Friday, July 31, 2009

one more thing...

...from that performink piece on the skylight:
The “mob” allegedly referenced by a board member has been holding peaceful meetings and protests since the Theisen decision was made, including one involving over 75 people on June 19 outside Skylight’s home at the Broadway Theatre Center, requesting a public forum to discuss the matter. Stewart describes that event as “the bagel rally. No one had protest signs—just coffee and bagels and doughnuts. It was the most peaceful protest anyone had ever seen.”
what happened to the three boxes of donuts, the brown bag of assorted bagels and the two containers of coffee left over once the protest was finished? the "mob" sent them up to the skylight's fourth floor lounsbery lounge, a gift to the staff.

there's scary for ya.

the blogs and the rumors

performink wades into the choppy skylight opera waters, takes a stab at a complete wrap-up of the entire situation (difficult at this point) and includes what basically amounts to an interview with the skylight's marketing director kristin godfrey.

here's godfrey on the number of skylight season subscribers looking for refunds:
“I process about two refunds a day. They feel that they’re not getting the season they paid for. They are a little gun-shy. They read the blogs and the rumors. I don’t want to make anyone unhappy. I hope we can welcome them back. I wouldn’t say we have an outpouring of support at the box office. But when I speak to people in the community in what I would think of as our demographic, they don’t understand why people are reacting so angrily.”
it's unlikely godfrey was suggesting this, but just to be clear – there's a difference between blogs and rumors. this blog has not been one to propagate rumors. facts, and comment on facts.

and two refunds a day since june 16 would equal 90 refunds for season subscriptions, while only going back to the firing of bryce lord and jon stewart would put the number at 30.

can we safely assume the actual number is somewhere in between?

chapter one: where'd that emmy go?

considering all this focus on the skylight opera theatre, isn't it time for a barry's emmy rerun?

about a year and a half ago, i noticed an emmy award prominently displayed in my neighbor's window. and so started the obsession.

here are parts 1 - 4 of the first ten episodes of my friend barry's emmy, in one big viewable chunk. look for more big chunks to come. (and who knows...maybe some big new chunks.)

my friend barry's emmy
chapter 1,
episodes 1-4

quote of the day

"No, it's not true that 'Cash for Clunkers' is the official name of the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel's buyout program."
– tim cuprisin
milwaukee journal/sentinel
today is the last day for the milwaukee journal/sentinel's arts and media writers, damien jaques, tim cuprisin, and tom strini, over 70 years experience among them.

the secrets of tkts

how do i get good, cheap, last-minute tickets to a broadway show? most folks already know the answer: the tkts booth. people have been standing in line outside a canvas covered trailer in new york's duffy square since 1973, squeezing wads of cash and hoping for half-pricers to "cats," "phantom" or "les miz." now that the booth has been stunningly redesigned (and takes credit cards) victoria bailey, executive director of the theater development fund, has given the new york times some tips about workin' the booth for those cheap seats.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

i think this guy likes us

an op-ed by milwaukee's own damien jaques, written a week or so ago during one of the many crests of the skylight opera theatre saga, didn't get the attention it deserved.

in it, jaques reminds us that artists, milwaukee artists, actually do actually matter:
Milwaukee and Wisconsin reached a critical mass of stage talent in the 1980s, and like nuclear fission, the energy has happily continued to spark and feed on itself for more than two decades.

Outstanding theater artists who could work anywhere, including New York, decided to settle here, sink roots, buy houses, send their children to our schools, pay taxes. We developed a reputation for being a welcoming community with good, artist-friendly stage companies that received strong box office and fund raising support. Artists were respected and even cherished here.

It should come as no surprise that these favorable conditions affected what we saw on stage. A good work environment inspires the best in people and attracts others of superior talent.
you know, i think this guy likes us.

this jaques fellow and i had a wee squabble a few years back – quite polite, nothing too serious, mind you, just a friendly tiff – over a review he'd written about a play i'd been planning to see. the play starred many of my dear, dear friends, and i was anxious to know what to say of their performances should i be forced to greet them at the stage door after the show.

this is the basic reason i read most theatre reviews: to memorize a line or two i can toss out post-performance while in the midst of hugging a sweaty ingenue. good or bad, it doesn't matter – i am a master at manipulating a review quote to make it seem perfectly appropriate, whatever the circumstances: "i thought you did so much more than posing, mary-ann!" or "goodness gary, you were better than broadway!" or my personal favorite, "oh, henry! i don't really think every quart of milk in a ten mile radius curdled when you began to sing!" and jaques' reviews were the best, a veritable fountain of stage door compliments, most of which i didn't even have to alter, except for the words i couldn't pronounce.

however, after reading this jaques' review – which contained a mere three sentence, one paragraph mention of which actors played which roles – i was stumped. jaques' article said nothing of the actor's accomplishments, nothing of the director's staging, it only listed their names (many of which i already knew, save that tall man with the beard.) that, and some cheap talk of a few pretty lights, a sharply focused gobo, some painted flats, and a pleasant curtain speech was all i got.

what was i to do?

i'll tell you what i did, i didn't go to see the play. i couldn't! instead, i sent a pissy little letter to the milwaukee journal/sentinel saying something incredibly wry, like, "after reading mr. jaques' lengthy review of "bladdy-blah-hoo-ha", i have no earthly idea if he thinks i should attend a performance of it or not. please tell mr. jaques for me, if i was interested in reading a book report on playwright applejack mc-twoshoes, i would have paid a visit to the local library." in my head, i pronounced "library" in that snotty, upper crust, british way - libry. libry. fuh-fuh. take that mr. reviewer guy, i thought.

several weeks later, i heard through a friend of a friend that jaques actually felt bad about the letter i'd sent.

"he read it!?" i shouted, incredulously.

"yes, and he felt quite bad."

being the stone cold, hard-as-a-rock, iceberg man that i am, i wept. immediately i felt a walloping sense of guilt for making the man feel bad.

"really? bad? he felt bad?"

"yes." i was told. "quite bad."

oh man.


i didn't mean to make anyone feel bad.

oh hell.

so a day or so later i called him. i called damien jaques on the telephone and we talked about that horribly written review. after giving him a heartfelt apology (that i'd memorized earlier that day from a dear abby column in jaques' own newspaper) i decided to cut to the heart of the matter. "why, jaques!?" i demanded, "why did you write such a lame, flaccid review in the first place?"

"tony," he said – trying to butter me up by using my first name, a trick he learned, no doubt, from his days slumming with the likes of clair richardson – "i didn't think it was a very good production."

ah-ha! settled, i thought! finally, i had the truth! i pounced: "why the devil didn't you put that in the review, you dunderhead!" i may not have said dunderhead.

"because i have such great respect for all those people, every one of those actors, and the director, i just...i couldn't bring myself to write in a review what i really thought about the show. so i only talked about the things i liked."

now, you might be sitting there in milwaukee, relaxing in your boxers with your cat yawning at your side, and you might be reading this delightful anecdote thinking, "well the bastard didn't seem to mind giving me a crappy review for my performance in ziggity-do-dah-day!" and you're right. he did give you a crappy review. someday we'll talk about your stale, lifeless performance in ziggity-do-dah-day, but save that for another occasion. your birthday. purim.

apparently this production (and boy, am i'm going to get mail) was just so damned horrid, jaques couldn't do it. he couldn't bring himself to write that scathing, awful review.

because he cared too much about those actors.

and you know what i thought?
i thought, "i like this guy."

a society that values profitability above all

an article from the miami herald has been popping up on facebook pages and in email blasts over the last couple of days (certainly among us artsy types.) considering the turmoil going on at the skylight right now, it's a worthy read.
Two South Florida dance companies closed recently. West Palm Beach's lively, lovely Ballet Florida filed for bankruptcy two weeks ago, and Miami-Dade's gallant Ballet Gamonet, after months of financial struggle, suspended performances in March and seems unlikely to return.

