Callen Harty, artistic director of Broom Street Theater, will leave the position effective July 31. A Broom Street veteran of more than 25 years, he has led the east side theater company since longtime Broom Street artistic director Joel Gersmann died in 2005.
In 2008 Harty starred in a frightening real-life drama when he suffered a heart attack while performing in a Broom Street play. In his resignation letter (PDF) to the board of directors, he says that in the wake of his heart attack, which he calls a gift, he reexamined his priorities. "The job can be very stressful," he writes. "It has sometimes tired me out." He says he wants to focus on artistic work. "I cannot fulfill myself creatively while burdened with the minutiae of bureaucracy."
He cites a long list of accomplishments during his time at Broom Street, from updating the infrastructure ("Fixed the driveway") to introducing more diversity to the organization. Some of the changes he lists bespeak the fact that his predecessor, Gersmann, had a distinctly quirky approach to theater management. "Introduced ticketing," Harty writes.
As a Broom Street watcher for many years, I'm fascinated at the way the company is still loomed over by Gersmann, whose long Broom Street run began amid Madison's 1960s countercultural ferment. Under Gersmann Broom Street was "an autocracy," Harty writes. "Many people thought that the theater would die with him."
The changes Harty lists are laudable. But just as laudable is the fact that five years after Gersmann's death, Broom Street still looks a lot like it did under his leadership. Unlike other local theater groups, Broom Street focuses almost exclusively on work by local playwrights. It continues to push boundaries -- in terms of subject matter, and indeed in terms of taste. It's a lively creative force for the city. Let's hope it stays that way, whoever's in charge.