Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Skylight Saga: The Light Coming In Through The Ceiling pt. 2

By Russ Bickerstaff
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On the surface, it sounds like such a simple idea: Provide a full spectrum of musical theatre for Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin. A number of professional companies do musicals over the course of the season, but aside from the Florentine (which is strictly opera) no one else is dedicated to musical theatre. So it should be simple. But things are never that simple. And so the Skylight Opera Theatre finds itself in is current situation.

Yesterday, the Skylight’s Marketing Director Kristin Godfrey (who really is an extremely nice person) sent out an email verifying certain rumors. Yes, Bill Theisen, former Artistic Director of the Skylight, had resigned from the work he’d planned on doing for the upcoming 50th anniversary season. A talented, well-respected man who has been with the Skylight for a number of years, Theisen’s resignation has been accompanied by no less than eight others, some of whom were set to be onstage in relatively prominent roles this coming season.


As a result, the Skylight is scrambling to find talent to replace the talent that’s leaving. This leaves a particularly strange role for someone to fill with respect to The Barber of Seville.



Set to open less than two months after Theisen’s departure, Rossini’s classic is left hanging. I have no idea the opening date will happen and . . . there’s no lacking in talent to produce such a thing, but any director they’re going to pull-in at this stage will be working in the shadow of a man who already did a great deal of work on the show. It’ll be interesting to see how (or if) Theisen’s work on the show will be credited in the program . . .

It has been said that nothing travels faster than bad news. This is probably part of the whole problem the Skylight’s been having in the recent past . . .. the bad news has traveled faster than they’re ability to handle it and as a result, their attempts to fix the situation have only gotten worse. It’s all been mismanaged, but everyone knows that . . .

The problem with the light falling-in through the ceiling is the fact that, really, all of the problems come down to money. When expenses on the Broadway Theatre got out of hand, the Executive Board of Directors had to do something. They made a mistake and things got worse. And people were fired and people quit. And now there’s a tremendous amount of money still struggling to make it to the stage.

It could be interesting to note that somewhere in the midst of the whole mess with the Skylight—that it’s a company that does relatively light stuff. Yes, there's the darker end of Rossini and Rent, but we're not exactly talking Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? here . . . People are making a great deal of commotion about productions that should really just be a lot of fun . . .the fact that such a staggering amount of money is or isn’t being spent on light fare seems kind of ridiculous to begin with. It really doesn’t come as a surprise or an outrage that the people in charge of making decisions with respect to that money would have questionable judgment. In the end, it all seems a bit childish.

It IS interesting to note, however, that this coming September is quite a bit smaller than previous Septembers with respect to theatre openings. Usually, there are about a dozen local theatre openings in September. This coming September, there are more like half a dozen openings. That many shows opened the second weekend in July alone. September is the big opening month for all the big companies. Summer, by contrast, is more of a big time of the year for smaller DIY-type companies that benefit from the resources available when the bigger guys aren't crowding things out. The growing number of summer shows suggests a viability—a resiliency of smaller companies that may not be there with bigger ones. Sustainability comes from producing shows that are capable of being supported more closely by ticket sales. . . and some of THOSE shows have A LOT more depth than most of what passes for depth on bigger stages . . . that’s all I’m saying . . .

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