Meanwhile, American Idol host Ryan Seacrest will get $45 million to stay with the show for another three years, and Goldman Sachs made $4.3 billion in profits from April to June. Presumably, both Goldman execs and Seacrest feel like dancing, though it's doubtful the rest of us would want to watch.

These events may not seem connected, but they are. We've always been a society that values profitability and celebrity above almost all other qualities.
(hat tip valdez)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

quote of the day

"The point of living, and of being an optimist, is to be foolish enough to believe the best is yet to come."
– peter ustinov
(hat tip fitzwater)

who needs a raspberry cream pie?

did you know the month of august includes both friendship day and national raspberry cream pie day? did you know the month of august is only 3 days away!

if you click through to from this blog to do your shopping on the internets, i get a new swimsuit. or a puppy. or a raspberry cream pie. or better yet, i pay my con-ed bill and they don't turn off my electricity. and it doesn't cost you a dime!

the tuesdays store has some delightful suggestions for your shopping enjoyment, but once you get bored with my ideas (and truly, who isn't bored with my ideas) you can click on the amazon logo and shop at the normal person website!

why not buy yourself that new green dress you've been thinking about. it didn't make your ass look big – really. or you could get that new tractor for the farm. or, hey, a raspberry cream pie.

Host unlimited photos at for FREE!

by the way, this logo can always be found in that far right, light green column. all the way down. 'cause if you're like me, you'll be wanting to do more shopping around september 14th, national cream filled donut day.

strini: skylight operates on good will

milwaukee journal/sentinal music and dance critic tom strini, about to leave his post at the paper, stopped by wuwm's lake effect and talked about the skylight situation.
"80% of the artists who appear on the Skylight stage are local. They have a stake in the place. The Skylight operates as much on good will as it does on money."

(listen to the full strini interview in full here.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"reining in" at the skylight

from last sunday's "artist forum," a question posed in writing to the skylight opera theatre's executive committee, since they played a critical role in eliminating artistic director bill theisen's position:
Question: Is there an explanation of why Bill's position was eliminated that CAN be shared by the Executive Committee? Was there a "personnel" issue (not "personal") between Bill and the Board?

Response: There was neither a personnel nor any personal issue. It was a heartbreakingly difficult decision based on the financial situation and made with the hope that Bill would understand the financial constraints and agree to direct the shows he had previously agreed to direct.
then today, milwaukee magazine's bruce murphy recounts many of the details from last week's board meeting – which ended with a vote of 16-12 to retain dillner as managing director – and he includes this tidbit about that vote:
Some supporters of the slim board majority are claiming Theisen spent too much and that Dillner had trouble reining him in financially.
murphy will not confirm that "some supporters" refers to an actual board member, but let's assume it does, and that murphy didn't get this line from joe blow on the street, someone on staff at the skylight, or a board member's spouse.

which would mean that someone on the skylight board is suggesting to the press theisen's firing was not strictly financial, but also because he couldn't be "reigned in."

in response, bill theisen replied, "maybe someone feels like we didn't make enough cuts, but i was never led to believe that. i was never told i was spending too much."

not only had the artistic department of the skylight come in under budget last year, but theisen and dillner, on a mandate from the executive committee, had cut artist salaries by 10% for the following season.

and that's not all. "in the two weeks prior to the firings", theisen said, "we cut an additional $18,000 out of artists salaries for next season. eric was thrilled." ultimately, artist salaries for the 2009-2010 season were cut to 2002-2003 levels.

both theisen in past comments, and dillner at sunday evening's forum have spoken of their prior working relationship as open, constructive and positive.

you make me feel like a natural born citizen

for once and for all, barack obama is a natural born citizen of the u.s.a.

Monday, July 27, 2009

skylight news travels across the pond

the just released august issue of the british magazine OPERA, includes this unhappy news item on page 928:

Milwaukee's Skylight Opera Theatre has been engulfed in a row following the dismissal of its popular and successful Artistic Director, Bill Theisen, who had been in the post for the last five years. The Managing Director who dismissed him, Eric Dillner, claimed that he was merging their two posts out of financial necessity, but his actions are being seen as a colossal public-relations blunder.

According to Tom Strini of the city's Journal-Sentinal, Dillner, who arrived from Shreveport Opera in Louisiana in March 2008, was practically unknown to the city's audience until he took the step. "He did not seem to grasp that Bill Theisen isn't just anyone. Theisen started acting at the Skylight as a teen and performed there intermittently while leading a busy national career as a performer. He loves the Skylight and personified its ethos. He is also a great director and fine performer. You don't just throw someone like that under the bus."

Artists are lining up behind Theisen and heaping public scorn on Dillner. As things stand, Skylight Opera Theatre now goes into its 2009-10, 50th anniversary season with no Music Director and no Artistic Director.
(hat tip k. kuchenback)

what happened at the skylight?

chris krasovich puts together a thorough timeline of the skylight debacle.

homo box office = more homos

go ahead. make all the jokes you want. our friends at the american family association and one news now (the afa's "news" website) are not laughing.

in fact, there are so many homos on HBO – 10 of HBO's 14 original prime-time series "include content reflecting the lives of homosexual, bisexual, and transgender people" – that the afa/onn has posted an online poll: "what is the impact of positive portrayals of homosexuality on network and cable tv?"

your multiple choice answers:
• Desensitization to sin
• Increase in homosexual experimentation
• Marginalization of traditional values
• Increase in Christian outreach to homosexuals
wait, those are the only choices? why so neggy, afa? is there nothing positive about...? oh, wait. i guess that experimentation thing could be...

vote in the afa's poll here.

part 2: what does an artistic director do?

cescarini: "if you run out of trust, good luck."

next act theatre's
david cescarini responds to the last "what the heck is it you do, anyway?" (which, for fun, can also be read "what the heck is it, you do anyway?")

david's vast 33-year theatrical career includes such highlights as casting me in my first brecht review. yes, my only brecht review. he is the producing artistic director of milwaukee's next act theatre, now in it's 20th season (whew!) and has directed over 27 shows for the company. his lovely wife was once on the lawrence welk show.
The AD and MD must work in tandem, bound by trust and driven by a strong faith in the vision. But as for earning and spending: the artistic director must be as concerned with earning as the managing director is about spending. Hence, the AD must propose a vision that is sellable and supportable overall, but also intermittently challenging. This insures forward progress, artistically, while hopefully providing a stable financial base to keep it happening. The one thing that the administrative leadership absolutely SHOULD NOT do, is go into hock to a bank to the tune of almost half a million bucks to support deficits. Some boards and administrators can be reluctant to comprehend the danger of this fiscal policy. This can lead to rather desperate action and disaster.

The artistic director job description is not monolithic: it is dependent upon individual strengths, personalities and relationships, company history, the internal creative pathway of an organization, budget size and many more factors. But trust is the currency that every AD relies upon, much more so than money. If you run out of money, you can find more or work with less. If you run out of trust, good luck.

Also, trust is a free-flowing commodity. It flows in all directions in a healthy environment. In a vibrant resident artistic community, trust is generated with each successful creative relationship or project, and in turn engenders work that is deeper, richer, of appreciably better quality -- which our audiences recognize. Milwaukee's a terrific theatre town because of trust.

The fiasco at an unrecognizable Skylight has trashed this most basic and essential element for artistic endeavor (or perhaps any human endeavor that's worth pursuing). Since the time that each of us fell backwards into the waiting arms of two fellow acting students, we have depended upon trust to make us better.

