After a year of bloody strife between the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival's artistic and business sides, new leaders are moving to create more midsummer nights' dreams in 2010.
But for some longtime volunteers and artists, the movement to revitalize the festival may be too late to prevent a winter of discontent.
The festival's Board of Trustees has named Alan Klem, a theater professor at Creighton University, as interim artistic director for 2010. He replaces Cindy Phaneuf, who co-founded the festival with Klem 24 years ago.
Phaneuf resigned in August in the wake of a 30 percent budget cut. Klem stepped away from festival administration in 1992 but agreed to return at least temporarily.
The trustees also approved two shows for 2010: a traditional production of “Romeo and Juliet” and a rock-musical version of “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” They chose the latter to draw younger crowds and new fans to the festival, said Mary Ann Bamber, the festival's executive director.
The trustees are committed to raising the money needed to return the festival to two shows over three weekends rather than the one show presented two weekends this year, said Kim Mickelsen, co-chairwoman of the Board of Trustees.
“It's not set in stone yet, but we'll know by Dec. 1 whether we have the solid funding projections we need,” Mickelsen said.
Projected dates are June 24-July 11, a week later than usual to avoid the closing of the last College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Bamber said the festival also hopes to hire more professional actors to raise the quality of the shows.
The free outdoor festival draws up to 30,000 people each season and has become a family tradition for Shakespeare fanatics and casual theatergoers alike. It contributes an estimated $2.5 million to $3 million a year to the local economy, and its touring wing visits schools across the state each year.
Cuts in funding and performances, along with Phaneuf's departure, have caused a number of volunteers and artists to sever ties with the festival. More than half the festival's 40-member Community Board has quit or been removed since last summer. Several more say they are considering leaving.
The Community Board's job is to round up hundreds of volunteers each summer, essential to the festival's survival. Calls to board members revealed a range of reasons for leaving, such as schedule conflicts, retirement and changing commitments. Others were removed because they had not been active.
But a number of longtime key volunteers left, citing a rift between the Board of Trustees and its volunteer and creative staffs that began even before the cutbacks.
“We've been doing this 20 years,” said Meredith Bacon, who quit after hosting annual parties for the actors and staff. “We saw the quality of the shows decline so quickly, and the administrative expenses increase so radically, a lot of us became disheartened and disillusioned. We felt the original vision was no longer there.”
Michele Eakins, who has left the board, said some trustees “didn't show that much respect to Cindy for what she had created and managed exceptionally well for so many years. I didn't feel they were listening to her.”
Phaneuf declined to comment on her reasons for leaving.
Mickelsen, co-chairwoman of the Board of Trustees since August, said it was never anyone's intent to dictate to the artistic side.
In 2005, when Mike and Gail Yanney succeeded Harold and Marian Andersen as co-chairmen of the Board of Trustees, they found financial records in disarray, Mickelsen said.
Raising money from new new sources, and keeping the festival's nonprofit status, required a clean, audited set of books, Mickelsen said.
“The focus was on accountability from the business side, and that felt like a shift to those on the artistic side,” Mickelsen said. “The volunteers and artists were not less valued, but I'm sure that's the way it felt — that the new level of accountability went too far.”
Harold Andersen, a festival co-founder and retired publisher of The World-Herald, said this week that the festival had became so popular and smoothly run, “we didn't pay enough attention to fiscal management.”
Changing the festival's less formal culture was necessary, Andersen said. He expressed both regret and understanding for bruised feelings.
The art-vs.-finance conflict is similar to that experienced by other local arts organizations, including the Omaha Community Playhouse last spring, in the face of a severe economic recession.
Going forward, Mickelsen said, the trustees need to learn more about what the artists and volunteers do, while at the same time better communicating the goals and intent of the trustees.
“We need the people who have made this festival great,” she said. “I think the festival has so much future, but we've got some wounds to heal. How do we go from here?”
Shari Hofschire, a longtime Community Board member, said Thursday's meeting didn't change her mind, and she would soon resign.
“Basically, the things I would say have been problems over the past two years are still there,” Hofschire said. “No question, Kim (Mickelsen) has heard the problems. But they need to move forward with people who believe in the current leadership. I can't do that.”
Andersen said he had deep appreciation for the service of those who are leaving, but “that's a call they have to make.”
Seven new Community Board members were approved at Thursday night's meeting.
“We must go forward with a board that is enthusiastic about saving the festival,” he said.
Andersen and his wife will again spearhead fundraising for 2010.
“We think we can resolve that conflict of viewpoints between the artistic and business sides and, hopefully, win back some of those on the artistic side who were upset by Cindy's departure,” Andersen said.
“Now it's the next chapter: What happens next, and how do we build from here?”
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