Wednesday, August 5, 2009

dillner resigns from skylight post
cabot/lounsbery brought in as interim ad/md

(updated 8/5/09 9:40 p.m. est)

eric dillner
has resigned as managing director of milwaukee's skylight opera theatre, it was announced at a 3 p.m. meeting of the full skylight staff. the news was delivered by interim board president terry kurtenbach, and an announcement to the skylight board of directors followed shortly thereafter.

joan lounsbery will return to milwaukee from her home in santa rosa, california to assume the role of interim managing director, and colin cabot, also a former managing and artistic director of the company, will return as interim artistic director.

bill theisen, the artistic director who's position was eliminated on june 16 – an event that became the catalyst for weeks of angst, frustration, protests, and national publicity – will resume his duties as director of four shows he was previously under contract for: barber of seville, plaid tidings, marriage of figaro, and the long and the short of it, for which cabot and his wife, actress/singer paula cabot have agreed to return to perform in.

UPDATE 8:25 p.m. – joan lounsbery has released the following statement about the developments in milwaukee, and her return to the company on august 24th:
"I am honored that the Skylight's Board of Directors has invited me to return to Milwaukee to serve as Interim Managing Director. I am especially pleased to be working alongside Colin Cabot in his role as Interim Artistic Director.

I have every intention of doing my part to quickly restore the Company to its position of national prominence and to work with the board, the staff, the artists, the subscriber and donor community, the press and the public at large to ensure a stellar 50th anniversary season. I can't wait!"
UPDATE 9:40 p.m.tom strini reports that skylight marketing director kristin godfrey has said all performers who had been fired by dillner or quit their roles would be restored.

the full skylight press release:
Managing Director Eric Dillner Resigns

Milwaukee, WI, (August 5, 2009) - Interim Board President Terry Kurtenbach today regretfully announced the resignation of Skylight Opera Theatre Managing Director Eric Dillner. Dillner said, "I had to make many difficult decisions to streamline the company and it is now best for me to step aside and let someone else carry it forward."

"The decisions to lay off several valued employees, eliminate positions through attrition, reduce artist fees and ask staff to take furloughs, though unpopular, were necessary in order to address the Skylight's budget gaps and help secure its viability in the future," said Kurtenbach. "Eric is a strong manager willing to make difficult decision with professionalism, honesty and integrity. The Board of Directors and I appreciate Eric's service to the Skylight during the challenging times brought on by the national economic crisis. We thank him for his commitment to the Skylight and wish him the best."

"During the current difficult economic climate, many performing arts organizations have faced staff reductions," said Dillner. "As the economy took its toll on the Skylight's fortunes, the Executive Committee and I made these extremely difficult decisions in order to preserve the financial viability of this extraordinary company."

Eric Dillner, a professional artist in his own right, came to the Skylight from the Shreveport Opera, where he successfully weathered 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina during his seven-year tenure. He has devoted the last decade to building companies, audiences and artists' careers. He will continue consulting with the Skylight, but will engage in other pursuits to build and develop artists, nonprofit companies and build future audiences. He plans also to further develop topic-based outreach programs such as "Herman the Horse: a Healthy Tail" and "Why Dinosaurs Don't Smoke".

"I wish the Skylight the best in all its future endeavors and leave it in the hands of a capable staff, and fiscally responsible and caring Board of Directors. It is an amicable departure." Dillner added, "I am thankful for the support I have received here in Milwaukee and from around the globe."

The Board of Directors plans to explore a full range of options as it considers Dillner's successor. Two Skylight alumni, Joan Lounsbery and Colin Cabot, have graciously offered to help manage the company in the interim until a replacement can be identified.

The Skylight will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary Season in 2009-2010. The season will open on September 18th with a beloved opera The Barber of Seville, sung in English, as is all work at Skylight Opera Theatre. The season includes an exciting line-up of shows featuring the full range of music theatre for which the Skylight is known. The season, produced at the Broadway Theatre Center, will also include Plaid Tidings, The Marriage of Figaro, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, and RENT. Enthusiasm for this season continues to be high.

72 comments:

  1. TONY, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR EVERYTHING YOU HAVE DONE TO HELP MAKE THIS A REALITY. I AM GOING TO BE TYPING IN ALL CAPS FOR DAYS!!

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  2. Wow. You guys are good. The power of peaceful, consistent protest. I'm proud of all of you!

    XOX,
    Joanie

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  3. Suddenly I want to channel Mick Jagger & David Bowie doing DANCING IN THE STREET (I should probably channel Martha & the Vandellas but I remember the Jagger/Bowie video more vividly).