As an unsolicited answer, Tony, artistic directors trade in trust. And the great thing is, the more you invest and spend wisely, the better are your returns. It's kind of like accounting ... but different.

"the suits are terrified"

andrew sullivan on the new associated press policy that "news articles should not turn up on search engines and web sites without permission."

As the MSM struggles to make money, expect more and more of this. The golden era of blogging and linking and open discussion may be coming to an end. The suits are terrified of it. And their bottom line is not the dissemination of ideas or facts, but the making of money. If they have to lose readers but make money, they're happy.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

part 1: what does an artistic director do?

cammmarato: "lead the organization into the future."

i asked that question of a few, well...artistic directors. what does it mean to be you? other than the words "artistic director" either precede or follow your name in the playbill (which is pretty cool.) oh, and sometimes you get to wear a crown (even cooler.)

anne marie cammarato is in her fifth season as artistic director for the delaware theatre company. prior to that she spent four years as associate artistic director of madison repertory theatre. she also served as the associate director of theatre X and worked on the artistic staff of milwaukee repertory theater.

here's what she had to say:
The most general definition I can give for an artistic director is that they provide the vision for the company. The board and the community decide the mission...then they hire an artistic leader to provide a vision to reach that mission.

The managing director is there to manage and execute the artistic director's vision toward the mission. The two should work in tandem, as partners, to provide a healthy system of checks and balances (one oversees the art and education...if there is an education department, and the other oversees the business.) A really simplified explanation is that one raises and earns the money (the managing director) and the other one spends the money (the artistic director).

They both do this responsibly and together toward a shared mission with the board.

On a day to day level, the managing director should be busy overseeing the execution of development, marketing, front of house, finances and facility needs. The artistic director oversees the choice of programming, the hiring of artists to execute the programming, being the artistic public face and representing the organization to the community and theatre world at large, and (most importantly) creating art.

The vision of the artistic director must reflect the needs of the community (as expressed in the mission) but also has a personal signature or stamp to it. The programming should fulfill the mission but also the personal aesthetic of the artistic leader. Otherwise, it's a booking house. Or a building that has a stage in it. And that maybe puts on plays...but it's not a producing organization without someone at the top providing artistic vision.

The artistic leader is reading plays, meeting playwrights, evaluating the plays within the context of their theatre in their community. They have to have their finger on the pulse of what's happening around them in the world of creating art, in order to keep attracting new audiences.

They literally LEAD the organization into the future.

on an ordinary sunday

for my skylight family.

wininger: "blatant disregard for artists"

leslie wininger, former development director for the skylight opera theatre has sent this letter to eric dillner and the skylight board.

leslie's message to all those standing against the recent restructuring: "I just want everyone to know that I am standing, and have stood, squarely with them."
Dear Mr. Dillner and members of the Skylight Opera Theatre Board of Directors,

I am very saddened to find it necessary to write this letter, but I must add my name to the growing list of artists, former staff, and Board members who have withdrawn their support from Skylight Opera Theatre.

I have avoided expressing an opinion until now because I didn’t want to add to an already painful situation or harm an organization about which I care deeply. Having stepped down as the Skylight’s Development Director three years ago, I did not feel it was my place to weigh in on the decision to eliminate the positions that set off this unfortunate chain of events. I didn’t know all of the circumstances that led to the decision, nor should I. What’s more, I still have friends who work at the theatre, and I wanted to support their efforts to try to make the best of the very difficult situation in which they found themselves. I also still respect and admire many of the board members with whom I was privileged to work. But your combined actions over the past month, and especially the past two days, have forced me to reconsider.

In an arts organization, the staff’s role is to provide and protect an environment where artists can effectively practice their craft. The Board of Directors’ role is to ensure that the organization has the resources and leadership it needs to allow both the staff and the artists to be successful. In the current situation, neither the Managing Director nor the Board of Directors is fulfilling its solemn responsibility to the Skylight. As a result, the organization so many of us love is on the brink of destruction and I cannot in good conscience support it any longer. I am withdrawing my financial support effective immediately.

As the former Development Director, no one knows better than I how important charitable donations are to the theatre. When I left, contributions represented well over half of the Skylight’s annual operating budget and that figure was growing every year. Ticket sales were (and apparently continue to be) strong. But with that blessing also comes the curse of not being able to significantly increase earned revenue without dramatically increasing ticket prices. That option wasn’t viable three years ago, and it certainly isn’t viable during a recession. Donations must “fill the gap” between what it costs to operate the organization and what’s sold at the box office.

So I understand that the theatre needs donations now more than ever. But I also understand that it is artists, and in this case the Skylight’s artists, who inspire donors to give to arts organizations. Yes, it’s the Board and staff that usually do the asking, but there would be nothing to ask for if it weren’t for the artists. They are the reason patrons come to the theatre. They are the ones who touch our emotions. They are the ones who “help us remember some things, forget others, and refresh the dry places in our spirits”. It’s not the Development Director, the Managing Director, or the Board of Directors.

It’s heartbreaking to see that those who believe that a strict business model can be applied to an arts organization have overtaken the leadership of the Skylight. Your blatant disregard for the artists and the donors who care so deeply about the Skylight demonstrates that you do not understand the basic, beautiful nature of what you’ve promised to protect and preserve.

In my opinion, there is only one way out of this sad situation: Mr. Dillner must step down, and the Board must accept Colin Cabot’s incredibly gracious offer to serve as the interim Managing Director. Any board member who cannot endorse these actions should step down, as well. Then and only then can Colin and the remaining Board members undertake the enormous task of reengaging all of the stakeholders that have been disenfranchised during this debacle and re-claim the Skylight’s rightful place among our community’s most vibrant and treasured cultural institutions. To do otherwise is to willingly destroy Skylight Opera Theatre. Should these actions be taken, I would be willing to dedicate considerable time, talent and resources to the effort to save the Skylight.

Arts organizations – by their very nature – are living organisms. They can flourish or perish overnight. I fear your actions have wrought the latter. Please reconsider before it is too late.

Most sincerely,

Leslie Wininger
Development Director

Saturday, July 25, 2009

cocoanuts: the monkey doodle-doo

and just when i thought i had that monkey off my back. from the top: norman moses, ray jivoff, mark kaplan, and moi in "the cocoanuts" in 1991, at the old skylight on jefferson. i had a great bit with a pencil in my forehead (high-larious), norman shilled for donations for the new theatre, asking the audience to leave checks made out to "create a skylight home, or c.a.s.h." on his dressing table, and ray carried mark and i around on his back. oh, and ray didn't talk. heaven.

Friday, July 24, 2009

skylight board member friedman resigns

elizabeth friedman has resigned from the skylight opera theatre board of directors:
To the Skylight Board of Directors:

I have been on the Skylight Theatre Board for seven years. I have treasured my involvement with the Skylight for most of those years. The Artists, Artistic Directors, staff, patrons and donors that I have met have enriched the experience immeasurably.

Up until early June, I was a huge fan of the Skylight, Bill Theisen, Eric Dillner, Ray Jivoff, Christine McGee, Sarah Reddin, Heidi Boyd, Mark Turner and the wonderful Portia to mention but a few. I was in four meetings at the Skylight within 4 days of when the news was broken to me by an innocuous e-mail. No one had said a thing. Four days earlier, the Strategic Planning Committee was talking about grandiose plans to buy a parking lot and possibly add on to the Skylight in the future. Every time anyone mentioned the deficits, we were told that possibly a donor could be found to finance this endeavor. Well, why not use funding to generate new audiences and create a sound fiscal policy first?

