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interviewed by Suzette Berkman.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (91 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Tampa arts and culture oral history project
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Interview conducted on May 23, 2006.
Judy Lisi, President and CEO of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center since 1992, discusses the history of the organization. Ms. Lisi describes her childhood in Connecticut, her family, her education, and various social issues of importance to her. Also, Ms. Lisi details her role as executive director (from 1983 to 1992) of the Shubert Theater in New Haven CT. Other topics discussed include: the League of American Theatres and Producers, and the Patel Conservatory.
Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
C O P Y R I G H T N O T I C E T h i s O r a l H i s t o r y i s c o p y r i g h t e d b y t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a L i b r a r i e s O r a l H i s t o r y P r o g r a m o n b e h a l f o f t h e B o a r d o f T r u s t e e s o f t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 7 U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a A l l r i g h t s r e s e r v e d T h i s o r a l h i s t o r y m a y b e u s e d f o r r e s e a r c h i n s t r u c t i o n a n d p r i v a t e s t u d y u n d e r t h e p r o v i s i o n s o f t h e F a i r U s e F a i r U s e i s a p r o v i s i o n o f t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s C o p y r i g h t L a w ( U n i t e d S t a t e s C o d e T i t l e 1 7 s e c t i o n 1 0 7 ) w h i c h a l l o w s l i m i t e d u s e o f c o p y r i g h t e d m a t e r i a l s u n d e r c e r t a i n c o n d i t i o n s F a i r U s e l i m i t s t h e a m o u n t o f m a t e r i a l t h a t m a y b e u s e d F o r a l l o t h e r p e r m i s s i o n s a n d r e q u e s t s c o n t a c t t h e U N I V E R S I T Y O F S O U T H F L O R I D A L I B R A R I E S O R A L H I S T O R Y P R O G R A M a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a 4 2 0 2 E F o w l e r A v e n u e L I B 1 2 2 T a m p a F L 3 3 6 2 0
Tampa Arts and Culture Oral History Project University of South Florida Interview with: Judy Lisi Interviewed by: Suzette Berkman Location: Tampa, FL Date: 05/23/2006 Transcribed by: Rebecca Willman Audit Edit by: Nicole Cox 10/17/2007 Final E dit by: Nicole Cox 10/18/2007 into some of your past, beginning probably when you were born! If you could? JL: Yes, I was born in Connecticut, Bridgeport, Connecticut, October 13, 1946. SB: Wow. And could you tell us something about your early years? Where you went to school? JL : My early years I went to Catholic schools my entire life. I wore uniforms until I was 20 years old. [Laughs]. SB: [Laughs] I was raised in an Italian extended family. We lived my aunts all lived near us, next do or, down the street, so and with lots of cousins, big meals. I know it sounds stereotypical, but it really was! SB: It was a warm, Italian family. SB: What, what kind? rings. And every Friday they would all get everybody played an instrument in SB: Do you? JL: Yes, yes.
2 SB: Oh yeah? six, and then I took, I around the corner who used to wear this big, big habit, I could barely sit. And she would I was scared to death of her! SB: Was, was this your inspiration for the performing arts? it was just always there. I, I never thought of it as an inspiration. You know, my grandfather, he died before I grew up, and I remember going in the attic one time, and I found all of these opera recordings. And then, I found recordings of them, [and played them on] this old crank[y] kind of thing. And old ones of Enrico Caruso, and all of those early, early singers. So it, music never like that! [Laughs] SB: And where did, where did you go to school? JL: I went to school and grammar school in St. Charles Borromeo School in Bridgeport, Connecticut. And, and my then we, but there that was the Irish church. Then the all my, my mother and all the aunts used to sing in the choir there. And my uncle, and they all, they always had these shows. And so we were all always in shows growing up [laughs]. SB: Oh! [Laughs] JL: Every holiday there seemed like there was a show t he whole family was in. So I never SB: Funny story. JL: Yeah, yeah. SB: And then y ou went called Lauralton Hall in Milford, Connecticut. And it was part boarding school and part,
3 you commuted, part of the girls commu ted. And there were 68 girls in my class. And still, by year they have every they have one reunion for everybody, every year [laughs]. Because we had so few students! And then again, so I wore uniforms when I was in high school. And they were the Sisters of Mercy. And the one thing about a Catholic education is that you really did get a good education. Very much based in the, in the classics and the humanities. And I really had wonderful te achers and still, I, you know, when I think of the English Literature that we have and American Literature, and we had to memorize poetry, and writing, and take Latin! I took four years of Latin, and I can diagram, still, any sentence, up and down and spli t it apart! SB: [Laughs] JL: So, they did they were strict but you did get a good education. And I still have my best friends are still from Lauralton Hall. SB: Wonderful. JL: From when I was fourteen years old. JL: Well, college, then I went to the convent. SB: OK. JL: With the same sisters that were in Lauralton Hall. I was, you know, you felt that you of Mercy actually SB: Oh, I do. JL: Well, that was the old estate. On, on the Connecticut coastline. Beautiful, beautiful estate that he had given to the Sisters of Mercy for some reason. So it was just beautiful. And, and so I wore a uniform there! [Laughs] SB: Again? [Laughs] JL: For three years! And we used to go swimming Hammonasset Park. And then we were the next beach over. And we were all swimming one day, and this boat came up and it was these fellows that were Yale University was right in New Haven, which was next to us. So they all, so they invited us to a party that night. [Laughs] SB: [Laughs]
4 JL: And they were you never saw a boat go so fast. We told them we were nuns, and we...[laughs]. So, but, but again, I got a very good education there. It was St. Joseph College, and, and then I, when I left, I had one more year to finish. And I finished my first degree at Sa cred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. JL: So that was that. And then I went to, I got a Masters in Education. Because I was a SB: How many years? JL: For four years. SB: What did you teach? JL: I taught Eng lish. This was in 1968. I taught English in Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, Connecticut. And then I think, this is where I first had an interest in the Arts, other than music. I was the young, a young teacher. I was 21 years old. And some of the kids in the school were way bigger than me, and some of them as old as me, who had stayed happen anymore. But they were starting, there was this experimental program that they were starting in 1968, called homogeneous grouping. And you might remember what this is. Connecticut was very unusual because it had one of the richest communities, called Rowayton, which was right in the heart of Fairfield County. The highest per capita income in the country. All the way to Ridner Court, which was a project in Norwalk, Connecticut. So it had everything in between. And usually the kids that were from the very wealthy homes were in the higher stratus, and the kids that were from Ridner Court were usually lower than in between. So I was, that was the atmosphere that I went into. This was 1968 when you, you probably remember this when the kids were just starting to wea r long hair... SB: Oh sure. JL: ...and it went to the Supreme Court. That was one of my students.... SB: How interesting. JL: ...at Brien McMahon High School. There was a very, this was a very interesting community. One of was, there was a section in Norwalk that was made up of socialists they were like ex communists and all of this. But very broad, broad minded, liberal thinking people. And this, this boy
