Leaders of Stamford Center for the Arts Resign

News   Leaders of Stamford Center for the Arts Resign
Stamford Center for the Arts, the Stamford, CT, not-for-profit presenting organization that boasts two theatres in its complex, lost members of its leadership in recent days, Variety reported.

The organization is saddled with a deficit in its 2007-08 season and got a huge cut in its state subsidy since last year (from $1.2 million to $500,000, the trade reported).

Board chair Michael Cacace, board president Rick Lake and executive director Ken Wesler have resigned.

The center's annual budget is $6 million. The board is left trying to figure out a strategy for the future.

Observers of the market have said that the 25-year-old SCA — which runs the 1,580-seat Palace Theater and the 757-seat Rich Forum — has always had an identity issue. The city is 45 minutes from Broadway, which limits the center's viability as a first-class Broadway touring house, and its venues are viewed as too large for local performing arts troupes to easily take root there. The larger Palace Theatre has served as a concert hall for pop and classical artists, and touring plays and musicals, over the years.

Over the years, some smaller plays and musicals have been produced in the Rich Forum. SCA has also commissioned new shows, including Spring Awakening Tony Award winner Duncan Sheik's new musical, Whisper House, which was seen in a reading in Stamford earlier this spring and was on track for a Halloween world premiere at the Rich Forum. The SCA board pulled to plug. Director-actor Keith Powell ("30 Rock"), who was developing Whisper House with SCA, told Playbill.com, "I can't think of anything better than to produce the next musical by a Tony Award winner. If the board wasn't on board with that, they won't be on board with anything."

Powell said that former executive director Wesler was "absolutely visionary" about SCA, but that the board "lacked imagination" about what SCA could be. He conceded that "they are too busy plugging financial holes" in the operation at the moment.

Powell said that SCA's smaller house would seem to be a perfect venue for a resident Equity theatre to take root — something along the lines of a Hartford Stage or Long Wharf Theatre.

Such an idea, he said, requires a singular vision, an exciting mission distinct from New York City theatres, and perhaps some star power to kick-start it. Powell said a season of world-premiere plays might be a way to get community, grant and government support there.

New work has been tested at SCA in the past: the recent revival of Bells Are Ringing played there before Broadway, and the new musicals Empire and Two Cities were tested there.

Alexander Cohen, George Moredock III and Douglas C. Evans have all tried to steer the SCA in the past, without success.

"I think the state of Connecticut singled out the Stamford Center for the Arts to be destroyed," Dannel P. Malloy, mayor of Stamford and ex-officio member of the center's board, told the Hartford Courant. "That's what it did by affirming the acts of decreasing the funding by 80 percent [since 2001]. No other similar arts institution has had done to it what has happened to this institution."

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