The Playgoer: Why ART dumped Robert Woodruff

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Why ART dumped Robert Woodruff

You may have heard last month--with surprise--that the Harvard-based American Repertory Theatre declined to rehire (to put it nicely) their Artistic Director Robert Woodruff. Sure, Woodruff is a provocative director who consistently ruffles feathers. But ART is one of the few big theatres known for a "difficult" aesthetic and sometimes difficult personalities. They've thrived on being a true European "directors' theatre" arthouse.

Well, "thrived" is not how the ART board would have put it, I guess. The Globe today has the behind the scenes blow-by-blow. They claim Woodruff had been indicating all systems go for another season. Then:

But in December, something changed. Just before Christmas, the ART's staff learned from an e-mail that Harvard had decided not to renew Woodruff's contract. The statement, and a press release issued a week later, didn't explain why. But interviews conducted this month with members of the eight-person ART/Harvard board of directors, which has the authority to hire and fire the artistic director, revealed that his exit came because of concerns over how Woodruff's artistic approach was affecting the theater's bottom line.

ART/Harvard board members, appointed by the university's president and the Harvard Corporation, said they needed a new leader to send a message to the university. A new Harvard president, who may be named within weeks, would want to see that the ART was taking its fiscal issues seriously, according to Robert James Kiely, a Harvard English professor who was one of the six members of the board who voted unanimously not to bring Woodruff back. Orchard and Woodruff, who are also on the board, did not vote.

"I think the fear, with a new administration coming on at Harvard, was that the ART would not be a high priority," says Kiely. "If it looked too dire financially in the next year or two, we could lose the theater."
Read on, here.

Of the many interesting aspects to this story, theatres housed at universities should especially take note. For many, campuses have provided an oasis of support, a welcome subcategory loophole of the tangled nonprofit system. I've often thought myself that the future of regional theatre depends ultimately on university support--in real estate, finances, and subscriptions. The link to a training program also often helps bring in revenue and provide an in-house company of URTA-approved low wage supernumerary actors.

Well, note the lack of confidence up in Cambridge that the new incoming Harvard Prez--whoever that may be--will not necessarily see things that way.


Anonymous said...

The only good part of this is that maybe we get to see him direct more shows in New York.

Anonymous said...

There are also rumors that he was going to program My Name Is Rachel Corrie, to the extreme dismay of the board. This is an angle worth following up on.

Alison Croggon said...

It's a depressing story. Especially the quotes from the "George of the Jungle" auteur.

Anonymous said...

That's great, Anon 2, blame the Jews.

Have you any proof that this allegation is true, or is it just comforting to posit the presence of a mysterious and malign cabal that's out to persecute every brave artist of conscience who would dare to criticize Israel?

It's astonishing and depressing that such an anodyne and banal piece of writing as MNIRC continues to fuel scurrilous conspiracy theories. Can't we give it a break?

The fact that Woodruff is a great director -- which he undeniably is -- doesn't in itself suggest that he's capable of running a $9 million institution. In the GLOBE article, he himself admits as much.

One thing's for sure: pity the poor soul who gets the job. If he or she doesn't program slo-mo po-mo Ibsen staged by the best director in Eastern Europe, the blogosphere will show no mercy.