Friday, July 10, 2009

artists are "employees" and "only
exist because we chose to pay" them

upon entering 411 building wednesday afternoon, several skylight opera theatre board members gave encouraging nods, smiles and thumbs up to the rag-tag group of protesters standing outside the building carrying protest signs and singing scary protest songs.

but not everyone is so keen on that rag-tag group.

what follows is an email written by a former board member, sent to skylight managing director eric dillner and forwarded to the full board of directors. several sources forwarded this email to tuesdays. suffice it to say, it was not written by one of the friendly, nodding thumbs-uppers, or anyone who was in that meeting on wednesday.

why publish this? there is value in artists understanding they are looked at by some as a product, an employee, and not valued in the way they think. the email also makes some points about how the skylight's executive committee works: they're elected, we trust them to make decisions, etc. perhaps this will provide a forum to discuss this attitude, as opposed to it existing in the shadows, as rumor and innuendo.

although the attitude throughout this email certainly exists, and may not be uncommon, it would be patently unfair to paint the entire board with this same brush. publishing this email is in no way meant to reflect on the many board members, past and present, who have been and continue to be strong advocates for the artists in this equation (the nodding thumbs-uppers.)

i had initially intended to edit the email, but felt it was more fair to publish it in it's entirety, mistakes and all (i'm gonna just give it one giant "sic.") names have been eliminated and pertinent information has been altered to conceal identities.

Please relaty this to the Board and the Executive Committee,

I know that perhaps [I am] not the most influencial [person] associated with the SKylight, but [I] have been rather invloved since [year]. It distressess me when the emplyoyees start thinking that they are the ones that should be calling the shots. The employees and of course this includes the "artists" are obviosly important, but in the long run it is the subscriber and the corporate donor who is the one the eventually determines whether or not what we are paying for is worth what we intend to spend our time watching or supporing. They seem to feel that they for some reason or other we should just support then because they exist. They provide a serivce and nothing more.

Though [I] have supported the Skylight by getting season subscritions, [I] have not given any further monetary support for the Skylight [I] basically do not approved of the "avante garde" seasons that Skylight has offered in the immediate past. Perhaps [I] do hot reflect what the Skylight is all about, [I am] personally not interested in spending [my] time in watching things like the "Water Bird Suties" or "Little Women". The Repertoirtery Review Committe has in the past (at least when I was a member) has had "VERY" little influence on the eventual season.

[I] therefore elect and entrust [my] opions to a Board and an Executive Committee to make many of the decions for [me]. [I] can't all have the time to studiy and make the decions [myself]. Therefore [I] select people who have the basic good judgement and ideals that most follow our own philophies. It so happens that we happen to agree with the majority of the currinet and past Boatds. There are individuals whom we violently disagree with, but we do agree with the majotity of the Board.

Thus [I] do agree with the current Board decisions as to the way in which the VERY necessary conclusions were reached. As a Sunday morning quarter back I would personally probably inform the various Boards and perhaps MAJOR doners of any decisons that the Executine Committee may have made, but nornally this is what we authorize an Executive Committee to do.

I also have to alert you to the fact that many if not most of the e-mails you have received are from people (basically artists)( that have a vested interest. They are after all employees and only exist with the Skylight because we chose to pay ( as subscribers) to there services ( some of whom we enjoy, others such as [Artist #1] and [Artist #2] whom we avoid if at all possible). These artists are EMPLOYEES and exist because some seem to want them. They do not deserve anything more than that. It has become very apparant to us that they seem to some how feel that they deserve to exist just because they exest, rather than that we chose to want to see them perforom We tolerate ( and barely) the [Artist #1s] and [Artist #2s] of the world ONLY because they are thrust upon us.

So the upsoht of all of this is that YES [I] APPROVE OF THE DESCIONS THAT YOU AND THE BOARD MADE and [I] give you [my] full heated 100% support.


  1. Good lord. Unbelievable. Was this a typed letter or a hand written letter that was transcribed? I hope that this level of illiteracy was a sign of long ago and not the level of representation found now. Or it is a sad, sad, day.

  2. What an ignorant, illiterate buffoon.

    I must admit I like the term "repertoiretery."

    I bet this person really enjoys the revenues that Skylight puts on in the Hisotoric Thrid Ward.

