Tuesday, June 30, 2009

the must read

i know you're tired of her, and you wish she'd just go away, but you really gotta take the time to read todd purdam's vanity fair piece on sarah palin.

court rules, coleman concedes

minnesota finally has it's second senator.

dillner/hefty: "worst persons in the world?"

a tuesdays' reader has come up with an interesting way to protest the skylight theatre's firing of artistic director bill theisen: nominate the culprits responsible, eric dillner, suzanne hefty and the skylight executive committee, as one of countdown with keith olberman's worst persons in the world.

christine o'meally got the idea to email olbermann while watching countdown. "It just struck me - once the political element of Karl Rove and 'Stay the course' came into this whole thing, it would be right up ol' Keith's alley."

wanna join her? click here to email olbermann and countdown.

a word of advice: if you send an email, be sure to be clear – it's not the skylight itself you're nominating, just those buggers who canned the entire artistic staff.

here's o'meally's letter:

At the Skylight Opera Theater in Milwaukee, the artistic director, Bill Theisen, who is extremely well-liked both locally and nationally, was recently fired by the new managing director, Eric Dillner. This despite a season that was extremely successful, and with no notice whatsoever.

A few days later, the music director, Jamie Johns, was also fired for insubordination because of his public and passionate protests on the artistic director's behalf. It seemed quite reminiscent of the style of the Bush Administration - heavy-handed, vindictive, short-sighted and without any consideration for either the past or the future.

That analogy was being used privately among local artists, but we had no idea how true it was. In checking the company's Twitter account, it was discovered the Skylight lists KARL ROVE as one of the people it follows. Karl Rove, who has shown no interest in the arts of which I am aware, let alone or opera or musical theater.

A screen grab of the Twitter page may be found here: http://www.tuesdaysblog.com/2009/06/skylights-rovian-tactics.html. In an interview with the city's music critic, Tom Strini, Dillner and the board president, Suzanne Hefty, used the phrase "stay the course" multiple times. (I am not aware whether or not they ever said, "Bring 'em on" or "cut and run.")

Strini has called for the removal of both Dillner & Hefty, who have lied about the circumstances of Theisen's firing, saying that it was a board decision. It was an executive committee decision and consequently several board members have resigned in protest.

The article about the situation may be found at http://www.jsonline.com/entertainment/arts/49430392.html. There are multiple articles in the Journal Sentinel by Strini and multiple discussions of the topic at www.tuesdaysblog.com.

Thank you for your consideration of this issue.

theisen doing "what's best for me..."

...and others need to do what's best for them."

bill theisen
, the recently fired artistic director of milwaukee's skylight opera theatre has agreed to return to direct four of the five shows he had been scheduled to direct prior to the company's sudden restructuring, but possibly (and quite publicly) not for the reasons managing director eric dillner and board president suzanne hefty had in mind:
"I don't feel very celebratory about the company," Theisen said. "I will try to stay neutral and do the job at hand. I'm doing what's best for me, and others need to do what's best for them."

Theisen, who is at the University of Iowa directing a revue, said several performers had called to say that they would refuse to step on the stage if he chose not to direct at the Skylight next season. He didn't want that.

"This really is the best decision for me because I've already put so much work into the two operas," he said. "The designs are done and all the casting is done."

While he did not encourage further agitation, neither did he suggest that the protest should end.

"I want to thank everyone who has supported me," he said. "I was truly overwhelmed."

theisen's comments are as important for what they don't say, as what they do.

is charlie sykes my new bff?

wtmj newsradio 620's charlie sykes is not someone i want to talk politics with, right?

the conservative radio talker in milwaukee has said some stuff in the past that's infuriated me. so much so that last year i extended a somewhat sordid invitation to sykes that he never expressed any interest in taking me up on.

but last week, sykes said some pretty cool stuff about the the skylight theatre's decision to throw the bums out fire one of the most beloved, well respected member of the local artistic community.

now i learn – you'll forgive me if i missed this, i'm not a regular sykes listener or reader of his columns – that in 2006 sykes actually came out. against wisconsin's recent amendment to ban gay marriage, that is.

his comments landed him in hot water with much of the conservative community, some of whom labeled him a rino (republican in name only.) perhaps it's because sykes' comments on marriage equality could easily have come out of fire-breathing liberal like me:
Exactly how does allowing gays to enter into legal, monogamous relationships undermine the institution of marriage? Isn't in society's interest to foster and recognize such stable relationships? And why would that be something that conservatives would oppose?

Let's be honest: when gays point to divorce as a greater threat to marriage, they have a point. Yet, so far, none of the defenders of marriage have proposed banning divorce, or barring the infertile from the rites of marital bliss.

If the concern is combatting threats to marriage, why not focus on the "domestic partner" benefits that extend insurance etc. to members of the opposite sex who merely shack up with favored employees? The only real justification for such shack-up benefits is that, short of recognizing gay marriage, they are the only way to extend such benefits to committed gay couples. But by conferring marital benefits to boy friends and girl friends alike, they erase the distinction between marriage and casual sex - a far greater challenge to the primacy of marriage than gay marriage itself.

Gays who wish to marry don't want to tear down marriage. They want in on it.

the threat to marriage

men marrying other men in menomonee? lesbians linking up in lexington? nope. governors in south carolina. namely governor mark sanford, who today admitted last week's tearful confession of marital infidelity wasn't, well, complete.

but god forbid i marry my partner of nine years, 'cause that, you know...that would have an impact on marriages like the sanford's.

a crazy little shack beyond the tracks

back in the late 70's, the mere mention of a place called the sugar shack could send the women in my family into hysterical giggle-fits of embarrassed laughter. no one ever talked about what it was, exactly, but i knew. i was a regular viewer of both phil donahue and tom snyder's tomorrow program and both had features on the little club in lake geneva, wisconsin (what!?) that featured nude male dancers (what-what!?)

(elliot lazanna, glenn walker, & turk johnson – former headliners at the sugar shack.)

planning a trip to the shack was a big deal for my sister, or my mom – something usually reserved for a bachelorette party or a surprise birthday. i remember overhearing snippets of secret conversations – who would go along, who might be offended. no one had any clue how badly i wanted to be invited.

i never did get to go, of course. but hey, i'm back in wisconsin, and here for another couple of weeks. and the place is still open. anyone?

