Friday, July 24, 2009

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.


  1. thank you for doing this tony.

  2. Yes, Thank you Tony.

    My office is not 10 blocks from the park, yet here I am reading a blog coming from NYC to keep a breast of what going on.

  3. wow dillner - way to go to repair relations with the milwaukee artists -- the first time you show your face, you proudly (presumably) announce that they are replaced.

  4. keep up with the updates, tony!!!!! am reading with baited breath...

  5. Thank you so much. I'm refreshing this page constantly.

  6. good for molly! if i could be ANYWHERE in the world right now it would be you there, tony.

  7. Eric must go he has pitted employees against each other. He has no respect for the artists or staff. It is all about Eric.

  8. I think Dillner's comment is telling. He is taking the position that Skylight doesn't care that artists have resigned, they can easily be replaced and their efforts in this matter won't make a difference.

  9. Wait, someone said they were keeping 'a breast'?

  10. jay...i couldn't agree more. the same as his statement to the journal/sentinel: i was prepared for this, i have a contingency plan. never a shred of "i feel awful that we've lost so many great artists, and i wish they would reconsider and come back to us. however, if they don't, we must move forward."

  11. i was a bit skeptical early on - but it does make it seem that this was his intention all along. his goal as well as half the board appears to lie not in the skylight as we know it surviving - but in making it into something completely different. duplicitous and deceptive.

  12. What a jack. I agree with Niffer... 3 weeks ago you could MAYBE (and that's a big maybe) have convinced me that he really had the best interest of the Skylight at heart and that he was truly stuck between a rock and a hard place. No more. The Skylight is dead....being run by a new leadership that truly believes that all artists are expendable and replaceable. My heart is breaking. RIP SOT.

  13. also...thank you so much Tony for your dedication to keeping us all informed. You have been a life-saver to this community and have done it in the most upstanding and professional way possible. Thank you.

  14. damien jaques wrote a great piece about just that today - check out jsonline

  15. christopher libbyJuly 24, 2009 at 11:51 AM

    twitter? is nobody twittering this?
    let's hope there's some video...

  16. After reading so many articles and seeing what was said this morning... all I can come away with is a simple generalized statement... which may have holes shot through it, but... this season of Skylight, its 50th year, supports local unemployement if it goes forward.

    by the way, I called into WPR this morning in hopes to get the story on the radio... the producer was very interested in how the economy is effecting the theatre. Though, I don't know where it went from there.

    thank you for blogging as you did today.

  17. @anony - yes. i did. in fact both of them are at attention and waiting on baited breath. ;)

  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  19. Just to be clear! Tony removed my previous entry because it had my e-mail address in it (thanks Tony!). He did not remove it because of insubordination on my side!

  20. Good thing you cleared that up... I thought you were trying to claim a breast, too.

  21. Thanks Tony

  22. Jay Brennan said...
    "I think Dillner's comment is telling. He is taking the position that Skylight doesn't care that artists have resigned, they can easily be replaced and their efforts in this matter won't make a difference."

    That's like Eric saying not only are the former actors replaceable, but any actors who ever choose to work there are completely expendable also. I think we all know that no job is ever really secure, but to come out and say it like that, he's basically showing the Skylight feels loyal to nobody. That's kinda jerky.

  23. One of the best quotes of the meeting was from subscriber & donor Dan Schley, on what his subscription for the upcoming season means to him:

    "I feel like I bought a Lamborghini on Ebay but then the guy sent me a Ugo."


  24. We just got back home from the meeting, and both feel like we need to take a shower. There was just a slimy arrogance that came across from both Terry Kurtenbach and Eric Dillner. They both spoke down to everyone and at the same time were extremely defensive. How can they continue to ask the community for help when everyone feels alienated, offended and angry? They seem to want to move forward without taking any responsibility for their actions. Very sad.

  25. Make your signs and be there to picket when the shows start.
    Artist or staff in Eric's world it does not matter you are replacable if you cross him. I hope he knows he is also and that the board shows him the door soon.

  26. I am just really grateful Eric was able to explain to me about the terrible thing called the economy. Because I did not formerly understand that.

