Arizona Theatre Company announced today that its managing director, Billy Russo, is stepping down at the end of the month.
No reason for Russo’s departure was given in a press release this morning, only that “he will not renew his contract at the end of the fiscal year.”
The news follows rumors of the company’s renewed financial trouble and of mismanagement of the state’s professional theater company. Word on the street is that the company is in dire straits. Its scenery shop was recently pink-slipped for delinquent rent. The departure in recent months of 20 key staff members also may have something to do with Russo’s exit.
“Billy has been very public about different organizations needing different leaders at different times,” said Arizona Theatre Company's artistic director, Sean Daniels. “He’s brilliant and a little crazy and he really got us to where we are today. It’ll be no time before someone snaps him up.”
Russo has, according to the release, “been instrumental in preparing ATC to move to the next phase both foundationally and financially.” Asked specifically what Russo did toward these ends, Daniels offered faint praise, saying that Russo “held it together,” citing increased ticket sales and a better-than-ever fiscal year in 2018.
“A lot of people can take credit for those things,” Daniels admitted, “but Billy got us to this point. For a long time before he came, we were going from small crisis to small crisis. When Billy came on four years ago, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to finish the season.”
Daniels seems to think that the departure of nearly two dozen employees in the past year has nothing to do with Russo’s management style.
“Whenever there’s a new artistic director, there’s going to be a lot of transition,” said Daniels, who took over for departing artistic director David Ivers earlier this year. “Artistic directors like to work with their own people. The nice thing about so many people leaving was I didn’t have to let people go to bring my people in.”
Russo will be replaced by Geri Wright, a former ATC director of development who left in 2015 to join Act One Arizona, an organization that hosts arts-related field trips for students from Title 1 schools. She’s also worked in development for the Red Cross and the Heard Museum. Wright and Russo will work in tandem for six months; she’ll fly solo beginning in July.
Daniels hopes Wright’s organizational skills will prevent future problems, like the company’s recent near-eviction by landlords of ATC’s scenery shop.
“Our previous finance director had been paying that bill, but when that person left there was no real bookkeeping left behind about how that bill got paid,” he said. “Once we found out we were behind, we paid it. That’s why I think Geri coming in will help. She’ll put systems in place that will let us grow as an organization.”