Friday, July 17, 2009

skylight fires members of "barber" cast

the skylight opera theatre has withdrawn the contracts of two actors who had previously agreed to perform in the upcoming season opener, the barber of seville.

byrce lord and jon stewert both received letters today, signed by skylight board president suzanne hefty, notifying them of their dismissal. stewert had notified the skylight's managing director eric dillner earlier this week of his desire to drop out of the show due to the current circumstances at the company. the dismissal letter makes no mention of that request.

the letter from hefty:
Dear Mr. Lord,

Due to your recent written statements on Facebook concerning Skylight Opera Theatre, the offer to provide services as Ambrogio in Skylight Opera Theatre's 2009-2010 production of The Barber of Seville is hereby withdrawn. Your statements violate what we consider are the obligations of artists who perform at the Skylight Opera Theatre.

Sincerely,

Suzanne Hefty
Board President
was barber director bill theisen consulted before this letter was sent? or, similar to theisen's own firing "in the dark of night," was this a dillner decision that hefty then had to carry out?

and is it common practice for the president of the board of directors to send out termination letters? wouldn't that normally be the job of the managing director?

lord forwarded a copy of what he assumes are the offending comments to tuesdays. notice there is no mention of any current employee of the skylight opera theatre, nor any position on the skylight staff. the skylight itself isn't even mentioned, only it's founder, claire richardson. these people could have been talking about a bad review:
Commenter #1 firmly believes that Claire Richardson would be putting a cigar out on someone's eyeball right about now.
June 16 at 10:08pm ·14 people like this.

Commenter # 2 at 10:11pm June 16
Ohhhhh ...my guess is he's been doing that for quite a few years now. Hence the lack of vision. Was that too blunt?

Bryce Lord at 10:13pm June 16
And I'd be glad to hold "someone" down for him...
do dillner, hefty, and the board think this firing will ingratiate them to the community? since this news broke, tuesdays has received several emails from actors, musicians and the like suggesting they will now take the same action as stewart and decline to work at the skylight.

dillner and hefty seem to want to go down with the ship.

28 comments:

  1. Just heard about this and now read it on your blog. What could possibly be the point in this?

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  2. Actors' Equity should be made aware. Sounds like an illegal termination, for which these actors can sue for payment of their whole contract.

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  3. I don't think Actors' Equity covers Skylight's opera contracts, just the musicals.

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  4. anonymous: i can guarantee you they won't be doing this to Equity actors.

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  5. AEA does not cover the operas at Skylight, only the musicals. Skylight does not function under an AGMA contract for the operas, so union intervention is very unlikely.

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  6. Apparently Hefty does not have the sense or integrity to at least identify to Bryce and Jon A)which "obligations of an artist" they were violating and B)clearly identify and quote the facebook postings that were deemed so offensive.

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  7. Perhaps this is intentional with Hefty and Dillner. Maybe they would like to recast every show. I am now utterly convinced that they are weeding out dissenters, so, if you want to keep your job at Skylight, keep your mouth shut.

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  8. Based on the letters sent, there is no legal grounds for termination IMO. I wonder who can better assess that from a legal perspective and what action could be taken?

    Though this act stinks of fear and bitterness, it is a bit ridiculous too. Do Hefty and Dillner imagine that they can remove everyone who disagrees with their decisions? I imagine there are many who will only look daggers at their backs, as they can't afford to lose work by raising their voices.

    Poor form - again!

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  9. I can't believe this. Has this man NO sense of public relations??? It just goes from bad to worse.

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  10. Ironically, one of the best employment law firms representing workers is a tenant at the BTC.....

    This termination, while legal, is mind-boggling in its stupidity.

    This serves as absolute notice to all artists holding a contract from SOT: Your duties include support of, or at least silence with respect to management actions of your employer.

    Betcha didn't know that when you "earned" your contract did ya?!?

    "You're paid to sing, not think", seems to be the message "and if we want your opinion, we'll ask for it."

