Chatham, NY – April 2, 2019
The Mac-Haydn Theatre heads into its 51st season of summer theatre with new leadership and a revived commitment to the organization’s founding principles.
“We are very excited to continue building on our wonderful legacy,” says producing artistic director John Saunders. “What Lynne and Linda created here in Chatham is something very special. It was a dreadful blow when we lost Lynne last year.” Lynne Haydn, a co-founder of the theatre, died last year, leaving Saunders in the principal leadership role.
Saunders isn’t afraid to shed light on the challenges. “It is a huge responsibility, particularly given the circumstances. I was extremely close to Lynne, I mean, she was my mentor and dear friend. But, Lynne left me feeling very prepared and confident to move the organization into our next 50 years. Our board of directors, led by Paul Colarusso Jr., have been extremely supportive, and I am very excited about our future plans and prospects. We have an exciting staffing restructure in process and have brought in some excellent personnel for the Summer 2019 season. I know it is going to be one of our best.”
Board president Paul Colarusso Jr. has no doubt that Saunders is the right person to lead the Mac-Haydn forward. “John has been with the theatre for 20 years and was hugely instrumental in taking the reins as Lynne’s health declined. He is absolutely ready to guide us into our second half century. The board could not have found a better person to lead our artistic vision.”
As part of the restructure, the theatre is introducing three new positions: a full time general manager; a managing director, who will work part time throughout the year; and an artistic associate/company manager who will join the theatre during the production season.
The general manager position will be assumed by Mac-Haydn favorite Monica M. Wemmit, who has worked as the company manager since 2004 as well as performing many roles on the stage. Saunders said of her appointment, “Monica is the heart and soul of our company. She brings such an amazing knowledge of our history and so much expertise and experience in the field. We are excited to have her in this new role.”
James Rodgers, known well to Mac-Haydn audiences, will take on the role of managing director. James has more than a decade of experience in the arts industry as a performer, director, producer, and educator. He is also the founder and principal of the digital content management business Hemis Digital. “James is perfectly suited to take on this role for us. He knows our organization inside and out and has great vision for the future of the Mac-Haydn,” said Colarusso.
Erin Spears Ledford will assume a dual role as artistic associate/company manager. Ledford is highly experienced as an arts educator and has worked at the Mac-Haydn for several seasons in a number of capacities. This new role will capitalize on her skills as a creative artist, educator, as well as an organizer and team builder. John Saunders spoke of her appointment, “We are an all hands on deck environment and having someone with the diverse range of skills that Erin possesses is invaluable to us during the summer season.”
This restructure comes at a time when the theatre looks to double down on its commitment to two of the founding principles of the Mac-Haydn Theatre—that of education, and the facilitation and creation of new theatrical work.
Starting its life in a barn on the Columbia County Fairgrounds, the Mac-Haydn Theatre was established by Lynne Haydn and Linda MacNish in 1969. Having grown up in the Columbia County area, MacNish saw Chatham, less than two and a half hours up the Taconic Parkway from New York City, as a perfect location to establish a summer theatre performance and education program. For 50 years the Mac-Haydn has done just that. Linda and Lynne also hoped to provide an organized center for producers to present new plays and musicals. While this was a fundamental part of the theatre’s practices in its first decade, the emphasis on new work fell away over time.
Saunders has a firm commitment to returning to those founding principles. A first step was to present a wider variety of shows. For the past three seasons more than half of the theatre’s shows have been completely new to the Mac-Haydn stage. John feels that this will increase his audiences’ willingness to try something new, paving the way for a rebirth of the commissioning activities. In 2017 the theatre workshopped Wendy’s Shadow, composed by music director David Maglione and in 2018, the show completed a highly successfully run as part of the Children’s Theatre season.
Saunders is clearly optimistic about the theatre’s outlook. “In looking to find our pathway forward, we really only had to examine our past and the vision that Lynne and Linda had for this little summer theatre. After two seasons of surplus, growing ticket sales, and increased exposure in the wider capital region, we are perfectly poised to make good on that vision.”
Set and Lighting designer Andrew Gmoser had this to say about his long association with the Mac-Haydn and the future of the company. “I am proud to have worked with Lynne for the past 25 seasons. I am grateful for her friendship, for the Mac-Haydn Theatre itself, and for the opportunity to create theatre with so many wonderful people. For the past few years John Saunders has worked alongside Lynne and brought a new energy and vision to the Mac-Haydn, with even more exciting and thought provoking productions that have inspired both the theatre and its audiences. I look forward to working with John to achieve these goals for this and many seasons to come.”