    (Hmm, Tony, maybe that should be your video of the day??)

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  4. Thank you for everything. Exciting day!

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  5. Time to get to work. There's a lot to be undone.

    But please no Jagger/Bowie. That was awful.

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  6. You guys rock. Congratulations. I applaud your persistence and your grace throughout this whole big mess.

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  8. Such a great step forward for the company. However, I do have some questions...

    Will the 'replacement' casts, directors and designers perform their newly contracted duties or will the original production teams and performers be back in? From what I understand, some directors, designers, etc, were already brought in, particularly for Barber of Seville... What happens to their more recently established contracts? Will other positions be reinstated, such as company manager, music director?

    Very exciting news, I'm interested in what the future brings...

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  9. If Dillner actually did cast replacement actors under contract....

    It will be interesting to see if Colin, Bill & the other directors are able to retain the original casting/offers. I hope everyone can return to the shows in their original forms.

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  10. And how exactly is Dillner going to be a 'consultant'? Again, kind of vague language they've given the public. I hate to be 'that' person, but given what we've been handed since June 16th, I don't think questioning this is out of line.

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  11. C'mon Donia, let us be happy for one night!!
    Join me for drinks in Catalano Square tonight. Invite friends!!

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  12. YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YAY AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YAY AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DID I SAY "YAY"?????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  13. ok, anon, let's know who you are!

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  14. It's great news - a huge opportunity - a time to rejoice - and much heavy lifting awaits.
    Colin and Joan have thier work cut out for them.
    Hopefully this "resurrection" will elicit a huge outpouring of suppport and good will.

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  15. Wonderful news. Looking forward to a truly festive 50th season and many more. Love you all.

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  16. And rejoicing spread throughout the land and there was music!

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  17. wow. I didn't think it would happen.

    As fletcher said, there is a lot of work to be done. I look forward to the opportunity to help the Skylight community.

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  18. now it can be toldAugust 5, 2009 at 8:43 PM

    Just want everyone to know that without Tony, and without all of you who wrote so articulately and passionately about the Skylight, this never would have happened. Your generosity of spirit, your willingness to do the difficult thing, your wisdom, your artistry, all of this has brought about this immense change, and you are to be thanked and thanked and thanked again.

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  19. Alright, who's up for singing for free at the first fundraiser?

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  20. Wow. I mean, wow. I knew I woke up happy for a reason. Season of love can begin anew!
    Wow. I have new hope for the power of a principled few.

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  21. From your colleagues in Madison -- this is fabulous news, and we SO appreciate begin kept in the loop by Tony. BIG thanks to Diane for posting on FB. Best wishes to all of you as you move forward!

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  22. A cog in the machineAugust 5, 2009 at 9:05 PM

    A clarification: The staff meeting was held at 2:30, not 3:00. The board was informed at a 4:00 meeting, and the information was made public at 5:00. This was an intentional timetable set by the board to show their support of the staff and convey their respect for the hard work of all staff members given recent events.

    As far as the staff has been told, all contracts issued on or before June 16th will be honored. Individuals contracted as replacements after that date will be asked to forfeit those contracts; the specific details of those forfeitures will be clarified as soon as possible (translation: We were not told if any of the involved parties will be receiving severance packages).

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  23. great work all, especially Tony for keeping the word out there and all for the collabortive spirit - now lets keep working and do all we can to get everything back in place - appy to look at those Box Office ishsues!

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  24. Congratulations on your work Tony. Really appreciate checking in with you and following Milwaukee's news.

    I bumped into Paul Newman quite a while back on my last time in NYC. It was at a performance of the play 'SKYLIGHT'. hmmm

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  25. This is great. That Joan and Colin are willing to come in to help says so much about what the Skylight means to everyone who loves it.

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  26. Does this mean Jamie Johns has a job again? Who will music direct the upcoming season's shows?

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  27. he was a lame duck and you are still piling on. bad karma guys.

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  28. I would like to offer my thanks, Tony, to you. You have been THE source for consistent and truthful information amidst all of this debacle. I honestly think that without you and the passion that you brought, this decision would not have been reversed. Your blog and the passion of the artist community of Milwaukee are much to be thanked. The integrity with which you approached every aspect of this has been fantastic.

    On behalf of the Skylight family, I offer my heartfelt love and admiration.

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  29. Tyne, Mike, Teddy, Liz, and ChrisAugust 5, 2009 at 10:05 PM

    You all positively rock! Congratulations! Well done!

