Friday, August 7, 2009

keep moving on: the skylight board

the skylight: random thoughts on where we go from here.

taking a cue from eric dillner

it's been suggested that the first protest outside the broadway theatre center when 70-80 or so people were milling around with donuts, coffee and bagels...if eric dillner had invited folks into the cabot theater to talk about what had happened, angry as they were, scary and uncomfortable as it might have been, it might have changed the tenor (no pun intended) of the whole debate. much of the initial anger might have dissipated, and the community might have been more willing to give dillner a chance. maybe not. if nothing else, it would have started a dialogue.

what happened that day instead? eric dillner, feeling incredibly uncomfortable and threatened, rushed by those folks standing outside the theater and said, "talk to the board."

good advice, i'd say. let's talk to the board.

talking to the board

hello board.

how are you?

who are you?

we've heard from some of you, but there are others who have chosen to remain fairly silent throughout most of this. publicly, at least. and for varying reasons, i'm sure.

to her immense credit, board member tessa bartels has taken on the task of artist outreach with a fervor -- bringing artists and skylight board members together in forums to discuss not only what happened, but the way forward. the response has been incredibly encouraging. i think those board members who have attended would say the same.

we've talked about a few of the things the artists are doing to move forward. forgive me, but i am going to be so bold as to offer a few suggestions for the skylight board of directors. these are not fundraising ideas, nor are they thoughts on the company model in the future. they're ideas about how to get to know the artists, the art, and the skylight, a little better. something i think could have helped in the past.

"what should the skylight board do now?"

here's what i would challenge every skylight opera theatre board member to do:

1) attend one or more of tessa bartels' artist forums. engage in discussion with the folks there. believe me, they wanna talk to you. thanks, by the way, to byron foster, susan godfrey, john flanagan, diane weaver, storm elser and john shannon (board of advocates) all of whom have attended. where's matt flynn? where's vince shiely? where's howard miller? those artists wanna talk with you fellas too.

2) arrange to sit in on a couple of rehearsals of a future skylight show. barber of seville starts rehearsal in less than three weeks. give bill theisen a call and schedule a visit. how many of you have ever been in a rehearsal hall to see what goes on there?

3) visit the skylight shops. the scene shop, the prop shop, the costume shop. talk to barry link, lisa schlenker, and rob wagner about their jobs, what they do, and why it's unique. i know them all, and i bet they'd be happy to show you around.

4) last, but not least, read this: the 30 years war? a brief and subjective history of the skylight. it was written by a man i was surprised, no shocked to hear some of you didn't know before this whole saga began: colin cabot.

my dramatic, overblown reaction to that news was delivered via skype to a roomful of people and was, i'm sure, garbled and confusing as i foolishly ranted and raved about anyone who makes major decisions for the skylight actually saying "who is this colin cabot, anyway?"

i mean, outside of the fact that his name is on the theater, he used to scrub the toilets when he was in charge, and he knows more about the company on whose board you sit than all of us put together, why would you know who he is? i don't mean that to be snippy, it's just true. for instance, ask the box office folks who mildred lindsay was and they'll tell you, 'cause colin told them (the btc box office is named for her. it's a great story.)

besides all that, colin's about to write the first chapter on the company's next 30 50 years.

now would be a great time to get to know him.


  1. If you have not heard, at this morning's meeting in Catalano Park Colin Cabot appeared with several board members and invited us to use the Skylight Bar for the next Friday meeting of the Arts Advocates. The good vibes are flowing again. I will not be able to be at that meeting, but plan to continue to be at as many as I can in the future. We need the input of all arts individuals and groups, patrons, audience members, of all ages. There are interesting plans being put forward. Please come, listen and put in your two cents. Let's keep the dialogue going.

  2. Smart, smart, smart. From your lips(fingers) to the board's ears(eyes).

  3. Dawna Ellis (Gregory)August 7, 2009 at 5:18 PM

    Ditto to waht Chris K. had to say. Let's hope those ears are listening!

  4. Thank you, Tony, for your words about Colin Cabot. It is hard to comprehend how the current board could not know who he is and what he has done in Milwaukee. He's only been away 12 years, not long enough by far to extinguish his familiarity with Milwaukeeans. And as for the board, as long as they persist in feeling that artists are a "mob", and put themselves on higher moral ground, they (and I don't mean the entire board, just the dissenters) will not engage in a dialog. Why? It is beneath them as professionals who know how to run businesses and litigate. Until they realize that actors are professionals as well, they will need, for their egos, to see them as renegades and not worthy. Just my opinion.

  5. ps Tony..I have been there too, advocating and listening. Fighting, as you know. With productive results. Just sayin'. And bravo for everyone keeping talking. Meanwhile, we are working hard to correct a $150,000 shortfall in subscription sales. Buy, and tell your friends!
    Katie, BOA

  6. Because I don't want the following remarks to be misconstrued as referring to any of my former employers, I prefer to remain anonymous.
    It seems to me that the prevailing corporate credo in our country might be summed up as follows:
    - Employees are interchangeable and expendable.
    - Management and employees are natural adversaries.
    - Management is not obliged to share information with employees.
    - Employees who publicly question or protest management's decisions may be subject to discipline including termination.
    I believe this model is extremely destructive to both morale and economy. The Skylight has a remarkable opportunity to create a different model, in which management and employees are not enemies but colleagues, striving to achieve a mutual goal of excellence, with openness and honesty on both sides. Let's all hope they don't screw it up.

  7. Ah, Tony. Once again I love reading your thoughts. It is unfathomable to me that any board member of any organization anywhere could accept that position and not know the history of the company they have been charged with running/advising. Truly ridiculous. Anytime an artist is given his job he does his homework. He reads source material, he does research into character, he probably even reads up on the original production, the creators, etc... I am not laying the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of the board, but an uninformed board is usually not a caring board. Thank you for calling them out by name. Let's keep the heat on!

    And thanks for the chat with Colin. Further proof that he is the right man for this job, right now!!!!!


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