Thursday, August 29, 2013

I'll Have Some Proof: My Fury Over The End of Shakespeare Santa Cruz

An Open Letter to David Yager, Dean of the UC Santa Cruz Arts Program,

Dear Dean Yager,
I am many things.  But I am not stupid.  And neither are any of the thousands of other artists who have worked at Shakespeare Santa Cruz in its 32 years, or the hundreds of thousands of audience members who have attended its productions.  It is certainly within your prerogative to close "one of the top ten influential Shakespeare Festivals in the country," (I'm quoting your website).   And girl, I understand that times are tough.  But I do wish you wouldn't insult our intelligence in the press release you released explaining your decision to terminate Shakespeare Santa Cruz.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, this is what the Shakespeare Santa Cruz stage, the Glen, looks like.

My Kingdom For A Balanced Budget

The numbers you offer simply don't add up.  In the press release, you claim that "Even with an initial campus contribution of $250,000 during the most recent full fiscal year, revenues still fell short of planned expenditures by nearly $500,000 — effectively making the total shortfall $750,000 for 2012-13."  But adding your contribution to the Festival's shortfall is totally bogus.  You committed to give that money, and you gave that money, ostensibly, because of the value added that the Festival contributes to UCSC.  I bet you some of your undergrads chose to attend UC Santa Cruz because of the Festival.  For example, Lynn Baker-Nauman writes that, "UCSC's enrollment will be affected by this decision. The chance to work alongside professional actors while training as an undergrad was a huge pull for me."  How many other students are you going to lose because of the Festival's absence?

In addition, on the aforementioned website, Shakespeare Santa Cruz offers this graphic to illustrate its finances:

Even with the in-kind donation SSC receives from UCSC, which does not actually cost the University capital and, I would argue, is more than repaid by the presence of an actual professional theater company in residence, the projected shortfall for 2012 was 350K.  Do you really expect us to believe that this year, the total shortfall was over double that?  The accusation is ludicrous.  And if it were true, the idea that the University would allow the festival to go so egregiously over budget makes you, as the power that is supposed to keep the festival in check, at least as - if not more - responsible for the mismanagement.

No Legacy Is So Rich As Honesty

I can't help but wonder, also, when the University settles its books as opposed to when the Festival does.  Having spent my life working in academia and professional theaters, I suspect that the University figures out its finances in June, which is right when the Festival has spent the most (artist fees, production budgets, materials, crews) but before any of its ticket revenues have come in, which according to your own numbers, account for almost half of the total revenue.  In fact, Theatre Communications Group's (TCG) most recently compiled data indicates that, on average, total ticket income accounts for only 42% of the overall budget of a not-for-profit theater in this country, making SSC almost ten percent above the national mean. (p.8)

Omittance Is Very Much Quittance

And let's face it: The exit-pursued-by-a-bear in the room is the fact that you omitted your Artistic Director's name from the press release IN ITS ENTIRETY.  Seriously dude, WTF?  Who shuts down a theater company without at least acknowledging the guy who's been running it for the last six years, whose productions have received nearly-universal critical acclaim, and who led a fund-raising campaign one year after getting the job to keep the Festival afloat?  Didn't anyone tell you what poor manners that shows, and how the omittance just calls attention to your major sketchiness?  And who closes a theater company without bothering to inform its Artistic Director?  And in the middle of its season.  We in the theater know that timing is everything.

I can't help but thinking about Shakespeare's quote on slander from CYMBELINE, Act III/scene iv:


Whose edge is sharper than the sword, whose tongue 

Outvenoms all the worms of Nile, whose breath 

Rides on the posting winds and doth belie 
All corners of the world: kings, queens and states, 

Maids, matrons, nay, the secrets of the grave 
This viperous slander enters.

