It was with no small degree of regret that I wrote last week's article about Marta Kiesling's departure from the Steel River Playhouse.
It marked another chapter in the never-ending story of How Pottstown Shoots Itself in the Foot Every Time; this time at an institution that had appeared to be immune.
I've known my share of theater people and accept as a given that they can be, no pun or insult intended, mercurial.
When you think about it, they kind of need to be in order to undertake the various quick changes of character and costume that are the mark of a successful theater person.
And I've also counseled tough love when The Mercury's arts editor tore her hair out over the organization's apparent inability to get us promotional materials in a timely enough manner to put them on the cover of our Thursday arts section where, we all agree, they belong.
But I never cotton to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Like your children, its possible to love and appreciate them for who they are, even when they drive you nuts.
I always just considered those frustrations to be part of the price we pay to have Steel River in town.
And we definitely want Steel River in town.
Now I know there are plenty of people involved in that organization's success, and I know that as the contact person with The Mercury, and the person out front with the community, it is possible for me to get an outsized impression of Kiesling's importance at Steel River.
But my gut, which is not insubstantial, tells me good or bad, that she was at the center of the action and what we'll get without her remains an unknown.
Since no one on the board of directors there has denied Kiesling's assertions Steel River is pursuing a "new direction," and that's why she says she left, I find myself asking one question: "What was wrong with the direction they were going in the first place?"
Here we have a home-grown theater organization, deeply embedded with the schools and the community, producing first-rate productions that introduce local kids and their parents to the miracles of live performance in a way no class in the works of Shakespeare ever could.
Here we have an organization that, despite being in debt, operates in the black and successfully renovated and occupied a downtown building in Pottstown, which is what we say we all want.
And here we have an organization that put on these first-rate productions using a hybrid of professional and local people which were not so ridiculously expensive that going to a show did not necessarily mean your youngest could not go to college.
I have to wonder, what's wrong with that direction?
What's worse is we've been through this before, but as usual, Pottstown's long-term memory is limited to how great it was when we had factories and cruising.
Does the name Pottstown Symphony ring a bell?
Here we had a home-grown, albeit quirky, organization that was kept going largely by the energies of a nigh-inexhaustible enthusiast and a new, "professional" person was brought in to "take it to the next level."
Successful here in Pottstown?
Not a chance.
WE HAVE NO MONEY!
The sad fact of the matter is, we do not have enough of an upper class, or upper middle class, with enough disposable income here, that is inclined to spend that money here to support local organizations with delusion of grandeur.
We only have enough money to support those organizations that we already know and whose mission is familiar and useful and affordable.
Until we bring in better paying jobs, such constructs are built without an economic foundation on which to stand.
We can do a lot of things in Pottstown folks, no question, but the ones that work are the ones that involve everyone because that's the only way we can afford it.
Dropping in out of the sky with a model that worked somewhere else, a place where there was a critical mass of people with enough money to spend on something that may not be familiar won't work in Pottstown, unless its a chain restaurant, for which we seem to have an inexplicable desire.
The power of advertising I suppose. Homogenizing America one town at a time.
Talk about setting the bar low.
"We need an Olive Garden! We need an Olive Garden!"
Why? So they can take our money and ship it out of our community to some company that's traded on the stock exchange?
Better to eat at Henry's Cafe. Better food and better for your community.
Anyway, back to the arts and what will and won't work here.
Case in point, Jamey's House of Music, the failure of which I also had the displeasure of reporting last week.
Would it have been cool?
Would I have loved to have a place where you could see everything from country to world music while eating Asian/fusion cuisine?
But I had my doubts.
The numbers don't lie and when you look at Pottstown area demographics, you see the truth of the matter.
The median household income in the borough is around $43,000 with 18 percent below poverty. That's "household" income, not individual.
Among families with children, judging by the school's free lunch program, that poverty rate is closer to 70 percent.
Anything that doesn't have a lot of local support from day one is in for a rough ride and not many arts organizations have enough spare cash lying around to keep things afloat until they build a following.
And each failure, just builds on Pottstown's reputation for failure.
Blame The Mercury if you like, but I say blame human nature. We remember the one day of car wreck coverage, whether it involves actual cars or organizations, better than we recall months of quiet, competent, successful operation.
Beyond that, set economics and demographics aside.
Because people will continue to insist on being people, and the ability of people to willfully blind themselves to the big picture so they can be king or queen for a day is truly awesome and terrible to behold.
I'm witnessing it now even in a comparatively small and well-established operation, the Pottstown Schools Music Association, which is currently eating its seed corn in a nasty squabble over who will be the next president of that organization.
Both candidates, who are not only friends but relatives, insist they are mystified by "the drama" of the whole thing -- secret e-mails, commandeered voters, flexible eligibility requirements.
But neither of them, or the people working the levers behind the scenes, is leader enough to say "you know what, the organization and its mission (the kids? You'll remember them?) is more important than who the next president is. I'll step aside so we can put this behind us and we can all start working together again on the actual mission."
Instead, we're apparently going to behave like the middle schoolers who are supposed to be among our constituents. Great example for the kids by the way.
Who, I have to wonder, wants to become the head of any organization that way?
So even though the only things that have ever worked in Pottstown -- particularly where the arts are concerned -- are those which involve the maximum number of people; people who only have so much to give, be it time or money, from the smallest to the largest organizations, we continue to fracture ourselves into smaller and smaller camps, with fewer and fewer followers, speaking with smaller and smaller voices.
Frankly, its an indulgence we cannot afford.
And we wonder why we can't have nice things.