by Mari Winn Taylor
What a brouhaha has been raised after members of the Board of the Joplin Little Theatre sanctioned tearing up the lobby tile floor. What would normally have been a non-event for replacing a 30-year old floor is complicated by the fact that the tiles were considered by many to be a significant part of the history of the theatre. Through the years over 150 names were inscribed in the tiles, many as memorials to those who had passed away. Donations of $1,000 for each inscription were made by donors earmarking the money for that specific purpose.
JLT historian Ceci Fritz, a long time active contributor, was the first to voice her concern over the then impending demolition.
"Nothing much was said to me (because I was SO against it) until the last couple of weeks," Fritz said. "I heard that Angel Guild and the JLT Board decided to replace the floor (because it was old--deteriorating) and put the names on the wall in a mural, with the names done in ceramic tile."
Fritz said she strongly protested, saying that they were destroying part of JLT's history. She suggested that the floor be replaced "as is, but with new materials." And while she had been told that all the donors would be notified of the demolition plans in advance, that event didn't happen.
"I'm at a complete loss and feel very helpless," Fritz continued. "It's a very bad situation and was terribly mishandled."
In a message posted on the Internet on August 6, 2014, after the floor demolition process could not be reversed, Tony Flint, president of the JLT Board of Directors and speaking on their behalf said they understand that "change can often be jarring," but that they hope that "these changes will improve the flavor and allure of the Park Playhouse while honoring those who've been a part of its history for so long." (Reading this, it seems that they didn't like the appearance of the black and white tiles and wanted something less kitschy, never mind the significance of the inscriptions that were destroyed.)
He justifies the replacement of the original tile flooring with a "ceramic-based product," one that is not inscribable, by describing a grandiose mural project that would possibly include a photo of the donor's loved ones. What he doesn't detail is whether the more elaborate process would require additional contributions. By the way, many contributors are labeling the wall mural "tacky."
Taking up Fritz's cause is a group calling themselves "Friends of the Joplin Little Theatre/Park Playhouse. The group is spearheaded by Cleo Copeland, Angela & Jon Lowe and Rebecca Perry.
Perry was one of the first to voice her frustration in a Facebook comment. "Obviously there was no regard to the history, or to the people who donated money for the tiles...It's behavior like this that discourages donations, especially big donations. Shame, SHAME on each & every Angel Guild member and each & every Board member," Perry wrote.
Denying allegations that the floor needed replacing because of cracking or being unsafe, the group plans to show their displeasure at the next board meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 at the Joplin Little Theatre. Initially, they are requesting (1) an apology, (2) resignations of the individuals who voted to demolish the floor and (3) stopping the process of creating "some sort of wall mural" as the next step.
The group encourages anyone supporting their efforts to attend the meeting. If that is inconvenient, then they would like comments e-mailed to them here.