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the number of skylight opera theatre artists who have withdrawn from the 50th anniversary season now stands at 26.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


  1. Perhaps the new greeting among theatre folk should be: "Heil Hefty!"

  2. Don't forget Gary Briggle and John Muriello!

  3. and this is in addition to the original 5 people who were axed that led to what i am now referring to as the "Skylight Debacle (of 2009)"?

  4. operalicia...

    i've only included folks who have forwarded their letters of resignation to me.

    i will happily add gary and john to the list.


  5. Looking like this was the plan from the start!

  6. Melanie SchuesslerJuly 21, 2009 at 7:41 PM

    Strini lists Ray Jivoff as well.

  7. Figaro & Barber have large casts. Any word from singers playing those roles? Figaro, Count, Countess, Bartolo, Berta, Almaviva, Basilio, Cuzio, Antonio, etc.

  8. What's the story on Ray? Is he staying on staff?


  9. Did you post Ray Jivoff's letter of resignation?

  10. I think most of the out of town Fig cast will probably still do the show. They all need the money, many of them have lost other contracts this year. The chorus of Figaro is more interesting, at the moment. Of the principals, I know Andy and Jason were definitely intending to honor their contracts, as of last week. No word from Katy or Gregory. And I don't remember who Basilio is. Bertha is Susan Yankee, Eric Dillner's wife. Ambrogio was Bryce Lord.

  11. Talked to Kurt Ollmann this evening and he was asked verbally to play the Count in Marriage of Figaro. However, he has not to date received a contract. So was not sure how to "quit," but he is not doing the show. Nor is Bill Lavonis (Basilio). Add two more to the "Count"

  12. So with Jenny's conversations, that's 19. I know of two more Barber ensemble who've said they're withdrawing, which would take it to 21.

    They'll need to update that "8" they're throwing around.

  13. I'm privy to at least one more contracted artist at the front end of the season who will be offering a letter of "no" tomorrow. By the light of day on Wednesday, it looks like the list will top 20.

  14. I don't think we should start naming people who haven't dropped out yet. This is no small thing to many artists who are either counting on the money as primary or extra income. Please don't make this harder on anyone than it already is.

  15. If I could ask Eric a question face to face, it would be this.......If this was all TRULY about finances, then with the happenings of the last 48 hous, and all the defections....Where is the money going to come from to replace all of these people?????? You have lost 4 out of 5 main stage directors....they lived in town, so no housing costs or per diem. You have lost designers, one of which, I know stays with someone locally, so again no housing costs. You have lost music direcotors, again who live here, so no housing costs. You have also lost countless performers, many, again who live here. Where is all the money going to come from for.....auditions, travel expenses to bring artists, designers, directors into town, and then housing of those people if they are hired? I hope you are going to take them out of your salary, or maybe from your new assistant's. It seems to me that this whole mess is creating more of a financial problem to the Skylight than it would have been to open the lines of communications with everyone in the organization to find a way to cut costs. Can you imagine what a morale boost it would have been for everyone involved and for the Skylight as a whole to try to find ways to cut costs together? I am so disheartened by all of this. I have been involved with they Skylight in numerous ways for about eleven years now, but I now feel that association coming to an end. I know, first hand, from a personal conversation with Eric in the last few weeks, that he, as Managing Director, if you can call him that, does not know what in the hell is going on in the organization he thinks he is managing.

    I think it is about time that Eric, Suzanne, and the Board of Directors take their heads out of the sand, or out of their backsides, and do what is right!

    J Darling :-)

  16. Hey To, could you please add the Jensens to the list? I consider them part of the family and an important part of EVERY production at the Skylight--so that's 5 more positions to fill (or ten if you count brownies as separate).

  17. Thanks Fletch for that reminder - the folks who are struggling with this decision because of financial, career or whatever reasons should be allowed to come to terms on their own time in their own way - we should not be about "outing" folks - but supporting them through a difficult decision -

  18. Someone needs to have a Richard Nixon moment with Eric Dilner... Someone Eric will listen to needs to meet with him and say it is time to resign. He cannot survive. The Skylight cannot survive with Eric at the helm. It simply cannot.

  19. as much as i adore carol and amy jensen -- and you know i do -- this list is meant to reflect folks contracted to perform in the upcoming season, who are giving up salaried positions, insurance weeks, desperately needed income, and who will need to be replaced by dillner, et. al.

    for that same reason, i'm taking our dear tommy lueck's name off this list, as his position was on an advisory basis.

    besides carol and amy jensen are irreplaceable.

    (and maybe we need to start a new list? an addendum to this on?)

  20. It breaks my heart to see this happening. I have such great respect for so many on this list, and for most of you, Skylight was a playground, a training ground, a laboratory, a home and a haven.

    You know, it wouldn't take much to put together a concert version of Figaro in the coming year. Perhaps some of artists withdrawing from the Skylight production would come to town to sing a one or two night gig. Do it with two pianos, or a small volunteer ensemble. Donate the proceeds to charity, pay the artists a small stipend from the proceeds, but give Milwaukee a taste of the Figaro that might have been. Just an idea.

    J. Michael Brenan

  21. I have to say that I've only seen support here for one another. It has been mentioned multiple times that those artists who need to perform with the Skylight for financial reasons will not be disparaged. Also, I have not seen anyone named who has yet to withdraw from a Skylight production. Tony has been very clear in his request for resignation letters to be sent to him prior to his printing those who've withdrawn.

    Correct me if I've missed something here but I don't see anyone having been "outed" or disregarded.

    In fact, this group seems to be as supportive of one another as any I've seen. Kudos to y'all!

