Friday, July 31, 2009
I'm more interested in the artists' responsibility. I reckon we think we are responsible to create, recreate, react, entertain and learn. But it looks like, unless you don't mind fasting and an audience of one, we also have to educate and proselytize. And raise money/awareness. And do our own advertising via word of mouth and social media. In other words, you, the artist, are every aspect of the art.
I hope that we "artists" can begin to take on all of this responsibility. If we step up to this challenge, then I believe the donors, the audience, the administrators and the board will step up as well. Perhaps then we can all call ourselves "creators", or at the very least "re-creators". Perhaps the difference between business and art is that in business you can afford to just be a cog...a part of a bigger structure. If the arts are to succeed and find support, perhaps we have to be cogs, but also the whole wheel.
Or, at the very least, we have to understand and support the whole wheel.
What does this mean? On the practical level, I think you start with inviting people you know who are not involved in the arts into your world. We have to treat "art" or "entertainment", if you prefer, as our religion. The theater, the museum, the recital hall, and the gallery are our temples. Go ye, and make disciples of all nations!
Thursday, July 30, 2009
There are those who still think the Skylight thing may turn around. I would think it would have to be sooner than later, but what do I know? I know this: my life seems, initially at least, a lot more relaxed without working for Skylight. Although it was a joy, it was not without its headaches. Maybe that's just doing theater vs. playing for a lot of miscellaneous gigs. Less late nights, and more variety.
Now that the dust seems to be settling, I think I'm grateful for being fired. I think if our jobs weren't tied to our health insurance, there would be a lot more people who would feel this way. GO OBAMA!
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
I understand I may have offended a few folks with my comment on a blog posting from Sunday night:
The season will be filled with artists that are loyal to Dillner and the board will love that they work for nothing. Perhaps they can even pay to do a role, so they can have it on their resume.
I am so sorry I wasn't more clear. Of course, there are still a lot of artists that Bill cast in the season next year. We wish them all the best. I will be there at some Barber performance to cheer my dear friends Katy and Jason on.
Then there's the artists on the staff who need their jobs and may or may not think Dillner is doing a good job. We wish them all the best. The Skylight has been getting quite a bit of negative press lately, and none of these people: Shima, Barry, Lisa, Ray deserve anything but kudos and praise. That applies to everyone on staff, save one. I'll only print his initials: E.D.
Finally there are the new artists. Some will have no idea what is going on, and may not even have heard of the Skylight before. To them I say, good luck! I wish we could offer you a home to display your talents that had not been diminished and was not hostile to local and loyal artists. I hope you are able to do your best work possible. There are so many wonderful people on the staff that will avail themselves to you. Enjoy your stay in Milwaukee.
Some of these new artists may be cronies of Eric, perhaps they are even as nefarious and arrogant as Eric, and are more than happy to be self-serving and trample on a 50 year history. Let's separate them into two groups: A) Friends of Eric who are wonderful people; and B) Friends of Eric who are like Eric.
To the A) group I say, watch your back, but enjoy your stay in Milwaukee.
To the B) group I say, call me! Email me! JJohns1304@gmail.com I'd love to hear what you have to say in Eric's defense.
There, does that clear that up for anyone who fears I may be bad-mouthing artists, or any of my fellow colleagues? Please try to take all comments in context, and I will try to be more careful with my wording.
The following content is offered as a means of bringing attention to recent events occurring at and around the Skylight Opera Theatre. Included is a brief timeline highlighting the course of events from the firing of Bill Theisen on 6.16.09 to the meeting between Skylight leadership and dissidents of 7.24.09 along with a list of links furnished as sources for additional information. It is our hope that with review of this documentation you will be moved to act as you see fit with regard to your ticket purchases, season subscriptions, volunteer efforts, and/or employment with the Skylight Opera Theatre. Should you feel compelled to contact the Skylight directly on these or any matters, you will find contact information for decision makers there at the end of this document.
Eric Dillner announces to Skylight staff that there will be furloughs and firings, beginning with Bill Theisen, and including Company Manager Diana Alioto, key box office staff, and a janitor.
Dillner announced the restructuring to Tom Strini at the Journal Sentinel via an email sent at 7:07 pm.
Tom Strini posts Dillner’s announcement on his blog and immediate negative response begins. Calls, letters, and e-mails are sent out to Skylight leadership in droves. An online petition is created along with a Facebook page entitled Bring Bill Back to Skylight. Jonathan West, Tony Clements, Jamie Johns, and Tom Strini begin blogging about the events.
The first of six articles is penned by Strini at JSOnline, to accompany his diligent blog coverage.
Jamie Johns is fired for insubordination and public attacks on the Skylight.
Theater critic Damien Jaques weighs in on the controversy.
The Skylight story goes national with a story posted on Playbill.com. NY Times coverage follows on 7.5 and 7.21.09.
A group of 75+ donors, audience members, and artists hold a peaceful protest outside the doors of the Broadway Theatre Center questioning the decisions of Skylight leadership and requesting a forum for discussion of the issues at hand.
As Eric Dillner enters the building he tells protestors to “talk to the board.”
Later in the day, Suzanne Hefty, board president posts a statement on Skylights website. The last sentence of her statement reads:
“If you have any questions regarding this information, the Skylight or the Broadway Theatre Center please contact Eric directly at 414-291-7811 ext. 221.”