Monday, June 29, 2009

skylight's rovian tactics?

from tom strini's op-ed today (my emphasis):
The social media, letter writing and e-mail campaigns to reverse that decision [firing of artistic director Bill Theisen on June 16] have maintained momentum.

Board president Suzanne Hefty and managing director Eric Dillner inadvertently contributed to it, first with their silence and second with their inability to explain the action in any sensible way. I met them and past president Howard Miller for 90 minutes last week. A signal of their cluelessness in this matter: They actually uttered the phrase "stay the course." More than once.
from twitter:

(hat tip christine o'meally)

a dog in the skylight fight?

on saturday, i suggested wtmj's charlie sykes, who publicly mocked the skylight opera theatre's board of directors and their decision to gut the company's entire artistic staff, doesn't have a dog in the skylight fight.

but as a tuesdays commenter reminds us, sykes is married to former opera soprano jan riordan, who has tread the skylight boards a number of times in the past, most notably as laurie in oklahoma and paquette in candide.

riordan currently is employed by milwaukee's lynde and harry bradley foundation as director of community programs.

the bradley foundation is an annual donor to the skylight opera theatre, to the tune of $80,000 in 2008.

strini as theisen: "so long, suckers."

another scathing opinion piece from the journal/sentinal's tom strini on the skylight mess. while strini admits he still believes the best solution to the entire scandal is for the board to reverse it's decision, rid itself of managing director eric dillner, and reinstate fired artistic director bill theisen, he also suggests that the skylight could be saved only if theisen calms everyone down, and comes back to direct the five shows he was scheduled to direct next season:
I predict he won't last a year, unless one thing happens: Theisen returns not only as a free-lance director next season, but as a calming influence. If he were to call off the artists' attacks on the board and on the managing director, encourage miffed subscribers and donors to return and serve as the public face of the company in its golden anniversary season, he just might pull Dillner's fat out of the fire.
the problem with this plan is that while the community wants theisen to do what's best for theisen, his agreeing to return does nothing to remedy the fact that the organization would still be without a separate artistic director.

what would strini do?
If I were me, I would probably say, "So long, suckers."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

the continuing combustion

the big skylight theatre/milwaukee journal-sentinal pow-wow that happened last wednesday – an interview with skylight managing director eric dillner, board president suzanne hefty, past president howard miller and skylight marketing director kristin godfrey – produced some big scary financial numbers, some whining and groveling, and a couple of real doozies.

like this, from hefty:
"We knew [the company's restructuring, including firing artistic director William Theisen] would be an unpopular decision, but we didn't anticipate the pace or the tone. The social media response caught us off guard.

We need to get our message out that we're trying to manage through a recession and that the artistic vision of the Skylight hasn't changed at all. We haven't done that well; we will establish forums for conversation and explanation."
hefty, dillner and miller knew the decision would be so unpopular they didn't even inform the rest of the skylight's board of directors. and someone might remind hefty and miller that the artistic vision for the company comes from the artistic director. what's dillner going to do from now on, ask himself WWBD (what would bill do?)

after completely gutting the company of its entire artistic staff – the resident music director, the artistic associate/company manager, and the artistic director – it's almost sick-making that the words "artistic vision" would even come out of hefty's mouth.

but this is especially rich:
Dillner, Hefty and Miller acknowledged that they handled Theisen's departure badly and that it led to the continuing combustion. They would have handled things differently, especially since they ardently hope that Theisen will return on a freelance basis to direct three main stage shows and two studio shows next season. They need him for artistic and box office reasons, and they need his calming presence.

The plot of this drama will turn next on whether Theisen will help the company that pushed him out the door last week.
in other words: theisen must come in and save the day, and if the skylight fails without him, it's partly his fault.

this is pathetic, reprehensible behavior. if william theisen were to never set foot in the skylight theatre again, there would be no person who could or should blame him. dillner, hefty and miller are responsible for this mess, and they should bear the consequences of their decision.

kiss today goodbye

paul stanley of kiss performing at the marcus amphitheater in milwaukee during the cities annual summerfest.

this is digital marketing for theatre

ventura, california's rubicon theatre company, focused on the future and marketing themselves to an internet savvy audience, provides their full 2009-10 season brochure – the same one mailed to your house – in a beautiful online version. flippable pages and all.

and, oh yeah. check out pages 12-13.

click the right edge of the image to turn the page, on the center to enlarge:

sounds from the haunted mansion

also known as the prelude to stephen schwartz's new opera, seance on a wet afternoon, commissioned by opera santa barbara.

more here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

charlie sykes: skylight "profoundly stupid"

it's not often that i agree with this guy. but here's someone who "doesn't have a dog in this fight," and has the cojones to call it as he sees it.

in audio from wtmj radio's midday with charlie sykes, host sykes absolutely destroys the skylight opera theatre board of directors, and refers to managing director eric dillner as "the new hatchet man" at the skylight. (i don't know, is that a threat?)
"i cannot remember the last time a local non-profit organization or arts group blew itself up in as messy a way as the skylight has... why the folks in charge did not see this coming, why they didn't realize that...

look i understand the money is tight, there are things you need to cut back , i obviously do get that. but to blow out the guy who is your artistic director, to go into the season without a music director? um, helloooo?! does anyone see the flaw in all this?"
sykes goes on to openly mock the skylight board, suggesting they won't have the guts to admit a terrible mistake and reverse themselves, but will only double down on their decision. listen:

(hat tip christine o'meally)

social media proves "inneffective" in
protesting skylight theatre restructuring...?

and yet, the third second most popular google search sending readers to this blog is the following phrase:
suzanne hefty
hefty is the president of the skylight opera theatre board of directors. other popular searches sending record traffic to tuesdaysblog include:
skylight opera
dillner skylight
skylight opera protest
eric dillner
milwaukee theatre bloggers
skylight opera theatre controversy
readers finding tuesdaysblog by searching for the above text spent an average of 45 minutes on the blog, and viewed an average of seven pages each.

and yet, apparently "no one is reading this stuff."

a crowd of deviates and a handful
of angry drag queens saved my life

when, 40 years ago, they said we're not gonna take it anymore. bitch.

