Wednesday, June 17, 2009

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 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


  1. Way to go rallying the troops, Mr. Clements. I hope its effective..... I think the Skylight is sending a dangerous message to other arts organizations... Isn't the point of an arts organization to maintain quality in its artistic product? How does the Skylight plan on doing that by eliminating its artistic leadership??


  2. Bill Theisen held that thin thread to the "old Skylight" that so many of us know and love...the scrappy, homey little company in the old tire recapping garage on Jefferson Street. That was the heart and soul of the Skylight, and Bill represented that to all of us. What happens when you remove the heart and soul? I don't want to look.

  3. It is unbelievable to me that this could happen. Firing Bill, Diana, the box office manager and one of the building custodians seems to be a sweeping draconian and machiavellian act. It's an appalling affront to these wonderful people, and to the fate of the Skylight. I look with great apprehension on this turn of events. By the way, Tom Strini of the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal is covering this.

  4. Carol Linnea JohnsonJune 17, 2009 at 11:11 AM

    The short sightedness astounds me! Who is going to pick the season? The box of office staff? Honestly, Bill deserves so much better than that. Not only is he one of the kindest people I know but insanely good at everything he does. What a loss for the whole community.

  5. Anne Marie CammaratoJune 17, 2009 at 11:12 AM

    Wow. Shocking, to say the least. And very very sad.

  6. Elyse - You said it well, and pretty much what I included in my comments to the SOT board members.

    Thanks, Tony, for posting board members' email addresses, making it so easy for the rest of us to send our heartfelt concerns.


  7. I'm pretty sure Clair's light is out...has anyone checked?

  8. Katie - I'm pretty sure that current management doesn't care .......

  9. I also posted this on Strini's blog:

    I adore Bill, but this isn't really about him. I don't know Eric that well (and I'm not convinced he's least not yet), but this isn't really about him either.

    This is about a Board and a Managing Director taking the stunning and arrogant step to eliminate the position of Artistic Director. It's also about handing over the reins of a cultural institution to an outsider (or relative newcomer) and not making a compelling case to the community (patrons/subscribers/donors/artists/etc.) that supports that institution. It's about doing these things (seemingly) without a care for these decisions' impact on the people in the community.

    Everyone will have their own opinion about Bill's strengths and weaknesses, but in his 30+ years at Skylight he has built up a tremendous amount of trust in him and belief that he has Skylight's best interests at heart. Eric does not yet have that support and trust. For the Board (and Eric) to NOT realize how these decisions may be received displays a lack of knowledge of their patrons, their audience, etc. If the case is being made that this is strictly a business decision, then they have also displayed a lack of managerial acumen. No plan, however brilliant, will succeed without getting the stakeholders to buy into the vision; at this they failed miserably.

    At this point I cannot begin to understand how--as a performer, patron, donor or member of the artistic and civic communities--I can support the actions that have transpired. I have heard nothing that gives me faith that the current stewards of Skylight know what they are doing and have its best interests at heart.

  10. What sense does it make to cancel your subscription? If you REALLY believe in Skylight Opera, why would you abandon it in the timeou are calling it's "darkest hour?" I understand the feelings of frustration about someone you loved and believed in losing their job. All across the country that is happening, and it is a sad and frustrating time. But should a city lose its art? Even if you don't agre with the decision, boycotting Skylight is NOT the answer.

  11. the board responds:

  12. I want to start by saying that I am a Bill Theisen fan, he is a very talented man, and from my point of view has done an exceptional job at Skylight. The fact that after his years of service that this is how it ends is just bad management, and if this is how the new management manages things look bleak for the Skylight future. In business when cuts must come you start with the non essential personnel, what can you loose and not effect your product. But, Skylight 1st 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? How can you trust in a vision that has no leadership, no back bone, and no ethics? Skylight made a mistake and if the board is wise they will fix this error, I hope by reinstating Bill, but if for reason that I am not aware of cannot happen, then they will explain themselves and restore faith in a theatre that is so loved.

  13. I hope you can see this made a negative impact on our theatre community. As you know, most of us attend productions to see artistic vision, not the vision of a board of directors.
    Get creative. Figure out another way.

  14. I was Stage Manager at the Skylight back in the early 80's--that was when I first met Bill, who remains the heart and soul of the Skylight in my book. The Skylight Board has treated him in a shoddy, disrespectful manner.

    But please also consider the situation of the staff still employed at the Skylight: Just because you eliminate some positions doesn't mean the work goes away. I know from experience how overworked non-profit employees already are. Now they have even more to do. Eventually things will start to slip through the cracks...the bathrooms won't get cleaned....the phones in the box office will not be answered in a timely manner...plane reservation will be forgotten....and people will get burned out and leave.

    This was not a well-thought-out decision by the Board.


Inappropriate comments, including spam and advertising, will be removed.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.