Michael Boyd, who saved the Royal Shakespeare Company from near-collapse

Sarah Crompton, The Telegraph [UK], 9/14/12

At the RSC's annual general meeting today, Michael Boyd will bring to a close his decade in charge. Instead of indulging in wild celebrations, he will mark the occasion by quietly returning to the rehearsal room, where he is preparing his outgoing production, Pushkin's epic Boris Godunov. Everything about that is typical of the man: unassuming, modest, completely in love with theatre. Those who have worked with him emphasise his inclusiveness, the way everyone in the building feels part of the company, and the democracy of his methods in, and beyond, the rehearsal room. When people look back on the Boyd years, they will point to towering achievements: the Complete Works Festival, in which all Shakespeare's plays were performed in a year; the ongoing World Shakespeare season; and, above all, his own Histories cycle. It is less clear that the huge popular success of the musical version of Roald Dahl's Matilda, now wowing the West End and soon to open on Broadway, should also spring from such notions. Yet it does: a tribute to patience, lateral thinking and the ability to bring together large groups of talented people and help them work harmoniously. Matilda is part of Boyd's legacy to his successor Greg Doran: the income will give the RSC financial support. Boyd himself inherited a debt of 3 million, and a company that was so near to collapse that people were suggesting it should be merged with the National Theatre. But he has restored its reputation, taken it to a rebuilt home with a wonderful auditorium, and raised its profile worldwide. Under his directorship, the RSC has become once more a glory of British theatre. Problems remain, the lack of a London base being the most pressing. But the fact that Boyd has done all this while directing memorably brilliant productions is an immense achievement.

 

Sheldon Epps, who brought Pasadena Playhouse back from bankruptcy

Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times, 9/13/12

Sheldon Epps has renewed his contract as artistic director of the Pasadena Playhouse, and Elizabeth Doran will join him as its new executive director after nearly four years as managing director of the Actors' Gang in Culver City. Epps has led the company since 1997 and helped see it through the 2010 financial crisis in which the playhouse closed for eight months, then emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. After shedding more than $1 million in debt, it has regained its balance with two successful seasons, winning good reviews for four of the five plays staged in 2011-12. "It was just about as strong a season as one could hope for," with all the shows exceeding their sales targets, said Epps, 58, who didn't disclose how long his new contract extends, other than that it's "multi-year." He said he's glad that Doran, 39, who will be in charge of business operations, "is going to have the opportunity to walk into a theater that is far more stable" than her predecessor, veteran theater manager and producer Stephen Eich, encountered when he arrived in 2009. The playhouse never had been able to retire debts incurred in the mid-1990s. Epps said that he and Doran "will have the opportunity, together with the board, to focus on growth and perhaps dreaming bigger dreams" -- possibly including a campaign to buy and renovate [its] historic 1925 theater and the six-story building behind it,. That, he acknowledged, might require some hard-to-come-by funding. "If you're an artist, you've got to be a dreamer, so why not?" Epps said. The Playhouse also announced it has raised $1 million through a challenge grant last fall by two longtime supporters. Their $250,000 pledge depended on the theater being able to raise an additional $750,000 from other sources. Epps said the initiative aimed not only to bring in a large sum, but to help the playhouse build its fundraising muscles.

 

Charles MacKay, who steered Santa Fe Opera through austerity to success

ABQ Journal, 8/22/12

The day Charles MacKay took over as the Santa Fe's Opera's new general director back in 2008, the stock market dropped 500 points. Austerity followed at the Opera as in many other places: salaries were frozen, staff vacancies went unfilled, the retirement program was suspended, and old sets from past performances were reused. Four years later, as the Opera's 55th year winds up, MacKay has been able to announce record ticket sales and a $1 million budget increase for next year. And next year's costumes and stage sets will be new. The turnaround is a tribute to MacKay's management but also to the Opera's reputation for innovation. While other U.S. opera companies, including several in major cities, chose to weather the recession by sticking to tried-and-true repertory favorites, the Santa Fe Opera has continued to produce at least one new work a year, and rounded out its programs every year, too, by presenting lesser-known work. Audiences evidently appreciate the strategy -- thus the record ticket sales. And MacKay reports this week that all five operas presented this season played to nearly full houses. Nor is opera here just a tourist attraction. For several years, the Santa Fe Opera has offered special deals for locals. Non-operatic performances in the off season have made more people familiar with the venue. Now, half the Opera's audience is New Mexican. And there is no doubt the state now has plenty of hard-core opera fans -- witness the success of the high-definition, live transmissions of New York's Metropolitan Opera performances at theaters in Santa Fe and Taos, for example. This year, in addition to being able to boost its budget, the Opera has received a grant that will help it promote performances on such social media as Facebook and Twitter. Who knows? In a few years, maybe New Yorkers, too, will be flocking to their neighborhood wide-screens all summer long to enjoy hi-def performances -- live from the Santa Fe Opera.

 

Susan Danis: "I've gotten pegged as a kind of turnaround specialist" for opera

Hannah Sampson, Miami Herald, 9/2/12

As an opera evangelist, Susan Danis is accustomed to meeting people who are intimidated by the notoriously unapproachable art form. "I'll say to people, 'It's really not that bad,' and they just look at me," she said. "It's like sushi: you're not going to know if you like it unless you taste it."

Danis will bring that enthusiasm and irreverence to Miami in October, when she starts her new job as general director and CEO of the Florida Grand Opera. She has been executive director of Sarasota Opera since 1999. Board members announced the selection Wednesday, describing their hire as a proven fundraiser whose business savvy and management skills should be the tools needed to lead the Miami-based opera company into a new financially and artistically robust era. Danis replaces CEO Robert Heuer, who retired in May after 27 years in the position. Her years in Sarasota were marked by budget growth, capital campaigns and a building renovation -- as well as innovative programming, efforts to reach young professionals and a dedication to getting people "into the opera house." After college at Indiana University, where she trained as a drama therapist, Danis worked for the Young Adult Institute in New York City and thought about joining the corporate world. Mixing that goal with a desire to bum around Paris, she earned an MBA at the University of Hartford's Paris program. She ended up in San Francisco after graduate school and helped nonprofit groups on the business side, then relocated to upstate New York, where she worked temporary gigs before taking over at the Lake George Opera Festival. "They were beyond broke," she said of the company, now known as Opera Saratoga. When she left after eight years, the company had a $3 million endowment. "I've gotten pegged as kind of a turnaround specialist," she said.

 

Nina Simon, who reinvented the struggling Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

Naional Arts Strategies website, 7/23/12

In 2010, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History was in financial crisis, but they also had an image problem. A community assessment commissioned by the board of directors revealed that, outside from a small group of core supporters, the Santa Cruz community had little awareness of the museum or its work. The board and staff determined that the MAH needed to become a thriving cultural center for the community to be relevant and successful, and the board enlisted Nina Simon as Executive Director to help the museum undergo a radical change. In this interview, she details how the MAH's financial crisis enabled them to take risks and explore a new model that would help them garner support and build relationships to turn around their finances and establish the museum as a community organization. 

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