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  30. As an old lady who has kept informed of the Skylight debacle, I think the right decision has been made and I hope that all of you singers (some of whom I hired way back in Madison) will now stand behind what is a really fine organization. I think that Joan is a fabulous choice; she was a colleague of mine before she left for CA and she's dynamite. I'm sure many of you know her from her previous work with Skylight. Anyway, good luck to all of you and celebrate the 50th in the manner in which it should be celebrated - with the usual high Skylight standards........Ann Stanke

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  31. Now Skylight will always be a regional house.

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  32. huzzah!!! online all day and i just NOW see this (via Strini and not Tony). wow...i feel tingly all over. i arrive in Milwaukee by August 30th. how things change. HUZZAH!! (is that corny? too Civil War-sh?) who cares. HUZZAH!

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  33. This is a huge step towards positive arts advocacy in this country. Finally, an arts organization adversly affected by the recession that realized (if a little late), that it can't make art without artists. Now we need to find a way to parley this into a national agenda: Artists matter! Arts organizations are not strictly businesses! They exist to make art, not money!

    Time to buckle down and make some art.

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  34. I am overjoyed. Just rejoiced with Niffer via phone. In my heart of hearts a voice kept saying "This isn't over". I am thrilled for the outcome.

    And many, many thanks to you, Tony, for being so fair, so thorough, so devoted. You have been an invaluable source of coverage (and humor). I'm off to Paypal right now, with my gratitude!!!!! (anybody else who feels the urge, support our favorite blogger!!)

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  35. Best news in a very long time. Thanks for all you've done, Tony - you're our hero!
    NOW is the time, btw, for the rest of the "Barry's Emmy" videos to be posted!

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  36. Good news for everyone involved. Thanks Tony for keeping on top of it.

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  37. OK, not that I'm trying to pile on or anything, but doesn't it seem like there should be some resignations among the board members as well? Like, oh, maybe 16 or so?
    Finally, I hope Lili is now invited back on the board!

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  38. Ditto, to what Richard said, Tony. Brilliant. Let us all rejoice.

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  39. Richard said it so eloguently, Tony... and I share his sentiments wholeheartedly. Thank you from the bottom of all of our hearts. We love you... a lot!

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  40. Tony, you've always been fair-minded and from the bottom of my heart I thank you. I am so happy about this outcome. Thanks again to all of you for all you've done. Now there's more to do. Let's work together again and git it done!

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  41. I hope and pray that none of you get your contracts honored, though doubt that will be the case. I sure hope no management decisions are ever required again without express written consent of the hired help.... This is the end of the Skylight.... It all goes down hill from here.

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  42. Hey, Anonymous @ 12:51- Bitter much?

    HA HA!

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  43. Wow. During the July 24th Artists forum, Terry Kurtenbach spoke of gracious "winners and losers". While I'm not convinced that anyone has "won" anything here, it sounds like there's still need for that idea to go around.

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  44. Tony, your work in this has been wonderful...thank you so much!

    Anonymous, I presume you're one of the weird board members and I truly hope you resign immediately...haven't you figured out you're on the wrong side of the coin?

    Colin, I'm so glad you're coming back! My only regret now is that we no longer live in Milwaukee...

    Marianne Abrahamson

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  45. Anon @ 12:51:
    Now, Eric, no time to be bitter; you'll get another job some where.

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  46. Anon at 12:51--

    We understand that not everyone feels as we do about this situation. However there's a big difference between the artists being outraged, concerned and alarmed about the future of the Skylight, and feeling entitled in some way to run the company. We don't feel entitled. We did feel protective. The Skylight as an organization has worked very very hard over the years to win the affection and dedication of artists, donors and subscribers. We can't be expected to not care just when it's convenient for the company and not to speak out when we feel the company is in trouble.

    It's hard to deny that this will end up being a positive change for the Skylight in leaving this mess behind. I'm sorry you're so resentful about those who felt so strongly that they were willing to lose money by withdrawing from shows to make a point.

    I'm assuming you made a big donation to the Skylight to keep it going when this change was initially made? I hope it was at least equal to the amount of money it would have taken to replace one of the artists who withdrew. If so, you can do as we did, and withdraw your support to make your point.

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  47. Well, you've all succesfully taken back the ball. Good for you. Mr. Dillner did not do a very good job, to say the least. However, how is the Skylight ever going to attract a management team of any caliber when the chorus is directing the show? And now talk of forfeiting contracts. Who will be asked to forfeit? Certainly not current members of the club. If anyone is asked to forfeit a contract to reinstate someone who resigned, for whatever reason, many artists will think twice before even bothering to audition. And what happens when someone says they won't forfeit? Mr. Dillner was voted out because he made a mess. Don't make another one.

