Why hasn’t Brüka Theatre, one of the community’s most beloved arts organizations, announced its 2009-2010 season?
Reno, NV 89501
Last fall, when Brüka Theatre dubbed its then upcoming season “The Year of Metamorphoses,” no one had any idea just how accurate that would prove to be. While the designation began as a hybrid of PR and an artistic mission statement, it has turned out to describe an unexpected shift at the core of the popular community theater company. After months of rumors swirling throughout the local arts scene, it now appears that the company’s managing director and longtime Brüka fixture Mary Bennett may be poised to walk away from the company for good.
The simmering rumors came to a boil recently when the end of the 2008-2009 theatrical season came and went without Brüka having announced its schedule for the new season, which historically begins in September.
“Normally by this point, Brüka has selected directors and shows for the next year, and has started marketing and selling season tickets,” says veteran Brüka actor Tom Plunkett. “The fact that it hasn’t happened yet, to me, is a sign that something big is happening.”Winds of change
Whatever that something is has yet to take shape. The board of directors of Brüka, which has been a non-profit corporation since 1998, is in the middle of retooling the company’s structure—something the board believes is necessary for the company to function and adapt while retaining the creative vision and talent for which it is known. How Bennett fits into Brüka’s changing landscape is still unknown. Sources agree that her departure, should it occur, could be chalked up to “philosophical differences” regarding the way the theater should be run. The people who have invested their lives in Brüka are too protective of the company and each other to go into more telling detail than that. Even where personalities have clashed, the people to whom they belong are wary of damaging the goodwill that Brüka has generated in the community.
While visions of the ideal community theater group may differ, Bennett says, “Everyone involved wants the same thing, which is for the theater to thrive and continue to create wonderful art, to give people in the community access to things they ordinarily might not be able to see without leaving town.”
If Bennett resigns from her position, she is adamant that she wants that tradition to carry on.
“The focus of the board is to nurture an organization that is celebrated as an artistic collaborative,” says board president Lewis Zaumeyer, who points out that, as a non-profit organization, Brüka belongs to the community and is not about serving as the artistic vehicle of one person. Accordingly, the board is doing its best to stay above the fray of any personality conflicts that may have acted as a catalyst for the restructuring. For her part, Bennett also believes that Brüka, which was once a small for-profit company, can no longer be controlled by the actions and discretion of one or two individuals. The decision-makers, from Bennett to the board of directors to artistic director Scott Beers, recognize that the company is experiencing growing pains, which are part of reaching the next stage of its natural evolution. It is the question of what those changes should entail that has created a disconnect.Role playing
One of the steps the board believes is necessary is the creation of more clearly defined roles for everyone working and volunteering in the company. Though defined roles seem like a given, they have never quite been the norm at Brüka, where the person paying the bills, the person directing the show, and the person sweeping the floor are often the same person.
“As a board, it is our job to make sure that if the artistic director was hit by a bus tomorrow, the company would be able to continue functioning,” says Zaumeyer.
Board member DeLores Aiazzi agrees that whatever changes might come, the theater’s future doesn’t rely on one or two people.
“Brüka has been a significant creative force in this city,” she says. “That’s not going to go away.”
As one of the individuals embroiled in the current shuffle, Beers is coming to grips with the fact that the tiny “garage theater” group he co-founded in 1992 is now bigger than he is. While the change has been gradual, Brüka has gone from a handful of street actors with Beers unofficially calling the shots, to a major presence in the artistic community complete with paid staff positions and funding from the Nevada Arts Council and other grants.
After many years of having the final word in decisions both creative and business-related, it has taken restraint on Beers’ part to step back and let the board of directors take the actions they deem necessary.
“When we took this theater non-profit, that’s the commitment we made,” he says.
Beers, like Bennett, doesn’t know what’s in store, but he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility that the company’s future may not include him.
Asked how that feels, he’s silent for a moment before responding.
“I feel lucky,” he says. “Whatever happens, I have been blessed, and we all have been blessed to be involved in what we have contributed to the collective consciousness of the community. … There was a time when I saw Brüka as mine, but the truth is that all of what we do is created by everyone who contributes. I’m just lucky to have been here for it.”Renaissance woman
Bennett’s role at Brüka since her company, Renaissance Projects, merged with the theater in 1999 has been extensive and difficult to quantify, ranging from acting and directing to grant-writing and daily business duties. While no one could argue that she wouldn’t leave big shoes to fill, Aiazzi is confident that the theater is headed in the right direction, no matter who is attached.
“Mary brings a lot to the table,” says Aiazzi. “She is wonderful. But then, everyone here brings a lot to the table. That’s why we believe it’s such a great theater.”
Whatever changes come about, and whether Bennett stays or goes, Aiazzi and the board are certain that Brüka will endure and continue to be at the forefront of the local arts scene.
“There is a vast talent pool here,” Aiazzi says, adding that the theater has a proven track record of attracting talented and passionate artists, and that there is no question that they will continue along that path. While the dust has yet to settle from the current shake-up, it is clear that the board is committed to steering the theater in a positive direction, even if that involves unanticipated change.
Until a consensus has been reached, the board members can’t predict the future any more than Beers and Bennett can.
“What we know is that there will be a season, and that it will be a good season,” says Zaumeyer. “The process is just going to be a little different this time around.”
He estimates that within the next couple of weeks, the board will have made some crucial decisions that will determine the company’s future course.
According to Aiazzi, the board is purely optimistic about what is to come.
“We don’t see any of this as a fracture,” she says. “Sure, change can be difficult, but change can also be a very good thing.”