    You know why there's no union rep (AGMA) for SOT? Because nobody would have DREAMED to treat artists with such disrespect before this administration! AGMA left SOT alone, and AEA had a great relationship with them because of the close, respectful, personal & professional relationships cultivated by Bill Theisen and Diana Alioto and all their predecessors!

    Now that everybody is gone, seems the gloves are off for management to troll your personal online activity for dissent....what's next?

    No employee or artist holding a contract with SOT should doubt for one minute that their employment is secure with this administration. Don't forget, even AEA contracts have a termination period (30 days I think).

    This is so abusive, it nearly makes me weep.

    Maybe these two were "Artist #1" and "Artist #2".

    Or maybe you are........

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  11. You know, if Eric's going to recast the show, maybe he should just direct it.

    I seriously doubt Bill Theisen was informed that his cast members were being fired.

    I guess this is Bill's first lesson in what it means to work under Artistic Director Eric Dillner.

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  12. It is VERY hard to get fired from an Equity show. (You cannot even be fired for not knowing your lines!) In the majority of Equity-member firings, Equity fines the theatre and settlements favor the fired actor.

    THAT is why Equity should be told.

    Regardless of the shows that are NOT under an Equity contract, the theatre is operating with Equity cooperation and under Equity contracts for some of their shows.

    They could lose that privilege, and the commensurate prestige.

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  13. To the Last Anonymous Comment: It is actually not that hard to fire AEA actors but it depends on the rules for your particular contract. There are very specific rules and in most cases if the firing is done prior to opening, it is not that hard to do. Some contracts have a probationary requirement but some do not. Skylight has the ONLY - and I mean - ONLY - Permanent Equity Guest Artist Agreement in the country. It's something that was negotiated years ago and still holds today. What surprises me is that there's never been a move from AEA to change that very odd status for Skylight.
    In any event, the rules that Skylight has to follow are bizarre and different than most other contracts around the country.

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  14. They've progressed to scare tactics. I'm surprised they've taken this long to do so. If they had done so at the beginning it might have had some temporary effect; at this point it's weak and transparant. And the letter being sent by Hefty? What does that say? "I Eric Dilner, am too weak to take care of these things myself." "I, Eric Dilner, am too afraid to take care of these things myself." "I, Suzanne Hefty, am involving myself in the artistic side of things." "I, Suzanne Hefty, am aware that Eric Dilner is weak and am stepping in." "I, Suzanne Hefty, have tied my wagon to Eric Dilner's fate, and if he's going down, so am I." This is weak stuff folks. At the very least, they don't know how to manage a crisis, and I think we all know it's much worse than that.

    Blackballing. Fantastic. Put me and Zero on the list.

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  15. By the by, anyone who criticized anyone else for not putting their name to a post, well there you go. Please speak your mind anonymously if you must because speaking at all is important. Yeah, people have things to lose in this battle. And if anyone is disparaging the little money one makes at the Skylight, tell that to a performer. It's not little to them.

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  16. Just when it seemed that Eric and Suzanne would have to go out of their way to embarrass themselves further--they go out of their way to embarrass themselves further! What a cowardly, back-handed, short-sighted, ridiculous turn of events. I don't think anyone should hold their breath for the much-touted "artist forums" at the Skylight now. If Eric doesn't even have the cajones to sign a letter, it would certainly not be possible for him to stand up in a room full of artists and defend his actions.

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  17. I am quite unsure what to say, as I am still in disbelief that I really just read that. My heart just breaks thinking about what a mess this has all become, and for all the artists and supporters that are being affected by this. It is amazing to me how this "virus" for lack of a better term, has infected an institute like the Sklylight that we all hold so dear. I know I am so proud to say I have been a performer with them, and now am so embarrassed that this place that I loved so much is causing such distress, and treating the people who help make it tick, and make it what it is for performers, audience, and employees alike with such a lack of respect. Starting with Bill, and here we are today with Bryce and Jonathan. Wow. How low are they going to sink. I truly fear what I will hear next. I am however so proud of everyone for taking a really poopy situation and still finding positives, like bringing together a community. That once again, makes me proud.