Tom Strini of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel calls for Eric Dillner’s resignation.
Skylight Opera Theatre board member, Robert (Bo) Beal, resigns.
An article appears in Stage Directions, a national magazine, that has interviewed Dillner. The quotes in this article are his first public statements since the firings. He has not yet spoken with any local media.
Skylight Opera Theatre board member, Pat Kraft, resigns.
Eric Dillner, past president Howard Miller, marketing director Kristin Godfrey and, via speaker phone, Suzanne Hefty finally talk with local media. They talk for 90 minutes at the Journal Sentinel offices with Tom Strini, theater critic Damien Jaques and assistant features editor Jim Higgins.
Christine Harris of the Cultural Alliance of greater Milwaukee weighs in.
The first Milwaukee Artists and Art Lovers Forum is held in Catalano Square. Those in attendance eat bagels and discuss art in Milwaukee. This gathering is prompted by Skylight events. The group plans to meet every Friday throughout the summer.
Charlie Sykes, radio host on AM 620 WTMJ, bashes the Skylight board and management on the air.
Theisen agrees to direct four 2009/2010 shows on a free-lance basis.
The Skylight situation appears in The New York Times.
The Skylight Opera Theatre Board holds an emergency meeting to discuss next steps. Upon arrival, board members are met by a peaceful protest made up of 50+ donors, audience members, and artists singing and carrying signs protesting the recent firings, mismanagement and lack of communication from the Skylight. Colin Cabot, honorary board member, flies in from New Hampshire to attend the meeting and arrives early to meet with protesters.
Skylight Opera Theater Board of Directors indicates via press release that they are open to reinstating Theisen as Artistic Director for the 2009-2010 season, though they never directly contact Theisen with any sort of offer. Theisen responds to the press release by declining the “offer” of reinstatement.
An email in defense of Eric Dillner’s actions circulates, written by a former board member is forwarded to the entire Skylight board. Artists are described as employees who “provide a service and nothing more” and who “only exist because we chose to pay.”
First artist resignation sent in. This resignation occurred as a direct reaction to the above mentioned email of 7/10/09:
* BECKY SPICE, singer / actress - contracted to perform a Johnson Bank cabaret series show
Suzanne Hefty terminates contracts for two artists (Bryce Lord and Jon Stewart) in retaliation for their negative Facebook comments regarding the Theisen firing.
As a result of the firing of two Barber of Seville cast members, Bill Theisen resigns from directing duties for four 2009/2010 Skylight shows: "The Barber of Seville", "Plaid Tidings", "The Marriage of Figaro", "The Long & The Short of It, with Colin & Paula." In addition, Skylight receives a slew of resignations from contracted actors, directors, music directors, and set designers:
* RICHARD CARSEY, music director - contracted to music direct "A Day In Hollywood" and "An Evening with G&S"
* ALICIA BERNECHE, singer / actress - contracted to perform the role of Susanna in "The Marriage of Figaro"
* PAM KRIGER, director / choreographer - contracted to direct and choreograph "A Day In Hollywood"
* LESLIE FITZWATER, singer - contracted to perform a Johnson Bank cabaret series show
* JAMES VALCQ, music director - contracted to music direct "Plaid Tidings"
* VAN SANTVOORD, set designer - contracted to design "The Barber of Seville" and "The Marriage of Figaro"
* GARY BRIGGLE, singer / actor - contracted to perform in "An Evening with Gilbert & Sullivan"
* JOHN MURIELLO, singer / actor - contracted to perform in "An Evening with Gilbert & Sullivan"
Additional artists decline or resign from contracts in response to firings:
* MOLLY RHODE, singer/actress - offered contract to perform in “A Day in Hollywood”
* CHASE STOEGER, singer/actor - offered contract to perform in “A Day in Hollywood”
* RAY JIVOFF, singer/actor - contracted to perform the role of Harpo in“A Day in Hollywood”
* JENNIFER CLARK singer/actress - contracted to perform the role of Marcellina in “The Marriage of Figaro”
* DIANE LANE singer/actress - offered contract to play Cherubino in “The Marriage of Figaro”
* CAROL GREIF SCHUELE, singer/actress - under contract to perform in "A Day in Hollywood”
* NATHAN WESSELOWSKI, actor/composer - under contract to perform in "The Barber of Seville" and composer for Skylight Education Programs
Skylight Opera Theatre Education Board member L. Thomas Lueck resigns from his position and indicates that he will not bring student audiences to see the shows mounted under the current administration.Charlie Sykes bashes the Skylight’s decisions and calls for the current leadership to resign during his AM 620 WTMJ radio show.
Playbill.com releases a play-by-play of events following the firings of Bryce Lord and Jon Stewart and Theisen’s resignation from directing duties.
Skylight appears in the New York Times for a second time.