  3. It’s so hrad to rade threw the tyop’s that I can bearly undersand this former bored members comments. All I can say is that I’m glad it’s a former board member.
    Frankly, the sentiments don’t surprise me – they seem very much in keeping with the paternalistic and “stay the course” attitude we’ve seen over the last month. Contrast this attitude with the one in Colin’s recent letter and you begin to see why the Skylight is in trouble.
    I’m really beginning to fear that the Skylight we knew is dead – what’s left is a zombie theater group. How sad, particularly given the great season they had planned for the 50th.
    This board member's rant is one of the most disheartening and disappointing missives I’ve read in a long time.

  4. Yes, art would be so much less disdainful if we didn't have to put up with those artists.

  5. Artist #2, I believe you mean, "them artists."

  6. Was alcohol involved when this idiot wrote this appalling letter?

  7. shockingly and horrifyingly funny. sounds more like a mel brooks character than a real human being, especially one who volunteered for and donated to an arts organization.

  8. All I can say is OMG. Some of us remember how Clair would kick a certain critic out of the theatre (DPN) - holding the curtain until the dirty deed was done. What I wouldn't give to boot this buffoon off the board - ala Clair - if they weren't already gone. Good riddance to this ungrateful and unenlightened "supporter."

  9. Wow. I mean everyone is entitled to their opionion and I am sure that for every person who loves the work of "Artists 1 and 2" there are those who do not.

    And there is some truth to the point that it is the audience that is the important focus of what we do (though not the corporate donor). But there would be no audience without the artists, just as there would be no reason for us without them.

    This person clearly has no concept of art and it's creation and place in society. But just as strong as his/her sentiments are is the joyous ease with which we can dismiss them as being the rants of an illiterate, ill-informed, and ill-spoken wackadoodle.


  10. What a moron. Why don't they ask the donors and board members to appear in all the future shows and see how far they get with that?


    It was really hard to digest the content of this letter while trying to avoid the spelling errors and grammar problems. Ugh! At any rate, this person clearly has their illiterate head up their Rovian ass. I'm embarrassed to know this person once had ANYTHING to do with Skylight. The cavalier attitude, smarminess, and utter meaness is beyond comprehension. If this is how this person feels about those on stage, I can only imagine the disdain he/she felt for those of us who worked behind the scenes to help the machine run. What a gigantic loser.

  12. Dear Former Skylight Board Member,

    I will start by telling you that I am making the assumption that I am one of the artists deleted from the version posted here on tuesdays. Since you refer to LITTLE WOMEN as avant garde, I am making the leap that you considered MIDNIGHT ANGEL and countless other pieces I directed in my years at Skylight as even more intolerable.

    Despite that, you donated and volunteered for the organization. Good for you and thank you. I think serving an organization even when you don't agree with everything they do is a wonderful and important thing that people like you do.

    I would like to take a moment, however, to clear up a few things in this current situation. No one will argue with you that artists who work for a company get paid. And yes, indeed, that makes them employees. From the tone of your letter, it assumes that employees should be disdained and not listened to. I take umbrage with this sentiment as very often, the employees are those most able to make changes, cut costs come up with new ideas of how to do business. There are many cases in the corporate world where just such action was taken and a company on the verge of bankruptcy came back to surge forward to success.

    And I'd also caution you to keep in mind that no one who is speaking up is asking to be hired by the Skylight. Frankly, most of us assume we will never darken your world again, what we are speaking for is the simple fact that in an ARTS organization there needs to be an ARTS LEADER. The idea of eliminating, without any warning, the position of Artistic Director appears to be one that is not well thought through.

    Finally, I'll conclude with a word of caution. The Board and you have entrusted the future of the Skylight to someone whose work as a musical theatre artist is essentially unknown. Has anyone SEEN his work as a director? For all you know, Eric Dillner may be the most avant garde artist to work at the Skylight in decades.

  13. now I'M pissed.

    tony and i go wayyy back to high school. hey tony...i'm impressed by your blogging efforts to cover this story. but you've always been tenacious so i'm not surprised. i'm also an actor and published/produced playwright living in Los Angeles...AND i'm moving back to Milwaukee at the end of the month.

    and what a mess i'm moving into. what DOES surprise me is this email - and from a board member, no less. i have no affiliation with the Skylight like many of you have, never acted there (have seen one show - "The Spitfire Grill"). i haven't developed the relationships like some of you have, or the love for the Skylight like some of you have. but i understand what that's all about. Theatre Cedar Rapids and Riverside Theater in Iowa City are my "Skylights". so is the Westchester Playhouse in LA. i feel your pain. and i am no less passionate.

    this "board member" (if you can call "it" THAT) has personally insulted ME as an artist and i, like mr suozzi, take umbrage at the comments in the email made toward email that could not possibly widen this board member's influence on the Skylight board or within the Milwaukee theater community (in reference to the author of the email saying their influence may not be as wide as others on the board).

    you're lucky i'm not there right now. i'm less calm - more of a William Wallace mindset.

    and i am disgusted.