  22. "At one time artists acted dumb. They put their noses in the air and said, 'My work speaks for itself'. Now artists are articulate. They talk about their intentions, their way of working, their challenges, their dreams. And at great length. The work itself becomes a footnote." - K. G. Subramanyan

  23. DONE! check out that list now.

  24. Tony: You may want to add Konrad and his partner to the list of volunteers/donors that have pulled out.

  25. Let's not forget Eric will now need a new Box Office Mgr to handle all the ticket returns. A new Company Mgr. to handle all the flights, lodging, contracts, etc....... for all he new people.

  26. Per facebook...

    "Eric Nelson has withdrawn from his contract for [Barber of Seville] at The Skylight. I have stayed very quiet but the firing of two men who I look up to as performers was the last I could take...I am truly saddened at all of this...."

  27. Add my name to the list of singers willing to come in for free to sing Bill's Figaro sometime this year. Diane, Jenny, Jamie, Kurt? Who's with me?
    Alicia Berneche

  28. Also, now you can add Eric Nelson to the ranks of performers who have pulled out of the Barber chorus.

  29. Is it possible the money for the Artistic Director position might be available after all?

  30. Re: video of the day: subtlety, thy name is Clements.

  31. I have been following the Skylight debacle with great interest, even though I am not an artist and really have no connection to them. The 08-09 season I had 4 season tickets, and had already renewed the 4 tickets for the 09-10 season.

    What is the best way for the community to support the artists and the former vision of the Skylight?

    I am torn as to whether I should try to receive a refund for my 09-10 tickets or whether I should continue to support the artists who will work there. I know for sure that if Dillner is still around I will not renew for 10-11.

    Right now, is it more beneficial for me to try to unsubscribe or not? Thanks!

  32. I work in the Broadway Theatre Center, and in late June, Skylight Marketing Director Kristin Godfrey reported to me (and others who were present) that she had given full refunds, without question, to (at the time) 13 subscribers who were angry about Bill's dismissal. I don't think it would be difficult for you to get a refund, and you can always change your mind and buy single tickets later in the season.

  33. If 13 subscribers wanted refunds at the end of June, imagine how many requests for refunds have come in since. I personally know of several. And yet, Eric's reports to the board and press continue to state that this is NOT effecting ticket sales or donations. How can that be true?

  34. Dear Skylight Staff:

    Here are some updates on recent events and a few notes on our plans moving forward:

    Staff Meetings

    Beginning Wednesday, July 29 at 9:30am we will be holding bi-weekly full staff meetings. The first 15 minutes of each meeting will be a general update from me and other members of the staff. We will then have full group and/or break-out sessions to address current projects. These meetings will take place in the Bar and will be put on the BTC calendar with invites sent via Outlook to all staff. We will hold meetings on July 29, August 5, 19, September 2 etc…

    The topic for Wednesday, July 29 will be the season kick-off Open House event (scheduled for early September). The Audience Development Committee will be meeting on July 24 to finalize the event outline; we will need input from all staff regarding details, scheduling, etc. Please bring your creativity and your thinking caps!


    With the June restructuring, we have worked to realign our staffing structure make sure that all of the Skylight and Broadway Theatre Center programs, productions, projects and other efforts are being well managed.

    Jen Stanislowski has accepted the hourly role of Box Office Supervisor

    Julian Sales has accepted the hourly role of Box Office Supervisor

    Renae Bastar will be moving into an hourly Weekend Box Office Supervisor role

    Gary Ellis is now officially the Audio Visual Supervisor and IT Manager

    Mark Turner has a new title to reflect his responsibilities to the BTC facility: Production and Facilities Director

    Lisa Schlenker is now our Properties Director and Assistant Director of Facilities

    Noel Henebury-Farmer has taken on some artistic management, resident artist and staff coordination as our Company Administrator

    Sarah Reddin is applying her donor relations experience to our company outreach efforts as our Community Relations Director

    Since Bill Theisen’s resignation, we have heard from artists who do not wish to participate in the upcoming season. Some weeks ago, as we were awaiting Bill’s decision, I contemplated the course of action should he not agree to direct this season. I had also thought through the possibility of some artists following his lead and prepared for such a scenario. I have contacted several extraordinarily talented artists to carry on Skylight’s historically exceptional productions and will continue to do so as needed. As we have learned, word travels fast. This week, we have been receiving phone calls from artists (and their agents) interested in taking part in our productions. Noel is setting up auditions at the Skylight for the numerous local artists who have contacted us asking for the opportunity to audition for future productions. Thank you all who shared your suggestions as well!

    Thank you for all that you have been doing over the past month to help ensure the Skylight’s success. Though we certainly have a great deal to do over the coming weeks, I feel that many people in our beloved Milwaukee community (Board, patrons, donors, artists, civic leaders, other arts groups, etc.) will continue to be supportive.


    Eric Dillner

    Managing Director

    The Skylight

    "Make Your Night Sing"

    158 N. Broadway

    Milwaukee, WI 53202

    414-291-7811 ext. 221

    414-291-7815 Fax

  35. Is the comment above real???? As in from Eric to his remaining staff? Yes, I would love to be in the room when they brainstorm about the season kick-off open house event.
    Perhaps that would be a good evening for an outdoor accapella chorus concert in the park south of the Theatre to kick off the "artists formerly known as Skylight" fund raiser.

  36. I hear there is a spin off of Herman the Horse. They might kick it off that night. It's called Eric the Horse's Ass.

  37. Eric's got Greg Jennings on call to direct, so no problems.

  38. What many may not realize is that Skylight staffers ALWAYS took on double and sometimes triple duties!!!! Good god, when the toilet overflowed in the bar restrooms, I took care of it. When the friggin' Salon was becoming a swimming pool because of the leaky roof, my staff and I were in there with buckets, towels, etc to clean up. So I'm sorry, but Eric really needs to quit acting like this is some new phenomena at Skylight.


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