Bruce Murphy of Milwaukee Magazine calls for Dillner and Hefty to resign
* PAULA CABOT, actress/singer - under contract to perform in "The Long & The Short of It"
* COLIN CABOT, actor/pianist under contract to perform in "The Long & The Short of It"
* RICK RASMUSSEN, scenic designer - under contract to design the set for "A Day in Hollywood”
* KURT OLLMANN, singer/actor - under verbal contract to perform the role of "The Count" in "The Marriage of Figaro"
The list of artists, donors, and supporters severing ties with the Skylight continues to grow:
* NORMAN MOSES, singer/actor - under contract contract to perform the rold of Groucho in "A Day in Hollywood”
* MARK KAPLAN, singer/actor - under contract contract to perform the rold of Chico in "A Day in Hollywood”
* ERIC NELSON, singer/actor - under contract contract to perform in "The Barber of Seville"* JUSTIN DEEHR, singer/actor/dancer - under contract contract to perform in "The Barber of Seville"
* ANDREW WILKOWSKE, singer/actor - under contract contract to perform the role of Figaro in both "The Barber of Seville" and "The Marriage of Figaro* KURT SCHNABEL, lighting designer – under contract to design both "the barber of seville" and "the marriage of figaro"
Supporters, donors, and other friends who have indicated via letter that they will not work with the current leadership of the Skylight Opera Theatre:
* CAROL JENSEN, Skylight "Den Mother" - donor to the Skylight Opera Theatre, and den mom to the Skylight actors, staff, and crew
* AMY JENSEN, Skylight supporter - major donor to the Skylight Opera Theatre
* KONRAD KUCHENBACH, Skylight supporter - major donor and subscriber to the Skylight Opera Theatre
* JOHN E. HOLLAND, Skylight supporter - major donor and subscriber to the Skylight Opera Theatre
* L. THOMAS LUECK, Fine Arts Educator - member of the Skylight Education Advisory Board
The Skylight Board holds an emergency meeting to decide whether Dillner should be fired. In a close vote (16-12) they decide to retain him. Colin Cabot offers to return to the Skylight to act interim managing director in place of Dillner. The board refuses that offer.
Cabot convinces Dillner and the board to answer their critics in Catalano Square on 7/24/09.
Suzanne Hefty resigns from her position as board president.
Skylight’s third appearance in the New York Times.
The fourth Milwaukee Artists and Art Lovers Forum is held in Catalano Square. Temporary board president Terry Kutenbach and managing director Eric Dillner attend the forum and offer an apology to the 100+ in attendance for the timing of their communication regarding changes made at Skylight. Kutenbach calls on the artists present to support Skylight by rallying behind the artists called who have been hired to replace those who recently resigned their roles or positions. Many questions are put forth by critics of Skylight leadership, and Dillner is asked to consider resigning. Answers are not forthcoming. Dillner refuses to resign. Jonathan West acts as mediator and representative of the dissidents. Among notable occurrences is West’s announcement that he has contacted the Kennedy Center to ask for assistance through their Arts in Crisis program.
Board member Elizabeth Friedman resigns over board actions she sees as endangering Skylight’s survival.
Former Skylight Opera Theatre managing directors Joan Lounsbery and Christopher Libby add their insights and express grave concern over the path the Skylight has been put on.
For additional reading, including full letters of resignation, e-mail communications, and other pertinent documentation, please see full blog coverage by:Tom Strini (http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/entertainment/oldsonganddance.html
Tony Clements (http://www.tuesdaysblog.com/)
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/skylight/signatures.html - Petition signed by nearly 600 individuals concerned about recent events at Skylight
http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/21/turmoil-continues-at-milwaukee-opera-theater/ - Turmoil Continues at Milwaukee Opera Theater
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/06/arts/music/06arts-FORMERARTIST_BRF.html - Former Artistic Director is Now a Music Director
http://www.playbill.com/news/article/131419-PLAYBILL.COM%27S_THEATRE_WEEK_IN_REVIEW_July_18-24_Midwest_Crisis - Theatre Week In Review – Midwest Crisis
http://www.playbill.com/news/article/131333-Eight_Artists_Withdraw_From_Milwaukee_Skylight_Season_in_Protest_of_New_Management - Eight Artists Withdraw From Milwaukee Skylight Season in Protest of New Management
http://www.playbill.com/news/article/130377-In_Hard_Times_Milwaukee%27s_Skylight_Fires_Artistic_Director - In Hard Times Milwaukee’s Skylight Fires Artistic Director
http://www.jsonline.com/entertainment/arts/51263577.html - Skylight’s Theisen Won’t Freelance
http://www.jsonline.com/entertainment/arts/49601772.html - Theisen Will Direct for Skylight
http://www.jsonline.com/entertainment/arts/49430392.html - Skylight’s Future Might Depend on the Guy it Dumped
http://www.jsonline.com/entertainment/arts/49184662.html - Skylight Officials Share Grim Numbers to Try to Quell Firing Furor
http://www.jsonline.com/entertainment/arts/48773097.html - Skylight Could Have Avoided Firing Debacle
http://www.jsonline.com/entertainment/arts/48296592.html - Skylight Sparks Controversy With Artistic Director's Dismissal
http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/entertainment/48545882.html - Remember When the Drama Was Onstage
http://www.milwaukeemagazine.com/murphyslaw/ - Meltdown at the Skylight
http://www.milwaukeemagazine.com/murphyslaw/?NewMessageID=24863 - The Skylight Controversy
Third Coast Digest
http://thirdcoastdigest.com/2009/06/all-about-the-benjamins-skylight-cuts-thiesen-key-staff/ - Skylight cuts Artistic Director Theisen, key staff roles: Beal resigns from board in protest
http://stage-directions.com/index2.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1692&Itemid=1&pop=1&page=0 - Community Uproar Greets A.D.’s Elimination at Skylight Opera Theatre
http://www.sagerock.com/blog/social-media-snafu-another-cautionary-tale/ - Social Media Snafu – Another Cautionary Tale
http://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/stories/2009/06/22/daily79.html - Mixed Messages Led to Skylight Controversy
http://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/stories/2009/06/29/story8.html - Budget Shortfall Led Skylight Opera to Take Drastic Measures
http://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/stories/2009/06/29/daily33.html - Theisen to Direct Four Skylight Shows
http://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/stories/2009/07/06/daily70.html - Skylight Board Offers to Rehire Theisen, but He Refuses
http://www.artsjournal.com/music.shtml - Artist Withdrawals Cascade at Skylight Opera Theatre
http://parterre.com/2009/07/22/scream-city/ - Scream City
http://backstageat.backstagejobs.com/?p=456 - The Skylight May Soon Be Lighting an Empty Building
Eric Dillner – Managing Director
Terry Kurtenbach – Interim Board President
Sunday, July 26, 2009
I know Jonathan West was there, and Becky Spice, Alissa Rhode, Norman Moses, Leslie Fitzwater, I think, and several others. I understand that Richard Carsey was reduced to yelling at some point, and that there was some sobbing from some of the other participants. I haven't gotten a full update on that, or on what has happened with the Board of Advocates. More and more, this has become less my battle to fight, as the greater arts community takes over the reigns.