  27. He is using the economy as his reason, why not we all know how tough it is. But he was planning this for a while. He will not go away. The board needs to know we also will not go away and that we support those on the board who are trying to remove Eric.

  28. The board needs to know that the patrons *will* go away.

  29. They told us that the best way for the artists to help heal the breach was to SELL SEASON TICKETS! They just don't get it, do they?

  30. this board that colin is much influence does it have regarding this debacle? why doesn't colin pull his funding for the theater (i assume he contributes)?

  31. Yes, we were the artists were told, you will not have your job back for next season, but the best thing you can do is get people to subscribe, but we can't tell you what the product is yet, because it will go out in a later press release (with the all new cast slated), and, yes, Barber, is completely recast, did I say completely, I meant except for three spots, and even if we sell every seat to every show there will still be a deficit, so get out there and sell tickets!

  32. Hi tony and old Skylight friends,

    I have just finding out about all this over the past few days and I am quite saddened. I just wanted to say a few things and lend what support I can.

    The Skylight was my first job out of college, and my first theatre family. It was a very professional, well run family. It was striking to a twenty two year old, that a company putting high quality art on stage, could also be a place where everyone felt important. My personal anecdote of this feeling is “Bread Break.” At the time automatic bread machines where the new thing. I had gotten one as a birthday present and I brought it to work with me. I would start a loaf in the morning and it would be ready by mid-afternoon. It quickly became a daily event for a majority of the staff to stop by around 3:30 and have a slice of warm, fresh bread – rehearsal breaks were sometimes scheduled around this break. All layers of the totem pole stopped by from all areas of the company. It was not uncommon to have New York designers, administrative staff, lead and chorus singers, and department heads, sharing a quick bite and conversation on my plywood work table. Bread break was a time when everyone in the company was just a person; there were no bosses or employees. Many problems, big and small, were discuss informally, because people were sharing a slice of bread, and everyone knew it was possible to talk to each other. Maybe the current management and board need to have a bread break.
    I write this because, although I no longer work at the Skylight or live in Milwaukee, I would love to support the growing family that is trying to save the Skylight they love and cherish. There are many names on the growing list that I admire for their integrity and still consider friends. I also count as friends many people still working at the Skylight -friends I deeply wish can retain their livelihood at a vibrant and quirky Skylight. These are tough economic times. I know this too well – the theatre company I put eight and a half years of my life into folded last year in less than a month. Please don’t let this happen to the Skylight, or worse save the Skylight and remove all of its soul. Yes the business ends need to be met, but the family doesn’t have to be lost in the process.

    -Jen Trieloff
    Prop Artisan 1994-1997

  33. Jeff, I can tell you that CC IS prepared to pull ALL his financial support from the Skylight.

  34. good Anon...let CC pull it all. then dillner and company will realize that this debacle is a LONG-TERM crisis, not a short-term one that can be fixed by simply filling vacated positions.

    the audacity!!!! boggles my mind. i want to paint half my face blue and ride into SOT on a horse....

  35. The Artist should sell tickets and save the Skylight!! I thought Eric had new donors and no one was canceling thier tickets. The artist are trying to save Skylight, but Eric needs to go. Get rid of Eric and the Artistic Dept could come back. His salary and that of his asistant would just about cover the whole cost of the Artistic Dept. (Bill and Diana).

  36. Maripat WilkinsonJuly 24, 2009 at 3:29 PM

    "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."

    This from last night's report on the board meeting. Doesn't this morning's meeting prove that Dillner is NOT up to that challenge?

    I am just an audience member--and sister/sister-in-law of former Skylight employees--The "new" skylight won't suffer the loss of my couple of tickets to 2 or 3 shows a season. But I WILL NOT go to another show there while Dillner is at the helm. And I will discourage my drama students from patronizing the Skylight. I will use this VERY SAD situation as a teachable moment to educate my high schoolers how NOT to run a company and how TO VALUE artists. I have been following this so sadly and cannot believe it...

  37. Maripat, would you feel comfortable expressing those same thoughts in an email to Terry Kurtenbach? He encouraged all of us there this morning to email him with our thoughts and questions. Tony, will you please repost Terry's email address for us?