Friday, June 26, 2009

mnemosyne update 1

tuesdays commenter mnemosyne calls out another member of the skylight board of directors: gary jorgensen.

(remember, these comments are posted to this blog by an anonymous commenter. while they are blunt and to the point, i believe they are respectful and pertinent to the debate.)

Gary Jorgensen: You run a family business. You know the importance of succession planning and fair treatment of your family and employees. If you would not stand for this kind of action by one of your sons, how can you have your name attached to something like this?

Matt Flynn: There's no way you OK'd this debacle. There is likely no Board member closer to, or more appreciative of the artistic staff and the artists that strive to further the Skylight dream than you. How could you treat them this way? These people were your personal friends. How many times have you appeared on stage with or under the direction of Bill Theisen?

John Stollenwerk: You've been on that Board longer than almost anyone, including Byron Foster. Is this the way you do business? Is this the kind of treatment of employees you want your name associated with? Really? You want your name on this kind of "corporate restructuring" after all you've done to ensure smooth transitions at other companies, including your own?

John Hein: You've been there long enough (certainly longer than Pat Kraft) and understand the duties of all of these positions that have been eliminated. Have you seen a plan that shows you how the duties of FIVE full time positions will be absorbed? Are you going to be the estate lawyer who tries to negotiate with the anonymous donor that this new restructuring still allows you to pull the income from the million dollar gift to support the salary of a guy who nuked the position the gift was intended to permanently endow?

Byron Foster: You've served, what, 15+ years on that board? You think Eric Dillner can do what only Clair Richardson even dreamed of doing? Seriously? Even Colin Cabot, with all his knowledge and experience was wise enough to go get artistic directors.

the performance of his life

an emmy-nominated performance on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, and the premiere of "the moonwalk." the original video for the song was the first ever by a black artist on mtv.

the tragedy of his life

from time:
The tragedy of Michael Jackson's death at age 50, reportedly from cardiac arrest, pales in comparison to the tragedy of his life.

To understand all that Jackson had and lost requires wiping away three decades of plastic surgeries that deformed him, erratic behavior that made his name synonymous with the warping powers of fame, and a 2005 trial for sexually abusing a child that, even though he was spared of any finding of wrongdoing, made him a pariah to all but the most brainwashed of fans.

But if you can forgive or forget all that, underneath was one of the most talented entertainers of the 20th century.

calling them out: the skylight board

foster, hein, stollenwerk and flynn

commenter mnemosyne has taken to calling out individual members of the skylight opera theatre's board of directors one by one, taking them to task for the mess at the company. this anonymous reader's sharp, direct comments are not to be missed by anyone following this saga.

the original comments are here: a skylight call to arms, and will remain there until further notice. i'll let you know on the main blog when new board members are added. so far mnemosyne has hit byron foster, john hein, john stollenwerk and matt flynn.

the guessing game as to mnemosyne's identity is fascinating, but far less important than what this person has to say.

(by the way, you are aware of the sharethis icon at the bottom of tuesdays' posts, right? you can easily email a skylight call to arms, along with mnemosyne's continuing comments, to each board member as they come along.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

in threes.

farrah farewell

actress farrah fawcett has died, which brings to mind one of my favorite steve martin quotes:

"Boy oh boy, I am so mad at Farrah Fawcett-Majors. She is so conceited. She has never called me once. And after the hours I've spent holding up her poster with one hand! Geez!"

i was, of course, holding up a poster of john travolta.

the golden girls talk gay marriage

blanche and sophia discuss marriage equality.

(hat tip t.adkins)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

but did he go nude hiking in argentina?

thank goodness for republican family values:
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina, said he had conducted an extra-marital affair with a woman in Argentina, ending a mystery over his week-long disappearance that had infuriated lawmakers and seemed to put his rising political career in jeopardy.

He apologized for the affair and the deception surrounding his trip in a rambling, nationally televised news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Governor Sanford, 49, admitted that he had been in Buenos Aires since Thursday, not hiking on the Appalachian Trail as his staff had told reporters.

a skylight call to arms

jonathan west at artsy schmartsy, also the managing director of the sunset playhouse in elm grove, wisconsin, sums up what he thinks about the skylight debacle:
The current Managing Director of The Skylight and the Executive Committee of The Skylight should resign due to the negative effects of an intensely miscalculated announcement of a management restructuring that has turned into a public relations disaster.

They are not bad people. They are, in fact, good people. They are well intentioned and tried to solve a problem. I think their decision might be right, but the handling of it was so wrong and their silence regarding the public outcry promotes an arrogance that I simply cannot support as a quality of an effective leadership team.
i think jonathan's got the right idea. let me add a few things.

first of all, where is colin cabot? colin, we need you.

second, WHO IS THIS EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE? it seems there are plenty of current board members who don't even know the answer to this question. we need to know who exactly made this decision, and they should have the balls to stand up and say, "i am responsible for this."

if the entire board did not vote on this decision, is it legal? if the entire board voted on it after the fact, is it legal? (and legality aside, isn't there is a huge difference between a vote prior to a decision being made, and a vote afterwords to try to "clean up the mess?") and if the board did in fact give dillner and the executive committee a vote of confidence, after the fact, was it legal? i.e was a quorum reached?

second - the dillner's skylight is planning a "community forum" to discuss all of this in the near future. call me crazy, but i think this is a smoke screen and an attempt to diffuse the issue. the community has already done lot's of talking, and no one has responded. no one. what does that tell you? that we're trying to decide what to say? what "stories" are being coordinated and agreed upon behind the scenes right now?

i'm tired of hearing "well, eric is really a nice guy." i'm a nice guy too, but i make bad decisions (sometimes.) and if mr. dillner is such a nice guy, why was this a total shock to bill theisen? if an executive committee said, at some point, "this is what you must do," and dillner vehemently disagreed with it, why didn't he bring bill in to the discussion? this is the first major, public decision mr. dillner has made for the skylight and i'd say it hasn't gone well.