I'm hoping that we will hear some news tomorrow about the shape of things after the weekend. My prognastication: Nothing will change now, and everything will. The season will be filled with artists that are loyal to Dillner and the board will love that they work for nothing. Perhaps they can even pay to do a role, so they can have it on their resume. Skylight has been known to do that with interns...
Anyway, keep looking at Tuesdays and Artsy Schmartsy. Let's hope for an update soon!
Friday, July 24, 2009
Skylight has been in the news of late, and for all the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, we are not entirely surprised by the current administration's actions, because we have experienced a similar struggle in our efforts to reach a contract agreement with them since June of 2008.
On the subject of money, we note that the company is planning to greatly reduce orchestra payroll by taking full advantage of the flexibility it has in deciding the number of musicians to hire for a given production and season. As things currently stand, Skylight plans to employ approximately half as many musicians next season as they have employed on average during each of the previous four seasons, and even fewer musicians will work next year if the company carries out its threat to withdraw offers already made and accepted for "The Barber of Seville." To be clear, it appears Skylight will save a lot of money next season as they move toward karaoke style productions.
In spite of all the current and growing acrimony, we believe the best route to reaching an agreement is through good faith bargaining. Therefore, we recently proposed a four-year agreement retroactive to July 1, 2008. If ratified, wages would remain unchanged from 2008 rates until the 2011/2012 season, when an across the board increase of 2.5% would take effect. We also proposed to fill orchestra roster vacancies with musicians Skylight has consistently hired to do the work and that the company conform to industry standards by providing sound shields to musicians upon request.
Skylight Opera Theatre Orchestra Committee
To Mr. Kurtenbach, Mr. Dillner, and Mr. Cabot...
My name is Josh Schmidt. I am a composer/sound designer/musician who hails from Milwaukee. Today, I have watched events unfold via the blogosphere from my small makeshift studio at American Players Theatre in Spring Green WI. I was not there, so I do not know exactly the tone of the events except via video... I want to relate my personal feelings and insight on this matter to all of you as I also care deeply about this institution, how important it is in my career
The dream of what became my professional career begins at the Skylight. It starts with the first theatrical event I ever attended - CANDIDE (1989) at the Jefferson Street space. I was 14, and I was totally blown away. It continued with my patronage throughout my high school years (and this includes all the opera programming). As I was attending college at UWM, the dream turned into my first two professional paying gigs - THE RAY AND TONY DOG AND PONY SHOW written by Ray Jivoff and Tony Clements (1995) in the Skylight Cabaret, and WINGS under the musical direction of Richard Carsey (1997). At the age of 21, I was working with those who inspired me to do so. In many ways, it was not only the beginning of a career, but the beginning of a true education in working in the arts, not to mention survival as an artist. Through this gig, I started forming the initial connections and collaborative network that would become my freelance career as a composer/sound designer in the theatre - first in the Milwaukee area (with every theatre and dance company in the city, college, amateur, professional), then throughout the state, then into Chicago, then into NYC and beyond. I can wholeheartedly tell you that if it were not for these professional relationships my career would not exist.
More importantly, without the mentorship and influence of such artists like Richard Carsey, Paula Suozzi, Joan Lounsberry, James Valcq, Bill Thiesen, Ray Jivoff, Tony Clements, Leslie Fitzwater, Jamie Johns, Mike Lorenz (this is only a partial list, believe me) - EACH of whom not only had the patience to deal with my youth and inexperience, but train me to be a better musician, a better collaborator, a better professional - all because they believed in my potential abilities as an artist. In addition, the working atmosphere at Skylight was one of high standard and true delight. There were seasoned veterans, there were new faces - everyone would eventually be schooled in the Skylight "method" of putting on a show. And if you were to ask the Skylight veterans , they would tell you they probably learned this method from those who graced the Skylight stage before them. This is not a non-profit mission statement. This is a culture of working purposefully cultivated over 50 years of grinding it out against all odds, from Clair Richardson on down. I'd like to hope I made good on my mentors' investments as I have built all of my technique and all of my "know-how" out of these formative experiences at Skylight.
