Monday, July 20, 2009

carsey quits: skylight "a laughing stock"

richard carsey, former skylight opera theatre artistic director and music director, is withdrawing from participating in the company's upcoming 50th anniversary season, saying the skylight has become "both a laughing stock and a cautionary tale."

carsey joins singer and actress becky spice in turning down their offers of work at the theatre, ostensibly saying, "i quit."

carsey's letter:
To Eric Dillner and the members of the Skylight Board of Directors:

It is with great disappointment that I withdraw from my position as Music Director of DAY IN HOLLYWOOD and AN EVENING WITH GILBERT AND SULLIVAN. The continued mismanagement and bad judgments of the last month by Eric Dillner and Board President Suzanne Hefty, culminating in the cancellation of artist contracts for perceived “threats” on a private Facebook page, have created a Skylight that I no longer recognize. I cannot support this organization with my talents or participation.

I have been a part of the Skylight for nearly twenty years. I’ve conducted over sixty productions there. I was Artistic Director for eight seasons, and I look back on my tenure with enormous pride. It was my privilege to work at an organization that honored integrity and artistic process. A trusting, cooperative atmosphere was fostered, and the line between management, staff and artists was fluid and flexible.

The Dillner/Hefty Skylight has thrown that by the wayside. They have publicly mishandled every aspect of this re-organization. The artistic department, which last season was the only aspect of the company that exceeded its financial goals, has been unceremoniously gutted. The remaining staff is disheartened. Public outcry has been greeted with stony silence. Events have been cancelled. Promised “public forums” are nowhere to be seen. From the humiliating dismissal of Bill Theisen and other staff members, to Jamie Johns’ firing for speaking out and caring too much, to the half-hearted board effort for a reversal, this whole episode is a fiasco.

While these decisions have been defended in terms of budgetary challenges (which are very real and distressing), no thought has been given to the Skylight’s artistic standing. Positions have been eliminated without regard for the product, loyalties have been ignored, and the good faith of the organization is in tatters. This latest move to intimidate the artist “employees” to fall in line is petty and short-sighted. To do this under the signature of Suzanne Hefty rather than your new artistic leader is even more cowardly and ridiculous. I am not leaving these productions because of this one action. I am leaving because I have no faith in the leadership of the Skylight any more.

The Skylight has long been regarded nationally as a model artistic home. It’s now both a laughing-stock and a cautionary tale. I have received calls from all over the country expressing disbelief at the amateurish way in which this crisis has been handled. I’ve run out of excuses to try to defend these decisions and their execution.

The Skylight is being destroyed by Eric and Suzanne’s leadership. I can’t support this, even by working on productions—that would imply my approval. I passionately ask you to reverse this course of events. You have the means to change leaders and repair severed relationships. I can’t imagine what you are waiting for.


Richard Carsey


  1. Beaytifully written - actually brought tears to my eyes... what's happening here???

  2. Richard, I'm very proud of you, my friend.

  3. So powerful. Please tell me Richard's thoughtful, expressive entreaty will be heard!!

  4. This is beautiful and brave, Richard. Thanks for saying what so many are thinking.

  5. Perfectly said. Richard has along history and a unique perspective. His observations are especially difficult to ignore.

  6. Surely the Skylight leaders (as it were) will consider this to be the last nail in their coffin. Surely now the Skylight will hand over the reigns of this formerly outstanding organization to those who will treat its history, reputation, staff and artists with the respect they deserve.

    We understand that you (Hefty and Dillner) have been flailing about trying to do what will bring you less intense criticism (termination letters originating from Hefty in order to indicate board approval, taking the heat off Dillner). Yet still you lack the tactical elegance or foresight to resist striking out at those who've criticized your traitorous acts.

    The Muses applaud the actions of all those courageous enough to stand their ground. My sisters and I have removed our spirits from David's beautifully painted ceiling of the Cabot Theatre and are searching for our new home.

  7. Wow. Well said Richard.

  8. This is a very sad day. Richard is the heart and soul of the Skylight,he has graced us with his talent and generosity of spirit.
    Richard, beautifully said, friend.

  9. Melpomene, well said my child.
    And to Richard, who has conducted so many beautiful productions under my eyes, I say
    "Bravo and farewell my friend."

  10. Well said, Richard. We love you.

  11. beautifully written. They are a sinking ship. If this doesn't inpsire them to attempt to fix things, I don't know what will.

  12. Bring Bill, Diana, and the Box Office back. With Eric and his assistant gone (over 100k)it should not be hard to cover the rest of the salaries or find savings. The performers will come back and you can save the season and Skylight. Short of that you are sunk.

  13. Dawna Ellis (Gregory)July 20, 2009 at 5:28 PM

    Beautifully said, Richard. You are a man who does not waste words and only says something when it needs to be said. Your heart and concience are in the right place.

  14. Bert Monda AppleJuly 20, 2009 at 6:06 PM

    Oh Richard. Now I feel as if the final shoe has dropped. This may have been one of the hardest things you've ever had to do - to give up on The Skylight. I'm so sorry!

  15. Thank you everyone for your words of support. It is a very difficult thing to do, because the last thing I want is to harm this organization. But watching it being torn limb from limb by Eric and Suzanne and this board is horrible. I've heard from board members that claim that they feel as I do, but no one seems brave enough to demand that changes be made. I don't know what the fear is. How could things be worse??

    When they can't even open "Sing a long GREASE", how can they possibly hope to have a season?

  16. Tamara MartinsekJuly 20, 2009 at 7:42 PM

    Richard - I have always been a fan but you have just acheived sainthood in my eyes - to be able to make this choice when you love Skyight as much as you do shows a level of commitemnt they will never be able to replace - and if that is not clear to them, if that is not enough to turn the tide - at this point all is truly lost.

  17. They aren't done with their hatchet job(s) yet. Haven't we all been repeatedly saying "it can't get any worse"...and then it does?

    Shame on Eric and Suzanne for holding the Skylight hostage, and taking this jewel of Milwaukee away from those who love it. Perhaps we can all chip in and buy a one-way ticket for Eric back to Shreveport?

  18. Richard,

    You have expressed the definitive take on this unholy situation. But I believe that yours and others resignations are, in my opinion, not harmful to the Skylight, but are the necessary actions that could be helpful to those who could make the necessary changes in leadership to do so.

    Your actions are reparative, not destructive. I appreciate the artistry and dedication you have demonstrated during your 2o years at the Skylight. I hope that the Skylight will benefit from your wisdom and talent in the near future.

  19. Melanie SchuesslerJuly 21, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    To the amazing Richard Carsey: I have always been a fan, but your courage and dedication in the face of this unbelievable situation are humbling. I honor you and all those who have protested the implosion of our beloved Skylight, where I spent four happy years as a designer and draper. I'm with Dawna: you couldn't pay me enough to work there now. As disheartened and enraged as I have been while following the news of this cascading debacle, I am also extremely proud of the difficult and principled stand taken by many who have left as well as the quiet determination of those who have stayed at Skylight hoping to make things better from within. I wish you all the very best.

  20. Richard, you are to be commended for your actions and your thoughtful letter. It gives me a great deal of hope for artists. This entire debacle is unbelievable to me.


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