    Signed - Anonymous-Watching-from-Afar

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  48. Thank you Tony for keeping us informed! We are relieved with the positive outcome.
    I have to say that as my daughter and I followed this scenerio, it has taught her a lesson that you never give up, stand up for what you believe in and have a passion for!!
    Thank you! See you at the performances!

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  49. I feel some sympathy, even sorrow, for Eric Dillner. I'm sure he didn't wake up every morning rubbing his hands together and muttering, "How can I be EVIL today? BWOO-HA-HA!" And to see yourself vilified, on blogs and in the press (local and national) would be a very hard thing, indeed. So now he's an opera/theatre manager whom nobody in their right mind would hire to manage a company - even if he was an ace managing director his hiring would be a PR nightmare. He can hardly return to a career on stage, sharing space with performers who'll have heard about the anti-artist ogre from Milwaukee. What is he supposed to do now?

    I'm not saying that he's innocent in the debacle or that he ought not have resigned. The Skylight is well shot of him. But it must be a lonely place to be right now.

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  50. Mrs. Basil ThompsonAugust 6, 2009 at 10:25 AM

    Bravo to all of you! I'm glad to see that Milwaukee does, in fact, value it's artists and it's artistic directors. Too often I've seen directors "let go to pursue other interests." I congradulate all of you, including the board for making a wise decision. What a treat to have Colin and Paula Cabot return. Milwaukee is very lucky to have all of you. Bravo!
    Mrs. Basil Thompson

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  51. I knew there was a reason I hadn't asked for a refund for my 4 season tickets yet (though I was going to by the end of the week if this hadn't happened).

    I can't wait for the season to begin!

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  52. I continue to revel in the news from Milwaukee. The rarity of this reversal, and Mr. Dillner's resignation, are stunning. The effort from the Artisitic community to force this reversal/resignation: priceless. The lesson learned for other arts organizations: Arts organizations need Artists at the top of the food chain. Managing Directors/Board of Directors do not provide the artistic vision, they SUPPORT said vision. This board allowed Mr. Dillner to hang himself (professionally), and the Skylight season. Anyone who worries he won't be able to ruin another arts organization elsewhere is naive. He'll turn up somewhere - hired by another board who think they can do a better job than their A.D. !
    As for the Skylight Board, i hope the events of the last several months will energize their efforts to support the interim Artistic and Managing Director.
    There is such hard work ahead for the entire community. I wish all the best for the Skylight Opera Theatre, it's Board, and the artists lucky enough to grace that stage.

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  53. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

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  54. FYI: the Skylight Theater is lucky. read this (in case you didn't already know): http://www.madisonrep.org/letter/letter.html

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  55. WOW...Thanks, Tony, for all of your dedication and articulate reporting! WHAT a relief! Lots to do now.

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  56. Come in, Tilie.... (it's) OVER ! ! ! ! !

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  57. I can't help but laugh at the irony of a couple of "anonymous" people coming in here and saying things like "Now it will Always be a regional theatre" and "Now you'll never attract high quality talent" and "Now the chorus is running the show and not those in charge". Although it smacks of "Now I'll never be a teen model"... and that makes me laugh, I soberly realize that All those sentiments and erroneous objectives were WHAT CAUSE THIS WHOLE MESS TO BEGIN WITH. I repeat.. every single one of those sentiments above.. WERE the impetus, the attitude and the error in thinking that created ALL of the problems. The whole reason that it created such a backlash is that MORE people in Milwaulkee, working in the Skylight and buying tickets, preferred a regional, family, highly creative, quality oriented, original safe haven for artists. A place where people did NOT feel like hired help, a place where artists can feel comfortable enough to grow and turn in the performance of a lifetime, a place to experiment, soar, feel artistic freedom and to celebrate and SHARE that with the audience.

    That IS what made Skylight so great, from what my friends tell me. From everything that I've read, heard and gathered, this is what the wrecking ball was once pointed at.

    Obviously, there was some idea in place to change that.. and it was just thwarted. Those who believed that what they were doing was "improving" the Skylight.. were blind to, but experienced that what they were doing was ruining it.

    Its SO obvious reading the comments that there were people in place (and possibly still in place now) who had in mind a colder, more "professional - corporate" idea of the Skylight and who did not realize that it never was meant to be that. That it didn't grow to what it is today to become that, it wasn't headed there and didn't get to be what it is today because of that. It was meant to be a place of artists and real artistry, creativity and excellence and no amount of cruel arrogant corporate style managing can or will ever achieve that.