The results - In addition to a sustainable national career in sound design (40 shows a year across the country - I have seen just about all that one can see in this business), I have had the honor of having my first two musical theatre works produced professionally, ADDING MACHINE and A MINISTER'S WIFE (currently running in Chicago with Richard Carsey as music director and Skylight artist Liz Baltes in the cast). Both have received national attention and acclaim. You may count now (at least) two composers (Mr. Valcq and myself) who have built what many in this day in age may be considered impossible - a successful career as a composer in the theatre - out of their initial "training" at the Skylight. I will be forever in debt to this institution for this... And everyone knows it. If they don't, I tell it to them. It is in print many times over. There are many such successes that come out of Skylight - I am just one...
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Dillner in his office along with Bill as we discussed not only potential Milwaukee productions of both these shows but also a possible commission. In that meeting I emphasized how important (at least to me) it was that these productions reflect all the wonderful artists in our community - both those established (either still here or known to Skylight audiences) and those yet to be discovered. It was a great meeting - even if nothing immediately materialized out of it, I felt uplifted and optimistic.
Then... well, the wheels have come off.
This is not simply a discussion about those who initially lost their jobs - this is a discussion about the managerial and artistic vision of an organization. First, to treat Bill, a member of this community who had garnered such respect and admiration - and who I must add produced very successful shows all year - was heartless. I also felt it dangerous in that Bill's reputation and his artistic output is undoubtably a large part of why people donate to the organization - and now he has been shown the door. The fact that he had no inkling of this signals either complete lack of two-way communication between the board and the organization or an underhanded attempt to grab power. Secondly, to switch organizational models so rashly and quickly regardless of who runs the company is simply untenable - opera organizations run by general managers seldom produce more than 3 shows, 12 - 16 performances a year. Skylight produces 5 shows, maybe 80-90 performances a year. I have experienced situations where such a restructuring happened (one of them being Madison Repertory Theatre) and have witnessed these companies fold. In arts organizations these days, such a move usually signals a death knell, a desperate act to save money.
I started to panic. In Madison, I saw just how difficult it was to combine the roles of artistic and managing director without administrative oversight and still produce quality productions. I wrote this in an email to Eric out of concern when the positions were eliminated. I heard no response. Then more firings. Silence. Then people fired for their comments on Facebook. Then mass exodus - including donors, staples of the community, close associates of the "Skylight" family, designers, marketable talent... While the positions maybe filled by others, however talented, the nature of their commitment to the Skylight and the community of Milwaukee is not, at least not immediately... You cannot replace 20-30 years of goodwill, sacrifice, hard work, and the risk that is the act of performance overnight. If that were so, then those that walked away would not have walked away - it is too important to them that the Skylight survive. It feels as if though the origins of who I am as a professional have been eradicated in a week's time.
Then today - more than a month after the initial eliminations - you walk in front of the disenfranchised - the artists, the community, your bread and butter - and openly say that it is their responsibility to save the institution after actions taken have turned them away is insulting. Yes - we all have a stake in what will be the future is of this company and when dust settles, whatever is left of this company will be the legacy of all of us who either actively took part in these events, raised their voices, or stood on the sidelines hoping for the best.
You know, no one gets points for stubbornness. To dig one's heels into the dirt and stand your ground in the face of such heated disapproval, especially when a completely viable solution has presented itself at your doorstep, is foolhardy, damaging, and ignorant. It seems abundantly clear that those in attendance were swayed by your arguments. I hope you saw that when evaluating your next moves.
It is OK to admit a mistake (or several) - to admit that you need help in rectifying the damage. And sometimes it is just flat out necessary. And that's tough. I feel sorry for Eric, especially in light of our great initial meetings, that things have turned so sour. I feel sorry for all the members of the board who I am sure this has been torture - especially if you do not agree with all that has transpired. I feel especially sorry for all those performers, donors, artists who have walked away in anger, sadness and disgust at what has happened. But something has got to give if there is even a chance of salvaging this... and in my opinion Mr. Cabot's offer must be reconsidered as the correct way to go...
Milwaukee sits at the edge of a great chasm... If there were no legitimate home-grown arts institutions, or cultural scene, or sports franchises - why would any professional or company locate themselves here? Why would any performing artist want to stay here? All these things are interconnected in the fabric of the city's commercial health and viability. The Skylight is as important in keeping this city's economy alive as anything else... Please don't destroy that. Reverse course. Admit error, undo the damage and watch as the same passion that stands in your way help to save an institution very dear to us all.