5 was the son of one of those families who wa s challenging his right to grow, to grow his hair. My first year, we had 33 bomb scares! SB: Good grief, oh! JL: So I used to have to prepare tests for before because there could be a bomb scare, so I used to gi ve the kids five questions at a time! SB: Oh, how interesting! JL: It was fascinating. To, to be I mean, it was, that was my first year of teaching. SB: Did this influence you politically, at all? SB: Your beliefs? JL: I, I thin k actually, Sacred Heart did a lot because that was, Sacred Heart University is a very interesting school. It was the first Catholic university that was run by lay people. It th a religious order. And many of those lay people were again, very, very intellectual, and very, very liberal. It was during Vietnam, and, and every kind of a watershed period of what was happening there. And so I had some ver y Brothers. They were there all the time. It was just a lot of free thinking it was just a places that are really interesting not through any fault of mine, I this happened [inaudible] of these places [laughs]. So anyway when I got to teaching high school, when I was 21, in this homogeneous grouping, they gave me the drama component because no body else wanted it. And I was the new teacher the new kid on the block. So I said, OK. I knew nothing about drama! Remember I had been in a convent, and I had been I spent one year in w music, but did not know theatre at all. And I, I put together they wanted to do a musical. So we, we did South Pacific Well, when we had I had put up the announcement, I got kids that were in Rowayton, in that high category, all the way to kids in Ridn er Court. And when they all that the kids that were from the high, the upper class area, and they were much more suppressed than the kids from Ridner Court who just wou ld try anything, do anything. And all of a sudden, they were all looking at each other in a completely new way. I had this overall sensation of, oh my goodness! I said, look These kids are talking to each other! These kids that never would interact with each other
6 in any know anything, and I had to go back to school and reall what I was doing! Because I knew there was a lot, there was a powerful thing happening here. And that was transformational, so I really had to learn. And so when my husband, Ernie, he, he had gone he was going back to schoo l to get his PhD. SB: You were married at this point? years and then I had a baby, my daughter Rachel. And then he was working in a corporate job and, he reall y needed I knew he needed to go back to school, he just, he University to get his Ph.D. in American studies. And while we were there, this is St. Louis University, I and I had two children by then. They had a wonderful program in theatre. And I said, couple of classes. And it, it was made up of the most giving people it was just right ced this ex nun, mother SB: [Laughs] had to write. You had to do everyth ing you had to learn everything. And also, the history of theatre and where it came from. And I, you had to do mime, you had to do movement, and these were things again, as an ex nun, I had never done or would have thought about doing! And, and so, what ha had a natural ability for that I used to get cast in these shows! I had no idea what I was these people who thought that theatre was going to be my career, or thought that I wanted to be an actress, I wanted to be a singer, no. I just really wanted to learn how to, how to do it. And then I got a fellowship to the University of Minnesota for m y PhD work, and we were only there for one year because my husband got a job back in Connecticut, and my kids were getting older, and I wanted to be near my family. So we moved back. But I started teaching theatre at Sacred Heart, where I went to school. A nd then I started performing. Because I would get these jobs. They, I mean, they just but then I Then, the more I learned abou t music, the more I realized opera was still Juilliard School of Music, and I took opera, their opera courses there. And had the most
7 amazingly wonderful teachers Judith Raskin, who was just an amazing teacher and singing opera. And I, I enjoyed that so much. So I had a nice little career for about three or four years. But once my kids st tour. To be a real, to be a working professional artist at the service of t he Arts. So I had to make a decision at some point of, do I want to do [Tape paused] you met your husband, Ernie? Henry David Thoreau. At any rate, I met my husband at Sacred Heart University. He was the pr esident of the class, so and I was so shy when I came out of you, you would not know that about me! was in school. And, and in the convent. So when I came out, it took me a little while to when I came out, it was like I had lost three years. And I it took a while fo r me to adjust to things. And he, was the president of the class but he had been in seminary for, for four years. And, and we met when we met, it was at this kind of I told you about the Berrigan brothers, but we met at this anti war kind of thing. And he he claims but I he claims as soon as he saw me that it was love at first sight. Except for one thing! I remember that SB: [Laughs] ing class. And we were sitting next to each other, which was a few months later! [Laughs] SB: [Laughs] JL: So, you know, you know how his, how what is it, when you, when you change history? It revisionist history? He has a revisionist history of how we met [laughs]. But
8 JL: At any rate, he, we started going out when we were both in college, and we got married as soon as we got out of school. SB: How long were you dating? JL: We dated for about a year before we got engaged. Then we got engaged six months later. SB: Pretty, pretty quickly. JL: It was pretty quick, yes. SB: And then you had your children? JL: And then we had our children right away. ly too. JL: Yeah, yeah, we had Rachel that first year, and Joel a year and a half after that. SB: Oh my goodness. JL: So, so there were exciting times. And you know, that was an age when there was so you know, you took chances on things. I think now, we, we when he, he had this really good corporate job. And we gave it all up so that he could go to school and, and, you know that Joseph Campbell way, and I have too. And I, I have found in my life that it really can happen. If you follow your bliss, good things can come of that. to day, if things have gotten so much, I think more difficult. In terms of first of all, for goes out to artists because in this country especially, there is just n o net for them at all. support them, they have no way that they can work on their craft until they get to a point SB: Is that your underlying, sort of motivation for the conservatory or what have you? JL: Yes, for those people who want to become professional artists. On the other hand, and the co to your children. You mentioned that you, in a way sacrificed for your children.