The excuse given for the “eliminations” of the positions held by Bill Theisen, Diana Carl and others was “due to financial circumstances.” In all, originally 5 positions were eliminated. Besides the lack of vetting of all possible ways to help make up some of the deficit, Eric and the Executive Committee chose to keep the Board of Directors out of the loop and handle it unilaterally for FIVE MONTHS. Eric and the Executive Committee never asked for input, or additional donations from Board Members or donors explaining the situation. Instead, the decision was made to eliminate the very lifeblood of any Theatre community: they decimated the artistic department.

Having served on the Development Committee for 7 years, I can tell you about Dashboards, deficits, pie charts and percentages of funding. The pie charts for the Skylight and all Not For Profit Businesses are basically: 1/3 comes from the audience and ticket sales, the other 2/3rds come from Board Member Donations, major and minor donors, foundations, UPAF, and generally people who feel some attachment to the Skylight.

In the seven weeks since the decimation, we have had very few but very measured messages. But the actual need to meet with artists, donors, patrons, ticket holders and the promise of “Forums” never materialized. At tonight’s meeting, Eric presented three letters from people commending him on his actions. He also had a few friends he has placed in key rolls for the 50th Season. Well, that is NOT the 50th Season that was sold to those who wanted to celebrate the extraordinary quality of the Skylight Theatre and the artists who work for peanuts. The Skylight is not “instant opera”.

This evening we took a vote on whether or not we should retain Eric Dillner who has yet to hold a single public forum (KEY POINT: A forum allows questions, Eric.) Eric said that he has felt threatened. We have been seeking group forums with artists, donors, audience members, anyone who had a question or need. To date these have not been held. SEVEN WEEKS! A prepared statement delivered by Eric Dillner that allows no questions does not constitute a “forum.” An announcement does not constitute an exchange.

A group of members of the Board of Directors went into tonight’s executive session to propose a solution that would replace Eric Dillner and thank him for his wonderful ideas and exuberance. We knew we were up against those who foster the strict business model. Eric had held no meetings, has failed to smooth any ruffled feathers and the damage has been catastrophic. To the Board of Directors’ credit, they did, for the most part listen. Some made suggestions for a model keeping Eric Dillner. The problem is that we have lost our good will with the community, we have lost our artistic community, and we sold out. Our beloved theatre is dying right before our eyes. Now we needed to come up with a drastic measure to rectify the problems, admit mistakes on both sides and try to repair the severed relationships with the artists, donors, audiences, foundations20and community. A vote was taken. The results were 16 in favor of keeping Eric at the helm versus 12 who proposed an alternate plan that would have removed Eric. There would have been a very suitable person to act as the Pro-tem leader.
The case was made as best we could to “Save the Season and Save the Skylight”.

I respect many individuals on the Board of Directors. There are some real stars there. I can’t tell you how glad I am to have had a chance to work with most of you. But the time has come for me to sever all ties with the Skylight. I wish you well. I know you have many people on the Board, by Board standards, too many actually. I thank you for tolerating my passion for the Skylight but now I will use my knowledge of Not for Profit organizations elsewhere.

I truly wish the Skylight Theatre the very best. I hope that the Phoenix can rise from the ashes, but now I will feel free to follow our artists and new artists to other theatre groups and other venues.

I am resigning because the actions of the Board of Directors are not only contrary to the best interests of the Skylight, but endanger its very survival. In seven weeks, the mismanagement by a few and the negligent complacency of many have sullied a 50-year history of excellence. The inexcusable actions that caused this crisis and that exacerbated it have turned the Skylight into a national example of theatrical mismanagement and a lesson of what not to do in public relations.

This is my absolute resignation from the Skylight Board of Directors. Please remove my name from all of your communications immediately.


Elizabeth L. Friedman
Former Skylight Theatre Board Member:
July 2002 resigning July 23, 2009

catalano and beyond

more great coverage of the friday skylight meeting here, jamie johns' response letter to the new board president here, video from artsy schmartsy here, tom strini's take here, and tuesdays live-blog, including full audio of the meeting here.

quote of the day

"One of our earliest shows was 'Floyd Collins.' My wife to this day still shivers at the feeling of claustrophobia and cold, damp conditions that were created in the cave. So for any of the artists that were in that production, if you don't think your work has lasting memory, I can still talk to her about it today and she'll still shiver."
– terry kurtenbach
interim board president
skylight opera theatre
"any of the artists that were in that production" includes bryce lord, fired last week from the skylight's upcoming production of "the barber of seville" for something he wrote on facebook.

many of us are shivering too, terry.

reports from catalano square

3:03 pm:

jonathan west will be posting video of the meeting throughout the day.

1:48 pm:

full audio of the skylight meeting in catalano square this morning.

(hat tip fred pike)

1:29 pm:

this seems key, to me. from this morning's discussion. board president terry kurtenbach states the skylight cannot afford a full-time artistic director. the question the comes, can the company afford a part-time artistic director? in his answer, kirchenbach claims the following:
"That is a very fair question. And you know, that is part of the issue that we probably didn't fully consider. However there were options. This is not the circumstance that came to, you know, the position...that came to the individual out of the blue. There were discussions. There were options."
this would seem to suggest that bill theisen was given options to remain in an artistic director position, in something other than a full time basis. this has been disputed again and again by theisen.

12:45 pm:

dillner's opening statement:
"For those of you who don't know me, I'm Eric Dillner, managing director of the Skylight.

I think we're all here for the same reason. You all love the Skylight, I love the Skylight, we all have loved it for many different lengths of time. Many of you for your whole life, some of us for, ah, well, I'd say for the last ten years i've known about the Skylight, but the last year and a half, I've loved it, like you have, but for different reasons.

Our whole mission here, all of us, together, is to produce exciting, wonderful productions that our community at large can enjoy, and love, and celebrate a special occasion at that evening, have dinner, celebrate with a drink afterwords. We're all here to make that the best that it can be.

We have this terrible thing called the economy hurting us right now. We're all suffering from that. We are personally suffering from it, we're emotionally suffering from it. The Skylight is one of the most important things in our lives, to keep the doors open. We aren't here discussing whether...well, we are here to discuss how we're gonna take it forward, but we also have to completely understand that we're here to discuss how to keep the doors open..."
12:28 pm:

jonathan west: the message we got today, from the new board president, was that it is mostly "the artist's responsibility" to fix this problem. if they don't they are not being gracious. (full quote from kurtenbach coming.)

molly rhode: in his "opening statement" kurtenbach said he had been on the board six years, but doesn't know any of the artists.

and then there is this, from the earlier tuesdays emailer, summing up the meeting:
Kurtenbach: "You need to help us fix this."

Dillner: "All of the people we lost have been replaced already."

Cabot: "Think of what you're doing."

Dillner: *interrupts Colin Cabot*

Kurtenbach: "The board knows what its doing."

Us: "Do you want to apologize for anything"

Kurtenbach: "Sorry for not telling you sooner."

Us: "Why should we trust you?"

Kurtenbach/Dillner: "............"
12:22 pm:

the meeting has apparently concluded. working on getting audio. video should come later in the day. an emailer to tuesdays: "oh my god, it was a bloodbath."

11:49 am:

radio silence. sorry. fyi, there is, i believe, video happening on the scene, so hopefully this is all being captured and will be online later today. (and no, dear christopher, i am not twittering this and live-blogging this. besides, much of milwaukee hasn't quite caught on to twitter yet.)

on a side note, this from damien jaques in this morning's journal/sentinel:
"[Artists] are not fast food employees who can be summarily shuttled in and out. Haughtily referring to them as a mob, as a Skylight board member reportedly did, reveals a stunning lack of understanding as well as a sickening arrogance."
11:19 am:

actress molly rhode point blank asked dillner to please step down. dillner refused.

lighting designer kurt schnabel has withdrawn from next season. he was contracted to design both "barber" and "figaro." his resignation letter will be posted later in the day.

