LENOX -- In its most significant management reshuffle since the troupe's narrow escape from bankruptcy five years ago, Shakespeare & Company has installed a temporary executive director and is launching a nationwide search to fill the newly created position.
The move has substantially shifted the role of Artistic Director Tony Simotes, appointed in 2009 to succeed founding Artistic Director Tina Packer, who launched the company at The Mount in 1979 and moved it to its current Kemble Street campus in 2001.
According to board Chairwoman Sarah Hancock and Managing Director Nicholas J. Puma, Jr., Simotes remains on board with a contract that runs until May 2015. Negotiations continue over whether he retains his title as president of Shakespeare & Company.
Simotes and Puma are credited with pulling the formerly financially precarious troupe back from the brink. It nearly sank in late 2009 because of at least $10 million in debts.
But the appointment of Jerry Bilik as interim executive director creates a new boss, since Simotes and Puma now report directly to him rather than to the 40-member board of directors.
Hancock told The Eagle in a telephone interview from Boston that "for the past two years, we have been in the midst of doing a strategic planning exercise." She described the study as the result of "the bit of a crisis we had in 2008 and 2009, along with many other organizations. We're very pleased that we weathered that storm with the help of Nick and Tony."
But the effort to refine a "vision for the company" found that the organization "had become too lean, all the fat was trimmed," she said.
"Nick and Tony, along with everyone else in the company, had to do more with less," Hancock said. "That's what you do when you're in a crisis, but when you come out, you take a look at what you need. Nick and Tony were stretched way too thin, doing way too much."
As a result, she explained, the board chose to revert to the pre-2008 management structure.
Bilik, 80, a resident of Lenox and Sarasota, Fla., joined the board last spring. A composer, arranger, songwriter, conductor, and director of stage productions, he scored background music for films and TV shows.
Until his retirement two years ago, he served as vice president of creative development for Feld Entertainment, which produces Disney on Ice, and for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Bilik offered high praise for the artistry he has seen on the Lenox stages.
But, citing the multiple managerial hats worn by the staff, he said, "I've figured out practical and logical ways of organizing the chaos and creating someone to blame if something goes wrong." That would be him, for now -- "the vice president of blame," as he put it.
The management firm analyzing the theater company -- A.M.S., Inc. -- has come up with the same conclusion: "One person runs everything, owns everything," Bilik said.
Bilik acknowledged that Simotes had reacted with shock to a "big change, but I told him, ‘Tony, in a strange sense, it's freeing. Having to prove to someone else that what you're conceiving is of value makes you better.' "
"What I'm trying to do is to prime the company," he added, "so I'm being the heavy, in a sense. I saw this as a way of making their frantic efforts easier."
"Tony's completely involved in all of this," Bilik commented, acknowledging "the trauma of this basic switch, you have this very emotional bunch of people, including the ones on the board, and it's a change for them. Now, he [Simotes] reports to me."
"I'm trying to get the chaos focused," he declared. "I'm trying to instill trust, so that every person feels confident of their colleagues. I want human beings to respect each other, a lot of that is here, but people are very afraid of saying something that would hurt someone's feelings."
"This is a very sensitive company, emotionally," he added. "Contact with their emotions is what makes them great artists."
As a member of the internal search committee seeking his own replacement, Bilik said he's looking for "someone who's sensitive to the peculiar needs of artists who are operating in a setting where there's profit and loss. I'm trying to have everyone see the goal of where we're trying to go."
As for Simotes' role, Bilik depicted him as "in charge of the creative ladder and that's what he's really good at -- directing and putting people together in plays."
In a prepared statement released by Shakespeare & Company on Monday, Simotes said: "As we continue to develop and deepen our programming, I am extremely pleased to have Jerry join us and to have his expertise and support in realizing the vision of the company in the months to come."
Box office setbacks last summer followed cancellation of four performances by actress Olympia Dukakis due to illness, and the substitution of a understudy for an additional four nights of Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children."
"Yeah, this is theater and things happen," said Hancock, the board chairwoman, "and you adjust. You don't budget with those expectations in mind. So, we didn't have the outcomes we were hoping for this summer. We had amazing outcomes last year."
"The results were not devastating to us," Puma, the managing director, commented. "But we wanted really, really good results. You can't have it every year." He described pledged donations this year as "stellar. spectacular."
Financially, Hancock asserted, the company is "on track, and we always wish we could do better. Some board members have stepped up to help out with some of the shortfalls that happened from the summer. We're not in crisis mode, definitely."
"The big concern was that Nick and Tony were stretched," she emphasized, "and we realized that to be successful, we need somebody who can serve in the executive director role and be focused on the day-to-day management in the financial area so Nick and Tony can focus on the other things they're really good at."
Hancock credited Simotes as "an amazing director, so we really wanted to maximize his skill set there. We're already seeing that this allows Tony to focus on the artistic, what he's best at, and take away some of the burden that was stretching him too thin."
According to Hancock, "Tony's been very clear with me that he's on board, excited about Jerry and working with him. He's been active, engaged and excited to dig in."
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