Geoff Edgers has a soup-to-nuts explanation of the behind-the-scenes financial picture that may have led to Robert Woodruff's departure at the American Repertory Theatre.
I believe this is more of a harbinger of a different era starting for non-profit theatre. Subscribers are dropping off and single ticket buyers are increasing. There seems to be frustration with board members, some of whom Edgers interviews. Basically, like many people I speak with, (and like me a few years ago,) some subscribers and fans just grow tired of being slammed with gorgeous opacity again and again. Here is board member Sam Weisman:
"I'm not interested in writing checks for a theater that nobody comes to," says Weisman. "I'm not asking them to do 'Under the Yum Yum Tree.' If I go to six or seven shows a season, it's OK to do 'Orpheus X' -- which I happened to love -- but you can't make a season of a 'Romeo and Juliet' that's inaccessible and shows like 'Dido, Queen of Carthage' [productions from 2005 and 2006] unless you have some kind of sugar daddy."
This is true. But in defense of the ART, having a sugar daddy to foster creative license and experimentation is an inherently good thing. What Weisman is outlining above is the achetypal blueprint for the subscriber based regional theatre: 1 Shakespeare, 2 Warhorses , 1 Chestnut (preferably with a television or film star,) 1 World Premiere by a "hot" newcomer, 1 "experimental play." This contributes to the zombification of the theatre-going audience.
Weisman seems to be wanting to support only art that a lot of people come to. This is troublesome, because even relatively conservative theatres will continue to see subscriber bases decline in the future.
Rinde Eckhart best sums it up this way:
"The energy in that building was incredible, and he was doing things that nobody else was doing," says Rinde Eckert , who wrote and performed in "Highway Ulysses" and the ART's 2006 "Orpheus X." "I thought it was perfect. Harvard has a long tradition of iconoclasm and being at the forefront and taking risks. And the ART, that was the one place you could say, 'At least this theater's not caving. At least this theater's not running scared.' "Highway Ulysses was one of the high points of the last few years, as was Orpheus X, and where else would these productions have gone up, where else would have given these pieces the support they needed?
I will take issue with Mr. Eckert though. The ART was always on the knife's edge , but their seasons were not full, wall-to-wall, with iconoclastic, opaque experimentation. The productions were, to be sure, inventive and innovative and that primed the pump for the audience to occasionally take a plunge into a few shows a year that were really out there.
It seems as if this calculus has been reversed one hundred eighty degrees. When this started happening is around the time I stopped being a regular attender.
The type of season that is currently regular fare at the ART has the drawback of veering off the already rugged path of adventurous theatregoing onto impassible service roads for which one needs an industrial strength, industry certified vehicle, a GPS, and a skilled guide. Unfortunately for the ART, it seems as if some people, who were having a great time off-roading, are finding themselves stranded on the service roads while the sound of the artistic staff's vehicle that was leading the way grows fainter and fainter.