Hughes exits Long Wharf

Conflict with board chair Pearce triggered ankling

SOUTHBURY, Conn. — Doug Hughes, the artistic director of New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater since 1997, abruptly resigned his position Tuesday, less than a month after announcing details of the upcoming season.

While the Long Wharf’s board of trustees searches for a new a.d., the 36-year-old nonprofit’s managing director Michael Ross and director of artistic programming Greg Leaming will team up to produce the 2001-02 season, which will be significantly altered from the lineup announced May 7 by Hughes.

Announcing Hughes’ resignation, Long Wharf VP and board spokesman Richard Ferguson said that he and the board had learned of Hughes’ resignation with regret. “Doug has contributed a great deal to the success of Long Wharf and we wish him well,” he added.

No one on the board or at the theater would add anything to the official resignation announcement, but, speaking from Chicago, where he’s just begun rehearsals on “Hedda Gabler” for the Steppenwolf Theater Co., Hughes said that he resigned because of a conflict with LWT board chair Barbara L. Pearce.

“I had raised serious concerns about a fundamental problem with the board leadership,” Hughes said. “I tried to work on a solution to it because it was making my job impossible. I needed the board’s help to solve the problem, but I received none, so I had no alternative but to resign.”

Hughes explained that while artistic directors recognize that they are employees, in the best situations they are made to feel like collaborators. “I was never made to feel that the board was collaborating with me,” he said.

Hughes’ four seasons at Long Wharf will be most vividly remembered for the success of the theater’s production of “Wit” in his first season. The production transferred to New York, where it had a long Off Broadway run. The production later toured and the play won a Pulitzer Prize. Long Wharf earned a considerable amount of money from the lengthy run of the play.

But the just-closed 2000-01 season had its ups and downs. Among the productions that elicited controversy were Lynn Redgrave’s “The Mandrake Root” (which nevertheless did well at the box office); Joe Sutton’s “The Third Army”; Daniel Goldfarb’s “Modern Orthodox”; Charles L. Mee’s “Big Love”; Donald Margulies’ “The Model Apartment”; and the revival of the black musical version of “Golden Boy.”

A number of seasons before the departure of founding artistic director Arvin Brown in 1997, Long Wharf began to suffer from subscription losses. The theater hoped that a new a.d. would help turn around that situation.

There were around 10,000 subscribers to Brown’s last season, a number that rose to 11,284 for Hughes’ first season. But by 2000-01, subscribers numbered 10,719. Long Wharf’s subscription record of 18,442 was set in 1987-88.

In addition to the low subscription figure he inherited, Hughes also inherited an accumulated debt of $520,000, though it had been substantially reduced by the end of his first season, primarily because of successful fund-raising.

Changes ahead

The upcoming season will likely change significantly. It was scheduled to open Sept. 19 with “The Cherry Orchard,” directed by David Esbjornson and featuring Hughes’ father, Barnard Hughes, as Firs. He has now withdrawn from the role.

In addition, Doug Hughes was to direct Hugh Leonard’s “Da” as a co-production with the Guthrie in Minneapolis, his own translation of “The Miser” and Harry Kondoleon’s “Play Yourself.” Hughes and the Guthrie will go ahead with “Da,” but it will no longer be a co-production with Long Wharf, according to Hughes. Nor will he direct either “The Miser” or “Play Yourself” for his former theater.

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