11:09 am:

the discussion has become quite intense and probably too complicated to relay in a forum like this, says my source. (but we'll keep trying.)

10:58 am:

dillner modifies his last statement. no, not all have been replaced. jamie johns is speaking. and, according to my source, "getting squelched."

10:55 am:

there are now definitely over 100 people present.

eric dillner has just announced that he has an entire list of replacements for next season that he will release very soon. everyone has already been replaced.

10:50 am:

just a reminder to readers: this is all very fluid. none of the information here is in quotes. these are rough ideas of what is going on.

my source is suddenly very quiet.

10:40 am:

kurtenbach is talking about the process that took place at last night's board meeting, arguing it was fair, and the community should participate out of a sense of obligation. (these are not quotes.) in a democracy, some win, some lose.

dillner speaks. an apology. west asks why he should be trusted. kurtenbach then explains why the board has been slow in reacting, and he apologizes on behalf of the board and asks for understanding.

10:30 am:

the hastily called meeting of skylight opera theatre artists, colin cabot, and eric dillner is underway in milwaukee's catalano square, just south of the skylight's home in the broadway theatre center. reports of 100-120 people in attendence.

new board president terry kurtenbach spoke at length about his fairly short history with the skylight, which began with the first show he saw there, "floyd collins." cabot spoke for a few moments, and now jonathan west is posing questions on behalf of the artists.

schnabel: "that company is dead"

lighting designer and former skylight production manager kurt schnabel has withdrawn from lighting both "the barber of seville" and "the marriage of figaro" for the skylight opera theatre's 50th anniversary season.
July 23, 2009

Eric Dillner
Skylight Opera Theatre
158 N. Broadway
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Mr. Dillner,

It is with much regret that I must withdraw from lighting the Skylight’s productions of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. I believe that the artistic integrity of the company has been jeopardized, and I disagree with the way in which the administration level is being managed. And I cannot, in good conscience, work for an arts organization that treats artists in the way I have witnessed over the past month.

I am very sorry that I will not be able to return to the company where I feel I’ve had a home for the past 10 years. But that company is dead. It was the people and artistic product which made the Skylight unique, which made it strong, and which made it successful. Now, those people are either gone or demoralized, and the artistic product is in question.

As of this writing, I have not been contacted by anyone on either the artistic or administrative side of the Skylight to tell me of the recent events which so heavily impact the production of the two operas I was scheduled to work on. I heard about the firing of Artistic Director Bill Theisen, his agreement to continue directing the operas in spite of being let go, the dismissal of cast members, and the Mr. Theisen’s ultimate decision to not return all through third-party channels or through the media. As a guest artist, this is infuriating and quite disrespectful. It shows clearly that the Skylight has no concern for the people who work directly on each project, and who thereby have control over the final product which is created by the company. This is the product that the Skylight makes and sells to the public. If there is no concern for fostering an environment where the best product can be put on the market, then what is the point of producing this work?

I was the Production Manager at the Skylight for four years. I know first hand that the greatest asset to the company was the people who worked there. It would do well for the current administration to remember that teamwork and trust are the key elements that made the Skylight successful.


Kurt Schnabel

lounsbery: lost trust "concerning"

former skylight opera theatre managing director joan lounsbery weighs in from the west coast, asking questions of this board one hopes they have answers to:
To the Board of the Skylight:

As I watch the events unfold via the blogs of Strini and Clements, I have a few thoughts I wish to communicate with you.

As a former Managing Director, I focus on that position as it relates to the unravelling of the 50th season.

The Managing Director needs to execute the policies of the board, and as long as the current MD is able to do that, he should stay in place. If he loses his ability to do that, then he must be replaced, immediately. Obviously he has lost the trust of many of the artists who make up the Skylight artistic community. This is concerning. The question is, has he lost the trust of donors and subscribers? If he hasn't, then he has a good chance of building a new look for the actors, new production teams, and of course he is now in the position (with the oversight of a board committee, I assume) of determining repertoire. That is key to the success of the Skylight. It has the quirkiest repertoire of any company anywhere in the world, and few can negotiate that. Clair could, Colin could, Cesca and Stephen could, Chas sort of could, and Richard and Bill most surely could.

If the MD must go, then I think it would be wise to look within the community for an interim MD, and I think that key to that big shift in management would be reinstatement of Bill. It is possible that the Skylight can shift to the General Director model which many companies adopt, but, as a former Managing Director who worked 50-hour weeks running a big staff, running a building and its tenants, running a bar, raising money...further, knowing Richard's work hours, easily 60 hours a week....I cannot imagine one person doing both those jobs. Most opera companies of our size run 6-10 performances a year....3-4 productions total. We run 90 performances a year of mainstage productions, plus cabaret shows, plus ed. programs, plus the occasional Studio Theatre production. It's a very different animal!

A personal note. Maybe by now you understand the good will Bill created during his tenure with the Company. I will share with you that Bill called me several times a year, just to tell me all the good news about the Skylight. He was especially proud of the 50th anniversary season, and personally invited me to please come and be part of it. At his urging I had decided to come to the opening of Colin and Paula's show.

I had the deep honor of presiding over the move from Jefferson Street into the Broadway Theatre Center. My image appears on the ceiling of the Cabot Theatre, and the staff lounge bears my name. I care so deeply about the future of the Company. Please listen to the community and make the right decisions. I have every trust that you will.

From 2,000 miles and 10 years away,

Joan Lounsbery
Managing Director
Skylight Opera Theatre

libby: "the destruction of the company"

former skylight opera theatre managing director christopher libby has sent this letter to the skylight board of directors tonight:
Dear Board of Directors,

As a former Managing Director of Skylight Opera Theatre I implore you to take dramatic and decisive action to change the path on which you have set yourselves. I have grave concerns that the path which you pursue will lead to the destruction of the company.

I cannot add to the criticism to which you are subject, nor do I presume to know the details of the decisions that have taken the company down this path.

I can only say that the decisions being made and the way in which they are being executed stand in such sharp contrast to the building blocks of Skylight that they threaten to undermine the accomplishments of five decades of dedicated professionals and volunteers.

If there has been any accomplishment of Skylight, it has been because we stood on the shoulders of giants, who built this great company with the talent of artists, the patronage of donors, the curiosity of audiences, and the wisdom of Boards like you.

That all threatens to stand in ruins at your feet when from your better selves you are too long estranged. If you choose this path, know that you choose it alone, away from the support of history, and the blessings of those who now stand aside and still, aghast at the path they see before you.

As an unbidden voice of the past, I add mine to the clarion call to turn back from the path you've chosen, or face a future far graver than the one you sought to avoid.

Christopher Libby
Former Managing Director

Thursday, July 23, 2009

skylight board backs dillner

an emergency meeting of the skylight opera theatre board of directors tonight ended with a very close vote to retain eric dillner as managing director.

skylight board president suzanne hefty has stepped down, and was replaced by terry kurtenbach, who will remain president only through the board's annual meeting in seven weeks. kurtenbach has agreed to be interim president with the express charge that eric dillner demonstrate that he can heal the rift with the artistic community.

eric dillner and colin cabot will meet with the artistic community in catalano square tomorrow morning, friday july 24th at 9:00 am. cabot has asked that the community come and be “professional, forward-looking, and focusing on a positive direction” and to give dillner a chance to make amends.

from tom strini:
Cabot...called upon the board to fire Dillner, but they refused to do so in a close vote.

