Flint, MI – The New McCree Theater is looking for a new home after the Flint Board of Education voted last Wednesday to discontinue renting them space at Northwestern Academy.
Treasurer Danielle Green said the decision was prompted because there was no leasing documentation for the previous agreement between the school district and theater. Green said former superintendent Derrick Lopez failed to provide any documentation about the lease.
Charles Winfrey, executive director of the McCree Theater and playwright, petitioned the board last Wednesday to enter a “bona fide” lease agreement. The board denied his request. Green was the sole “yea” vote.
“We repeatedly asked for a written lease agreement and it never happened. We had no leverage to force [Lopez] to do that,” Winfrey said to the board. “We always thought we were acting in a respectful and proper manner by going through the board’s chief executive officer.”
Green connected Winfrey with Lopez in 2019 after he contacted her to discuss relocating from New Standard Academy to Northwestern. She said Winfrey supplied Lopez with all requested documents including background checks and proof of insurance. The theater paid Flint Community Schools $1,000 each month in rent, Winfrey said at the board meeting.
“It was mismanaged from the beginning. Not by McCree but by Flint Community Schools’ [former] superintendent,” Green said.
By press time, Lopez and other board members did not respond to requests for comment.
Founded in 1970, The McCree Theater puts on African American-focused productions told from an African American perspective. Many of the theater’s past shows like “Those Gorgeous Glamourous, Girl Groups;” “The Motown Story, a Musical;” and “Give Me That Old Time Religion” were written and composed by Winfrey. Others, such as August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running,” feature work by black playwrights and artists.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Clifford Sykes, a music teacher at Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary who has been acting with the McCree Theater since 2008. “I don’t want to go off half-cocked, but certainly [the board’s decision] deals a tremendous blow to one of the few dedicated, experienced, real community theater groups in the country.”
In his 40 years as a fine arts educator, he said he has witnessed the difference song, dance and performance make in his students’ lives. “By voting [the McCree Theater] out of Northwestern, it’s one less opportunity to keep kids out of the streets…it’s really a horrible decision on the Board of Education to make.”
Green said the decision shocked her as well. ” We as a board had [spoken] about incorporating the arts back into Flint Community Schools. It doesn’t make sense.”
“It’s unfortunate that when the whole country is talking about ‘black lives matter’ that a school board that’s predominantly black would take this kind of action against a program that only provides positive activities and events for the benefit of Flint’s underserved community without explanation,” Winfrey said.
Due to COVID-19, it is unclear when McCree Theater will resume in-person programs and performances, Winfrey said. “We do have a number of online virtual opportunities that we’re pursuing to continue our mission as a theater.”
Winfrey said he is inquiring about new locations but will wait for a court-ordered eviction from Flint Community Schools before moving.
“Every five years we’ve had to relocate. It’s our ultimate goal to own our own facility, so this repeated relocation would never occur again…so we can be in charge of our own destiny,” he said.