  38. It's horrible and it's heartbreaking.
    Speaking as someone who has been attending Skylight performances off and on for 48 years and who built scenery for Clair Richardson in 1961, I believe that primary responsibility for this debacle rests with the board for failing to dismiss Eric Dillner.

    Skylight doesn't "belong" to anyone, but when they agreed to serve, the current board assumed stewardship of SOT and an obligation to "everyone" - artists, staff, audiences, donors - to grow, strengthen and preserve Skylight.

    The simple fact is that Mr. Dillner is now "damaged goods," and his total mishandling of this mess dictates his departure. The loss of confidence in his leadership alone among artists, the industry, the media, funding organizations, patrons and the public has been devastating to SOT. An ocean of negativity has been generated, and he is hardly the person to navigate the fragile vessel that is Skylight out of these churning waters.

    I'm sure that Mr. Kirchenbach and the board members who voted to retain Mr. Dillner - and even Mr. Dillner himself, for that matter - believe that they are acting in what they think are the best interests of Skylight, but truly, just as a matter of damage control, how long would any of these successful civic and corporate leaders retain Eric Dillner in their employ if he was managing one of their businesses the way he been handling matters at Skylight?

    No one disputes that the economy has created dire challenges for arts organizations all over the country. But even in these desperate times, wise leadership, concessions, collaboration, communication and difficult, often harsh, choices have saved the day. Examples can be found very close to home.

    But sadly there are too many instances of a failure of management and of board leadership resulting in the destruction of cherished arts organizations. (Witness the recent demise of Madison Repertory Theater on the eve of its 40th anniversary season.) It is painful to again see a series of dreadful choices and decisions destroy in months what it took countless individuals decades to create.

  39. I understand the point Mr. Kurtenbach made about the board needing to stand behind its decision, even if all board members did not support it - once a decision has been made, you follow it. Certainly if you were going to wage a war you would want soldiers that followed orders.
    But history also tells us that, from time to time, the moral obligation is not to blindly salute and follow an unwise decision but instead to question it and even to disobey.
    And to continue the good soldier analogy - there may also come a time when it is best to jump on the loose grenade yourself, to take the hit yourself to save the lives of others.
    Mr. Dilner was offered that opportunity today. I truly believe the only way forward is through his resignation - no matter his culpability, no matter how much or how little of this is on his shoulders.
    Resign, walk away, and this proud, passionate and extremely talented community of artists will flood the Skylight with goodwill and their energy.
    Molly offered Dillner that opportunity today. Resign and watch this community respond and help rebuild Skylight.
    He declined.

  40. repeatedly asking people to be gracious for your apology makes them feel less gracious.
    asking for more time to discuss certain issues will only last so long.
    conformity to something you don't believe in can be required in order to accomplish goals, but we all know what happens when you ask a large group of artists - the heart, soul, and (arguably) the foundation of a theatre company- to do so.
    you cannot fire people and then reach out to them.
    you cannot sell tickets to non-skylight-artist shows at skylight prices.
    you cannot shut off communication to your employees and expect them to be happy about it.

    I've seen a few companies crumble due to mismanagement, no matter how well-intended they were. It's sad. And it's especially sad to see it happening to a place as well-established as the skylight.

    concerned student theatre artists of milwaukee are gathering at the Catalano Square near the BTC this sunday. Thanks for the shoutout, Mr. Cabot, hope to see you there!
    and thank you, Mr. Clements, for keeping us all informed and updated.

  41. CC had a phone interview with the New York Times today about the Skylight which lasted a full half hour. Watch for it.

  42. The whole thing about selling tickets, and even if they sell out, they'll still be in deficit makes my head want to explode. As an arts administrator, you MUST base your season on what you can afford. That is based on the balancing act of how much you think can fundraise and how many tickets you think can sell. And you NEVER base a budget on complete sell-outs. How did he get to be a managing director? Did he get an MBA, MA, anything in arts management??? That's just absolute poor planning on his part!

  43. I remember bread break!! WAAAAHHHHHHHHH!
    Jen, thank you so much for bringing that wonderful experience back to me. I had completely forgotten. I think I attended one bread break wearing garters and a corset! Could someone with some money help us start over?

  44. Maripat WilkinsonJuly 24, 2009 at 9:36 PM

    I will be writing the board, believe me.


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