Cabot said that he got the board and Dillner to agree to meet with dissidents in Catalano Square in the Third Ward at 9 a.m. Friday (July 24). "Eric has agreed to answer his critics," Cabot said. "It's gonna be a food fight."

Cabot plans to fly in for that event.

He said that he had offered to come back to Milwaukee to serve as interim managing director and "repair the breach" by bringing back Theisen and the many cast members who had spurned their contracts or had been fired by Dillner. The board turned him down.

"This boggles my mind," Cabot said. "It's incredible."

He seemed determined to press his case further, despite Tuesday's board vote. Cabot sits on the company's influential board of advocates, which is to meet Friday afternoon.

kaplan quits: "the do not use list"

groucho, harpo, and now chico. the marx brothers walk. mark kaplan joins his "brothers" in turning down the skylight:
To: Mr. Eric Dillner, Managing Director, The Skylight
From: Mark David Kaplan, actor, currently under verbal agreement to appear as Chico Marx in A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, as a part of Skylight's 50th Anniversary Season

Dear Mr. Dillner -

I write to you today, under the assumption that I am still on the slate of artists hired by Mr. Bill Theisen, to perform as Chico Marx in Hollywood/Ukraine. I have not as yet received any correspondence - written or verbal - from the current Skylight administration.

As there is no longer an artistic staff in place for this production, and my brothers have decided to move on, so must I.

I know that many in town don't know who I am - and I know that you and I have never met.

So here's my Skylight history:

My last appearance was as .... Chico Marx in Animal Crackers in the '05-'06 season, with Norman Moses and Ray Jivoff. I have appeared as a part of the Cabaret series in '98...
In the Jefferson St space: I was in Dames at Sea with Norman Moses and Into the Woods with Ray Jivoff ('92-'93). And my first role .... Chico Marx in The Cocoanuts, with Norman Moses and Ray Jivoff.

Clearly there is a trend here - it's about community, brotherhood, and frankly - the love of the game. It seems like those elements are not in place now, therefore my decision to withdraw seems only logical.

If you feel so inclined I would welcome a discussion with you. I know your energies are elsewhere at present.

I don't pretend to understand the decisions made in these past months, nor do I profess to know what's best for all involved. I only know the best decision for me is to join with my friends on the 'DO NOT USE' list, and support the amazing history and community that I am so proud to be a part of - and has informed my life and work for the better part of two decades!!


So I think I'm gonna celebrate that...

Most sincerely yours,

Mark David Kaplan

moses quits: "my skylight is dead & gone"

groucho has left the building.

if ever there was a skylight star or a milwaukee favorite, it's norman moses. norman has wiped the greasepaint mustache off his lip, ripped off the wire rimmed glasses, put down the cigar and said "whatever it is, i'm against it!"

Thanks for taking the time to meet with me this morning. It was good to be able to look you in the eye and say my piece. I do see how you must be stuck between a rock and a hard place, but until there is some forum to discuss how to resolve the conflict with all the parties involved, I fear the present situation will most likely result in the demise of the Skylight.

With every action the artists and patrons of the community have taken to try and make you all see the great damage you have been doing, the responses coming from out of your office, which seem to be orchestrated by the board, have only fanned the flames of the dissent. We are not going away. And I think you realize that.

As I said, you and many on the board are strangers to me, which has made this all the more difficult to take. But because of your current course of action and the board’s inability to set up a public forum, I am officially declining the offer to play Groucho in the upcoming production of "Day in Hollywood, Night in the Ukraine" this spring.

I do make a promise to you (a promise is not a threat) that I will be at the theater on opening night with my picket sign in hand. I am very confident that many of my wonderful friends, who have been so courageous, and who have demonstrated such loyalty to the theater and to each other throughout this whole mess, will be there with me. I will personally be scheduling picket lines for every performance during the season. Perhaps this will hasten the theater's inevitable demise, but as far as I am concerned, my Skylight is dead and gone, and I'd rather see it closed than to allow it to continue under the present circumstances.

My only regret is that so many of my friends who are still on the staff of the Skylight may end up losing their jobs as well. There will be attempts to try and blame "the mob" for that, but we will all know who will be to blame. And so will all of Milwaukee and the country.


Norman Moses

wilkowske quits: "breaks my heart"

andrew wilkowske, slated to perform the role of Figaro in both the barber of seville and the marriage of figaro has sent a letter of resignation to the skylight board, suzanne hefty, and eric dillner, making him the 24th artist to withdraw from the upcoming skylight opera theatre 50th anniversary season.
I'm writing to confirm that I too am withdrawing from The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. I was to have played Figaro in both productions. It breaks my heart, but these shows have been severely compromised with the departure of Bill and so many others who have made SOT a second home for me.

deehr quits: "saddens me deeply"

longtime skylight singer/performer justin deehr drops out of the barber of seville:
Dear Eric Dillner and the Skylight Board of Directors,

It saddens me deeply, but I am writing you to withdraw from the chorus of the upcoming production of Barber of Seville.

I have some conflicts with rehearsals for this show that I discussed with stage manager, Jessica Berlin Krivsky about two weeks ago. These conflicts combined with the current events of the last few days I now feel that I can no longer be a cast member of a show that is not the original show I agreed to be a part of.

Most regrettably,

Justin D. Deehr

"a few overly inflated egos"

tuesdays is receiving letter after letter like this, from skylight fans and subscribers, sent to the skylight board. while it's impossible to publish all of them here, this one caught my eye:
To the Skylight director and boards,

I write this as a long time supporter of the Skylight, not with dollars (but if I had more, I would definitely have given more) but with husband and I have been subscribers for more years than the records reflect--the early 60s before you kept records of these things.

We have seen the Skylight and have loved it. When our children were little, Clair used to take us up to his rooftop garden, and instilled a love of plants in our oldest son. And memories for all of us.

We were familiar with all of the early performers...Ray Hickman, John Bohan, Jack Strawbridge, the Quints, Monty Davis, Kurt Ollmann, and eventually, Colin Cabot, Tony Clements, Norman Moses, Jamie Johns, Richard Carsey, Bill Theisen, Ray Jivoff...and more names, but those are the ones I recall at this moment. Some we knew personally, others we just knew on stage.

We are saddened by what is going on right now. From the beginning of this nonsense, we had this haunting feeling that this was going to be the demise of the Skylight, and just before the 50th terribly sad.

One almost gets the feeling that this was a set up to dispose of Bill Theisen so that Eric Dillner could create his own fifedom. And we question what agenda Suzanne Hefty has. It seems like the agendas (of these two people) have backfired.

Although the Skylight has had good and bad times... financially... and the economy has not been good in the last year or so...there seems to be no reason for the bad management that has taken place. There are ways to work things out, but the firing of the Artistic Director is not one of them! Who is more important to the production? I can’t go into the details as well as the professionals who have already written to you, but from a “people” standpoint, there are ways to handle situations that certainly are preferable to the way this has been handled.

What a waste of a wonderful company, and all for the sake of a few overly inflated egos.

Marianne & Sherm Abrahamson

youth is not wasted on the young...

there have been many positive things to emerge from milwaukee's skylight mess. here's one of them: this sunday, july 26th, from 10-11:30 am, an enourmous group of college and high school age actors, singers, dancers and artists will converge in the third ward's catalano square.

if you're young, you wanna be there. i'm, of course, back in new york city, and it would be difficult to get a flight, and driving, well, i'd never make it in time, and gas is so expensive...(shut. up. you.)

For a month now we have watched and listened as our mentors and role models have bravely stood for their personal values and artistic principles. Their example has inspired us. We share their regard for the arts community in Milwaukee. A community which has fired in us a love of the work, a passion to improve, and an impulse to raise our voices for good. A community in which the talented professionals who are our teachers have truly cared about what we think and feel.

