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Authors Back Out, Leaving CenterStage Story Un-Rewritten

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Nearly four years and almost $10,000 later, a controversial history of the Carpenter Theatre, formerly the Carpenter Center, won't be published after all, according to the private foundation that commissioned it and the two local writers who had, at different times, been contracted to pen it.

"There just wasn't a market demand for the book after the Carpenter reopened," says Jay Smith of Capital Results, the public relations company that represents the CenterStage Foundation, which controls the Carpenter Theatre. "We found that our resources would be better spent on programming."

Former Richmond Times-Dispatch arts reporter Roy Proctor was the first writer assigned to the project. CenterStage Foundation hired him to write a 96-page hardcover book on the Carpenter Theatre; its release was slated to coincide with the venue's August 2009 reopening.

But the initial draft didn't sit well with some CenterStage board members, who, according to Proctor, wanted a lot less history and more cheerleading. "[Some] criticisms were direct assaults on any standard of sound reporting and historical writing," he wrote in an essay published in Style Weekly soon after the decision.

The most egregious objection, the author says, was the foundation's contention that financial information, basic timeline history and a wide range of historical figures who had been critical of the foundation — including former Carpenter Center director Joel Katz and this writer, who wrote for the blog Save Richmond during CenterStage's development — should be omitted from the book because the inclusions would be too negative.

To Proctor this was "historical revisionism." He refused to go along with proposed changes and the book was put on hold. Originally contracted for $10,000, the veteran arts writer says eventually he settled for $8,500. Foundation officials would neither confirm nor deny Proctor's compensation.

Bruce Miller, artistic director of Barksdale/Theater IV, took over after Proctor's exit. "My focus was nothing like Roy's," Miller says. "I wasn't going to write about anything past 1950 and I was going to completely stay away from the controversial stuff."

Miller says he agreed to write the book "primarily as a volunteer" and that when he couldn't finish the manuscript on time, he returned the money he was paid. He says that the foundation took back his $1,000 fee and credited it as a private arts center donation. Smith says the $1,000 to Miller was a down payment.

So, was the doomed $10,000 book project paid for with tax dollars? The city contributes $500,000 a year to CenterStage for operations, but the governing agreement between the city and the CenterStage Foundation shields the venue from city oversight as well as Freedom of Information Act requests. An independent audit of the arts center conducted by the Keiter Stephens accounting firm, obtained by Style, shows no special fund for a book project but Smith maintains that the money came from unrestricted private donations.

Proctor isn't surprised that the book has been canceled, he says: "These foundation people really didn't know what they were doing."

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