9 ike a sacrifice, because you, you know, I really enjoyed it so JL: And I was, I was fortunate that in, in those days you, with one person working, you I have found though, when we were at the University of Minnesota, my husband and I, this was 1973 had, for every child that was there, they had 4 children. And the parents had to participate. It was this wonder ful program. And this was supposed to be a model that they were going to roll out to the rest of the country. And I look back, 33 years at the state of day care, and this country, and it is absolutely pathetic. But that was the thinking then. There was t his it was kind of an age of idealism, where you know, we were going to there was going to be an end to war, that women were going to be able to make choices. But not at the sacrifice of children. Children were going to be able to not only be well cared fo r, but they were going to be given philosophy. SB: And what were you doing? JL: I was very fortunate, because I was teaching part time at Sacred Heart University, which was perfect for me. And there was a lot of theatre activity there. And, and so and then a new theatre opened up independent from that. S o I was actually able to, while my children were growing up, I was able to perform and direct on a part time basis while they were little. As a matter of fact, they would come to me many times with me to do casting sessions. And, and they, they were kind of that typical they were really raised in the Mom we would be driving home we liked that one, not And they were always writing! [Laughs]
10 SB: I have to ask you if, if they a re now in this area? would be writer. She writes books and well, she writes a lot for, at her she likes to in life. And she writes a lot Master of Library Science, which kind of SB: [Laughs] and just a great, great person. And my son is a musician, and you know, he, he travels a lot as musicians do. SB: What is his instrument? JL: His instrument is, is guitar, but he also does an orchestrator. He went to the Hartt SB: As in all of us. for them. SB: Sure. JL: But they love it. So, what JL: And who did I think I was raising? [Both laugh] SB: Oh, good gracious. JL: So, I mean, there, there you have it. with my children, you know, as far as materialism, they could care [less] what they wear,
11 [Both laugh] bu JL: You know, yeah, yeah, yeah. are! JL: Oh, thank you. SB: But well, kind of back to when you were raising them, I know you went to the Shubert Theatre. Could you kind of take us [through] how that happened? JL: Yes. In 1983 w ell, what happened was the, I, I was artistic director of a theatre called the Downtown Cabaret Theatre. And it, it was a wonderful little place, and I had done a lot of, I had gotten a lot of grants for it and subscription. And I built up their subscripti on base. So anyway, I got a call from the Shubert Theatre, which was a very, SB: The ultimate. JL: It was like the ultimate. Because the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, which opened in shows that, before they went to Broadway, would either start there, or have a pre Broadway tryout tour. And there was this, the person who ran the Shubert Theatre. His name was Mr. Maurice Bailey. And Mr. Bailey was this wonderful impresario; everybody in Connecticut knew who Mr. Bailey was. And, and so and actually, my husband and I, one of the first shows we ever saw was at the Shubert Theatre in New Have n. And it was Haven. And Jason Robards was, was in it So, what happened was, in 1975, they were going to tear the Shubert down. T he Shubert had, after Mr. Bailey died, it, it closed in 1975, and there was a lot of as typical in cities, there was a lot of urban blight. And it was, and that it was on College Street, if you know green from Yale
12 a very that when you I you could drive I used to drive from my house to the Shubert and go through like five absolutely different neighborhoods before and then through the Yale University campus, before I got there. Everyday I would think, this is so, this is just an incredible experiment in America. So at any rate, I got a call from them i n 1983. They, they had a big they had raised a lot of money to renovate the Shubert Theatre. And they had, there was this Taft Hotel that was very famous that was next to it, and the Hotel Adams was over it. And they put a lot of money into renovating the whole Shubert Theatre as a part of an urban redevelopment project. That was the catalyst. And this has happened in a lot of cities, in they would take these old theatres. But it had been closed from 1975 to 1983. And they hired and fired two executive [Tape Paused] JL: And they, when they called me, they said they were looking for a Development Director. And I said, you know, that would be great, because I really love raising money. Cabaret Theatre, I had to be there like, a lot of nights and weekends. But this way I could work as they were in school now, I could wo rk a kind of nine to five job and then be home in the evenings, which I thought would be a good, a good thing. So I said, OK. there when I got there. I just thought this would be a good opport [Both laugh] Brian Littercoat They fired him three weeks after I was there. The Board did. And they asked me if I would come in Wait a minu I No, no, but you did such a good job raising money, and with your subscription, and with your SB: Oh, wow. an you just serve as A Well, I said, Because that was not the intent, my intention of coming here. So, after six months went by, I, and I fortunately knock wood! I, all of the I had been with producing companies. I had not been in Broadway. I went down to New York, and I just knocked on the doors. I met Gerry Schoenfeld. I said,
13 [Laughs] And he said, [Laughs] SB: [Laughs] Smith and all of these guys went to see the, the Nederlanders, you know wh o they were. I had heard these names, went to see producers who I would go on this list and say, [Laughs] Irving Siders, who was with the Marvin Krauss. And I And you know, what I realize is and it was all men. There were no women, in 1983, there were no women in arts a lot not Broadway anyway, doing anything there. But they kind of all took me under m [End Tape 1, Side A] ___ kind of, figure it all out. And I went down there, and with Mr. Schoenfeld, who is the head of the Shubert Organization, which owns m ost of the theatres in New York. I went into this office, and it was so intimidating because you know, there are these plush offices in the middle of in the heart of Braodway. And I remember sitting down waiting for him to come in, and my knees were shakin g! I could actually, I could actually feel my knees shaking! [Laughs] SB: [Laughs] [Both laugh] I s [Laughs] if you, you know, I just y really helped me. All of them though had fond memories of the Shubert Theatre. Because they all had spent a lot of time there. SB: Yeah, of course. JL: So when and they were all happy to know that it was going to be saved. And, and so you see up there, that was that was the opening poster. SB: Historic, yes.
