Hilary, we hardly know ye. And now Hilary Adams is gone in only her second season as artistic director of the Omaha Community Playhouse.
“Dismissed” was the verb in the daily’s lead sentence. If the Family Feud game show polled people on “What word comes before ‘dismissed’?,” the most common answer would be “class”, class dismissed, not director dismissed.
She arrived in 2014 with raves from staff, trustees and the search committee whose leader said, “We’re not just happy, we’re thrilled.” She left with Playhouse president Tim Schmad saying, “It wasn’t a good fit.”
Why? Schmad quickly rejected three easy answers. He emphasized that her departure had nothing to do with audience numbers for this season’s first two shows, nor with “artistic qualities” or the always debatable lineup of plays for this and next season.
Did the availability of Susie Collins, who now returns as interim director, make Adams more vulnerable? According to Schmad, the recently retired associate director was not contacted until after the executive committee made the decision on Adams.
So I brought up my concern about last season, when all guest directing was done by New Yorkers from her roots rather than the usual local directors with proven work here—the likes of Amy Lane, Susan Clement Toberer and Kevin Lawler. Schmad nixed that issue, saying Adams was encouraged to bring in new talent.
More to the point, she’d lined up two Omahans, Lane and Lara Marsh, to direct plays early next year.
Then what about the move of Jeanine Robertson from Schmad’s office to a new staff position, serving Adams as artistic administrative assistant? Did Hilary push for that appointment? No, Schmad said, that was his idea. And, he added, Jeanine was saddened by the dismissal.
Given those responses, it doesn’t sound like budgetary issues explain the decision. The closest Schmad came to an implied, though carefully skirted, criticism of Adams was his reference to “fundraising and outreach” as “critical components” of her job.
While requesting that these points should not be taken as “a negative of Adams,” he emphasized the importance of a director reaching the community. I know of several organizations that were unsuccessful in getting Hilary as a luncheon speaker. She did present a program for the Downtown Rotary Club, where Schmad is a member, and at least one trusted observer found it impressive.
Arguably, history was not on her side. The last artistic director to come from afar to lead the Playhouse was Charles Jones in 1974 when the job included full executive responsibility for the operation of the theater.
Carl Beck and Susie Collins, who succeeded Jones and preceded Adams, arrived in Omaha with the Nebraska Theatre Caravan, co-founded by Jones. Both worked their way into larger roles on and off stage.
Jones made an immediate impact, not just as an artist producing hit musicals, but with his larger-than-life personality, as this sizable gentleman from Georgia. Nobody expected Hilary to be another Charles, who charmed the big spenders as well as theater-goers and players. But she was apparently expected to help do more than fill the seats.
As for her artistry, I’ll put on my reviewer hat and react to what I’ve seen on stage. I’ve seen nothing she has directed that left me disappointed. But I’ve also seen nothing that made me do what I’ve done on seeing the work of Collins, Lane, Toberer and others.
Nothing, in other words, that wowed me. But I thought that would come in time, before her time was up.