Tom Strini

Skylight leadership firms up plans

By - Sep 28th, 2009 04:53 pm
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The Skylight's Cabot Theatre, from the stage

The Skylight’s Cabot Theatre, from the stage.

I’m feeling a lot better about the Skylight Opera Theatre, and not just because the company’s Barber of Seville is a great show and a big hit.

Joan Lounsbery, interim managing director, and Colin Cabot, interim artistic director, have already lured Amy Jensen, chief financial officer of the Milwaukee Symphony and a former Skylight hand, to return as managing director. Jensen’s appointment drew applause from the artistic community and by all accounts is a very capable administrator with a grasp of the special nature of the Skylight Opera Theatre.

I met with the three of them Saturday (Sept. 26) for a long conversation. Guess what? They expect to announce the appointment of an artistic director on Nov. 13, after the next meeting of the Skylight’s board of directors. Jensen will take over that same day, and Lounsbery will return to retirement in California.

You might recall that controversy flared up around the company in June, when former managing director Eric Dillner dismissed artistic director Bill Theisen on grounds of financial distress. The idea was to save money by making Dillner both business and artistic manager.

That made sense in theory but anyone who really understood the company knew that no one could handle both jobs.

“We all agree that the Skylight must have an artistic director who is an actual person, not half of someone’s job description,” Cabot said. “First, you need someone to represent the interests of the artists. Second, there’s just too much work to be done, and it requires tremendous amounts of time and tremendous specialized knowledge.”

“Planning a season is a mystical process,” Lounsbery said. “The artistic director is the only person with the vision to figure that out. I can come back and say this is too expensive or this won’t sell, but the artistic director has to form the vision.”

“Given the structure of the Skylight and the large number of performances, a lot has to happen,” Jensen said. “The managing director needs to focus on making it happen. The artistic director needs to be out there on a national level to bring in the talent. One person can’t fulfill both roles.”

If Theisen were returning, they probably would have said so. So, I’m assuming that Theisen, director of the current Barber and three other shows on a free-lance basis this season, won’t be back in his former, full-time capacity.

So, who will it be? That will be the next big issue in a backstage and boardroom soap opera that opened June 16.

The issue of A.D. vs. A.D./M.D. has been resolved, but the financial issues that led to personnel cuts in June have not. Skylight remains in a financial bind. The company’s Broadway Theatre Center, which opened 15 years ago, still needs pricey maintenance.

The good news, according to Cabot, is that friends of the company are putting up “a couple of hundred thousand” in challenge grants, so money is in the pipeline. The bad news:

“Our building is fully depreciated, and we didn’t account for depreciation 15 years ago,” Cabot said. “Now we have to.”

“You just have to find ways to squeeze every dime out of every dollar and stay true to what the Skylight does,” Jensen said. “What happens on stage is the last thing we can cut.”

“It’s practical to have two people running the company,” Cabot said. “It’s not practical to pay two people. That’s the nub of the problem.”

Lounsbery, always one with an eye for the bottom line, found it here: “Well,” she said, “you simply have to find the money.”

The Sky Is Not Falling: Tony Clements, the actor/singer/blogger who spent a good part of the summer chronicling the Skylight management meltdown, is co-producer with Niffer Clarke and Branch Woodman of a benefit program for the company in New York. Dozens of singers have volunteered to perform at St. Luke’s Theatre at 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5. Go here for further information, go here for tickets, and go here to contribute even if you can’t get to NYC for the show.

0 thoughts on “Skylight leadership firms up plans”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Can’t wait to see what the Skylight’s plans for artistic direction are…thanks for keeping us informed, Tom.

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