14 JL: All of those people there, Carol Channing and everybody My Fair Lady, you can All of these people played there, and many of them had, had their debuts there. People like Marlon Brando SB: And who this, this was, this was before your tenure? s pictures they are viewing] SB: Incredible. JL: My favorite one was Marlon Brando, who made his debut on the Shubert Theatre. Not in A Streetcar Named Desire, but as Nels in I Remember Mama. [Laughs] S B: Oh, how interesting. JL: Yeah. So what, what I did when I was at the Shubert was, the history was so fascinating, I put up this thing called the Shubert Wall of Fame, and listed a ll of the SB: What a history. The Vagabond King that you, you would never these operettas and the people who played there it was, it was just amazing. And I wanted to make sure New Haven understood the value of that place as an institution, and why they had to care for it and preserve it. Because so much of it had to do, not only with the history of New Haven, but the history of theatre that happened there wa What you realize is so many places, like the performing Arts Center here, or the Shubert carry our history not only as the arts, but our communities the way
15 And it had gotten so close to being destroyed, that we had to take advantage now of this new rebirth that we had, s o that the people coming here know, that for the future, to take care of it. They only had 400 Broadway subscribers when I got there, and we, I did this big subscription campaign. And we raised it to 5000 subscribers! SB: Wow in what period of time? JL: This was like, I was, I came I started in December, and then three weeks later, which was January, I got this call. And then by, by July I had booked some shows for the following year. These people all helped me, and I raised the subscription to 5000. And I SB: In that short period of time? JL: Yes, yes! Well, one thing was SB: How? well I had also had the good fortune of meeting Danny Newman. I had gotten a Ford Foundation [grant] when I was at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre. Danny Newman is cal led the shows like they do in sports, or like you do buy a magazine. That you ha ve a subscription, that you put your money down first, and then you go to see all those shows. And he was right. That was the only way Arts organizations Performing Arts organizations were going to survive! nny. They said, no, no, we want to But they were collapsing like crazy! Dance companies, [etc]. And so Danny came up with this concept, and it changed the course I he performing arts in this country I
16 JL: And whenever, you know, some of these new marketing kids come in and say, oh, subscriptions a thing of the past. And I say, it is? You try selling single tickets for every have no advance, This way, subscription gives you that advance money that you can earn income on, put it back into the company or twelve performances, or fifteen performances! Now you can concentrate on just selling the other tickets that you have left! SB: It is brilliant. JL: And so I had gotten this Ford Foundation grant in th and he came, and we just hit it off. And so I applied those same things at the Shubert owe it all to him, to his techniques! And we did the same thing here! SB: Yes, yes. JL: Exactly the same thing here for both Broadway and opera. SB: How many years were you there, at the Shubert? JL: I was there nine years, from 1983 to nineteen 1983 [to] 1992, when I came down SB: JL: Oh yeah, yeah we did That Scottish Play in 1986. Barry and Fran Weissler were the producers. And I remember Barry cal ling I was, I was sick in bed with bronchitis or something. And he said, Judy, I want you to do a pre Broadway tryout of Macbeth with Christopher Plummer and with Glenda Jackson. So and so, [inaudible] was directing. And it was like, sounded like a beautif ul thing! [Both Laugh] SB: [inaudible]
17 JL: So, and, and New Haven was the last stop before it was going to Broadway. Well, by the time it got there, they had gone through three sets, nobody was talking to each other, and so, so it was a dream. And Glen Christopher was difficult as day! [Laughs] So it was, and, and he would not wear a microphone, but everybody else was miked, including the three witches. SB: [Laughs] JL: He refused to wear it. So everybody, yo u could hear everybody, and when that have to SB: [Laughs] You were probably having a heart attack! [Laughs] cbeth! [Laugh] And [inaudible] was pulling office, and just sit there for a while. SB: I hope this is not a typical story. JL: No, no! But you were saying, what were the memorable ones? SB: Memorable! JL: But this was a memorable one. And, and one of the other wonderful ones, was Julie Harris in a show called Lettuce and Lovage which is a wonderful play. SB: One of my favorites. JL: Yeah, I ad ore that, and Julie. And she was just there were some icons there that were just so wonderful. Wendy Wasserstein, who just died in the fall. Opening night we did Heidi Chronicles SB: How special. JL: And, and now, o SB: Of course. That was special. JL: Yeah so it just two of our major, major playwrights this year. And they were both young. So yea h I there were, there were a lot of great memories. And we were, we were just around the
