B y J a n a R i v e r a
A FEW WEEKS AGO, Robert Alpaugh took everyone by surprise by announcing his resignation as managing director of Arizona Theatre Company at the end of the season. And no one seems to be able to answer the big question: why? Not even Robert Alpaugh.
"Just looking for new challenges, new opportunities," Alpaugh said. "Nothing really."
That's it? Where will you go? What will you do?
"Don't know yet."
What's the real story? Unreliable sources rumored an artistic power struggle between Alpaugh and ATC artistic director David Ira Goldstein, but when I tried to get the dirt from one on the other, they offered nothing but diplomatic praise.
"I was surprised and disappointed," said Goldstein about Alpaugh's plans to leave. "I wish him the best."
Alpaugh joined ATC in 1989 and guided the company from "fiscal chaos into as much fiscal stability as a non-profit regional theatre can enjoy." About $500,000 in debt has been retired, and Alpaugh estimates the company will enjoy $1 million in working capital by 1997, helped by his efforts to attain an $800,000 award from the National Arts Stabilization Fund.
Over the six years that Alpaugh has been at the financial helm, he reports a 25 percent increase in the budget in addition to the debt retirement. By implementing an aggressive marketing approach, he's also managed to increase revenue from the Phoenix market by 62 percent over the last five years.
But in addition to setting fiscal policy at ATC, Alpaugh has consistently dabbled in the artistic process. Prior to Goldstein's arrival in 1992, Alpaugh was acting artistic director for the 1991-'92 season. Since then, Alpaugh says, his artistic input has varied "depending on how passionate I may be about certain projects that I think ought to be included."
But Goldstein says he often conspired with Alpaugh, drawing on his history in the theatre and background as an artist.
"We worked hand-in-hand," Goldstein said. "We talked almost daily about plays and about putting together the season. By necessity the process has to be collaborative, and I'd like to think we did that pretty well."
Alpaugh's artistic contributions have been a driving force behind ATC's new play development. Shortly after joining the company, he created ATC's Genesis: New Play Reading Series devoted to the development of two or three new plays each year through readings and audience discussions.
Due to Alpaugh's commitment to new work, at least one new play each year receives its world premiere on ATC's stage through the new play/guest artist project he started in 1991.
"It's my sense that the company is going to stay committed to the development of new work and continue to find a role there so we are producing literature for the market," Alpaugh said.
But what kind of literature should be produced for what market is a question that haunts ATC's leaders daily.
"It is a constant balancing act," Goldstein said. "We have a very broad audience because we are not a.k.a. We are not trying to be all things to all people, but we are trying to be a meeting ground where a lot of different people can come together."
As Alpaugh departs, however, we may see ATC move quickly in another direction. Although Goldstein says The Old Matador and Dracula, the two new plays done by ATC this season, were successful in bringing a more culturally diverse and younger audience to ATC (something badly needed, particularly in the Tucson market), he's drawn to the classics.
"Given that we are the theatre company with the most resources, it's incumbent upon us to take on more classic plays," Goldstein said. "That's really the touchstone of the dramatic literature, and I think the other things hang on that."
Goldstein promises to make the classics the touchstone of ATC, but keep the balance with new works.
"The eclectic nature of what we do can be confusing to our audience," Goldstein said. "If you don't have the great works of literature to reverberate off, it tends to seem more of a mixed bag."
Goldstein insists that doing the classics doesn't mean doing the same old thing. To stay successful, he says, they have to do work that is surprising in some way--a reflection of the world that offers audiences something they cannot get from movies.
From the marketing end, ATC intends to make theatre more readily available through flexible subscriber plans and affordable student rush tickets and half-price, last-minute buys.
"I think it's so important for us to get new audiences," Goldstein said.
Dracula drew people to the theatre who had obviously never been there before. And The Convict's Return, a one-man performance art piece, also signified a departure from the ATC norm. It was a welcome and successful departure, but whether it was a box office success remains to be seen.
At any rate, ATC's chieftains took some risks this year, and for that alone they ought to be applauded. If ATC is to be or not to be our resident classical theatre company, let's hope they venture out a little further on that proverbial limb and bring us new and refreshing theatre...even if the play is 400 years old.
Leading man: During his six-year stint as managing director, Robert Alpaugh's financial prowess and artistic collaboration earned increased revenues and attendence for ATC.
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