those in favor of this decision are, i believe, about to present their case to the public as a unified front, when in fact, it seems clear they are not. those not in favor of this decision need to rally the troops, and dig in for the long haul or just give up and move on. plenty can go on behind the scenes, but while that's happening, we need to be a vocal, loud, clear voice.

jamie johns may have gone too far for some, but he was heard. we need to be heard too. i say no more mr. nice guy: civil, legal protest against this decision is worth it. signs. shouting. singing. chanting. a breakfast is a great idea, but we need to be raising our bagels to the sky and yelling "i'm mad as hell and i'm not going to take it anymore!"

the longer this is drawn out, the more it dissipates. this is what a pr firm would tell you: "don't respond and it will go away."

we must not go away.

don't ask questions

sometimes you just need a giant mechanical japanese clown, okay?

his name is kuidaore taro, and from 1950 until july of 2008 he was literally a fixture outside a popular restaurant in dotonbori, osaka, japan. since the restaurant closed, kuidaore taro has acquired an agent and a career and he gets more work than you do.

(hat tip kloppy)

the return of abba?

not exactly. but close.

whaddya think?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

quote of the day

“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white. Or a rape.”
richard nixon
on january 23, 1973, the day the supreme court
struck down state criminal abortion laws in roe v. wade

sanford sans clothes

you can't make this stuff up. last thursday, south carolina governor mark sanford mysteriously went missing. yesterday, his staff finally reported that the governor has been hiking the appalachian trail.

sunday was "naked hiking day" on the appalachian trail.

the big gay married apple

new yorkers wanna come to my wedding:
A majority of New Yorkers favor legalizing gay marriage, a new poll finds. The Quinnipiac University poll says voters statewide would support a law to allow same-sex couples to marry by a 51% to 41% margin, with 8% undecided.
i guess i'd have to propose first.

the damage is done

sage rock, a digital marketing blog, does some simple googling and suggests that the damage already done to the skylight opera theatre goes well beyond what anyone might imagine:
Theater fans in Milwaukee will be searching in Google for “Skylight,” “Skylight Theater,” and “Skylight Opera” all year long to acquire tickets, become members and patrons and read reviews.

I know what you’re thinking — “Skylight?” — that phrase alone does not represent people looking for the theater. True. 90% of those people are looking for ceiling windows. But guess what the top 4 listings are for that phrase in Google right now?

Phrase: Skylight

#1 Toil and Trouble at Skylight Opera
#2 Staff Cuts Bring Protest
#3 Staff Cuts Bring Protest
#4 Milwaukee’s Skylight Opera Eliminates Artistic Director Job
not long ago, the skylight opera theatre underwent a rather extensive (and one might assume expensive) process of rebranding itself simply the skylight. they've since changed their name back to skylight opera theatre.

in one fell swoop, eric dillner and the skylight executive committee have done more to effect the skylight's image than any rebranding ever could ever have. and the full skylight board, over a week after the sudden and unannounced restructuring, has yet to offer any public statement whatsoever.

as sage rock suggests, "sleep well, skylight board of directors. by next week it will have all blown over." or not.

get the hook

patti lupone is a g.d. star and don't you forget it.

dillner finally speaks

skylight managing director eric dillner has finally spoken out about the restructuring and firings at the skylight theater – not with local media, where it might receive greater notice in the community – but with stage directions, a national theatre magazine.

dillner, who along with the skylight's executive committe seemingly fired artistic director william theisen and four others in the dark of night, announcing it to the community (and the rest of the skylight board, for that matter) through an email, says these drastic steps were only taken to save the company from closing it's doors like so many others had around the country and he was shocked by the "personal" attacks from some in the community:
The board and I work diligently every day to find ways of giving artists opportunities to perform in the best manner,” said Dillner. “I think [the personal attacks were] the most shocking part of this. Because I was so intent on finding a way to continue an arts organization and not fold like so many others have.”
opera is rather melodramatic at times, isn't it?

the chips continue to fall

patricia kraft resigns from the board of the skylight opera theatre:
The events of the last week are disappointing, unexpected, improperly handled and leave me with no other option but to resign my position as a member of the Board of Directors of the Skylight Theatre.

I was honored to have participated at the Board level this past eleven months. However, I totally disagree with the new direction chosen for the future of The Skylight, of which I had no opportunity for input. Having participated on other Boards, I have always experienced group consensus and open communication; especially when there is a major decision that will have a significant impact on so many different stakeholders.
This has been a very troubling turn of events and in all good conscience, I can no longer continue on the Board.

Pat Kraft

over easy please

over the summer, the milwaukee theatre community will hold a weekly breakfast to discuss art in the city, the first being this friday at 8:00 am in catalano square, just south of the broadway theatre center.

while no specific agenda has been planned, attendees are encouraged to talk about their favorite ray jivoff performance. or awards. or the skylight restructuring.

or that ray jivoff thing.

artsy schmartsy has the details.

enough is enough

tuesdays commenter mnemosyne is fed up with waiting for a response from the skylight opera theatre's board and management, and lays down the gauntlet:
There comes a time to say "NO. Enough is enough."

Those who care about the Skylight have waited a week for a response from board and management regarding the firings of key staff and restructuring of the senior staff. To date there has been little to no substantial response to the chorus of criticism that has resulted.

Skylight is not a building, nor one person, nor a particular show. It is an idea sprung from the minds of Clair Richardson and Sprague Vonier, who asked "Want to have some real fun?" and put together a scrappy little company that put on surprisingly good shows given limited resources.

Skylight is the idea that you can take your work very seriously while not taking yourself very seriously. It is the idea that there are no "stars" except those who support the work, hence no star dressing rooms in the basement.

Skylight is the idea that we're all in this together as a group...artists, technicians, musicians, and staff. Which is why their used to be very little difference in what people got paid.

Skylight is the idea that opera and musicals, and operettas and cabaret all grow from a common seed, only blooming in different hues. That's why each piece was treated with equal mixtures of care and good humor by people like Bill, Richard and Jamie with deep, deep backgrounds in all these genres.

