PROVINCETOWN — Select Board Member Lise King and the Provincetown Independent were blamed by some members at the board’s Monday, Feb. 10 meeting for the collapse of a promoter’s seven-month effort to bring a Cirque du Soleil-branded show to Provincetown. King was chastised by her colleagues for “leaking” the story to the newspaper, which reported on Jan. 30 that the town recreation commission had signed an agreement to lease Motta Field to the circus for the entire summer for $150,000.
“The recent Provincetown Independent story questioning a Cirque du Soleil summer residency,” said Select Board Member John Golden, “created a backlash that was so negative that the town of Provincetown, its businesses, and many nonprofits here lost potential revenue of over $1.5 million. Promoting hit pieces in local media is not an acceptable way to run a town and I for one have had enough of this lack of respect for this board and our role in town government.”
Board Member Robert Anthony agreed. “So many people worked very diligently and very hard for what I believe is a good thing for this community,” Anthony said.
Truro resident Eric Martin, the event promoter who had been exploring bringing a Cirque-branded show to Provincetown since July, said in a statement posted on ptownie.com that the news report and subsequent outcry, “based on false information including the accusation of secrecy,” had caused his sponsors to back away from the circus plan.
From there, according to Martin, his event-planning company and Cirque parted ways on Feb. 3.
This doesn’t match up with what Cirque du Soleil spokesman Sophie Desbiens told the Independent last week. Desbiens said, “This decision to not go forward with the project was made after going through our regular feasibility evaluation and prior to that coming out in the news. The reaction of the community and the infighting is really unfortunate, however it did not influence our decision as we had made it before all of this came out.”
For months, rumors about the circus had circulated widely, and on Jan. 23 an Independent reporter attended the recreation commissioners’ meeting where members voted unanimously to charge Martin $150,000 to rent Motta Field for the summer. The newspaper reported on the agreement between Martin and the commission on Jan. 30, and several sources confirmed that Martin’s company, identified as 66Days LLC, was acting on behalf of Cirque du Soleil.
After that report, some 70 entertainers and the Provincetown Business Guild’s board of directors wrote letters to the select board complaining about the competition such a big circus would bring to their own shows, and about the “veil of secrecy” under which the promoter had discussed the event for months.
King disputed the accusation that she had leaked information to reporters. She told her colleagues at Monday’s meeting that an Independent reporter asked her about rumors of the circus coming to town. She told the reporter that she heard about it at a dinner party. She then forwarded to the reporter a text message from Martin in which he stated he could “not commit or deny that the show is going to happen.”
Independent Editor Edward Miller said Tuesday: “We had been hearing stories about Cirque du Soleil coming to Provincetown from multiple sources since December. We reported the agreement between Eric Martin and the Provincetown Recreation Commission because it was signed in a public meeting. It is wrong to blame anyone for ‘leaking’ the story and to use that as an excuse for barring town officials from talking to reporters — an alarming development at this point in history.”
Martin did ask entertainers and town officials to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), and he met with the recreation commission under the name “66Days LLC” starting in September.
According to Town Manager Robin Craver, Martin would not discuss details without a signed NDA. Craver said that Assistant Town Manager David Gardner, Tourism Director Anthony Fuccillo, and Fuccillo’s assistant Nina Cantor had signed them in July. K. David Weidner, executive director of the Pilgrim Monument & Provincetown Museum, said that he had signed an NDA as well.
Signing an NDA is neither illegal nor prohibited under the state’s open meeting laws, according to the Division of Open Government. But it can’t be used as an excuse to get around the public records law. Any documents submitted as part of a public permit process must be released as a public record.
Recreation Commission Chair David Oliver said no one on his commission signed an NDA, though they did agree to keep the name “Cirque du Soleil” out of the minutes and conversations. The commission’s meetings are not recorded.
Oliver said this was done to help Martin, who told them he planned to publicly explain the project after it was further along in the process. According to Oliver, commission members are upset by the reaction from the public and the head-spinning decision by Cirque du Soleil to pull out.
“We really spent a lot of time on this,” Oliver said. “We wanted to be sure that the town got a new ballfield.”
Oliver was surprised when business owners and abutters came to the commission’s Tuesday, Feb. 4 meeting with angry questions. He said commissioners were “blindsided” by the fact that abutters had not been contacted.
“We were told that they had been contacted,” Oliver said. “The promoter promised that and didn’t do it. That really hurt. We got thrown under the bus.”
Martin did not attend that Tuesday night meeting.
At the select board on Monday, King defended herself from criticisms about her speaking to reporters. The press is necessary for a healthy democracy, said King, a former journalist.
Chair David Abramson agreed that everyone should have the right to talk to the press. But, he added, board members should “look at motives first and try to do public good rather than try to make board members look a certain way, which is something I’ve seen in the past.”
Editor’s note: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Independent was unable to confirm that 66Days LLC was acting on behalf of Cirque du Soleil. The Cirque connection was in fact confirmed by several sources.