Friday, July 24, 2009

My letter to Mr. Kutenbach, the Skylight's interim board president

Mr. Kurtenbach,

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.


jamie johns
former music director (1998-2009)
Skylight Opera Theatre


  1. Jamie:

    We don't know each other, but I did a number of seasons back at Skylight in the Francesca/Stephen days. I worked with and still count Leslie, James Valcq, Ray Jivoff, Colin and Paula and a number of people from those days as friends, even if I may not have seen or spoken to them for years.

    You have nothing to apologize for. I've been follwing this debacle closely, and you responded with the passion and fire of someone who truly loved his position. What the board did to Bill Theisen (who I also do not know, but the regard in which he is held by the people I do know and respect says worlds about him) was a full frontal assault on him, then you, then the Milwaukee Arts Community at large. You did nothing to divide the Milwaukee Arts Community; your actions were a call to arms that unified it. I hope you are proud of what you did, and I hope this ends well for all concerned, but I fear it will not.

    J. Michael Brennan

  2. Thank you, Mr. Brennan. I wish I could figure out the code to break the spell Dillner has cast on the BOD. I do hope the artists feel and stay unified. Today's meeting really tasted nasty.