I am not at all satisfied with the way the event went this morning. You have asked the artists to pitch in and help while at the same time Eric says that we have all been replaced. An actor tearing up his contract is about the only vote of no confidence said actor can give a theater. It's obvious that management does not care about artists' opinions, therefore the artists have tried to tell you something by throwing away their contracts. It is clear that you did not get the message. The Skylight will continue to suffer, and indeed may close by the end of this season if the board's decision is not reversed and reversed soon. Today, another step was taken to further embarrass, anger and disenfranchise the very people who could help you turn this around. And within that embarrassment, anger, and disenfranchisement we were told two scripted things: the company cannot support a full time AD (which is nonsense, we all know there are other cuts that could have been looked at), and you, the artists, are now responsible for fixing what the board and Eric have so messed up. Do you at all see why this would keep people from trusting you? The firmer you stand your ground, the more it sinks beneath you. Keep informing me as to how I can help the Skylight. If you are able to mention an idea that has an ounce of legitimacy or makes even a hint of sense, I will be the first to pursue it. Thus far, the idea of asking artists to sell tickets for shows that they have either been dismissed from or have resigned from is ludicrous. I hope you realize that on some level. I was so shocked at your level of arrogance this morning, that I can only assume you do not see how ridiculous the meeting and your suggestions were.
That all said, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to you, to the board, to the arts community of Milwaukee, and especially to the Skylight staff. I know I have been a bull in a china shop, and dissent in the arts community can give the entire community a bad name. I wish I knew a way I could have made this issue public without lowering myself to anger and accusations. Unfortunately, lacking the access to power, the only power I have had is my resistance and my persistence. Please understand I have not been selfishly motivated. If the Skylight offered my job back to me today, I would not take it. I was motivated because when I moved in to the arts community here 11 years ago, I was welcomed with open arms, and accepted for all of my short comings and talents. The same could have applied to Eric. Instead of making friends and reaching out to the community, he chose to alienate it. He has chosen that route with me since at least January of this year, questioning my value to the company. There is no need to question Eric's value to the company. Obviously, the board is willing to sacrifice the community's most talented artists to be able to keep Eric on board. His value must be priceless.
former music director (1998-2009)
Skylight Opera Theatre
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Dillner sometimes directed at Shreveport, but he has no plans to do so at The Skylight, at least soon.
"I'd never say 'never,' but the focus will be on running" the business side, he said. "Bill Theisen is spectacular; the artistic side is under control."
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Almost makes you miss Don Rumsfeld
"We're moving absolutely in the right direction. We're getting positive response."
In the context of Strini's article (
it sounds like Eric is referring to two donor meetings he had today. Somebody out there approves specifically of what he is doing. "Who are these donors?", one might ask.
To whom it may concern:
According to a letter sent to Tommy Lueck, this email address is the place from whence he received his response. To quote the email he was sent:
We are using our new friendsofskylight@
In the interest of transparency, I believe the specific board member(s) who returns the email ought to sign the email. Not simply "we". It sounds like Fascist Italy in there.
Please respond too this email, too. I will be posting it on my blog and waiting for a response.
SOO that's what I wrote to them. Now that they've made it so easy to communicate, I think we ought to more frequently!
Monday, July 20, 2009
Godfrey, when asked if Dillner had a plan to replace the missing elements on short notice ("Barber of Seville" is scheduled to open Sept. 18), said: "It's rough, but there are always people ready to pick it up and run with it. I guess the answer is, 'The show must go on.' "
Let's see if Eric has as much unbridled enthusiasm tomorrow when/if he talks to Tom Strini.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Is it time to pull out of said contract? Have the board and Eric finally gone too far? Is it really still Skylight over there? You have to decide individually, but the decision carries more weight with each and every passing day. Working for Skylight is, sadly, a tacit endorsement of what is going on there. Now more than ever. I'm sorry to say that. I know there are plenty of people who still NEED to keep their employment there, and I respect that. I'm not addressing this to you. I'm addressing it to those of us who can make do without the Skylight for a season or two. How else can we proceed now? If you have a better idea, please let me know!
Donia's (our former events manager/bar keep) recent note is quite eloquent:
"In all of the time I've known Richard Carsey, I have never, ever heard him utter a negative comment about anyone, period. For recent events to push him to the point of the things he's said is something I thought would never happen. Very unfortunate.
The Skylight that was is dead, and this is in no way a 'cave-in' or lack of support. It is me being realistic. The true spirit in which Skylight began is still alive; in the very words spoken by the 'dissidents', and in the passion we feel. We need to take a step back because the building that houses the Skylight will soon implode, and we must take care not to become victims. Let them see how far they get without locally known and loved actors, directors, musicians, stage crews, and others. We hold the most power when we say "no, we will not allow you to use us against ourselves". We must not let Skylight think they are the only game in town. Because they aren't. They, too, are 'dispensable'."
Now, I've been known to hear Richard utter a disparaging word here and there, but never in public. Richard, we need your voice, louder and clearer than before. Colin, we need your voice, more than ever. Bill, we need your voice. Norman, we need your dissent. Ray, we need you to pull out of Day/Night. Let's not play politics anymore. Let's call a spade a spade, and end the fear of "hurting the Skylight". I believe the damage is done.
Dear Skylight Board of Directors and Board of Advocates,
Looking back at the week, so much has been accomplished. Still much to do!
A few things of note:
• I have had the pleasure of meeting or talking on the phone with many of our artists for Barber, Plaid, Figaro and Rent. Having the artists’ energy exploding through the building was a great boost for us all! I look forward to chatting with the rest of the artists next week.I thank you all for your continued leadership and support.
• Suzanne, Christine and I visited with The Bradley Foundation folks and have other wonderful supporters of the Skylight lined up to see soon.
• An ad hoc committee of the Board of Directors has begun meeting to manage the timeline and communication with the press.