18 corner from the Yale Rep [Yale Repertory Theatre], and we knew all the folks there, and we did you know, a lot together. SB: Did the students come? JL: Oh yeah, y eah. JL: And Lloyd Richards was the head of the Yale Rep at that time. And he did a lot of SB: How wonderful. A I started opera there too. At the Shubert. I had an opera company. And so we did it, as I tried to do it here with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. Not go ing to get me going about that! [Both laugh] JL: Please! And it was so successful. And it really helped the New Haven Symphony Orchestra it put them on because they put it on their subscription, and they also had a master series there, where they, the y brought in guest orchestras. And so, what happened is that, it made the New Haven Symphony Orchestra do not only their own work, but now they were doing opera and these great, other great orchestras. And so they really sold a lot more subscriptions, and they, and it did so much to help them. And so we wound up and then we also, we did, we did three productions a year program. Then we would put theirs on our subscription to SB: Great idea. But when I left, two years later, they stopped the whole program. And, and they brought in these awful operas, you know, that toured, that are really p retty terrible. And
19 SB: Sure. SB: What brought you here? Like, how did you hear about it? JL: What brought me here ouple things. Well, see a lot of people in Tampa of us, in New York [laughs], even knew where Tampa was! [Both laugh] JL: And we all called it Tampa Bay. Because with the Tampa Bay Performing Arts I SB: I n New York you heard this? JL: Oh yeah, yeah. Everybody heard it. SB: In Connecticut? JL: Yeah, everybody. SB: Interesting. JL: It was, a big, a big time thing. You have to understand, because there was no place like this in ere Florida was, let alone Tampa. [Laughs] So anyway, when I got this I used to get a lot of calls from headhunters. But I, when I was very happy where I was, but my kids were at a point in their lives my son, was just graduating from high school. And I g ot this call and my sister had just moved personal thing, is I have asthma, and my doctors at Yale said, you, this is the worst possible climate for you. So when I got this call I had heard so much about the place, and my sister was living here, so I said, I don and I like being independent. So I said, be considered a candidate. And I said, if
20 [Laughs], I said that like five times. [Both laugh] JL: So, so I oh my God, I said, this is even bigger and better than what we thought! worked so hard here, and you know, they just were having such a hard time financial problem I said, I said, And when I came here, I met the search committee. They were the nicest people. They were just so nice! SB: Who, who were? Who were the people on it? JL: It was, well, H.L. Culbreath, Hinks Shimberg, Gene Taylor remember Gene, but he used to be the head of, at that time, Nations Bank. Wonderful, wonderful man. And Winkie Howell and just, lovely people. And they had worked so hard to make this place happen. And I jus t said, well have we tried this, have you tried that? I said, maybe this might work oh, no. I said, and I said one thing to And they said, oh! We And I thought, well, it might be good to put some signs [laughs]! 275! SB: Oh my goodness! J L: But I, because I think they thought it was a very, kind of a sacred place and they said, you know, for nothing, you know, whoever you hire, you might want to think about doing something to show the community where it is and, and that sort of thing. Anyway, I really liked them a lot. So when I went back home, and I talked to Ernie, I said, calling to me. I said, I, I really think, you know, t here are some important things can I said, Even though, at that time, you have to understand, in, in the northeast, we had, we had negati happening. And here they were only at 6% growth. They thought that was down. [Both laugh] JL: Everything is relativ e, you know? So, I said, would you come down and take a look at it? Now he had been in the
21 corporate world for like 25 years. And he or 22 years I guess. So, and his big program, he had started a wonderful MBA program in Human Resources and Leadership De velopment in Manhattanville College. And that was, that was hard for him and he eleven years, until 9/11/2001. He ran that program up there. But we thought, you know what? If we ever leave, this is the right time to do it because both of our children were in transition. My daughter was in college. My son was here, we love the community, you know JL: Well it was so funny because I, I they were all I mean, I have to say, the one thing I said to them when I came down is, I said, I thought I was coming to work at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Everything I read in the paper [Laughs] JL: And there, everybody was there was such gloom and doom. I said, no, no, no, that And so, you know, again, what I [ did was], mounted a big subscription campaign that year, and I saw the shows that they were that were coming mming. If people want to So, so we really had to change a lot of the programming. You know, they were doing a lot of classical stuff here, and a lot of stuff th ey were doing it for too long. And, feed it. When you curate, you dealing with many different people in a community. So we kind of broke it down and we upgraded some of the things that should be doing well and could be the money offered. For example, the Jaeb Theatre, they had thi s beautiful gem of a theatre that was
22 not used. I think it was used 20 times a year! Well, that was a good entry level for like, a cabaret, a more less expensive ticket price, a great place for people to start who had never been to theater before. It was c asual. We started with Forever Plaid which was a small musical that was very accessible, and we would do shows like that and Shear Madness take things like Satchmo that were very appealing to people. And now, it runs 52 JL: After Broadway, that show was our biggest moneymaker. And this year we started a Club Jaeb on Monday nights, which is all these emergi ng artists that come on. So that theater is Monday through Sunday. Every single week. SB: Extraordinary. JL: And then the Broadway shows, we upgraded all of those, and then, I had said to the Board when I came on that, if I solved the debt problem, can we do opera? Because when I walked out on Carol Morsani stage, which was called Festival Hall at the time, I you could do anything on there. But they built it in the hors eshoe design that all the great operas and the stacked seating So they said, well if you solve the debt problem, you can do anything, whenever you want! [Both laugh] JL: How about opera? [Laughs] SB: Yeah. JL: So we started doing opera in 1995. JL: Two 1992. JL: Well actually it was just two an even two years, but before we started it, I had to do iever in starting slow and, and building. because the only thing worse than no opera is bad opera. the most demanding of all art forms.
