Making good on promise to reorganize the League of American Theaters and Producers, the Broadway trade group’s new executive director fired several veteran staffers Nov. 8 and accepted the resignations of two others.
“We need to organize ourselves to be very membership-responsive and marketing-oriented,” Jed Bernstein told Variety Nov. 9 in explaining the moves, which caught Broadway off guard.
The key players among the soon-departing employees are George Wachtel, director of research and government relations and a league staffer for more than 18 years; Susan E. Lee, director of marketing and a his 6V2-year veteran of the group; Jane Slotin, director of the Broadway Alliance program since its inception four years ago; and Sandra Hance, manager of special projects and a longtime assistant to the former executive director, Harvey Sabinson. Two clerical employees were fired.
Lee and Slotin had offered their resignations in recent days, when it became clear that the reorganization of the League was going to mean the redefinition of their jobs.
The Broadway Alliance, a plan to encourage play production by lowering capitalization and running costs as well as ticket prices at specific Broadway theaters, is currently up for renewal. But Bernstein said that once the alliance is restructured, it would likely be placed under a newly created membership services department.
Lee has been the most public face of the league in recent years, spearheading such campaigns as Celebrate Broadway and Destination Broadway. Bernstein said he asked Lee to stay, but that she declined. Bernstein should be able to bring in his own team, Lee said Nov. 9, and described her move as “a happy parting.”
“The goals I wanted to meet have been met,” she said. “I think Jed has a terrific plan. I like the change of direction, even though it may be uncomfortable over the next few months.”
Wachtel, who has seen the league transformed from a parochial group of competing local businessmen to an organization representing a $1 billion-plus North American industry, was most taken by surprise by the moves. During his tenure, Wachtel initiated a number of major research projects to analyze the Broadway and road audiences, theatergoing trends and other industry matters, continuing right up to the present.
“I expected change, but I was surprised by the extent of the change,” said Wachtel, who plans to stay with the league until the end of the year. After that, he said, “I intend to stay in the industry and to continue to make this kind of contribution.”
Bernstein said that most of Wachtel’s responsibilities would come under the purview of a soon-to-be-appointed director of membership services. The move was not meant to suggest dissatisfaction with Wachtel’s performance, Bernstein said, but to emphasize the marketing and membership services directives. The marketing initiative, Bernstein said, would also pull together public and government relations, and such projects as Broadway on Broadway.
Bernstein said the league would soon hire an inhouse editor and graphics designer to oversee everything pertaining to the “look, design and feel” of league publications.
“I think we’ll be in good shape by the end of the year,” he said.
Nevertheless, the pending departures have shaken up an industry unused to rapid shifts on the terrain.
“This is an industry that wants progress,” said one veteran observer, “but hates change.”