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  18. As a veteran of many nonprofits over the years, I am sad to inform you that this isn't a rare circumstance. No matter how valuable you might be to the organization, if you tick off someone on the board, that person might very well use their "power" (i.e., ability to bring in donations" to get rid of you at their pleasure. The Managing Director or President or CEO really has little to do with it. It's the Golden Rule - he who has the gold makes the rules.

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  19. OK, I can't sit back here on the east coast and watch one of the most prized theatrical institutions in my home town destroy itself.
    I've worked on the artistic and administration sides at a successful, mid size theatre on the east coast for over 11 years now and I know that the when we have had to terminate an employees contract (either as an artist or in an administrative position), never EVER has the board president done the firing. Never. That is a responsibility held by either the artistic director or managing/executive director.
    What's going on at the Skylight seems to spell the slow death (or quick, depending on how many more of these braniac moves the Board and Eric pull) of this once treasured and revered institution.
    I've wanted to work there for years and now I can only look at it with contempt and derision. A company that mismanages itself this poorly almost deserves to tank..

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  20. In all of the time I've known Richard Carsey, I have never, ever heard him utter a negative comment about anyone, period. For recent events to push him to the point of the things he's said is something I thought would never happen. Very unfortunate.
    The Skylight that was is dead, and this is in no way a 'cave-in' or lack of support. It is me being realistic. The true spirit in which Skylight began is still alive; in the very words spoken by the 'dissidents', and in the passion we feel. We need to take a step back because the building that houses the Skylight will soon implode, and we must take care not to become victims. Let them see how far they get without locally known and loved actors, directors, musicians, stage crews, and others. We hold the most power when we say "no, we will not allow you to use us against ourselves". We must not let Skylight think they are the only game in town. Because they aren't. They, too, are 'dispensable'.

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  21. Not anymore. There's a new rule: We can actually push power out if we are united.

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  22. This is very surprising. But in my limited participation in Milwaukee's theatre scene, I've been amazed at two things. One is the cooperative nature of almost everyone involved in the theatre. The second is the exceptional power hunger of a small select few. You see it in closed casting decisions and in manipulation of artists as some administrators/board members try to place their footprint on the organization. This whole thing is just so sad and anger doesn't even come close to salving that sorrow.

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  23. Suzanne's letter clearly authored by Matt "actors are just children" Flynn. Sad,is right.

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  24. Perhaps the time has come for AGMA to stop leaving Skylight alone.

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  25. This really saddens me.

    The decisions of a few "people" (I use that term very lightly) have destroyed the lives of many who have made the Skylight Opera Theatre their home by working way above and beyond the call of duty for YEARS. I have not designed at the Skylight for about 8 years because of a different career path, however if I were still deisgning I would flat out turn down any offer of work at the Skylight. The current administration's lack of respect and innapropriate professional behavior is sickening. I really wonder how Mr. Dillner & Ms. Hefty are sleeping these days. After shootiung themselves in the foot, they seem clearly intent on committing full-on suicide.....and without dignity, I might add.

    A definition of skylight = a window in a roof that allows natural light to illuminate a room.

    Sad to say, but The Skylight Opera Theatre no longer illuminates. The current administration has taken the Milwaukee theater scene to the deepest, darkest, dankest depths.

    I'm glad to see the solidarity of many performers and artists that I have worked with in the past and it is still worth a fight to save the Skylight. If I still lived there, I would be standing beside you.

    You CAN and SHOULD fight to redeem the Skylight and bring back the luster to the Third Ward.

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  26. This just occurred to me: If you can't handle a couple of chorus boys talkin' smack about you, you've got no business trying to run a music theatre (or opera) company.

    Nothing against Bryce or Jon, who I'm sure are throughtful guys, but who gives a shit what they think? This just smacks of petty vindictiveness.

    Welcome to the big city Dilly, you do stupid shit and people are going to call you on it. Can't take it? Get the hell out.

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  27. two words: cluster fuck. or is it one word: clusterfuck. either way, this entire debacle is ridiculous...and shameful.

    and a clusterfuck/cluster fuck.

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  28. revolution!!! let's see how eric and the board can manage the theater all by their lonesome. i agree with jamie - united you can effect change.

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