The other shoe has dropped at the Steppenwolf Theater Company, with Stephen Eich’s resignation as the troupe’s managing director, a post he has held for the past 13 years.
Eich’s announcement follows by only a few weeks the news that Randall Arney would step down as Steppenwolf’s artistic director at the end of the current season. Ensemble member Martha Lavey was named acting artistic director at the time of Arney’s resignation last month.
“I saw a lot of transitioning going on around the company and thought this would be a good time to step out and explore other career opportunities,” Eich said. Eich’s immediate plan is to co-produce, with the Shubert Organization and Joan Stein, Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” Off Broadway in the fall. The comedy premiered at Steppenwolf in 1993 and is currently running in Los Angeles.
Eich said he anticipates remaining with the company until a successor is named to ensure a smooth transition. Steppenwolf board member Bruce Sagan said a national search would begin soon for a new managing director, and he anticipated it could take several months to complete.
In an interview, Eich sought to separate his resignation from any developments surrounding the Arney announcement last month.
“It was really a personal matter,” Eich said.
“I think the opportunity (to produce) in New York was too irresistible to him,” added Sagan.
But the closeness of Eich’s and Arney’s resignations certainly suggests the Steppenwolf board of directors may have been intent on some serious managerial housecleaning as the theater company’s 20th anniversary season begins in September.
That theory was buttressed by details contained in a confidential, three-page, single-spaced letter from Arney to ensemble members written shortly after he announced his resignation to the Steppenwolf board of directors on March 7.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Variety, Arney indicated that his departure was prompted in part by what he viewed as a move by the Steppenwolf board of directors and company co-founders Gary Sinise, Jeff Perry and Terry Kinney to strip him of most of his powers as artistic director, and thereby presumably force his resignation. Sources say the conflict between Arney and the board stemmed from Arney’s resistance to the board’s desire to expand the company’s artistic staff.
“On Feb.7,” wrote Arney, “at a meeting in which I was not in attendance, Gary, Terry and Jeff sat with the executive and personnel committees of the board. At this meeting they requested and were granted an executive artistic committee made up of the three of them to have authority or oversight over artistic policy and the artistic director and direction of the theater.”
Steppenwolf is probably the only major theater company in the country whose artistic activities are governed by the ensemble, rather than by a board of directors. Sources said the three co-founders pushed for the creation of an executive artistic committee for at least a couple of reasons: It would formally reconnect them to the organization in a way they had not been during several years spent pursuing jobs in Hollywood and elsewhere; and it provided a mechanism to help restructure the artistic side of the company and rethink its artistic mission at a pivotal time in Steppenwolf’s history, when there appeared to be some concern about where the company was headed artistically.
At an earlier meeting with the troika in March 1994, Arney apparently had emphatically objected to the creation of an artistic oversight committee.
“The fact that a year later,” said Arney in the letter, “without any more discussion with me, they for the first time in our theater’s 20-year history, involved the board in artistic policy and caused the board to legislate artistic relationships is unacceptable to me.”
Near the end of his letter, Arney said the existence of an artistic oversight committee would “shift the responsibility, then the authority and finally the freedom to act away from the artistic director.” But Steppenwolf’s new acting artistic director Lavey disputed Arney’s assertion after the letter came to light.
“I feel confident and empowered by the board of directors and the executive artistic committee,” she said.
Eich denies connection
Eich said none of the revelations in Arney’s letter to the ensemble influenced his actions. But the Steppenwolf board’s aggressive moves to affect change, as evidenced in the particulars of Arney’s letter, may have had an impact on Eich’s decision to move on at this moment in the theater company’s history.