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January 29, 2007

The Boston Globe reports the imminent departure of artistic director Robert Woodruff from the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

According to the article, he's being kicked out because ticket sales are down and the Board is saying Woodruff is neither putting enough bums on seats with his "out there" productions nor doing enough schmoozing to get the well-heeled burghers of Cambridge, Massachusetts to make up for the shortfall with their pocket books.

If the above is true, then I am losing what little respect I had for Harvard. The guy is a visionary. His programing, since he took over from ol' geezer Robert Brustein in 2002, represents among the most innovative and exciting I've seen come out of that theater -- or most other regional US theaters, for that matter -- since I came to this country nearly a decade ago.

Given my own personal love-hate history with that theater, I feel like I want to know more about what's going on. Back in 1998-99, I was a student on the theater's MFA program in dramaturgy. Had a pretty miserable year there. The experience made me decide never to work for a theater company again. I realized that if I were to have any relationship with the stage, it would be as an outside observer rather than as someone working on the inside.

The reasons for hating it so much were several: For one thing, A.R.T.has always held a rather estranged relationship with Harvard. I don't know what exactly happened in the late 1970s when Brustein came to the University to found the organization, but from what I understand, the department has always been looked upon by Harvard authorities as somewhat of an aging, penniless uncle with halitosis. This made being a student there not much fun. We just didn't have the same privileges as other graduate students at the university. I remember, for instance, not being able to use the graduate building because of my affiliation to A.R.T, and not being able to enjoy the same discount memberships to resources like the university gym. For another, Robert Brustein was an old tyrant and a bore. He clearly had his favorites. He was very old fashioned. And quite a sexist. The third main reason I hated being there so much was that I felt like students got very little support. No one had any clue how to help us obtain scholarship money, for instance. As a result, I was forced to leave when my funding ran out (after the first year). I ended up graduating with a masters in dramaturgy from The Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

I've emailed my friend Ryan McKittrick, associate dramaturg at A.R.T. to see if he can shed any new light on Woodruff's departure, above and beyond what it says in the Boston Globe.

In the meantime, A.R.T's former dramaturg (and Brustein protegee) Gideon Lester, has been named interim artistic director. I wish him luck...



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