Shakespeare & Co's 3 board leaders resign posts; 1 vice chairman to depart entirely


LENOX — A week after Executive Director and President Rick Dildine startled Shakespeare & Company by resigning six months into his job, the theater troupe is coping with new turmoil at the top.

Sarah Hancock, chairwoman of the board of trustees, resigned from the leadership post during what she described as an "unofficial, informational meeting" on Tuesday night.

Hancock, a close ally of company founder Tina Packer, was instrumental in the ouster of Artistic Director Tony Simotes last fall, championed Dildine and advocated a more corporate approach in the executive suite, according to insiders. Dildine is returning to his previous job leading Shakespeare St. Louis.

Also resigning were Vice Chairwoman Claudia Perles and Vice Chairman Charles Schader. While Hancock and Perles will remain as trustees, Schader has left the board, reportedly for personal reasons.

Asked why she had stepped aside as chairwoman of the theater company, Hancock told The Eagle that "it wasn't heading in the direction I was trying to take it. It's important to let someone else take over the leadership." She declined to elaborate.

In a written statement to the Eagle, the company's executive committee said that a new leadership team would be nominated during the next board meeting on March 30, and that team would "continue the company's tradition of artistic excellence and community service."

"While we are sorry to see these persons leave their positions, changes like these happen from time to time in any organization and it would be a mistake to interpret these departures as a sign that the company is in turmoil or in trouble. Neither is true," the statement read. "In fact, the company's financial status has greatly improved over the past years, it has an exciting season about to launch, ticket sales and enrollments in the company's renowned training and education programs are both strong and the staff is actively engaged in making this season the great success it promises to be."

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Hancock, a major donor with well more than $1 million in recent contributions, explained that both vice chairpersons joined her in stepping aside so that the next board leader could choose new people for those roles.

"I'm really sad she's leaving," Packer said in a phone interview. "Sarah and I have been friends and close colleagues for a long time now. We've been all over the world together."

Hancock was the chief producer of Packer's traveling "Women of Will" stage show. "She's done some terrific work," Packer said, "and just feels she needs to move on because she's worked so hard in this last year, leading the search and then working with Rick. We're glad she's staying on the board."

According to Packer, it's obvious that Hancock's move resulted from Dildine's unforeseen resignation. "We were going along one trajectory, and that trajectory stopped," she said, adding that the board remains "strong" and that advance ticket sales and participation in the theater's upcoming touring and training programs are also going strong.

As for the future course of the company she created in 1978, Packer declared that "we may be heading in the same direction with someone else." But the board will need to explore whether the theater should retain the concept as recommended by a master plan of an executive director in charge of performances, education and training, "or do we want to think again."

Thanks to an interim team — Steve Ball as managing director, along with Jonathan Croy and Ariel Bock as co-artistic directors — the company will "hold steady" during the upcoming season, Packer asserted, allowing time to re-evaluate how future leadership should be managed.

Asked about speculation that Simotes, the former artistic director, could be invited back to his previous position, Packer said "that hasn't come up for discussion" by the board.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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