  14. Wow, this "employee" was glad to take a paycut for Skylight, and has donated money to the Skylight, and has done a benefit concert for the Skylight, and would do anything to keep her afloat, yet my opinion is not valuable? Thanks. If you knew what we were working for in the first place, and knew the years of work and sweat that went into it, you would be giving us a medal, not derision.

    Seriously, when this a-hole can get up in front of 100's of people and do what I can do, I will have a serious discussion with him/her.
    Would a publisher say the writers are just "employees?" Would a gallery owner say the artists exist because she pays them? NO. That theater, any theater, is there because there are gifted individuals who can make you laugh and make you cry, and you pay money to be in their presence.
    (and learn to use spell check, you dumb fuck.)

  16. sounds more like Archie Bunker wrote this... and the sentiments therein sound like "Bunkeresque" BUNK!

  17. Paula Suozzi so well said! I think this author watches a little too much Pay-per-View TV. We do this because we are working for something greater than we ourselves could create alone.
    Something good must come of this ...
    Michael Morgan

  18. Oh. My. God. What an illiterate buffoon. One can only hope that this person's fingers are never allowed to rape a keyboard again. And that they never step foot into another theater.

  19. i just threw up in my mouth, a little. i wish i could be as eloquent as paula, but this ill-adivsed show of support for dillner and the executive board made me sick...

  20. I think there is a larger problem here, one that goes well beyond the horrid opinion and is more appalling. It should directly inform the decision of Bill Theisen and every other artist to work in any capacity with this organization.


    By forwarding this letter to the Board of Directors as requested, the Managing Director endorsed these vile opinions a valid support for his decisions.

    Make no mistake, a letter was forwarded to the Board of Directors attacking and denigrating the artists of the Skylight as proof of support for Eric's vision of the future of the organization.

    The Managing Director of the organization endorsed through his actions the attack BY NAME of employees of the company; dire criticism of artists upon whose work the Skylight Opera Theatre has built its reputation.

    In doing so, the person who supposes to lead not only the management of employees but the engagement of artists has directly called into question his fitness to lead and his trustworthiness as an artistic colleague.

    For each of you so offended by the tone of this letter, please take a moment to consider that the man who will lead this organization felt that it was so important a show of support for his position that he felt is necessary to forward it to the entire Board of Directors.

    By doing so, he endorses every offensive comment it contains, supports the denigration of the artists it attacks, and undermines the repertoire history of the company.

    I think it is time to re-consider whether anyone, including Bill Theisen, should allow Eric Dillner or the organization that supports him to profit from their artistic output in any fashion. Not only because of the abhorrent opinions they hold of you and your fellow colleagues, but also because nobody should work for a man so anxious to sell you out to save his own skin.

  21. You show great restraint, Tony. If you ask me, the writer of this ignorant filth ought not be given the comfortable cloak of anonymity, but rather should be held up to very, very public ridicule. And anyone else who thinks along these lines should just keep their damn money. In the long run "The Arts" are better off without such "generosity." I'd rather perform in front of a bed-sheet in someone's basement or on the back of a pick-up truck than entertain this individual. I'm nearly moved to "violently disagree" myself.

  22. Leslie FitzwaterJuly 11, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    OK y'all. I have to play gadfly. I have never considered my job to be any more special or extraordinary than any other person's job. Singing just happens to be what I do better than anything else. My main objection to this e-mail is not the misspellings or the expressing of an opinion. I would rather hear an opinion and not hear one. I take umbrage with the notion that, as an employee, I should accept without question, any decision that management throws my way. If I think a decision falls outside of good business practices, I strongly believe it is my right and duty to speak up.

  23. Leslie FitzwaterJuly 11, 2009 at 8:49 AM

    Correction - I would rather hear an opinion THAN not hear one.

  24. Just when I thought I was done commenting.

    Obviously an AIG executive, the writer of this sadly unfortunate email expresses an opinion widely held by corporate America's upper management.

    This would be the attitude that begets huge salaries for the execs, minimum pay for the employees and further down the road, companies broken by greed and misdirection.

