Jon Anne Willow
Skylight Opera

Dillner must go

By - Jul 22nd, 2009 10:47 am

broadwaytheatrecenterYesterday we (and others) published a list of those leaving the Skylight Opera in the wake of the current mess Eric Dillner and the Executive Committee have made of this once-vibrant cultural gem. But overnight the exodus continued. In fact, you’d about have to part the Red Sea to make it any more dramatic.

This has gone beyond the pale, and there’s only one possible solution (though it may be too late even now):

Mr. Dillner, you’ve got to go.

Don’t just resign, leave town. I doubt you’d be welcome back in Shreveport (the unexplained $30,000 transferred from a frozen account into the operating budget under your watch would be just one potential reason), but maybe there’s a community theater in the UP that would give you room and board if you ran the season out of the church basement and taught drama at the local high school to earn your keep.

No one person is worth the loss of so many. And it’s not about the money anymore, it’s about the process. It’s possible that “den moms” Carol and Amy Jenson summed it up best in a letter posted this mornig on Jonathan West’s blog:

In a meeting just last week with Mr. Dillner and Ms. Hefty, Amy tried to …  explain what it is that makes the Skylight so special. Mr. Dillner nodded reassuringly and said that it is the building that draws everyone together and that the “process” is still the same. Mr Dillner, it is neither the building nor the process that makes the Skylight special. It is the people. It was a wonderful family that came together in ways both great and small – onstage, offstage and in the audience – to passionately and collaboratively create, support and sustain the magic. Above all other responsibilities you may have, Mr. Dillner, it was your job to nuture that.

There may be a place for your approach, Mr. Dillner, a place that embraces your psuedo-businessman style. But it’s not here. You had your chance and you blew it. Begone!

By the numbers – the body count so far (as of 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday, July 22, 2009)

  • Bill Theisen – director of The Barber of Seville, Plaid Tidings, The Marriage of Figaro, and The Long and Short of It
  • Richard Carsey – music director of A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine
  • Pam Kriger – music director of A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine
  • Van Santvoord – set design of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro
  • Leslie Fitzwater – doing a free cabaret after a show
  • James Valcq – doing a free cabaret after a show
  • Jennifer Clark – playing Marcellina in The Marriage of Figaro
  • Alicia Berneche – playing Susanah in The Marriage of Figaro
  • Ray Jivoff – playing Harpo in A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine
  • Molly Rhode – actor, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine
  • Chase Stoeger – actor, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine
  • Diane Lane – playing Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro
  • Tommy Lueck – member, Skylight Education Advisory Board
  • Carol Greif Schuele – actor, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine
  • Nathan Wesselowski – playing Fiorello in The Barber of Seville
  • Colin and Paula Cabot – longtime Skylight performers and supporters
  • Rick Rasmussen – Set and costume designer
  • Kurt Ollman – playing The Count in The Barber of Seville
  • Carol and Amy Jensen – Skylight donors, supporters, and “den mothers”
  • Jon Stewart
  • Bryce Lord
  • Jamie Johns
  • Diana Alioto
  • Becky Spice
  • Robert Beal and two other staffers were among the early departed

Tony Clements at Tuesdays Blog is doing a great job of keeping up. Tell us if we’ve missed anyone and leave your comments below, especially if you have thoughts on how the Skylight could be saved at this point.

Categories: Theater

0 thoughts on “Skylight Opera: Dillner must go”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Gotta love Tony Clements choice of video pick of the day…Ray Charles and the Raylettes doing “Hit the Road Jack!”

  2. Anonymous says:

    James Valcq was also contracted to musical direct the holiday mainstage show. All in all, twenty-some people but nearly 40 positions that will need to be filled. If they fill them with out-of-towners, there will be an incredible expense involved in transporting and housing these people vs the lower cost of using the local family of performers–not to mention the hours of staff time spent scrambling to stop the blood loss.

  3. Anonymous says:

    You’re so right, Becky. Can you imagine trying to make the 50th season happen this way? I can’t.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The solution is really rather simple, in my outside eyes:
    1) The board members grow backbones.
    2) They remove Suzanne Hefty
    3) They remove Eric Dillner
    4) They grovel to the public and admit the terrible mistakes that were made.
    5) They bring back Bill Thiesen and give him full authority to run the company. Bookkeeping can be contracted out. Perhaps there is a retired accountant willing to do this for a year.
    6) Bill will be able to reform the company. The artists want this to work.
    7) The board capitalizes on the public attention and does a major appeal for funds.
    8) This is a spectacular 50th year.

    Really, the only hard part is step #1.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I was fired by Eric Dillner just a little over a year ago…he was barely in his new position for two months when he decided Skylight just didn’t need nearly $100K in revenue from the bar/events. Oops, his bad. But I digress. My point here is the slimey-ooze which has permeated the board of directors, a once proud bunch, now barely breathing or audible.

    After the shock of being fired had worn off, I contacted unemployment because I felt my dismissal was unjust. As I spoke with the unemployment office, I was informed that Suzanne Hefty had given them a statement. She said that she witnessed me sitting at my desk in my office (adjacent to the bar) during a very busy intermission. She told him that I sat there while customers waited in long lines that reached the entrance doors, leaving my poor two bartenders to fend for themselves.

    She even gave him an exact date when this occurred. Funny part is that this date was about a week after our FINAL show ended. I looked on my calendar, and sure enough, not only was there NO SHOW that evening, the bar was entirely closed. This is the hostile environment that is now running Skylight.

    Another point, when I was relieved of my duties, I had 5-6 bar staff, and not a single call was made to any of them to let them know what had happened, or IF they even had a job left. I took it upon myself to let them each know. Dillner DID manage to call a former bartender (older caucasian gentleman, go figure) asking if he would ‘advise’ them on what to do.

    Let’s put this in perspective: I made a little more than $26K annually, during shows I worked a paltry 60-70 hours per week. You do the math, because when I do, I cry.

    This Slash and Burn regime started a long time ago…

  6. Anonymous says:

    i’ve inquired on several sites as to why this non-profit’s financial statement isn’t made public. Well duh! doesn’t it seem odd that no one is openly talking about the board’s responsibility in this screw-up? It used to be that boards were liable to non-profit debt. Is that still true? Everyone is moaning and groaning but this crap didn’t just hatch under a cabbage leaf.

  7. Anonymous says:

    What a great website this is too. Thanks so much for the attention that you have selflessly given to this embarrassing matter for Milwaukee. It is appreciated more than you know.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Laid off from Skylight in November because they said they were eliminating the full-time position.

  9. Anonymous says:


    Great seeing you at the Journal-Sentinel Event last night.

    All, this story has blown up in the art world making the Arts Beat section of the NY Times as well as many other publications.

    Way to be all over it ThirdCoast!

    NYTimes Link:

  10. Anonymous says:

    Judith, you can find it on or right here:

  11. Anonymous says:

    whew! 48 pages, but thanks for the great information. do you know if the Skylight board is liable, if in fact, they covered up or screwed up?

  12. Anonymous says:

    You’re welcome!

    I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not sure where the responsibility falls in this messy situation.

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