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  58. Maria makes an important point. I think the comments to which she refers exhibit a basic misunderstanding of what the Skylight is and should be. It's a 350-seat theatre on purpose. It wasn't supposed to be a platform for national prominence, but a unique and special thing. The people who designed it believed that the physical limitations of the Jefferson St. space, while too extreme, were an artistic challenge that inspired creativity. The Cabot Theatre and the rest of the facility present their own challenges. Is there any other place in the world where you can do what you can do at the Skylight? And I agree with, Richard. Tony, you should be very proud of your efforts.

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

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

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  61. Ooops - infectious. Now some moron gets to comment on spelling instead of content. And the first moron is . . .

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  62. Your blog is a lie. I will now make sure that everyone knows that you remove statements with which you don't agree. That is not what a blog is about. Tony, I can't beleive that you would do this. I will never be a part of your BS$$$ again. I am sure that this, too, will be "removed by the administrator" never to be seen.

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  63. anon...

    first of all, you don't get to tell me what my blog is about. my name is on it, my picture, and a statement that this is a blog of personal opinion. my personal opinion.

    i've encouraged anonymous commenting. i've said before, that in 2+ years of having this blog, i've removed two comments. tonight, i removed two more. and i'll be happy to keep removing, or to change the rules.


    it's pretty clear, right above the little window you wrote those things in, that i'll remove stuff i don't like, or that i find distasteful or abusive or inappropriate.

    there have been plenty, plenty of statements with which i don't agree. not agreeing with your two previous comments had nothing to do with removing them.

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  64. Best of luck. I hope you and Rush Limbaugh have a lovely life together. Don't bother responding because I will not look again. Perhaps nor will my friends. $$$$$

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  65. You remove items "that I don't like, or I find distasteful or abusive or inappropriate" so why do you allow comments at all? Why not just write an editorial? Oooops, I responded even though I said I wouldn't. I guess I can't shut up if I'm right.

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  66. anon! you are right!

    this is not meant to be bitchy, but i'm not sure what about "this is a blog of personal opinion" is confusing. it's on the front page of the blog, top and bottom.

    to me, that kinda says "editorial."

    i agree, a blog is sometimes a confusing mix of information and opinion. and blogs differ greatly. josh marshall's talking points memo began as a blog, but has evolved into an award winning site for in-depth journalism. andrew sullivan writes one of the most popular blogs online, and does not allow reader comments (he instead publishes selected reader emails, something i've considered doing here as well.)

    ultimately, i'm responsible for what's said on these pages, in these comments. i take that seriously.

    and, anon...i've allowed comments since the beginning of this blog. yours were numbers 3 and 4 that i removed. ever. the very first comment i ever removed, over a year ago, was about me specifically: hateful, mean. and gone. the second was recently, about eric dillner. again, hateful, out of line. gone.

    but plenty of folks seem to be able to contribute to a conversation, be part of a debate, even be critical, without resorting to personal attacks.

    there are lot's of places for name calling and angry rhetoric online. i decided early on that if my blog ended up being that, i would stop the comments altogether. i don't want to do that.

    i don't remove comments i don't agree with, or even comments that are even argumentative. i do remove comments that i consider abusive, or out of line. i personally thought your two earlier comments were. not in their entirety, mind you. but a couple of things in them.

    sorry you feel the way you do.

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  67. btw...

    that said, comment moderation is on, for the entire site, for the night. i'm tired and i'm going to bed. happy to continue this tomorrow.

    sleep well.

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  68. You were not around during the Lounsbery, Cabot, Francesca & Stephen, early Carsey, and blah blah blah years. All the people that have been crying over "our" Skylight have been passed over again and again for whatever current junta has been in place. The Skylight has not been a place for art, it is, in the worst sense of the word, a clique. Yes, the quality has been good, not great always, over the years but the performers that have been crying the loudest are the ones that have never made a living at being an artist at the Skylight or anywhere else. It is a community theater with a big budget. Dilner tried to make it more than that. His failure was because he fired a member of the circle and not because he elimiated a position to save money. The peasants stormed the Bastille and won. BTW, my earlier comments were removed because they may have been distasteful to you. They are, however, accurate. I was there, you were not. Post as you wish. This is, finally, my last missive to you. Blog your best bias so one can click on an ad.

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  69. here are the problems with your comments, anon.

    i was there.

    my first skylight show, el capitan, was in 1990. that was pre-carsey, pre-lounsbery. in fact, i was cast by stephen wadsworth and francesca zambello.

    and your earlier comments WERE NOT ACCURATE. one of the main reasons i removed them.

    if you're going to resort to petty name calling, and personal attacks, at least have the intestinal fortitude to put your own name on a blog, and do it in your own home. and get your facts straight.

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