23 r this enormous, enormous production. So I thought really and I wanted to do it at a time when I could link it, from a picked that was the year 1995, when we were doing Mis s Saigon which was a retelling of, of Madame Butterfly But, but it was set in Vietnam, whereas Madame Butterfly was set in Japan. So I thought that would be an interesting angle for the press. And Madame Butterfly is a very popular opera anyway. But we so ld a package, Miss Saigon and Madame Butterfly, So, so we only did one opera a year for about three years. And then we went and SB: What is the program today? Fleming to Jos SB: Which, which y ear did you start bringing individual artists, performing on their own ad a couple of times. So, so that yeah that does very well. SB: And, and how is Broadway doing? Broadway is doing great! Broadway we are the highest grossing one week Broadway market in the country. And we are one of the, in terms of audiences and a number of performances, and a gross attendance, we are one of the largest ten performing arts centers in the country. Carol Morsani, this is Pollstar, is number three in the country, according to Pollstar, which is our k ind of industrial journal. And according to Pollstar, number nine in the world!
24 SB: [Laughs] JL: Which [Laughs] SB: JL: Nine it varies between ten and twelve JL: Yeah. JL: Still growing, yeah. SB: Still growing. SB: You have made it so successful. The community is incredibly impressive and appreciative. What are your goals f or the community for TPAC? JL: Well, my goals for the Performing Arts Center are directly related to the goals for thing that discourages me is not anything about th e Performing Arts Center, and the board or our audiences. that ke everything is separate from each other. Rather than looking at ourselves as a whole arts community which is how we should be looking at each other. about the arts Victor Hugo said in Les Miserables, the only thing worse than the miserable rich are the miserable poor. And I think arts organizations are always
25 whole and how worki ng together in collaboration with each other, it could be better than just individually. This is all about me, and I deserve this, and I should have this, and, and I have no patience for anybody that whines or says, poor me. You have to prove yourself. You have to go out there, and you have to just get the job done. Nobody owes anybody anything. And, and so you get this self JL: Well, I think, yes ourselves with St. Pete! and I think, sadly, what happens very often is our arts institutions, and people in the arts almost thicker than t hey are, you know? And so even if you come in to the community like it or not. SB: Or even, believing it. when I was in Minneapolis, I mean, I went to school in Minneapolis, we lived in St. Paul, and those cities are much closer to each other kind of competitiveness that, that, that we have he SB: Do you feel you can make a difference, with that? SB: Yes, I understand. JL to SB: That is wonderful. we keep trying to figure it out, but we keep realizing [laughs]...
26 then, and then the JL: and you find and sometimes I just get discouraged and say, ye ars, I still find a powerlessness to be able to take it to that next level in terms of, of the community. And it could very well be, you know, they look at us as the 800 pound they say, guy, just have more bills to pay. [Both laugh] SB: Well, but you do have a responsibility obviously, because the performing arts center is so highly thought of. I wish we could find I wish we could have a, a community committee, made up of people that are on the different boards. And, and say, g ot to make the arts be this in Tampa. SB: This would be great for you to start. JL: Somebody else has to start this! But I think because they want the same thing. I think, I think everybod y wants SB: And I have heard you say this many times. JL: You know?
