PORTSMOUTH – As a fog fell over Bow Street Friday evening, people wearing PAPA Camp T-shirts and bearing signs reading "No Miles, No Smiles" and "Bring Back Burns" made something very clear.
Supporters of Miles Burns, the Seacoast Repertory Theatre's former artistic director who was fired last week, held a rally in front of the Bow Street theater on Friday evening to protest Burns' termination. The Bring Back Miles Rally at the Rep coincided with opening night for the theater's second run of "Avenue Q."
As families gathered and reunited friends hugged, the Leftist Marching Band began to play and supporters lined both sides of the street. In addition to serving as the theater's artistic director, Burns has been a playwright, director and instructor for the theater's Portsmouth Academy of Performing Arts for years. Many of those in attendance were former PAPA students taught and mentored by Burns.
"Miles has built a flock here, one that will follow him with or without the Rep," said Chelsea Hermann, who has known, worked and taught with Burns for 15 years, during the rally. "Miles will survive without the Rep. I'm not sure the Rep will survive without him."
Hermann was one of three former PAPA students who now live in New York City, who mounted a GoFundMe campaign to raise the money to rent a ZipCar to drive back to Portsmouth once they heard about Burns' firing. Alex Dorr and Kari Buckley joined her in the seven-hour drive to the rally.
Supporters chanted and cheered at passing cars who honked in approval for about a half-hour until one of the rally's organizers, Alden Caple, called the rally to order for a program which included students singing songs Burns had written and speaking about his influence on them from prepared and not-so-prepared statements. "Miles is the heart of PAPA and we are the soul," one said. "If you take the heart away, you take the soul with it."
Zoe Sprankle came to the rally with her friend Bridget Keaveney. "I met Miles on his first day at PAPA when I was 7," Sprankle said. "He has changed my life in a way no one else has ... Who would we be if we had not done the shows with him? When Miles writes a song for you, for your voice, as he has for half the kids here, it's the most special feeling."
"He's a man full of heart and soul," said Monique Foote, who has taught at PAPA with Burns. "He is the Pied Piper of children, a wonderful man. It's so fun to see kids grow through theater."
Kevin Drohan, a PAPA parent who wants to continue to be one, said he came to the rally because "Miles brings so much value to our community. It's a travesty what's happened," adding that he hoped the situation can be resolved because "We will not support this institution. We're going to follow Miles wherever he goes. He's had such a huge impact on this community."
Holding a large orange “Miles 4 Miles Bring Him Home” banner was Christian Arnold, the theater's technical director, before he had to head in to the theater to work the show. He said, "We haven't been given much information. I am quite confused," but said he wanted to join in the community effort "to thank Miles for everything he has done for the theater for so long."
Rally-goers were well-behaved, complying with the rally organizers' requests to not block Bow Street or the entrance to the theater.
The theater's Board of Trustees President Alan Gold said on Wednesday the board had invited Burns to meet with them about a possible future role with the theater and that Burns had accepted the invitation. In the wake of Burns' firing, an employee of the theater, Seraphina Caligiure, and board member Tim Roache have resigned in protest.
After the rally, Caple said, "I didn't think twice about this. Miles is the best person I know. His impact is worth fighting for to the end."