Skylight is the idea that the people with the window offices are the junior staff, not the bosses, who sit in the back. That’s why the offices used to be right across the hall from the rehearsal hall…so any artist and any administrator could literally wander over and say hello. Which they did on a daily basis.

Skylight is the idea that the work comes first, before considerations of finance, which is why you had Clair Richardson and Colin Cabot importing European operetta festivals, and Francesca Zambello and Stephen Wadsworth doing things like Monteverdi cycles, Joan Lounsbery and Chas Rader-Schieber doing Handel cycles, Christopher Libby and Richard Carsey doing the works of Richard Wargo, and Bill Theisen doing Spitfire Grill and Midnight Angel.

Skylight is the idea that is not like all the rest. It is not a grand opera company (we already have a fine one), nor is it a music theatre hall (we’ve had those too). It was indefinable precisely because it rejected the norms of performance and management. The buried the founder in the basement for God sake.

Skylight is also the idea that it will do well by making due. How many years were spent in that swamp of a dressing room on Jefferson? How many fingers had to be warmed to get through a rehearsal or performance there? How much spit and sweat and gum and chicken wire have gone into keeping the Broadway Theatre Center patched together these many years? How many times were the payables “aged” and dumpsters dived for props? How many rounds of drinks have sufficed for bonuses?

If you read these words, know this. There is no corporate “we” at Skylight. There is only a small group of people responsible to keep this idea alive. They are your neighbors; your lawyer, your accountant, your banker, your friend. Reach out to them and tell them how you feel. Ask them how this is supposed to work out right. Those “major” donors? They aren’t so major they are unreachable. Ask them what they think of this. Now ask them to make a call.

The Skylight is no longer the one you knew and loved. Want it back? Then make it clear right now that this new company… you want nothing to do with it. This new company, built on the backs of your friends, their talent and their dollars (and yours perhaps) will not profit from your continued support. You supported an idea. Not a man like Bill, not a building like the BTC, not even a favorite show. You supported the idea of the Skylight as maintained by 49 years of staff and artists in an unbroken string going back to Clair and Sprague and one inspired question, “Want to have some real fun?”

Those of us who care about the Skylight have waited long enough for a response.

Monday, June 22, 2009

musical theatre 101

judy garland, for me, was the epitome of the singing actress.

this is a video i think every student of musical theatre needs to watch and learn from. i've been known to sequester my favorite young singers in a living room and force them to watch it. it's from the "born in a trunk" segment of garland's 1960's television show. the sound is very, very quiet, and it's important you hear every subtlety and nuance, so bust out the headphones if you got 'em.

the song is somehow fitting to what milwaukee's skylight theatre is going through of late. and monday, june 22 marks the 40th anniversary of judy's death. thanks brian, for reminding me.

equal opportunity

a gay man calls a straight man a f*ggot, get's punched in the face, and i'm supposed to feel sorry for who?
UPDATE 8:22 pmtuesdays reader bt writes: i was going to comment on this posting with this: "whom. you're supposed to feel sorry for whom. ugh, stupid f*ggot," but i didn't know if it would read right.

where in the world...

...is south carolina governor mark sanford?

strini calls for the final resignation

tom strini, milwaukee journal/sentinal music and dance critic, is joining former skylight opera theatre resident music director jamie johns in calling for skylight managing director eric dillner to either resign or be fired:
Does anyone think that Dillner will be able to raise a nickel in this town after this mess? Or retain a shred of credibility with the accomplished local performers who so enliven the Skylight stage? I regret the need to say this, but Dillner, whatever talent and skills he might possess, is damaged goods and has to go, and soon.

The board must swallow its pride, reinstate (Former Artistic Director) William Theisen, and take over business management itself for a year. It must cut costs as it can and raise money with emergency energy to get through the 50th season. Then it will be time to regroup and figure out the how to structure the Skylight Opera Theatre in year 51 and beyond.
strini carries huge weight in the milwaukee community, and has been a supporter of theisen throughout his tenure at the skylight. for someone of his stature to call for dillner to go should be a huge wake-up call to a board that, except for it's president and resigning members, has kept fairly silent on the subject.

second more resignations? (update 10:54 am)

there is word this morning of a second resignation from the skylight opera theatre board of directors, with a possible third and fourth, in protest of the firing of william theisen and the recent restructuring at the company.

artsy alert: strini skylight scoop?

jonathan west at artsy schmartsy has the inside dope on an article coming from the milwaukee journal/sentinal's tom strini sometime today.

west also sums up the situation and the players, including managing director eric dillner:
Eric Dillner is a husband and a father first, and in my estimation as a husband and a father first myself, he's got a family that really loves him, so I don't believe for a moment that he is the devil incarnate.
aside from being a good husband and a father, there are other's in the mix who appear to disagree with west's assesment.

patterson vows vote on gay vows

new york governor david patterson has vowed to call a special session of the state senate on tuesday in order for there to be votes on pressing issues such bills to extend local sales taxes, legislation allowing bond issuance, legislation to extend mayoral control over new york city’s schools, and a vote on the marriage equality bill legalizing same-sex marriage.

the new york state senate has been embroiled in a leadership battle that has deadlocked the chamber for the last two weeks. patterson wants the members to get back to work.

