Tom Strini

Threats of violence in the Skylight mess?

By - Aug 4th, 2009 12:59 am
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From the start of the Skylight Opera Theatre controversy, management has issued statements suggesting that some dissident artists have posed threats of physical violence against managing director Eric Dillner.

I had paid close attention to the blogs and Facebook postings dealing with the Skylight. I saw plenty of vitriol and ridicule, but not actual threats. I wondered why, if management took these threats seriously, no one had called the police — or at least made the threats public in order to build public sympathy, which has leaned heavily toward the performers.

I asked Kristin Godfrey, the c0mpany’s marketing director, to show me some evidence of these alleged threats, some of which had apparently served as grounds for firing singers Bryce Lord and Jon Stewart.

Shortly after, Godfrey produced one printed page from Jonathan West‘s Facebook feed from June 16, the day Dillner fired artistic director Bill Theisen and started the firestorm.bat-web

Here is the exchange in question, with West, whose artsyschmartsy.com blog has been at the center of things, starting the thread:

West: “Jonathan West firmly believes that [late company founder] Clair Richardson would be putting a cigar out on someone’s eyeball right now.”

Lord: “And I’d be glad to hold ‘someone’ down for him…”

Stewart: “I’ll cap his knees with an aluminum baseball bat.”

No one actually named Dillner in this exchange, but it’s safe to assume he’s the object of this chatter. Stewart’s words made me wince; I wouldn’t have chosen them. But it was a heated moment and it was the Internet, where people say a lot of silly things they  don’t really mean. Those two lines, Lord’s especially, did not strike me as credible threats.

Still, I called Stewart to see how serious he was. Not very, as it turns out. He saw his line as an extension of West’s “Clair Richardson’s ghost” scenario.

“You’re raising a ghost to attack somebody,” Stewart said. “It couldn’t happen.

“When the threat talk came up, I didn’t realize that this was what [management was] talking about. I don’t think it reads as serious.”

So you never intended to hit anyone?

“I’ve never done it before in my lifetime,” Stewart said. “I don’t think I’d do it over the Skylight.”

Do you own a bat?

“I’ve never owned a baseball bat. But I have been in two productions of ‘Damn Yankees.'”

It’s possible that Dillner has received threatening emails or snail mails. If so, I wish Skylight management would produce them. And as far as I know, no one has filed a complaint or a report with the police.

If management has nothing more than those two lines from a Facebook post to substantiate its claims of threatened violence, it should produce it. If not, it should  stop crying wolf.

More recently, management has claimed that some artists are being threatened in that “you’ll never work again in this town” way, should they break ranks and return to their roles in the coming Skylight season. Again, I’ve heard not a peep of this from anyone involved.

Again, put up or shut up.

Categories: Culture Desk, Theater

0 thoughts on “Threats of violence in the Skylight mess?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Tom. You are sensible as always.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sad. For an outsider perspective on this brouhaha, your readers may be interested in today’s piece in the New York Timesin which you are quoted in your former incarnation. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/04/arts/music/04skylight.html?_r=1
    “Figaro meets Fargo (without the woodchipper).” Nice line. Remember to click back, folks. There’s lots more fun here at TCD!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I do believe that Mr. Dillner said he contacted the police after being advised by an attorney to do so. I don’t know that the police report has been substantiated, but I remember hearing Mr. Dillner say that and reading it in print.

    Does anyone remember the source?

    And while this is an interesting issue, it still remains one of many. Mr. Dillner, please produce your 10-day plan (those 10 days have passed,btw, since Mr. Dillner and Mr. Kurtenbach promised to produce such a plan) and please post your new cast list for the Barber of Seville, Skylight’s first show which starts rehearsals in three weeks. This, too, was promised at that fateful breakfast meeting July 24th. Furthermore, continued letters to Mr. Kurtenbach and friendsofskylight@sklightopera.com go unanswered. If this is “waiting out the furor”, I don’t think it’s working.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Many broken promises…
    Eric Dillner claims to be overwhelmed, but that is no excuse for not doing your job and producing the things you promise.

  5. Anonymous says:

    There are so many veils and mirrors in use at Skylight, I don’t think the new leadership there remembers the truth from fiction anymore. If any threats have been made, I expect to see documentation. Without it, I can only assume that references to alleged threats are nothing more than weak attempts to divert focus from the issue at hand: Miscommunication and mismanagement by current leadership has led to a decrease in revenue, a stampede of resignations, and a breach of trust.

    The fences will not be mended until Dillner resigns and takes much of the board with him.

  6. Anonymous says:

    i’ve followed the Skylight Debacle (as it has become known on the West Coast) from Los Angeles via Tuesdays, Tom and Jonathan’s writings. i concur with what all of you have stated, but i’d love to be selfish, for just one minute.

    i’m moving back to WI at the end of this month after 11 years in LA. it’s disheartening to me that one of the theaters i had planned to audition at and possibly work at is in the midst of this uproar. quite honestly, i could never audition for or work at the Skylight under the present leadership. Nor would i lend my talent to a theater whose own board member referred to “artists” in a most demeaning way (it’s the email one board member wrote that basically said we “artists only exist because we [Skylight board] chose to pay them”)

    what a hive of bees to move back to. my God…

  7. Anonymous says:

    As the originator of the Facebook remark and someone who researched Clair quite a bit for a book on Milwaukee’s live theater history that I had published back in April, I can honestly say that I had no particular subject designated as the direct object of Clair’s ashy scorn. Knowing what I know about Clair, I believe he might have in fact chosen his own eye if someone had written about it.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I was present when Eric said that he called the police after getting “legal counsel” about the Facebook comments. In disbelief, I asked him why he couldn’t leave his desk to walk the 100 steps to Bryce Lord’s desk to ask about the exchange and say that it had made him uncomfortable. His answer? Legal counsel had told him not to.

    Clearly, common sense was not an option. I wish I could have heard the police exchange about 15 words on FACEBOOK for heaven’s sake!!!

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