This kind of an environment doesn’t just happen. And it could easily be lost.

It is time for us to take our part in the positive dialogue underway about the future of our arts community. This is not about tearing down. It’s about building up.

What kind of a community do we want to grow into and grow up in? How can we learn about facilitating good business, budget, artistic vision, and the message too? What can we do now to help? How can we find our own voice?

Please join us for a “meet and greet” and a discussion of all the above and more at Catalano Square near the BTC this Sunday, July 26, 10:00 - 11:30 am. (Catalano Square just seems to be the easiest place for us to meet). The idea is to start a forum for new artists and art lovers to share our thoughts, stay updated on events, and join together for positive action. And invite all your friends!

--Elyse Edelman and Ryan Stajmiger

the ny times reads tuesdays

check out this morning's new york times.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

taking stock: friday
updated 7/24, 10:22 a.m. est

the number of skylight opera theatre artists who have withdrawn from the 50th anniversary season now stands at 26. last tuesday, skylight managing director eric dillner, marketing director kristen godfrey and even were all talking about eight artists jumping ship.

but as jamie johns points out, these numbers don't account for the number of positions each resignation leaves behind. in fact, eric dillner's "contingency plan" must now include filling 37 positions in skylight's upcoming season: stage directors, music directors, designers, musicians, and actors.

here is the list of skylight artists who have resigned or are ripping up their contracts for the 50th anniversary season:
1. BECKY SPICE, singer / actress – contracted to perform a Johnson Bank cabaret series show

2. RICHARD CARSEY, music director - contracted to music direct "A Day In Hollywood" and "An Evening with Gilbert & Sullivan"

3. BILL THEISEN, director - contracted to direct "Barber of Seville", "Plaid Tidings", "Marriage of Figaro", "The Long & The Short of It, with Colin & Paula"

4. ALICIA BERNECHE, singer / actress - contracted to perform the role of Susanna in "Marriage of Figaro"

5. PAM KRIGER, director - contracted to direct "A Day In Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine"

6. LESLIE FITZWATER, singer - contracted to perform a Johnson Bank cabaret series show

7. JAMES VALCQ, music director / performer - contracted to music direct "Plaid Tidings" and perform a Johnson Bank cabaret series show

8. VAN SANTVOORD, set designer - contracted to design "Barber of Seville" and "Marriage of Figaro"

9. GARY BRIGGLE, singer / actor - contracted to perform in "An Evening with Gilbert & Sullivan"

10. JOHN MURIELLO, singer / actor - contracted to perform in "An Evening with Gilbert & Sullivan"

11. MOLLY RHODE, actress / singer - contracted to perform in "A Day In Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine"

12. CHASE STOEGER, actor / singer - contracted to perform in "A Day In Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine"

13. DIANE LANE, singer / actress - contracted to perform the role of Cherubino in "Marriage of Figaro"

14. JENNIFER CLARK, singer / actress - contracted to perform the role of Marcellina in "The Marriage of Figaro"

15. RAY JIVOFF, actor - contracted to perform the role of Harpo in "A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine"

16. CAROL GREIF SCHUELE, singer/actress - contracted to perform in "A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine"

17. NATHAN WESSELOWSKI, actor/composer - contracted to perform in "The Barber of Seville" and composer for Skylight Education Programs

18. PAULA CABOT, actress/singer - contracted to perform in "The Long & The Short of It"

19. COLIN CABOT, actor/pianist - contracted to perform in "The Long & The Short of It"

20. RICK RASMUSSEN, scenic designer - contracted to design the set for "A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine"

21. KURT OLLMANN, singer/actor - under verbal contract to perform the role of "The Count" in "The Marriage of Figaro"

22. ERIC NELSON, singer/actor - under contract contract to perform in "The Barber of Seville"

23. JUSTIN DEEHR, singer/actor/dancer - under contract contract to perform in "The Barber of Seville"

24. ANDREW WILKOWSKE, singer/actor - under contract contract to perform the role of Figaro in both "The Barber of Seville" and "The Marriage of Figaro"

25. NORMAN MOSES, singer/actor - under contract contract to perform the rold of Groucho in "A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine"

26. MARK KAPLAN, singer/actor - under contract contract to perform the rold of Chico in "A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine"
supporters, donors, and other friends who will not work with the current leadership of the skylight opera theatre:
1. L. THOMAS LUECK, Fine Arts Educator - member of the Skylight Education Advisory Board

2. CAROL JENSEN, Skylight "Den Mother" - donor to the Skylight Opera Theatre, and chef to the Skylight actors, staff, and crew

3. AMY JENSEN, Skylight supporter - donor to the Skylight Opera Theatre, and cookie maker extraordinaire

4. KONRAD KUCHENBACH, Skylight supporter - major donor and subscriber to the Skylight Opera Theatre

5. JOHN E. HOLLAND, Skylight supporter - major donor and subscriber to the Skylight Opera Theatre

quote of the day

"We are negotiating to replace those who need to be replaced and anyone who might need to be replaced. I had two donor meetings yesterday, and they were both successful. We're moving absolutely in the right direction. We're getting positive response."
eric dillner
skylight opera theatre
current managing director

careful the things: reader responses

excerpts of two of the many reader responses to careful the things you say:
I feel like a man without a country.

I'm contracted with the Skylight verbally. I'm keeping my head down and waiting for the chaos to return to order...somehow. At the same time, I'm hearing from people telling me what I should do -- "I would have resigned by now," "If things don't work out, you'll be hearing loud and clear from a LOT of people."

How do I feel? I want to resign, but I'm trying to be hopeful. I want Bill back. I want Jamie back. I want Diana back. I want, so desperately, to have our Skylight back.

Something has to give, doesn't it?

However, I cannot -- will not -- do this production without the people who believed in me more than I ever could. What's the point really? I'm just not announcing it yet.

I want you to know that there are some of us -- the ones in the shadows -- still out there 100% behind our friends. But we're so very confused, and waiting patiently for the storm to subside.

Thank you so much for what you're doing...and for listening.
and then there's this:
Your last blog post, careful the things you say, has put a lot of people like myself, who may not have the choice to drop out of the 2009/10 Skylight season, because of either being without insurance or just trying to pay next month's rent, a little more at ease.

The past month has been eating away at me. I don’t agree with what is being done to this theatre company. But come the start of the season, I have to walk through the doors if I want to live, eat and sleep.

I have to leave behind all the problems I may have with the move Skylight is making, and walk through that door and try and make the best of it. Try to make a living. Try to smile and not cry. I think there are a lot of people in my shoes who don’t know if they should follow the crowd, or follow their wallet.

I’ll be walking into and working along side a company I no longer understand. Some of the people may be the same old folks I’ve known for years, but the family will be broken in heart and soul.

I just hope and pray that someday the Skylight Opera Theatre can be the place everyone can call home....again. Where we can share our laughs and our tears, our thoughts and our dreams. I don’t know when that will be. That is up to the powers that be.

a letter from konrad and john

To Mr. Dillner and the Board of the Skylight:

Attached is a link to a youtube video that we wish you would all watch.

It was brought to my attention by one of your fired employees. He, like Mr. Rogers in this video is a very caring artist, but I'm afraid that the mention of this person's name might turn you off.

As long time subscribers and supporters of the Skylight both John E. Holland, my partner, and I are very disheartened by the direction that the Skylight has taken. John's first Skylight performance was COSI FAN TUTTE in June of 1960, the first opera the Skylight performed. My first performance was the double bill of THE MEDIUM and THE TELEPHONE in November of 1964. We were hooked and attended as many times as the budget allowed and became subscribers in the early 1970s.

