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Arts & Culture

A season of change in leadership of arts

Lately, there has been a lot of attention paid to those talented people in theater who work in many backstage capacities. The contributions of understudies, standbys, designers and even stagehands are finally being recognized.

However, positions that still tend to go unheralded are the administrators and executives of area theaters, performing arts centers and other venues.

But wait a minute - suddenly attention is being paid. That’s because there is a lot of shifting of artistic leaders at performing arts institutions. This year will see a leadership change in at least 5 major area institutions.

Certainly the strain of managing under COVID conditions makes it reasonable for leadership burn out, as is the difficulty of financial strains both from a lack of donors and skittish audiences who are reluctant to attend performances

Another reason that losing several artistic leaders at once might seem shocking is because most operations have been so stable.

Philip Morris, the CEO of Proctors has been at his post since 2002. That’s 20 years of major accomplishments.

Highlights were expanding the stage to provide for bigger touring shows and collaborating with other institutions. Currently identified as Proctors Collaborative, these include Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs.

Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill has been the Producing Director of Capital Rep even longer. She arrived in Albany in 1995 (27 years ago) and rescued a financially ailing organization and brought a new creative spirit to the company. Her dream of a new state of the art theater came true this season and the vitality of the work reflects her belief in the theater and the community.

Another reason for change is personal advancement. Lawrence Edelson, the Artistic and General Director of Opera Saratoga, recently announced that as of June 30 he will take a post at the University of Houston and lead the Moore’s Opera Center at the University.

His 8 year tenure has transformed the organization both creatively and financially.

The onstage work of the company has been outstanding and the programming even more impressive. Edelson has trusted his audience to appreciate new, challenging works – such as the memorable “The Long Walk” – while not neglecting the classics or even the occasional Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.

Perhaps his most important contribution was the doubling in size of the new artist program which is vital, in the long term, for the art form to grow. He has also been a leader in collaborating with other organizations.

His work in Houston working with young talent, along with his continuing association as Artistic and General Director of Lyric Theatre in NYC, an organization dedicated to mentoring emerging talent and developing new works, will continue Edelson’s contributions to the future of opera.

The Berkshires is also experiencing major leadership change. Julianne Boyd, the artistic producing director of Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA is stepping down at the end of this season. To understand Boyd’s love of theater and her tenacity, you have to realize Barrington Stage was only one of two theaters in the country to produce live theater at the height of the COVID pandemic

It is no exaggeration to say Julianne Boyd is Barrington Stage Company.

After a couple of years leading Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, MA, she moved down the road to found Barrington Stage Company in a high school auditorium in Sheffield, MA.

In 2006, she took a neglected space in downtown Pittsfield to create a permanent home for the company. A smaller space followed a few years later as a cabaret room. The company now owns five buildings in downtown Pittsfield.

Their on-stage success has been even more spectacular. In Boyd’s 27 year tenure they produced an impressive body of work, including 41 premieres. Two shows, “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “On the Town” moved to success on Broadway. Several others moved to Off-Broadway productions.

Julianne Boyd will be missed. I hope she ends her Barrington Stage tenure accepting next year’s Tony Award for Best Regional Theatre. It would be a well-deserved and overdue honor.

Williamstown Theatre Festival is also under new leadership. If not new, at least different. Jenny Gerstern, who was artist director of WTF from 2010-2014, and has been producing there since 1996, is serving as Interim Artistic Director for 2022. The organization is doing a national search of a new leader since Mandy Greenfield resigned in November 2021.

One reason she left was complaints about abusive workloads by interns and performers. Interestingly, this year Williamstown is only doing three major productions instead of the normal 8 as in past years.

A full time Artistic Director has been appointed at Adirondack Theatre Festival in Glens Falls. Miriam Weisfeld is the new Producing Artistic Director. She replaces Martha Banta, who was last year’s interim Artistic Director.

Banta was a founding member of the theater and the company’s first artistic director. She served in 2021 after the resignation of Chad Rabinovitz who served in the position since 2014.

During his tenure, Rabinovitz doubled the company’s subscription base and focused on original musicals.

Weisfeld recently served as Director of Artistic Development of the Tony-winning Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. This season Weisfeld is continuing ATF’s mission of presenting new, cutting edge material, while putting her own stamps on things with titles like “The Hobbit.”

Another loss, Francesca Zambello will be leaving her post of 12 season as Artistic and General Manager of Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, NY after the 2022 season. A national search is being conducted for a replacement.

Indeed, even though there are many leadership changes this season there should be very few disruptions with the expectations of audiences. As history has taught us, it is the long term administrative skills that shape an organization.

PS: One note about this area: once leaders come here, they tend to stay. That says a lot about the cultural maturity of local audiences.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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