“If the senators do not cooperate with this order, I will convene a special session every day until they do,” the governor told reporters. “That includes Saturdays and Sundays. That includes July 4. There will be no excuses.”

overwhelming the police

TEHRAN (AFP) - Iranian state radio said Monday that 457 people were arrested in clashes between demonstrators and security forces in Tehran that took place late Saturday.
some opposition members were just not going to be among those arrested: in a fierce clash between a large group of protesters and police, the outcome is fairly stunning. be sure to watch the entire video:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

skylight board member resigns: take heed!

skylight opera theatre board member robert l. beal has resigned from the skylight board of directors.
I cannot and do not agree with the recent decision to terminate Bill Theisen. Incidentally, my wife Polly who served for 16 years on the board is 100% supportive of my decision.
beal, who had previously planned to resign but used this moment to make a public statement about what happened this week, goes on to admonish those involved in the restructuring of the company, and he confirms what many have been saying all along: this was not a decision agreed upon by the entire board. in fact, beal says, it was not a decision even "hinted at," but was done solely by the executive committee. beal suggests the repercussions of the decision and the loss of subscribers and donors could have a disastrous impact on the organization's budget.

he also stands up for "the life blood of the company" – the actors, musicians, artist, and patrons:
One of the unique characteristics of the Skylight is that it has always been "family" and, as in all families, there always disagreements; however, in solid families these disagreements are worked out and the family moves forward. My fervent wish is that you are able to steer the Skylight boat through these troubled waters and I do hope that you will reach out to Jamie and others who have been so vocal to at least open up the lines of communication. All of the actors, musicians, artists, patrons etc who have been bombarding the board with their emails are the life blood of the Skylight and without them we would be would be in very tough shape. Please take heed!
beal's entire letter of resignation after the jump.

Dear Suzanne,

I am writing with sadness to tender my resignation from the board of the Skylight effective immediately. Admittedly my resignation is symbolic because I had announced several months ago that I had decided to resign at the time of this year's Annual Meeting after two terms on the board, but I wanted to send a message at this juncture that I cannot and do not agree with the recent decision to terminate Bill Theisen. Incidentally, my wife Polly who served for 16 years on the board is 100% supportive of my decision.

I am well aware of a board member's fiduciary and social responsibility and I am saddened that the decision to fire Bill was made in the manner in which it was done...solely by the Executive Committee. Last month at a full board meeting it was announced that because of the economic downturn some cuts would probably have to be made. It was not even hinted that Bill might be one of the people affected. If that had been the case I'm sure it would have prompted a great deal of discussion.

I'm not sure that I would have had the wisdom or foresight to predict the amazing reaction from patrons and artists alike, but I certainly would have been one of the ones too stand up and ask if this would be the best route to take. Hindsight is always easy, but to incur the wrath of the community to such a degree does not bode well for the Skylight for I fear that we will be losing subscribers and donors to the extent that budget impacts could be disastrous.

One of the unique characteristics of the Skylight is that it has always been "family" and, as in all families, there always disagreements; however, in solid families these disagreements are worked out and the family moves forward. My fervent wish is that you are able to steer the Skylight boat through these troubled waters and I do hope that you will reach out to Jamie and others who have been so vocal to at least open up the lines of communication. All of the actors, musicians, artists, patrons etc who have been bombarding the board with their emails are the life blood of the Skylight and without them we would be would be in very tough shape.

Please take heed!



Robert L. Beal

the $39 father's day gap

from this morning's washington post:
Research and market surveys show that moms tend to be showered with gifts and attention on Mother's Day. Dads, not so much. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spend an average of $130 on Mother's Day. This year, they will spend an average of $90.89 for Dad today.
so moms get more loot. seems okay to me, they're prettier. (usually.) but i have to admit, i read this and thought, "90 bucks!? wow, am i a cheap-skate!"

my dad got a greeting card with dick vitale telling him he was a "dipsy doodle dunk-a-roo," dinner at a cheap local diner, and a quick discussion of socialized medicine. (check this morning's new york times, paw.)

what'd ya give your dad?

quote of the day

"Today you are the media, it is your duty to report and
keep the hope alive."

mir hossein mousavi
iranian opposition presidential candidate
in his facebook status

Saturday, June 20, 2009

million dollar baby

from the milwaukee journal/sentinal's tom strini, july 22, 2004. at the end of an article announcing the skylight's hiring of bill theisen as artistic director is this gem:
Skylight annual meeting news: The company announced a $1 million anonymous gift to support the artistic director's position and its 13th consecutive operating surplus, an unaudited $3,315 above expenses of $2,942,947. The board elected officers: president, Larry Salustro; vice president, Suzanne Hefty; secretary, John Hein; treasurer, Sue Sachdeva.

in the skylight's defense, the economic downturn would have had a major effect on the interest earned from such an endowment. but in 2004, an anonymous donor thought having an artistic director at the skylight was important enought to part with a fairly hefty sum.

what happens to the interest from that endowment now? does it go to pay the managing director's salary? if so, is that in conflict with this anoymous donor's wishes?


"Inside the Obama White House is my favorite new show. There’s just something really compelling about the main character. It's wonderful narrative. In fact, the show has been such a hit that all of you guys now want to come and tape one in my house. ABC is planning a series called Dancing with the Czars. TLC has got something called John & Kate plus Peter Orszag.
the barack obama stand-up routine from the white house correspondents dinner continues here.

he's come to save the day

superhero barack obama takes a good jibjabbing:

video of the day

have you been paying attention to the tuesdays video of the day?
(middle column, just below the fold.)

often they're just a clip i've run across throughout the course of a day, that i want to share. but lately, they've been little commentaries themselves, on how i'm feeling at the moment.

i like watching them small, but you can full-screen them if you like. they're new every day, sometime around midnight.

iran: immediate and intense

as some in milwaukee are discovering the heft and value of social media in debate, discussion, and instant communication – through an enormous email list maintained by jim fletcher, through facebook, and through blogging – the opposition in iran has utilized, to stunning effect, the social media you haven't quite figured out yet: twitter.

now andrew sullivan (yes, i'm a fan) is live-blogging today's events in iran using a combination of raw twitter feeds from protesters, and his own soup of scouring cnn, reuters, etc. for any bits of information in real time.

it's a fascinating, and starteling mix of immediate information.

quote of the day

“I hope to bring back some of the performers who have graced our stage in the past — sort of a living retrospective... But, I can’t do this alone. I am a collaborator with the community. I want to hear everyone’s ideas — the more people that communicate their passions, the better.”
eric dillner
skylight opera theatre managing director

dillner in may of 2008 – shortly after joining the company – commenting on the skylight's 50th anniversary season. (hat tip m&c)

Friday, June 19, 2009

william or herman?

certainly it's not one or the other. but if you really needed to cut back, save money...what's more important? an artistic director? or someone to sell herman the horse?