27 SB: And this type of leadership, I think is what has made allowe d you to make a difference in the community thus far. And will continue to allow you to make a difference in the community. So it is a continual challenge for you. JL: It is! And it is a challenge! JL: One reason I stay here is [that] I still have lots of challenges! SB: Which is great, which is great. JL: Yeah. SB: But in terms of your tenure here, most some memorable experiences that you have highlights. Highlights? theatre, you always remember the things remember the near misses. This was, I will tell you this one. Opening night of Phantom of the Opera which is a Opening night, we had this big gala, and I and of course we have four theatre fo ur theatres we have five now. And before it everybody was so excited, I mean we were dressed to the nines, and everybody was happy inside. And the curtain came up, and I just waited until the chandelier did its trick. But then, we were doing another show a t the Jaeb Theatre, and I wanted to go see how that one was doing. So everything was fine, was. And all of a sudden, it was during Act Two, [and] the lights went out in the Jaeb. And I said, what happened? [End Tape 2, Side A] ___ [Tape 2, Side B] JL: Well, just as a reprise as we say in theatre [laughs], it was opening night at Phantom the biggest show ever, here. Afte at Act Two, I went to see what was happening in one of out other theatres. And all of a sudden, I was in one of our small theatres, and the lights went out. And I thought it was just that theatre, ran to the light booth, and the electrician said, Arts Center. At which point, it hit me like an electric light bulb, oh my God! Phantom of the Opera! SB: [Laughs]
28 JL: So I ran and you know how big this place is, all the way, a nd sure enough, all the lights were out in Act Two! [Both laugh] JL: But it was during the portion of the show, in Act Two, where there are these candelabras, and we had just enough generator support for those lights. And then but then they had to re cu e everything. And the audience was just wonderful. It was, it took complaint. SB: Amazing. JL: Bu t it was, it was, one of the most scary things. SB: Memorable [laughs]. JL: The other one, when we had opening night of a show called Tommy, which was a kind of a rock opera. And again, we were the second stop, and it had this huge truss and all of these it had all these television monitors on it. And it was opening night again, and I was sitting I always sit in the back in case I have to run out. And I looked up, and the whole truss went like y, swinging way over, and I could just see somebody getting hurt or killed or whatever. And, fortunately, they pulled the curtain down, and I ran backstage, and they had they had to spend a half an hour bringing the truss back, making sure it was secure and again, that was opening night. Sometimes, they [inaudible] opening night! [Both laugh] And my latest one was last y ear, we were doing Aida the opera, big huge opera, beautiful soprano, Marquita Lister. And her big, big aria and somehow she inhaled something, some dust or something [la and she just walked right off the stage! [Both laugh]
29 SB: What did he do? JL: Well, we all, we, we pulled the curtain down, and we all ran backstage, and the person who was playing Amneris, who was the mezzo soprano, she said she would sing it off stage while Martina continued to, to do the staging of it, through the end of it. And, it was fortunately it was right at the end of the opera, and JL [Both laugh] SB: Oh gosh. know [laughs]! SB: Could I impose this one other thought? I know how widely thought of you are in u tell us your s I mentioned when I started at the, at the Shubert. And in early 1983, it was just, there was a Broadway Theatre owners and producers. We always say between 57 th and 42 nd most p anything west of that or east.
30 So we had and all we knew at that point was, they did keep where the shows each other were. So we had there was one, our first biannual conference was in 1985. And I pulled together a group I said, coming to that. And it was the first time we actually looked at each other and saw each other and realized how many of us there were out there. And it was our first opportunity to network. So we formed this little group called the National Touring Theatre Council. Which was like a subsidiary of the league, but just fo r the road. And then we had our first conference for it, the road people and the marketing wonderful because you saw this whole new field really coming together, em erging, as the Dir ector, Jed Bernstein And Jed and we had our first biannual conference in Tampa. Because I wanted all those producers and theatre owners to see what we have down ther e. I mean, they all knew me at that point, but I needed them to see what we had. So it was very successful. And, and that was the year I had been on the Board of Governors since 1985, but that was the first year I was the first woman invited onto the Execu tive Committee. twelve twelve, is that 1985 eleven years. SB: And, and you chair the education? n came up in the Tampa conference, and we, we needed to form an education committee, because the producers So I chaired the education committee since I was a founding chair sinc e 19 1995. And since then, we do a lot of education programs. We have a lot of grants that we give out, in New York and on the road, and, and now we have a new I was on the, e xecutive committee search committee, for the new executive director, because Jed is and it was great because I could represent education, and we have a now the education is a standing committee, and we have a whole new forward program for, for education. SB: Wonderful.
31 SB: And how does that affect you, your performance here? ke anything else. Broadway is a very important Broadway, as much as we do everything. We do over 750 performances a year now in our five theaters. But over 65% of our revenue is from Broadway. So you think about that SB: Wow. JL: So, as a business person I have to look at, and where do I have to An d, and you know, I am I, people, I can get into any office in New York, and I can and development. We de pend on these Broadway shows. So somewhere along the line, call for a good musi cal. I, I can say no a lot of times, but then I want to be able to say yes SB: Well, I k now you have a luncheon engagement. I would love to talk you, this has just been incredible! JL: No, no last the Tony [Award] season time and a lot of us are Tony voters. And all the shows have luncheons and everything. So it was, The Color Purple, you know, was nominate d for with Oprah Winfrey! SB: Oh my Goodness! JL: So not only did I sit at his table, they put me right next to Oprah! So it was Gayle King, her best friend, Oprah, and me! [Laughs] SB: Oh my gosh! [Both laugh]
32 JL: So I want to make sure that goes in the archives! [Both laugh] t was, that was very exciting I have to say. Tampa Bay. JL: Of course it does. SB: And we really do thank you for that. JL: Yeah, my pleasure. SB: This has been g reat, just stay here forever! SB: You know, I kind of remember that. May we do it JL: OK, alright. SB: Thank you so much [End Interview] ___ [Begin Interview: continued with Suzette Berkman and Judy Lisi on June 19, 2006.] SB: Judy, could you please elaborate on the Patel Conservatory? JL: I would be thrilled to elaborate on the Patel Conservatory. The Conservatory r eally is a dream come true. And as we said earlier, my first inspiration really goes back to when I taught those young people and saw how empowered they were by their exposure to the
