As I sit writing this, there is a public forum (Tom Strini billed it as a 'showdown' in his blog) in Catalano Square in Milwaukee. I'm told there are over 100 people there to ask questions and to hear Eric Dillner and the new Board president speak. I have no idea what is being said, but I'm sure it is passionate and emotional, and presumably, not entirely civil.
As I said earlier, yesterday I withdrew from The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro at Skylight, cutting my Year of Figaro in half. This was a really difficult decision to make. I have talked at great length about how I feel about this Skylight situation. I certainly didn't support the initial decision to fire Bill Theisen, but I also didn't see the new director as the villain that he was being made out to be in the press and blogosphere. I thought it was an extremely unfortunate decision, but I was still on board to honor my contract, especially since Bill was slated to return to stage direct both productions. When Bill backed out after the controversial firing of two cast members over Facebook comments, the foundation on which I'd agreed to do these productions was suddenly shaky. Compromised, even. In fact, with each passing day, these productions became more and more compromised. People have commented on my blog and my Facebook congratulating me on being principled and being brave, but I don't know if I agree with that. If anything, it was about survival. I felt like a rat on a sinking ship and had to get out of there.
The fact of the matter is, this kind of crap happens all the time in opera companies. We've all seen it, and it can get ugly. The problem is, Skylight isn't an opera company. It's a community theatre company, and I mean community theatre in the best sense of the word (not Guffman-style!). That's why people love working there, and that's why people have been fighting this decision tooth and nail since it was made last June. This is not supposed to happen at Skylight. Not that SOT is some sort of sacred Utopia- it definitely has its issues. But resorting to Neo-McCarthyism to fire cast members?
Bill definitely made the right decision to back out when he did. I wish I could say that I am principled enough to have made my decision to back out right away, solely in solidarity with Bill. I'm not. I struggled with this decision. I'm not a protester by nature. I'm a lover, not a fighter, so this whole decision was a bit weird.
Fear was a big factor- giving up 3 months of work is daunting (and by daunting, I mean arguably stupid, especially in this economy). Not only because of the money, but because of the huge gaps in my schedule right now. I might be wrong, but I think that having momentum is huge for how people perceive you and your career. By imposing these gaps in my schedule, I am somewhat afraid of losing momentum and further work.
Selfishness was also a factor. Doing Barber and Marriage in a cycle is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Tom Strini even said so! Plus, I've never sung Figaro in Barber of Seville before. This was going to be my first one, and it couldn't have been at a better company. Funnily enough, I have sung Bartolo (the old man) before. 10 years ago. At Skylight.
Plus, I leave dear dear friends in the lurch by pulling out of these shows. Friends who are honoring their contracts and will turn in compelling, top notch performances, and will do so in a completely professional manner. If I have one regret about this, it is that I won't be sharing the stage with those amazing people this year.
After thinking hard about it and having long talks with my own Board of Directors (Me, my amazing sage-like wife, my agent, my parents, my dear Milwaukee artist friends) I decided that if my backing out had some positive impact by way of making a statement to the Board (and I was in extremely good company- I think I was the 24th or 25th person to resign in protest), then great; if the Board chooses to stay the course (and they have- Bill is still out, even after 25+ resignations), then maybe it's not a place I want to spend three months away from my family. With these kinds of decisions, I usually go with my prodigious gut, and it told me I would be happier as an unemployed Dad than I would be working for a company under extreme duress.
I've been commenting about all this Skylight stuff since mid-June when it all hit the fan. Since then, the powers-that-be have had every chance to make things right with the Milwaukee arts community. They have chosen time and again to stay their course, sever ties with the people that have made up the history of the company, and go it alone. I wish them the best. Good game, Skylight. We had some fun, didn't we?
My Dad, who is a brilliant observer of humanity, had this to say about this whole ugly mess: It's a case of opera imitating opera. I concur.
I have a few more weeks of Ashlawn Figaro to go. I didn't anticipate this being my last one, and now I'm going to have to go and change the name of my blog to A Half-Year of Figaro or I'm So Dumb I Backed Out Of Two Contracts. Thanks for all the comments. A man of Principles? Not really. Just tired of doing gigs I don't want to do.
In the meantime, I think I'll call up my friend Jamie Johns and see if he wants to do a recital. I'm thinking...September or early October?