• We are also working with some community partners to enrich our social media and online presence.
• Our audience development team will finalize decisions with our staff on our Open House to launch the season.
Have a wonderful weekend.
CHATTING with the rest of the artists? He's chatting while Rome is burning? How can he be so cavalier, so self-assured? Blocking out dissent and a sense of infallibility is a really scary combo. That's Eric in a nut shell. Perhaps he should be in a nut house.
Please comment and send this letter around.
Friday, July 17, 2009
We continue further down the rabbit hole that is this absurdity. It's been just over a month. Amazing how much damage a few members of the board and Eric Dillner could do to a 50 year old company. I guess everything must have a beginning and an end.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
So there's my Skylight rant/muse of the day. Consider the following paragraph that was in the aforementioned email, and then I'll call it a day:
The Skylight's mission is to deliver high-quality music theatre to a wide and diverse audience. Our audiences reaches beyond patrons who attend productions in the Cabot Theatre and Studio Theatre and includes students and children enriched by our arts education programs through Enlighten and community members and guests through a series of community outreach programs. Our efforts were recently recognized by:
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Here's the invite:
Dear Artists and Art Lovers,
This summer, artists and art lovers are meeting once a week to talk about art in Milwaukee. We'll be brainstorming how we can all do more to support each other and support our art in these difficult times. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to take part: all artists of any discipline, also patrons, donors, board members and even critics. Anyone who cares about art in Milwaukee. Please come.
Friday, July 17th
Catalano Park, the fountain just south of the Broadway Theatre Center
Rain location: Milwaukee Public Market
BYOB: Bring your own breakfast
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Please email Eric Dillner and ask him when we can start the public forums. I believe there are many unanswered questions. How much of the board was informed of this decision? Were there truly no other viable options? Why wasn't Bill at least allowed an opportunity to speak on behalf of his position. Is there going to be a summer cabaret series?
See if you can get an answer. I understand he has begun to answer email. Though, of course, Suzanne, Howard, and Eric have not bothered to contact me. Bo Beal and Jude Werra did, though. That was nice.
So that email is firstname.lastname@example.org
THEN WAIT A FEW HOURS
then try to give him a call. 414.291.7811x221. Let's keep him and his personal assistant (the only managing director in Skylight history to have a personal assistant) nice and busy.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Be at peace Becky. It always feels better to speak you mind and get it out of your system.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Will he have similar benefits?
Is Dillner going to stay out of casting decisions, such as pressuring to having Susan sing Bertha in the upcoming Barber?
BILL: This is the moment. The choice is yours; refuse to direct and watch them coming begging on their hands and knees. I think they are already there.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
...and maybe it's time to start calling Eric, Howard, and Suzanne. Ask them when we get to have our first public forum. We are all very excited and eager. Please, put in a word for me too! Ask them why I still haven't been contacted by one of these fine people, even though I have made plenty of requests and was a performer, patron, and donor to the Skylight as well. I still feel like I deserve at least one phone call from one of these folks.
Thanks y'all. We need a little agitating!
Friday, July 3, 2009
"Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community and sow the seeds of discontent among them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary." Oscar Wilde
"Zeugma, like the pun, is economical: it contracts two sentences into one . . . it links unrelated terms — mental with moral, abstract with physical, high with low — and thus generates surprise." (Walter Redfern, Puns) "Zeugma," which has been a part of the English language since the 15th century, comes from Greek, where it literally means "joining." The Greek word has another connection to English as well. In the early 1970s, a chemistry professor named Paul Lauterbur developed a technique for producing images of internal organs. He called it "zeugmatography," because it involved the joining of magnetic fields. Lauterbur was awarded a Nobel Prize, but the name he chose didn’t stick. The technique is known today as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Tell me what you think, and I'll comment!
Date: July 2, 2009
From: Suzanne Hefty, President, Board of Directors
Howard Miller, Immediate Past President, Board of Directors
To: Skylight Opera Theatre Guest Artists
Jordan Ahnquist, actor
Johnna Allen, actor
Liz Baltes, actor
Peter Dean Beck, scenic and lighting designer
Alicia Berneche, actor
Lisa Brescia, actor
Gary Briggle, actor
Peter Clark, actor
Niffer Clarke, actor
Tony Clements, actor
Cynthia Cobb, actor
James Coleman, actor
Parrish Collier, actor
Lisa Dames, actor
Ilana Davidson, actor
Donna Drake, director
Annmarie Duggan, lighting designer
Colm Fitzmaurice, actor
Michelle (Smith) Gisondi, actor
Ken Goldstein, scenic designer
Rob Hancock, actor
Benjamin Howes, actor
Takeshi Kata, scenic designer
Tari Kelly, actor
Joanne Lessner, actor
John Muriello, actor
Rick Rasmussen, scenic and costume designer
Van Santvoord, scenic designer
Josh Schmidt, sound designer
Donald St. Pierre, music director
Jennifer Swiderski, actor
Rita Thomas, actor
James Valcq, actor
Andrew Wilkowske, actor
Branch Woodman, actor
July 2, 2009
Dear Skylight Opera Theatre Guest Artists:
Thank you for writing your letter to Skylight Opera Theatre’s Board of Directors,
received by email on June 25, 2009, in response to the theatre company’s recent
structural reorganization. We take your concern for the Skylight very seriously and
have attempted to address your key questions here.
