the skylight: random thoughts on where we go from here
tuesdays commenters have raised more than a few important questions about the future of the skylight opera theatre, and one commenter alone asked three of the questions that seem most on the minds of skylight watchers. interim artistic director colin cabot agreed to address those concerns:
colin cabot: Here are my answers to your [reader's] questions. These answers haven't been vetted by Joan [Lounsbery] or Bill [Theisen] nor have I run them past anyone on the staff or on the board. I've been back at the Skylight for 23 hours and haven't had time to process them through conventional channels. So please remember these are my personal responses and do not represent any kind of official statement on behalf of the Skylight.
question: If the Skylight doesn't honor the contracts of the replacement artists, they are just as guilty as the man they have ousted. The Skylight Family claims to be about the artform and the artists...what about the artists that are now out of a job because you have decided that it is okay to return?
colin cabot: I spoke with the three artists (and their agents) who had signed contracts for The Barber of Seville. Each of them has what's known as a "pay or play" clause in their contracts which we mutually agreed will be honored in full.
I had hoped to send out payments this week to these three artists, but it turns out that it isn't practical to expect that [interim board president] Terry Kurtenbach and I will be able complete new signature cards on the Skylight's accounts until Monday. So the payments will go out next week.
I don't feel it's appropriate to talk about the amounts in the contracts. Suffice it to say that they were not huge sums of money by any stretch of the imagination. Having been away from the numbers for twelve years, I am sorry to report that the artists continue to be underpaid for their efforts and their talents. I talked with all three of the artists about working at the Skylight in the future and they all expressed interest in doing so. I have memorialized my conversations in a file that will be available to the next person whose jobs is to staff and cast the Skylight's productions. (To be honest, I haven't yet asked if there were contracts issued for shows later in the season; one day at a time...)
question: Since the creation of the Cabot Theater the vision has been decidedly different than what was being produced in the old space on Cathedral Square, understandably so, because of the financial obligations that came along with the new theater. There was no more baroque opera, or very little, and many more musicals, and a completely different managing team. But what exactly was the artistic vision before Eric?
colin cabot: In my opinion the artistic vision of the company didn't change when it moved from the tire recapping garage on Jefferson Street to the new theatre on Broadway, but the repertory selection did. Joan Lounsbery will a much better answer to this question because she was in charge at the time. But I remember serious discussions between board members and staff about the need to have several "blockbuster" seasons to make sure that the seats were filled in the first few years at the BTC.
This meant that shows like My Fair Lady and King and I replaced the more obscure musicals (the ones no one else would touch) that had been the Skylight's niche before the demise of Melody Top. I was concerned that the staples of American musical theatre could be pulled from availability by New York and national touring productions. And I was concerned that comparisons might be odious. I haven't seen the recent Skylight productions because I have been working on the farm in New Hampshire, so I won't express an opinion on their artistic merit.
As far as operas are concerned, it was clear that too much Handel produced by Chas Rader-Schieber was hurting season ticket sales. I was asked by Joan to write a Gilbert & Sullivan review to replace a proposed Handel opera that had been scheduled during a season that wasn't selling well. It was called Over the Moon With Gilbert & Sullivan and it went over like, well, a Handel opera. And it immediately preceded the tenure of Artistic Director Richard Carsey.
I think it is important to note that the repertory selection is driven, and appropriately so, by the person most responsible for choosing the repertory. Someone once said about my years at the Skylight that the repertory was as eclectic as I was. Better than being called quirky I suppose. I once proposed a season that included Shostakovich's The Nose, Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland, and Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream, and Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea. In retrospect I'm relieved we never attempted anything so difficult or risky.
question: I want to know--what is the new artistic vision now? I don't care who is in charge, either way, I want an answer to that question. I want to know what the artistic goal is and how it will be implemented. If Eric should have been expected to give a clear answer to that question--and I believe he should have been, so should the returning artists and Eric's successors.
colin cabot: I have, therefore, no vested interest in defining an artistic vision for the theatre going forward. I left the job years ago because I had had my crack at it and felt it was time for a fresh face to shape the theatre's direction. And I think that's true now, too. There's an opportunity for someone to come forward with a currently compelling vision who can convince the board and the staff and the patrons, and the donors (!) and the whole community to make the journey towards life-changing art together. Blessings on that person, and may they never suffer the slings and arrows of a social networking uprising!
I realize that asking for support without being able to articulate a current artistic vision is like sailing without a rudder. But I came back to try to right the Skylight's ship because of the tremendous outpouring of support for the Skylight legacy among its constituencies during the recent crisis. I feel that my job is to be the oil that calms the waters so that the ship's carpenters can rebuild the rudder so that when the wind picks up again the crew will be able to steer it in whatever direction they think it should go.
Somehow I'm confident that support for new and interesting artistic endeavors will be drawn to the theatre as it has been in the past by the force of someone's aspirations.