    This may well be the attitude which is leading the Skylight to its destruction. As it becomes more corporate it becomes more distant from the art it was intended to produce.

    We do see a pattern here, don't we?

    As for this writer and his ability to attempt a cohesive thought: I hear scotch tends to inhibit one's ability to be rational, eloquent or contemplative. It is, however, a great tanning solution.

  25. Sorry, I'm just not sure this e-mail is for real.

  26. I do believe this is real. Having done many shows at Skylight, I've heard all about this former board member's emails. I believe (name removed) is the person who coined the terms, "Asiatic," and "Hispanical."

    Anyway, the fact that Eric forwarded this just shows how unfamiliar he is with the Skylight. This former board member has not been taken seriously for years, especially when on the rep advisory committee.

    What cracks me up is that according to this person ERIC is just an employee. Eric should have been greatly offended, yet he sent it on...what does that tell you? And if he is just an employee, he can be removed...

  27. just wanna step in here and clarify: i have no proof that this email was forwarded to the board BY eric dillner.

    on behalf of, perhaps.

    another skylight employee may have simply been following the request in the email "Please relaty this to the Board and the Executive Committee."

    and we all know how easy it is to email the skylight board of directors.

    mnemosyne, if you have that proof (the original email, including the header info) feel free to forward it to me and i will be happy to verify.

    could an email like this get forwarded without a managing director's direct approval? perhaps without his even seeing it first? my guess would be yes.

    does that still mean it has his tacit endorsement?

    what do you think?

  28. Tony, after a night of consideration, my head has cooled and I'd like to modify my statement that THIS LETTER WAS ENDORSED AND FORWARDED TO THE ENTIRE BOARD BY ERIC DILLNER.

    I withdraw my earlier comment because I have no proof he forwarded this himself. I only know it was sent to SOT offices for him, and per the request it made of him, was subsequently forwarded to the Board.

    To date Mr. Dillner has given us no reason to believe that he shares the opinions contained therein.


    For example, Bernie Madoff could endorse the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and just because that letter was shared with the rest of the Board, it doesn't mean that was an endorsement.


    But for the sake of clarity, my prior statement is not supported by proof that Eric forwarded this email himself, an assumption key to the rest of my argument.

    I only made that assumption because the letter was addressed to him, and asked him to forward it to the rest of the Board.

    And by golly, it was....

  29. mnemosyne...

    i think you'll be interested in this.

  30. I would post something erudite in response to the board member's e-mail message, but the words "ignorant" and "buffoon" have already been used.

  31. WAIT, George Bush used to be on the Skylight board?!

    OK, in all seriousness, who the heck peed in this guys coffee? All that venom makes me think that an actor refused to sleep with him at some point and he has hated all artists (and why the quotes for that word?) since.

    In the end, that email isn't worth a damn, because the ire of patrons, subscribes and Joe T. Audience Member has been raised right along with that of the artists he disregards so easily.

  32. Chris, it's already been verified that whoever has set up the Skylight's Twitter account is following Karl Rove, so, yeah, GWB is represented by the Skylight.

    And really, I don't think ANY political pundit should be followed by the Skylight or any arts organization. Whether it's Rove or Olbermann, O'Reilly or Maddow, why would they follow them on Twitter? The point of Twitter s/b to market the group and to follow related organizations for trends in the industry. If you are going to follow a pundit, do it on your own time, not as a representative of an organization.

  33. PART ONE: In Response to Moron EX Boardmember

    I have to say that, as I have spent such an unforeseen amount of time entrenched both cognitively and emotionally in this current Skylight dissolution, I feel as if I have been experiencing the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages of death and dying. First denial, then anger, etc. I don’t think, however, that I will ever evolve to that place of “peaceful acceptance.”

    One thing that makes me feel so particularly embroiled here regarding this former board member’s missive is his false, sort of Darwinian explanation of “existence.” Somehow he seems to think that we survive or “exist” as artists because we are somehow able to mate with those people who have larger checkbooks.

    To think that artists exist because, as a culture, we value them and choose to pay them is, as Becky stated, vile.

    Creativity, in my opinion is the only thing that ever survives purely on its own, without the validation of either the enlightened or the unenlightened. This reminds me of how much I can’t stand people who will buy a big piece of art just because it matches their couch. A couch that they probably bought from a catalogue.

    If I approached my own teaching of Fine Art and Theatre with this perspective, I would be better suited for society by getting a job anywhere outside of the field of education. I could maybe produce these catalogues for example.