no such thing as bad press...? (updated 6/20)

the latest round of national press for eric dillner and the executive committee of the skylight opera isn't exactly full of rave reviews. in fact, most of it is pretty scathing –

arts journal:
On its face, it's a troubling assumption that business leadership should trump artistic leadership in organizations committed to aesthetic mission. But clear already is how badly and opaquely the board of the Skylight managed the decision and its public conversation surrounding it.
Skylight's "artistic coordination and administration will now be part of the responsibilities of managing director, Eric Dillner, who assumed the managing director position at the Skylight in 2008. An opera singer, he was previously the general and artistic director at the Shreveport Opera. Milwaukee native Theisen reportedly began his association with Skylight as a teen actor.
The appearance of a power grab [by current Managing Director Eric Dillner, who was hired just over a year ago] is not helped by his previous work as an AD, director, and singer. It can certainly seem to those outside the company that the MD was feeling artistically stifled in his job, and felt that he could serve the company best by controlling not only the purse strings, but the shows themselves. The hiring of his wife to direct a show that she wrote, “Herman the Horse,” which the company will produce and tour, does not do much to dissuade from that idea. A board rarely knows of the day to day workings of a theatre. Someone had to suggest these specific changes to them.
clyde fitch reports:
Is it not the case that a managing director and an artistic director are meant to work as a team? In some companies, sure, it’s the artistic director who stands out more — he or she, after all, is responsible for final programming decisions, and receives the blame or claims the credit when productions are poor or great. But I’m hard pressed to think of many not-for-profit theaters where the business person, whether called the executive director, producing director or managing director, is the dominant face of the organization, where the artistic director is subservient, for all intents and purposes, to the business person’s will.

barack & adam & steve

greg sargent reports:
The Obama Justice Department has reached out to major gay rights organizations and scheduled a private meeting for next week with the groups, in an apparent effort to smooth over tensions in the wake of the controversy over the administration’s defense in court of the Defense of Marriage Act.
there ya go.


jamie johns, recently fired from skylight opera theatre, talks to the crowd of folks at this morning's protest/rally on the steps of the skylight:

please contact eric directly

a new letter on the skylight opera theatre's website this morning, from skylight board president suzanne hefty, suggests the following:
If you have any questions regarding this information, the Skylight or the Broadway Theatre Center please contact Eric [Dillner] directly at 414-291-7811 ext. 221.
i think suzanne has an excellent idea there. have you made your call to mr. dillner?

and as milwaukee's jonathan west said at this morning's rally/protest on the steps of the skylight, "i know when i make a call like this and am asked to leave a message on someone's voicemail, i often make a follow-up call the next day. then i make ten follow-up calls."

now this is a protest

david cescarini and norman moses, at a protest in front of milwaukee's broadway theatre center, home to the skylight opera theatre. about 75 people held a peaceful but spirited rally protesting the company's recent restructuring.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

my skylight board

i realize tuesdays has taken on an all-skylight-all-the-time tone lately. my apologies. the skylight has been like my home, and i love it dearly. the same goes for bill and diana.

so one last thing tonight.

i was just visiting the skylight's website, perusing the names of the board of directors, the past presidents, the board of advocates, and the board of the skylighters. while there are quite a few new names i am unfamiliar with, i know many of these folks.

i found myself immediately recalling a shared laugh or conversation. a dinner, or a dance at an annual fundraiser. these folks – the ones i know – love the skylight in much the way i do, i believe.

i'd be hard pressed to guess which of them were gung-ho about this restructuring decision. i'm curious how many were actually on board, or were fully aware it was even happening.

no more jamie

skylight resident music director jamie johns, an extremely vocal critic of the companies restructuring decision, has been "fired for insubordination and attacks on the skylight opera theatre."

"I really only wanted to attack [Eric] Dillner and the Executive Committee. I hope I didn't hurt anyone else. I maintain that this is a mess/mistake that the board made, and Dillner is a huge mistake for the company," johns said.

johns had been a large part of the campaign to reinstate bill theisen as the companies artistic director. that campaign now includes a facebook group, bring back bill theisen to skylight, a protest in front of the broadway theatre center to take place this friday morning from 7:30 to 10:00 a.m, and an online petition to be sent to the full skylight board of directors.

artists in our midst

damien jacques, milwaukee journal/sentinal theatre critic, weighs in on the skylight firings:
The foolishness of alienating customers -- audiences -- should be obvious, but the boards and management of arts groups also need to respect their artists. The people who make theater or music or dance are not minimum wage employees who can be downsized in the dark of night. Assuming we want artists in our midst, we must engage them when difficult decisions have to be made, and give them a stake in our cultural future.

gunning for theisen?

the skylight's former company manager diana alioto – who's position was eliminated this week – speaks out. alioto thinks the writing was on the wall, early on, and that someone was gunning for the artistic director's job long ago.
On Monday afternoon, I was told that the executive committee didn't think my job was necessary.

I was told that I could possibly save my position if I just trained [Managing Director] Eric [Dillner] in how to do my job, so that he could prove to the committee how important my position was. Yeah, I know...does it sound shifty to you?

Then I was told that he especially wanted to keep me there, because Bill had been let go. I was shocked. I don't think I reacted the way that was expected, so I was officially let go on Tuesday.

Thirty minutes before my 4:30 p.m. firing, I was told by a staff member in Eric's camp that I probably should have made it more apparent to Eric that I was happy about Bill's having been let go, and that this may open up new opportunities for me. I was advised that if I made it very clear that I was glad Bill was gone, I may be able to keep my job.

