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Michael Gennaro to retire from Goodspeed after leading the organization since 2015

Michael Gennaro will retire from Goodspeed Musicals in December, after leading the organization for nearly six years.

Gennaro took over in February 2015 as executive director from Michael Price, who headed up Goodspeed for 46 years.

Discussing why he decided to retire now, Gennaro, who will be 70 in September, said, “My wife and I have been kind of talking about this on and off. We had a granddaughter come into our life about six months ago, who’s in Chicago. And 2020 marks 50 years that I’ve been doing something in the theater, whether as an actor or a producer or an entertainment lawyer or running arts organizations. It just seemed like it was time.”

He added that members of the Goodspeed Board of Trustees have been very supportive, and he wanted to make sure he gave them enough time so there wasn’t pressure and he could see through a smooth transition. Gennaro said that the transition from Price to him was very smooth and he wants to ensure the same is true this time around.

Immediately before joining Goodspeed, Gennaro served as executive director of Trinity Repertory Company in Providence from 2007 to 2014. Prior to that, he was executive director of the Pennsylvania Ballet, managing director of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., producing director at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, and executive director of the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

When he was hired by Goodspeed, he told The Day that few places could have enticed him to leave Trinity Rep, but Goodspeed was one. He said then, “I’ve been doing this, running organizations, for 25 years and have always watched Goodspeed from afar and admired Michael (Price) greatly and the work that it did.”

Gennaro might do something else after leaving Goodspeed — perhaps take on a part-time job. Whatever it is, though, it won’t be running an arts organization. He said, “For 30 of the 50 years (in the theater world), I’ve been running six arts organizations in six different cities. So I never really had the time to say ‘Hmm …maybe I should go work at Home Depot.’ (He laughs.)”

His sister keeps telling him he should think about teaching, but any decision will be made down the line.

Hila Rosen, president of the Goodspeed Board of Trustees, said she was disappointed when she learned that Gennaro wanted to retire, but she understood, especially since she has a new granddaughter herself. In an interview, she added that he has improved things on the accounting and financial fronts while still “continuing the magnificent tradition of what we put on the stage.”

She also stated, in a Goodspeed press release, “I have an extraordinary amount of respect for Michael Gennaro. He had the difficult task of succeeding Goodspeed’s longtime leader Michael Price, and has succeeded spectacularly.”

Thomas Hall of Albert Hall & Associates will help with the national search to find Gennaro’s replacement. Goodspeed used the same company when it searched for someone to take over for Price.

Goodspeed Musicals’ Board of Trustees made the announcement of Gennaro’s retirement a little more than two weeks after another revered theater in the region, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, announced that its executive director, Preston Whiteway, would be leaving. He is stepping down after 16 years and will be working as a creative development consultant for Tribeca Productions.

Looking back on what has happened at Goodspeed during his tenure, Gennaro said, “I think the programming has been nudged forward in a different direction. I think clearly there’s been a strong emphasis on new work at both the Opera House … and in ‘The Worklight Series,’ which I think is going to be really fascinating,” he said.

Goodspeed’s Terris Theatre in Chester is being relaunched this year as “The Worklight Series,” where shows in development will be presented as staged readings. The idea is that the shows can be more actively in progress, with the writers more able to change things and try new versions in front of an audience.

Gennaro also said, “The idea of creating a kind of pipeline, if you will, between the Mercer Colony and the Festival of New Musicals and our two stages (at the Opera House and the Terris) has been really satisfying to see develop.”

The Johnny Mercer Writers Colony is a residency program for musical theater writers at Goodspeed, and the Festival of New Musicals features staged readings of new musicals, along with seminars, cabarets and more.

Asked about possible renovations at the Opera House, Gennaro said that’s a long-term project that certainly wouldn’t be done before he leaves.

“We’re hoping to do a renovation of the Opera House to open up the lobby to make it more spacious and to add bathrooms, which I think everybody will be very happy about. We’re fairly deep into looking at different ideas and plans. We had gotten the bond from Governor Malloy a couple of years ago, $2.9 million, so we’re trying to figure out the best way to make use of that and raise money against that to do some changes that will make the experience of the patrons better,” he said. “People are not making comments that they don’t like the shows. They love the shows, but they say things like, ‘Gee, I wish there were more bathrooms.’ ‘Gee, I wish the seats were more comfortable.’ So we’re trying to look at ways to improve all of those things.”

Gennaro said he is thankful for the support and friendship from the board and the staff and also stated in the Goodspeed press release, “I have had many exceptional experiences over the years and completing my career at Goodspeed Musicals — an organization that represents the pinnacle of the American musical theatre art form — has given me great pride and joy.”

k.dorsey@theday.com

 

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