret [one of the temple's performance rooms] was. You're on the board of directors and you don't know where the cabaret is? And you're making the decisions?" He says he rarely saw boardmembers at the building, and some of them didn't even show up to the few performances the troupe staged. "I never even saw those people. It got to the point where it was ridiculous."

Nulan says he attended The Black Nativity in 1998, and he doesn't apologize for canceling the 1998 and 1999 seasons. "You have to do what you can do. You can't do it without money."

Vinson says Keel must take her share of the blame for the absence of shows. "The role of artistic director was to develop a proposed season for the board's approval and fundraise so that the season could run," she says. "There was a proposal, and when we got to 'How do we fund it?' that's when it broke apart. She's being unfair to blame the board."

For its part, the board focused its efforts on repairing the building's steam system and fixing its roof. Keel and her supporters took that as a sign that the board wanted to sell the building, although Nulan and Vinson both say the decision to sell wasn't made until early 1999, when a vendor tried to file a lien against the building to reclaim $40,000 in unpaid bills. "It did not make sense for Eulipions to lose the building over $40,000," Vinson says. A loan was taken out to pay off the vendor, but they knew other creditors might get the same idea.

"We decided after a year and a half that the best course was to sell the building and set up an endowment," says Nulan.

This summer the board officially announced its plans to sell the building for $4.6 million. Keel and Walker formed the Friends of Eulipions and gathered 1,800 signatures to contest the sale. "Certainly on paper, it would appear the building could be sold," says William Nelsch, one of the Friends. "Debts could be paid and there could be some kind of endowment. What that ignores is that some other location is going to be as expensive to acquire, or less desirable." They called for a meeting at the temple and invited Nulan and the other boardmembers to attend.

Nulan declined and instead sent a letter questioning the group's authority to meet in the building. He called the meeting "an unauthorized space rental," and said that "the Director of Administration knows nothing about it." Moreover, he wrote, "The [new] Board has seen no rental contract or deposit...There are operating rules and procedures in place in order to protect the asset and the organization. You are well aware that these rules and procedures require a space rental fee, cleaning fee and the provisions for fire and security coverage at all space rentals."

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