A Jan. 15 statement from the board of directors of the Theatre Ensemble, Inc. at Meadow Brook Theatre, in Rochester, MI, said the board "decided to part ways" with Regal and Manfredi "in preparation for the Theatre's next season." The reason for the split was "artistic differences."
A search is on for new leaders, and plans are being made to announce titles for the 2008-09 season.
Regal, who has directed and acted at almost every resident theatre in Metro Detroit since the 1970s, took the helm of Meadow Brook, located in the rich suburbs of Detroit, in 2003. Joining him at the time was Manfredi, who has also acted and directed in Michigan for many years.
For 36 years, Meadow Brook Theatre was the major resident Equity LORT house in Michigan, operating as a cultural arm of Oakland University. OU dissolved the troupe in spring 2003, but eager Michigan theatre artists made a pitch to save Meadow Brook and opened it as a troupe independent of the university. Regal and Manfredi ascended to its leadership. The re-dubbed Theatre Ensemble at Meadow Brook rents the traditional 600-seat Meadow Brook space, and has about 2,000 subscribers (representing about 4,000 annual tickets) and an annual budget of about $1.7 million.
Meadow Brook's most popular title for some 40 years now has been its annual staging of A Christmas Carol. According to the Jan. 15 statement, "The board acknowledges the work of Mr. Regal and Mr. Manfredi in sustaining the Theatre in challenging economic times. Winners of numerous awards and commendations both locally and nationally for artistic achievement and community service, Mr. Regal and Mr. Manfredi were responsible for collaborative projects with theatres and other arts organizations throughout the country as well as the administration of an educational outreach program that serves over 20,000 students in over 15 Michigan counties each season.
"The Theatre Ensemble at Meadow Brook Theatre thanks Mr. Regal and Mr. Manfredi for their efforts and wishes them well in their future endeavors."
Following the exits of Regal and Manfredi, local and national directors have been engaged to cover the rest of the season, which includes the recent Rabbit Hole, plus Biloxi Blues and Moonlight and Magnolias. Michigan native Dan Goggin is coming in to stage back-to-back productions of his hit musicals Nunsense (starring Cindy Williams as Rev. Mother) and Nunsense Jamboree (starring Lee Meriwether as Sr. William) in spring-summer 2008.
Meadow Brook's current acting managing director is Cheryl Marshall.
Since 2003 Theatre Ensemble at Meadow has staged mostly small-cast shows in an effort to keep costs down. Marshall told Playbill.com that Theatre Ensemble at Meadow Brook is operating in the black.
Detroit area theatres have an uphill publicity battle to climb: The major Detroit newspapers, The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News no longer have full-time theatre critics on staff.
In the months leading up to the June 2003 dissolution of the original Meadow Brook Theatre (which had formed in 1967), the troupe was viewed as a regional theatre in serious decline. Saddled with a six-figure debt, the company lost its artistic director in 2002, when Debra L. Wicks suddenly resigned less than a year after she was named to the post.
Tony Schmidt, a retired director-professor who worked at Detroit's Wayne State University, staging shows and teaching in the graduate Hilberry Theatre program, served as Meadow Brook's "artistic advisor" since fall 2002 to the close in 2003.
Wicks previously served as interim artistic director of Meadow Brook since June 1999, when Geoffrey Sherman, who brought her aboard, left after his contract was renewed for only one more season. Sherman said at the time that the short renewal showed a lack of faith in him on the part of the administration at Oakland University. (He's now artistic director of Alabama Shakespeare Festival.)
He said he decided to leave Meadow Brook partly due to the pressure to present conservative, conventional shows there.
The final 2002-03 season at the original Meadow Brook included such uncontroversial works as Wait Until Dark, Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution and A Christmas Carol and The Foreigner (all of which have been staged by the company in previous seasons).
Wicks was only the fourth artistic director in 25 years at Meadow Brook. Before Sherman, there was Terence Kilburn (1970-94) and John Fernald (1967-70). In the 2002-03 season, Meadow Brook hosted a visit by Ontario's prestigious Shaw Festival, staging Candida, and offered the Detroit premiere of a new chapter in Dan Goggin's Nunsense musical series — Meshuggah Nuns.
Observers in the Detroit professional theatre community rolled their eyes when plays such as The Female Odd Couple and Meshuggah Nuns were presented., They charged that the fare was indistinguishable from commercial houses, and that the titles betrayed the mandate of not-for-profit theatres.
Visit Theatre Ensemble at Meadow Brook at mbtheatre.com.