I'm thinking they were gunning for Bill, and when I didn't go along, I was gone too.

the thread to jefferson street

business and art. it's been on the minds of quite a few people in milwaukee, wisconsin over the last several days.

the reaction and response to milwaukee's skylight opera eliminating five positions from it's staff, including that of artistic director, has been filled with passion, anger, frustration, and serious, legitimate questions.

it's good to keep in mind, as has been pointed out by any number of anonymous commenters on this blog and elsewhere – downsizing of arts organizations like the skylight has been happening across the country.

somehow, this feels different to this community.

the skylight is a cherished piece of milwaukee, as are many theatre companies in many, many towns. to it's patrons, it's employees, it's actors, designers, etc, it is part of the fabric of this city, and we long for it to be treated as such. we travel the country telling other actors, other theatre-goers, "it's different," because it is.

it began in an old tire-recapping factory on jefferson street, across from milwaukee's cathedral square, by a man named clair richardson, whose ashes are still kept – lit, i might ad – underneath the current skylight stage (i.e "the skylight will go on over my dead body.") there are a few of us left who worked in that original theater, some who have been with the company for decades. that history, that foundation, is not to be scoffed at by a business model, no matter how serious the financial trouble the company is in. it is the core of what the skylight's art is about. it is something to be cherished and nurtured.

bill theisen, the artistic director whose position was eliminated last sunday evening, is not only a beloved actor, director and friend to many in the milwaukee arts community and beyond, he is a thread to that original skylight. he is not the only remaining thread, however. there are others that are still part of the company - lisa schlenker, ray jivoff, and paul kaishian for example.

these people have not been fired and should be respected for the difficult position they're in. schlenker's prop department is like no other, and her commitment to the skylight is unparalleled. jivoff is not only a long time favorite on stage, he has birthed an award-winning education department that is to be revered. and head custodian kaishian, "harry paul" as he's called, knows more about what happens in milwaukee theatre than any critic or artistic director i know.

it's been suggested by some that remaining skylight staff is populated by "yes-men" and people not brave enough to take a stand. that's an unfortunately naive and ignorant point of view, and as someone who is in the building as this is happening, i can tell you it's certainly not the case.

as the debate rages on – in comment sections on blogs, in coffee shops, in board rooms, it is perfectly appropriate to embrace the passion and anger. but it is also crucial to maintain a level of respect and dignity. this is not the time to anonymously air your dirty laundry.

quote of the day

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you,
then they fight you, then you win.”

– mahatma gandhi
(hat tip...no, entire post blatantly stolen from andrew sullivan.)

tangled webs

nevada senator john ensign (r) is caught up in one, and it's a doozy.

skylight board's "lack of respect"?

from an anonymous commenter:
In business, when cuts must come, you start with the non-essential personnel: what can you lose and not effect your product.

But Skylight first cuts the Artistic Director - showing a lack of respect for the Artistic product, then the Company Manager - showing a lack of respect for the artists, and finally the Box Office Management - showing a lack of respect for the audience.

Then this lack of respect is announced to the press in an e-mail.

Should there not have been a press release by the complete board backing the MAJOR change? No, an e-mail from the desk of the person who is to assume the position of CEO.

And now the board wonders why people are up in arms? Really?
rumor of an emergency board meeting at the skylight on thursday was preceded wednesday night by a letter of response to the ongoing situation, posted on the skylight website as being the "Board Response to Organizational Restructuring," although the letter was signed only by the board president, suzanne hefty, not the entire board.

was the decision to make these cuts cleared by the entire skylight board, one wonders? or only by a committee? if so, did that committee actually have the power to eliminate these positions without full board approval?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

hefty speaks up

posted on the skylight theater's website, suzanne hefty, president of the company's board of directors, responds to the controversy surrounding the recent firings.
June 17, 2009

The organizational restructuring announced yesterday by Skylight Opera Theatre is in direct response to the current national economic downturn and a projected deficit of $200,000 in the 2009-2010 season. Five positions were eliminated at the Skylight to bring organizational expenditures in line with anticipated earned and contributed revenue. The positions of artistic director, company manager, box office manager, assistant box office manager and custodian were eliminated, reflecting cuts across departments and seniority levels. Having struggled with an operating deficit last season and having already cut $400,000 from the 2009-2010 budget, the only option remaining was to eliminate staff positions and impose a furlough.

This was a very difficult decision, which was not made in haste or without recognition of the history many of these staff members have with the Skylight. This is an emotional time for everyone. We understand that there are some very strong feelings and comments that have been expressed about the restructuring. While we cannot address each and every comment, we appreciate those who have provided support and constructive criticism.

When Managing Director Eric Dillner joined the Skylight last year, he inherited a series of serious financial challenges. His goal continues to be to maintain the Skylight’s artistic excellence, but to do so in a financially responsible manner. The restructuring decisions were made by the Executive Committee of the Board, not by any one individual. The personal threats that have been made against Eric are inappropriate.

We want to express our sincere appreciation for Bill Theisen’s work as artistic director. Bill is a brilliant stage director and discussions are underway to contract him as a stage director in the 2009-2010 season.

The Skylight’s mission remains to deliver world-class music theatre productions to the Milwaukee community. The Board is confident that Eric and the staff are well qualified to meet these challenges and carry the Skylight’s organizational and artistic vision forward.

Suzanne Hefty
Skylight Opera Theatre Board of Directors

darkness at the skylight (updated)

from the milwaukee journal/sentinal's tom strini:
An e-mail from Eric Dillner, managing director of The Skylight [Opera Theatre] popped up on my computer at 7:07 p.m. Tuesday (6/16). Given the level of artistic achievement at the Skylight under Bill Theisen's tenure as artistic director, I can only say I'm as stunned as anyone:

Skylight Opera Theatre today announced a major administrative change as part of an organizational restructuring in response to the economic downturn.

The position of Artistic Director, held for the past five years by William Theisen, has been eliminated due to the economy.

four other skylight staff positions have also been eliminated, including long-time company manager diana alioto.

there is a major effort underway by current employees of the skylight, actors, designers, and technicians who have worked for the company in the past, and patrons of the skylight, to express their utter disbelief that this could be the way to rectify this theatre company's financial woes.

if you would like to make your voice heard, you can
email the entire skylight board by clicking here.

UPDATE 6/17artsyschmartsy is reporting that a large group of skylight season subscribers are organizing to cancel their subscriptions in protest of theisen's firing:
If you are a Skylight subscriber and you wish to join the organized effort to cancel your subscription send me an e-mail to jonathanwest@artsyschmartsy.com. I will forward your contact info on to the organizers and you can be included in this group effort.
in addition, milwaukee journal-sentinal music and dance critic tom strini has requested that anyone interested in commenting "on the record" should contact him directly, or post responses to his