We acknowledge that the handling of the restructuring, position eliminations and the
subsequent public response should have been handled differently and that the
underlying reasons were not spelled out in sufficient detail in advance of the
announcement. As the economy and our budget allow, we will continuously review
the Skylight’s business model. However, please know that this heartbreaking and
difficult decision will not be reversed.
The restructuring was a proactive decision which, had we not undertaken would have
brought us to an untenable financial situation. Cash flow has been a constant struggle
at the Skylight for four years as the company has gone from having a $200,000 cash
surplus to a debt of $414,000 (as of June 30, 2009). In 2005-2006, we were forced to
open a line of credit, using the Broadway Theatre Center building as collateral, to
cover payroll, vendor expenses, production costs and general operating needs. In the
past year, Skylight’s restricted endowment has declined by 25%
In January 2009, the first attempt was made to establish a projected balanced budget
for the 2009-2010 season. We subsequently learned of a 15% reduction in UPAF’s
fundraising goal and declining grants from foundations and corporations. The
Skylight’s overdependence on contributed revenue required an immediate analysis of
the theatre’s cost structure in producing shows. Without a critical review of our
personnel structure, we risked severely impacting the performance quality Skylight
audiences have come to expect. Economists are projecting no significant change in
contributed income patterns through 2010, adding additional pressure to our future
The Broadway Theatre Center (BTC) is owned and operated by the Skylight. Built in
1993, this theatre and office complex has been home or provided performance space
to numerous non-profit, for-profit and theatre companies. Though the BTC was
originally a source of revenue, the 16-year-old buildings are now a major expense.
Everything from the roof, heating and cooling system, sidewalks, bathrooms, office
space and theatres themselves are in need of attention.
The production and administrative staff, with input and direction from the Board, has
implemented significant cuts in the last three seasons. Everything from paper usage
to lumber and climate control has been analyzed from a cost-savings perspective. As
some staff positions became vacant, they were not filled; their duties were absorbed
by other staff members. Examples include our production manager taking on the
facility director’s responsibilities, our development director assuming management of
the bar, and our development coordinator administering special events and rentals.
We have also brought previously outsourced duties in-house, including the design of
most of our marketing materials and website. We have also worked to find new
sources of revenue. For instance, the Skylight’s administrative offices were moved to
previously vacant BTC office space in order to provide tenant space for two non-profit
theatre companies. Through this series of expense reductions, the utmost attention
was paid to avoid affecting the daily operations of our artistic department. The artistic
department remained the last significant pool of resources to be evaluated; we could
not insulate this department from the financial realities any longer.
The artistic director and company manager were involved in budgeting discussions as
members of the senior staff. We acknowledge your wish to have been included in
these discussions. While attempts at better communication will be made in future
seasons, certain aspects of the theatre company governance must be handled by
Skylight staff and Board only.
Because we acknowledge the important responsibilities of the artistic director and
company manager, we knew that these tasks had to be formally combined with other
job titles. The Executive Committee approached Managing Director Eric Dillner and,
with knowledge of his past artistic leadership, asked him to assume the artistic
management of the organization. The duties of the company manager, box office
manager, box office assistant manager and custodian will be spread throughout the
company ensuring timely and effective attention to each task and responsibility. We
have great confidence in Eric’s general and artistic management abilities.
The next few seasons will present new challenges and opportunities as the Skylight
continues to adapt its business model to the changing economy. We firmly state that
the Skylight’s artistic vision has not changed. The Skylight’s mission as a non-profit,
professional performing organization is to bring the full spectrum of music theatre
works to a wide and diverse audience.
We respect Bill Theisen greatly and appreciate your loyalty to him. We learned
yesterday that he has accepted our offer to contractually stage direct The Barber of
Seville, Plaid Tidings and The Marriage of Figaro and to write and stage direct The
Long and Short of It. Though we offered Bill a contract for a fifth production, he has
chosen to accept work elsewhere during that timeframe.
We are passionate about the Skylight and have personally invested significant time,
energy and financial resources to the success of the company. We invite each of you
to help the Skylight succeed in any way you can.
Suzanne Hefty Howard Miller
President, Board of Directors Immediate Past President, Board of Directors
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Now, the really good news. This gives us and the community at large an opportunity to really shift the conversation from bringing back Bill to the Skylight at large. Let's face it. This has always been about the Skylight. We all want to make sure the institution is around as long as possible, because it has brought so much to the community.
So, now is the time to turn up the heat. Look up Suzanne Hefty's home number. I know Becky Spice has it. Call Suzanne and tell her this is far from over. We will not shut-up until Eric is out. Call Eric and beg him to resign. He has to resign now, so that we can begin to salvage that which we love, the Skylight.
He assured me that these kinds of decisions are complicated and require a lot of discussion.
He wasn't able to answer all of my questions. I asked what other options were looked into. He told me that he couldn't possibly catalog all the other solutions that were discussed. He "counseled" me that more opportunities for discussion would be forthcoming. I guess he was referring to the upcoming forums.
If anyone knows Jude, he's now back in town and available for comment. He was easy to talk to, even if he was just now beginning to learn about this situation. Call him! I don't have his number, but I have his personal email. If you would like it, just email me!