  34. PART TWO: In Response to Moron EX Boardmember

    I am simply disgusted with this whole letter. My thoughts quickly turn to all of my students whom I have had over the past fourteen years, and the personal utility that they have found in the Fine Arts. Art has catapulted them into some amazing defining moments, and for hundreds of them, continues to serve them as well as the communities in which they are able to share their talents. Paid or unpaid, they exist. I have seen them. And they have blessed me.

    I also think about the thousands of amateur and community theatres that are extremely successful (especially around here) that are triumphant although their scores of volunteers are not being paid. People arrive to help, to participate, to build, in order to ensure the success of these wonderful places. There is no job that is beneath them. They not only exist, they thrive. And since they do, we all receive astonishing benefits.

    The Sunset Playhouse is simultaneously celebrating their 50th season this year. What a contrast their celebration is to that of the Skylight. It is breathtaking to see how the vision of countless artists and volunteers have combined to make the Sunset Playhouse what it is today.

    The management and artistic staff at this organization embraces and realizes the value of its stakeholders. They are not clandestine. This is not to say that it has been an easy road for the Playhouse; rather they have survived because they have realized that THEY EXIST solely as the result of creative and thoughtful preservation by individuals without management or board title. Solutions emerge from more organic roots and many times unpaid creative and artistic examination of problems and questions.

    My point is that there is a great amount of respect and value for all stakeholders of that organization. Amateurs and volunteers who keep organizations such as the Sunset and the Waukesha Civic Theatre alive do it because they have an understanding of the value of collaborative insight and the ensemble. They also see that human talent, be it organizational, financial or on stage is all intrinsically rich in value, even if the labor needed to produce it goes unpaid.

    Art, artistry, and creativity exists naturally. It is an outcome of humanity, not audience. It would exist on its own without the help of a board. A painting will exist, believe it or not, without a couch. It is seen in community theatres, it is seen schools and even in environments so abhorrent as the walls of Dachau.

    Valuing your stakeholders, in terms of an organization such as Skylight, includes respecting even dissonant contributions, even if flawed or not in line with personal tastes. To understand that also means to truly believe that in the theatre, your “bottom dwellers” (such as the actors and other artists) are not disposable. In a town such as Milwaukee, where we seem to have more of a populist history, I take issue with leaders who view others as disposable or nonentities.

    I’m not embracing my personal nostalgia; I am rather deciding that my personal future involvement anywhere will look for integrity. Most of us seek to value the places from where we have come. It’s unfortunate that sometimes those places are no longer recognizable.

    Even on the inside.

    Tommy Lueck

  35. Face the facts this was a power play, even if the board does not know it. Look at the people let go, and the depts. that had no cuts. You can tell right there that Eric wanted the whole cake and he used the economy as his reason. Yes some changes were needed but these were the incorrect moves and handled badly. The person who wrote the short play on Eric hit the nail on the head. It is a shame good people were let go and hurt by this.

  36. Steve LangeneckerJuly 13, 2009 at 7:34 PM

    If the previous PR debacle at the Skylight was the first nail in the coffin, the forwarding and endorsement of this ex-board member's letter seals the lid shut for me. "Everyday a little death" for sure...

    How differently this could have been handled. To create such a bad vibe going into your 50th year seems near suicidal. Where was the creative thinking? That's the one thing that should have been in abundance at an organization that's survived and often thrived for 50 years.

    There seems no logical explanation other than the power grab theory proposed by so many. If it's not that, then it's sheer stupidity.

    I agree with Tommy. I'll be cheering for the Sunset this year. That's where the joy and the celebration will be. The productions may be professional at the Skylight, but this year they'll be too hard to watch.

  37. I apologize for chiming in so late - but I have been focusing on my own funds economic issues - If I repeat please forgive-

    I beleive it is very important that the board is aware that those "protesting" the issues are not "just artists" - although I have had the pleasure of performing only once on the skylight stage - my dismay with the decisions recently made and how they were presented is as a donor and ticket buyer - and as a "mere employee" who fought for high levels of customer service and peformance values for 4 years before Bill was even hired.

    As an executive director of a non-profit I am curious why someone who feels the way this board member does agreed to be on the board of an arts organization in the first place, and who thought having them on the board was a good idea.

    But I do thank whomever this is for finally giving me my reason to write to the full board - we have been asking for clarity of mission, trasparency, and artistic vision and if this is what Eric or Susan or the board or whomever feel is an acceptable answer -they need to clearly hear that this donor and ticket buyer does not feel the same.


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