33 arts. And, and how it offered them a new way of viewing the world, and fi nding the power in themselves. So, we started our education programs here. When I got here fourteen years ago, we started them very small. They were mostly on school time perf orming arts with the schools coming here. We started to keep time program for parents and grandparents to be able to bring their children. And that worked very well, and it kept growing. But we were also asked heir youth orchestra. And they asked if we would be able to take them under our wing. And a wonderful, wonderful woman by the name of Bev Lauring, who really was the founder of the youth orchestra, just was desperate not to see it end because the orchestra keep them anymore. So we took that under our wing, and that was actually our first training program, was the our wonderful youth orchestra which was a terrific, terrific group of talented young people. 300 kids in four different levels of orche from in the fourteen years from like, it was like 100 young people to over 300. Which Because one of the best orche stras really, youth orchestras in the country were SB: What ages does that cover? JL: The ages are 14 These kids are getting into the best music schools, and they all excel academically JL: Four different levels of orchestra, yeah. So that, that was exciting. Then we had an opportunity to add to that, a classical ballet component, which we did. And there was no room here, so we renovated a warehouse in have room here. And we started summer theatre camps. And we had the kids in wig rooms, and lobbie s and growing and growing and growing. Until we had about four or five hundred kids and no place to put them. We learned that the Channelside was being developed so we were going to have to get out of our studio there, and we finally went to the board in 1999, and we had a feasibility study done about what our needs were, and we had a desperate need for space for the growing training programs. These are programs that were growing by themselves. And t he board was terrific. And not only were they willing to raise money for a conservatory, but also to raise money with an for the capital program, with an endowment program, which was really
34 money. But when you put it together with a capital objective, it, it they both really work together. And we had planned -we launched the program in 2001 of all times, which was not easy. And we thought it would be a three year campaign and it turned out to be a four year campai gn because we also ran into a recession as, as you know. But they finished the campaign. We finished it, and we raised the money. The conservatory came in on time, under budget, and we now have over 1000 kids here, as we speak, taking summer courses agai going to give you any kind of certificate. This was a place I modeled it after the Neighborhood School of Music in, in New Haven, Connecticut which was a place for children, adolescents, and adults to come and explore the arts to have a safe place. I really feel people often, especially when we become adults, to really exerci se it. And so it kind of gets hidden, and so we go to therapy. And I always say this is cheap therapy. Take an art course! Because it really helps you, look at the new world the way we did when we were children, when we used to play or we used to imagine w hat could be. And, and So this is a safe place for imagination and creativity and fun. And we have two tracks. We have a professional track for young people who are, for example, who are in our youth orchestra and classical ballet program, and theatre programs who really are thinking about using this as a step to becoming a professional artist. But mostly, students who want to just expand their view of life. And, and feel life again, and enjoy it. which is, in the performing arts, you, you have to dream, create, discover; y ou have to collaborate, you have to be disciplined, you have to present yourself these are all skills, able to do it better for all the skills. And even our program now is all about working have to the more you support each other, the better competitions, you know, when people are when musicians are competing against each You need to sports are relate to something in the arts. And it just opens a door that they can never close again. my little tag was of course t to, safe place to create with other, with other people. SB: So tell us about some of the classes.
35 JL: Oh, we have classes all levels of music. We start with Suzuki with the kids and kind the youth orchestra. Our theatre programs we have all different types of theatre programs, different, have our community arts ensemble, which is for young people who come from underserved areas, in smaller groups now. And we also have some people from USF who specialize i n social service issues, And they would have to leave the program. But now we have this social service side so we can help them with these problems so that they can stay on track. And we have a Ballet, which is one of the best ballet schools. We have contemporary dance, we have hip people can learn how to b not, not just people who would like to be in film or TV, but people who are going to be on [inaudible] from one way or the other. So it, it really, it really is a pretty large scope. serious about it. And they kind of just leave anyway. if SB: You mentioned that you felt there should be an endowment as well. What type of endowment did you have? JL: Well we have 30 million our The rule of thumb is that the endowment should be three times your operating budget. And our operating budget is between 30 and 3 5 [million], and ever growing. cessful in doing that, and we think we might have an opportunity for that, then that leaves us another 30 million to raise. So over ten years we would do like three or four year campaigns of ten million each. when they start making those choices, of how they would like what they would like to
36 have happen with, with their money and their lega cy, that they would think about, about JL: expand. SB: Speaking of a legacy, would you, would you like to explain or tell us what you would like the legacy to be of the, of the Performing Arts Center? And your own personal legacy? For the community perhaps? JL: You know, I, I think what would be my hope and, and my legacy is going to be the Is that people in Tampa feel that the performing arts is such an integrated part of of being human. And part of their fully participating, in, in life I just think the arts make you a happier person. And if that could happen, that would be great. One of the things that we want to do with the Performing Arts Center Conservatory is that ev grow it, is about taking these programs out into the community. So we can take it to North Tampa and South Tampa and East Tampa. Because we already have these teachers, we have these program s we know not everybody can go to us. But we can build this program so we can take it out to these other young people who might not have acy. [Both laugh] SB: I love it. Can you think of anything else you would like to say in regard to the overall facility?
37 ming Arts Center. I think I am involved with the Performing Arts Center. But I think all of the Tampa, so that the way I said, look, my legacy and the Performing Arts Center legacy I also want them to photography museum, with so that people know that, that art we learn thro ugh the arts. Through all the arts, not just the performing arts. That just happens to be the more, I think more stable, and more creative and better employees. And you ge t people to have to go to Chicago. Artists can be here because there will be a place for them in an arts friendly community. SB: Speaking of staying here, I know a lot of people who have, who love the arts, who have not really moved from Tampa because the Performing Arts Center is here. They can artists. And you that has made quite a difference to, to people. elitist to put all this money into well no! Because the people with wealth can go to New to all, all citizens. plished here, and I know people listening to this interview will be delighted to know a little bit more about you, yourself personally as well. JL: Well thank you Suzette. I feel taking an hour just talking about me has really been a tad indulgent! [laugh s] SB: And we are very, very grateful. SB: Thank you so much.
38 [End interview]