I know Marco, and I have worked for him.  If you want me to believe that he so mismanaged the company that you claim to care so much about, then show me the lack of money.  You claim that Shakespeare Santa Cruz currently carries 1.98 million dollars in debt.  That's over 100% of its annual income.  If that is the reason you cite for having to close the Festival, than I think the least you should do is release the paperwork that supports your claim.  Like Othello, I'll have some proof, if you don't mind.
What A Piece of Work Is A Man

Coincidentally, I came out to Shakespeare Santa Cruz a few weeks ago, and had the pleasure of catching HENRY V, one of the best productions (Shakespeare or otherwise) that I have ever seen.  I felt so proud to be an alum of the Festival, to have seen Charlie Pasternak play Romeo in the Glen six years ago, and to see him mature and evolve into the kind of artist capable of delivering a role-redefining performance as this play's titular character.  For all of the wonderful theater that happens in New York City, I don't often have the pleasure of sitting back and experiencing three hours of exquisitely spoken Shakespeare.  I felt humbled by the beauty of the experience.

After the show, I was approached by two members of the company.  The first was Gina Hayes.  Gina ran the audience talk-back for Lanford Wilson's BURN THIS, which I directed in Marco's inaugural season six years ago.  She told me that she was so moved and inspired by our hour-long Q-and-A answer session with the community, that she got a job working as Marco's assistant and is now pursuing a life in theater: she'll be starting a graduate program in directing at Northwestern in the fall.

Yvonne Woods and Stephen Bel Davies in my production of Burn This.  Sets - John Iacovelli.  Costumes - Oliver Gajic.
The second member of the company who approached me was Jessica Bond, the SSC Production Manager.  Jessica introduced me to her husband, Ryan, who told me that our production of BURN THIS made him understand why his wife spent so many hours toiling away at a theater when she could be making so much more money working fewer hours doing just about anything else. 

You see, by closing Shakespeare Santa Cruz, you're not just eliminating the handful of professional contracts (650/week) that you feel are so expensive.  You are denying audiences and students the chance to experience world-class Shakespeare, and the opportunity to engage with the artists who make it.

I am an Associate Artist at Shakespeare Santa Cruz.  I am one of its audience members. I donated $1000 to the fund-raising drive in 2008 to keep it alive.  I demand you provide evidence of the allegations you claim led you to terminate the Shakespeare Festival that I and so many others hold so dear.

Michael Barakiva


  1. BRAVO! I started working as an actor with SSC in 1986. I grew up in that company. My wife has written a letter to the dean, also. I will share yours with her. You can find her letter on Facebook. Gary Armagnac

  2. Thanks for writing this, Michael. And I started working at Utah Shakes as Lord #3 under Gary Armagnac's Duke in As You Like It... Which demonstrates there's also a butterfly effect at work. When a great Arts Institution disappears, the effects are incalculable. For example, when I was at SSC, I did a reading of a screenplay by one of the directing interns. We have recently struck up a collaboration which has resulted in a Fringe First award at the Edinburgh Fringe. We would never have met without SSC. The value that is lost to the future is incalculable.

  3. Well said, Michael. Once again, the true function of the arts is overlooked and undermined by this Dean, and your "calling out" of the "convenient truths" put forth for the closing of this august company bring this to light. Sadly, it is only yet another note in the funeral dirge for this company, but it was well sung.

  4. I applaud all that you have said Mr. Barakiva and deplore the loss of this program. Absolutely shameful.

  5. Michael: Thanks for taking the time to lay this out clearly. The Santa Cruz Sentinel it seems can't be bothered. I began my career at SSC, and would like to see its closure documented with honesty and integrity and without scapegoating artists who sacrifice in the service of beauty and education.

  6. I attended the festival when I was in high school seventeen years ago and it was the primary inspiration for my pursuing a career in theater. I have been a working actress since then. It is tragic to think that this program will no longer be there to inspire others and change lives as it did for me.

  7. I never worked at SSC, but Michael, you are a Prince.
    Thank you for your voice, your clarity, your passion.
    This world we're in these days needs you and others like you to tell it like it is...

  8. michael, thank you, sir! well said, well written and well received! i am really pleased at the outpouring of open letters coming from those who really understand what it means to have ssc as a landmark in the town i grew up in. cheers, amigo!

