Monday, July 27, 2009

The Skylight Timeline

With special thanks to Chris Krasovich and all others who helped to compile and edit this. Should you want a word copy to print or post, please email me at and I will forward one to you. Thanks!

Dear Reader,

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 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. 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


Resignations continue:

* 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 (

Tony Clements (

Pertinent Links: - Petition signed by nearly 600 individuals concerned about recent events at Skylight - Turmoil Continues at Milwaukee Opera Theater - Former Artistic Director is Now a Music Director

Playbill - Theatre Week In Review – Midwest Crisis - Eight Artists Withdraw From Milwaukee Skylight Season in Protest of New Management - In Hard Times Milwaukee’s Skylight Fires Artistic Director

JSOnline - Skylight’s Theisen Won’t Freelance - Theisen Will Direct for Skylight - Skylight’s Future Might Depend on the Guy it Dumped - Skylight Officials Share Grim Numbers to Try to Quell Firing Furor - Skylight Could Have Avoided Firing Debacle - Skylight Sparks Controversy With Artistic Director's Dismissal - Remember When the Drama Was Onstage - Meltdown at the Skylight - The Skylight Controversy

Third Coast Digest - Skylight cuts Artistic Director Theisen, key staff roles: Beal resigns from board in protest - Community Uproar Greets A.D.’s Elimination at Skylight Opera Theatre - Social Media Snafu – Another Cautionary Tale

Business Journal - Mixed Messages Led to Skylight Controversy - Budget Shortfall Led Skylight Opera to Take Drastic Measures - Theisen to Direct Four Skylight Shows - Skylight Board Offers to Rehire Theisen, but He Refuses - Artist Withdrawals Cascade at Skylight Opera Theatre - Scream City - The Skylight May Soon Be Lighting an Empty Building

Skylight Contacts:

Eric Dillner – Managing Director

414.291.7811 x211

Terry Kurtenbach – Interim Board President


  1. Jamie, this is great. It's very helpful for people - and perhaps the media - to see everything in one place.


  2. Hmmmm....I guess the SOT's theory that this would all "blow over" was sorta wrong, huh? It's a shame that after nearly 50 years, SOT has NO idea of the kind of artistic community we have in Milwaukee. What a shame. I think you're better off sharing your talents elsewhere, dear Jamie.