Though the years we have grown to know a number of the performers as well as the administrative staff. We were there when seven year old James Valcq made his debut in Berg's WOZZECK. What guts it took for the Skylight to even put this work on.

However, it took a committed group of talented artists and supportive board of directors and donors working together. We no longer see that level of respect and support. Until we see this level of mutual support and respect return, with great regret we can no longer support the Skylight.


Konrad Kuchenbach
John E. Holland

careful the things you say

let's clarify a couple of things.

tuesdays is by no means encouraging actors, singers, designers or directors to give up much needed work, and i think tuesdays readers should be very, very careful about naming names of people who might make a decision, one way or the other. being without health insurance because you haven't worked enough weeks as an equity actor, or because you didn't get that paycheck to help pay a premium, is not an option.

not being able to pay the rent is not an option either.

i will publish legitimate skylight letters of withdrawal if they are sent to me with a request to publish. i will add names to either the artist list or the donor list, if contacted directly by the individual.

i will not, however, add somone's name to a list, or publish a letter without that direct contact and permission. feel free to email tips and information to, but please be careful about sharing sensitive information in the comment sections.

similarly, i have done my best to be extremely careful and straightforward with any information posted on this blog, before the skylight crisis erupted, and after. rumors and innuendo can usually be disproven by going to the source. if there is information available from a trusted news source that i feel is worth sharing and commenting on, i do so. but i'm not in the habit of spreading gossip.

all that said, i couldn't be more proud and honored with the response tuesdays has gotten in the last several weeks, and with the comments and commenters. there have been some great back-and-forths in the comments sections, and if you haven't been "down there"...check it out.

my great hope, once a light is shining again – whether through a skylight or from a streetlight – is that you'll keep coming back to tuesdays to read about sarah palin.

or the thymus gland.

or next season's american idol. (i miss you blindy...)

about that artistic endowment

from this morning's milwaukee journal/sentinel:
A new law signed by Gov. Jim Doyle this week allows nonprofits such as the University of Wisconsin Foundation and Marquette University more flexibility in tapping into endowment funds at a time when many have incurred losses because of the economic downturn.

Until now, organizations were typically barred from spending from an endowment fund when the value dipped below the historical dollar amount - the amount the endowment was originally set up with. They could spend only interest, dividends or appreciation.

Under Senate Bill 31, signed into law Monday, charitable organizations that manage endowments can make an informed judgment about whether to tap the original funding, said attorney Adam Wiensch, a partner at Foley & Lardner who specializes in trust and estates and lobbied for the bill.
perhaps the key phrase here is "an informed judgment." the new law does not change, however, situations where specific spending instructions from the donor are already in place, likely the situation with the 2004 skylight endowment to support the position of artistic director.

(hat tip: a tuesdays commenter)

ollmann quits: "destroy an institution"

kurt ollmann, under verbal agreement with the skylight to play the count in the marriage of figaro, withdraws:
I write as one of the performers slated by Bill Theisen to take part in the upcoming Skylight season (as the Count in The Marriage of Figaro), but not yet contracted by the Dillner administration. I'm not in a position to withdraw or resign but certainly have no intention of working for the company in its present form.

I recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of my debut at the Skylight and am amazed that it takes so few misguided souls to destroy an institution that has been a part of our lives for so long.

Kurt Ollmann

the jensens quit: "bidding farewell"

they're not actors or singers. or designers or directors. but they are donors. and not only financially. for 12 years, mother and daughter team of carol and amy jensen have supported the skylight with their pocketbooks, and their spatulas.

these two women embody "the skylight family" that this current board seems so willing to stomp on and squash. and they're done:
Dear Mr Dillner, Skylight Board and Skylight Board of Advocates,

Although the recent resignations of directors, actors, other artists and, now, the Cabots undoubtedly have a much more significant impact on the organization, we tender our resignation from the Skylight as well. Who are "we"? We are Carol and Amy Jensen who, for the past 12 years, set our schedules around the Skylight's "Tech Weekend" bringing food to the cast of each of the past 60 productions (save one tragic weekend we missed and for which we forever take responsibility for Branch Woodman's broken leg due to our failure to provide sustenance).

We started because of Tony Clements and his attempt to subsist on a Kit Kat diet. We continued because of the small, but wonderful, glimpse of the rehearsals we received as our reward. We worried through the rehearsals when the cast and the show wasn't coming together so easily. We rejoiced in the shows where the cast was so in sync in rehearsal that we knew what magic we would see opening night. Sometimes we knew the cast members well, sometimes we didn't. This past May, Bill arranged for the cast of Pirates to sing Happy Birthday to Carol - using the brownies that she had brought as the "cake" for the candles.

In addition to feeding the cast five times a year, we have, at various times, been Skylight employees, volunteers, donors, subscribers and, of course, always avid supporters. We've donated auction items to Skylight night and purchased our fair share as well. We have been so proud to be a part of the Skylight family.

Since mid June, our plans for the new season were uncertain and we agonized over what to do. Could we still continue our Tech Week tradition to support the cast without condoning the recent actions of the Board and management? The answer to that question became painfully clear late last week and with the inevitable resignation of so many artists.

Our role at the Skylight is small compared to the many talented and beloved artists both on stage and behind the scenes. But, it has been special to us and to the many casts that have shared our small repast on what is usually the longest day of rehearsal. Without them, our role, like so many others, has essentially been eliminated. And so, we must heartbreakingly resign, biding farewell to our treasured Skylight tradition.

One final note. In a meeting just last week with Mr. Dillner and Ms. Hefty, Amy tried to describe the sense of fear and loss of the Skylight spirit that was leading to the overwhelming outcry by so many. She tried to explain what it is that makes the Skylight so special. Mr. Dillner nodded reassuringly and said that it is the building that draws everyone together and that the "process" is still the same. Mr Dillner, it is neither the building nor the process that makes the Skylight special. It is the people. It was a wonderful family that came together in ways both great and small - onstage, offstage and in the audience - to passionately and collaboratively create, support and sustain the magic. Above all other responsibilities you may have, Mr. Dillner, it was your job to nurture that.

With the greatest sense of loss,

Carol J. Jensen
Amy S. Jensen

rasmussen quits: "disturbed & disheartened"

the bleeding continues: rick rasmussen, one of the country's most respected set and costume designers and a staple on the milwaukee theatre scene, is tearing up his contract from the skylight opera theatre, making him the 21st artist to pull out of the company's 50th anniversary season.
Dear Mr. Dillner and the Skylight Board of Directors:

Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am writing this letter to resign my position as Scenic Designer for the Skylight Theatre’s production of A Day In Hollywood, A Night In The Ukraine. I have been associated with the Skylight Opera Theatre almost continuously, ever since I designed Sets and costumes for Dames At Sea in 1992.

Over these intervening 17 years I have felt blessed and honored to be asked to work on so very many incredible productions. I have been made to feel that I was part of the Skylight Family and I have been very proud of that association with other admirable artists and theater professionals.

I have always found everyone in the organization to be honest and up front in their dealings with the artists. I now find myself watching the current administration destroying that sense of family and honest dealing with its firing of Bill Theisen and the dismissal of many colleagues and their concerns. The disrespect and mishandling of trusted Artists and other hard-working colleagues is without precedence and I cannot work for an organization that will allow and support this disrespect.

These are people who have helped make the Skylight such a wonderful arts organization. Sadly the way their input and pleas for fairness have been ignored leaves me disturbed and disheartened.

I hope that, as time goes by, I can re-associate myself with the Skylight under proper management and better circumstances. For now, I must stand with my colleagues in speaking out about this outrageous behavior manifested by certain members of the board and the administration of the theater toward its artists and staff.

Rick Rasmussen