Thursday, July 2, 2009

Suzanne Hefty's letter!

Alrighty! Read it, comment, then I'll share my thoughts. OK. I'll share some thoughts now. Hefty, Dillner, and a little bit Miller=totally screwed.

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


  1. Honestly? This makes me sick.


    Thankfully they can respond, but only to people who are not physically in Milwaukee. What's with that?

  3. wanted to add 5 folks who also signed but weren't on the list:
    dottie danner, director
    bj cannon, actor
    stacey galloway, costume designer
    michael deleget, actor
    rachel laritz

    also -- yeah, kinda bizarre and curious that THIS is the only correspondence they've chosen to respond to. what's that about?

  4. It is totally in keeping with their utter contempt for the local Milwaukee arts community.