  9. I really appreciate your well written and spirited letter. I got some insight that was missing from previous announcements. There is something "fishy" here, and I'd like to see the proof, or tell us why UCSC can't be bothered to be fully honest about this. I have been going to the festival for 20+ years, and taking family and friends. I have been quite proud, honestly, of the festival and its quality. This closure is breaking my heart, and I want to know why this was done!

  10. Very well said, I hope someone is listening. Shakespeare Santa Cruz has been a huge part of our family's life for decades. Our kids grew up as groundlings at SSC since they were very little and loved every year. My daughter had a small part in one of the productions when she was twelve. She was so inspired by the truly amazing actors, directors and production people that she chose a career as a performer. It is ironic that the week that she is moving to NYC to pursue her dream, it is announced that SSC will close.

  11. There is so much about this decision that makes no sense. In 2008 the community got behind the new Artistic Director and raised $400,000 to keep SSC afloat. Why has there been no contact with the community since then? Why was SSC allowed to build a new stage in the Glen if the company was going to be closed down? This decision, made abruptly, with no community input was completely avoidable. Did Dean Yeager just figure out that there was a problem? Who else has been totally asleep at the switch? This decision seems the result of gross negligence and incompetence! If ticket prices had been increased $10 a ticket there would have been little or no shortfall. My husband and I have been attending Shakespeare Santa Cruz performances for 20 years. They are on a par with what we have seen in Ashland, where ticket prices are much much higher.

  12. "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark"

    This year, in a brochure about Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SSC), the dean
    of the Arts Division, David Yager, appears smiling with the Artistic
    Director, Marcello Barricelli, breaking ground for a new stage
    that was built on the UCSC Glen.
    But only a few month's later, this same dean
    abruptly announces, to the great shock and surprise of everyone on our
    campus, that this year will be the final season of SSC. The reason
    for this action, Yager claims,
    is that "the company is not built on a financially sustainable model".
    But he must have known this fact for a very long time, so why for example,
    did he recently encourage spending additional unavailable funds to build an expensive new stage, that now has to be dismantled permanently?
    And what steps, if any, did he take to control expenses of SSC in the
    past? Was the announcement timed, just a few weeks before the opening of the campus to bypass consultation with the academic faculty?

    1. I said it in my comment below and I've been saying it all week. Something is up in the books, either in the UCSC arts division or the university at large and this was the most expedient way of dealing with it.

      My suspicion is that the BS from Yager is NOTHING compared to what's actually going on.

      I want to see the books.

  13. I must add that some of my most early and precious memories working for the first time with such a classy, professional theatre company such as SSC behind the scenes was an invaluable experience and just the beginning of my long journey through stage and screen, wrought with the faded memories of some exquisite performances by some truly great actors, and the professional experience it afforded me that I took with me into my journey toward my professional career. What a shame to let this end. And replace it with what exactly?

  14. The UC system, and UCSC, will throw millions of dollars at the sciences, engineering, and other programs - but invest in the arts? The arts are rarely financially "sustainable" - but they are not created to make money. It should be the UC's privilege to pay for SSC - make the money somewhere else. One of the UC Regent's salary, for example, would pay for the shortfall. There's your money. How much does Sherry Lansing, that worthless trollop, make every year? F*#k you Dean Yager - you are a worthless whore.

  15. Thank you Michael, both for an amazing workshop on Chekhov when I was an acting intern in 2008 and for your great response to this utter bullshit.

    The accounting double-speak in this disturbing turn of events is nothing short of appalling. I, for one, being an actor who does accounting work in order to eat, want to see the financials. The arithmetic doesn't work (as you beautifully explained). I'm willing to bet a closer look at UCSC's books will reveal a whole slew of problems that they don't want known and for which SSC has simply become the most convenient scape-goat.

    Obviously appealing to them from the standpoint of destroying a nationally-acclaimed theatre festival isn't going to do it (if they valued the arts at ALL, they would have done just about anything else before axing it), but perhaps the revenue lost from students who won't apply to the university's department, the donations lost from their parents, and--above all--the donations lost from the community at large. This move is short-sighted and, for lack of a better word, dickish in the extreme.