Black and White?
Was the firing of Delaware Theatre Company’s artistic director motivated by a controversial play, or was it something else?
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Cammarato’s final act happened backstage. She refused to acknowledge her part in the “10 Months” fiasco. “She went into blame mode,” says Marquardt, “claiming that everyone on staff abandoned her.”
Not so, says Cammarato. “There were plenty of staff members who worked hard on the show and whom I never felt abandoned by. Nonetheless, the lack of marketing and audience development was evident.”
DTC was not on good financial footing. “The Foocy,” which succeeded “10 Months,” sold a dismal 32 percent. And no one was popping open the bubbly to celebrate next year’s subscription numbers, either. The staff was “staring down at the abyss,” Marquardt says. “This was the time Anne Marie needed to be more collaborative and less defensive. She wasn’t.”
Marquardt insists that Cammarato was ultimately fired for not being responsive to DTC audiences. Coker disagrees. And Cammarato points out that she is, in fact, a native Delawarean who “knows the audience by name.”
“I will say that Wilmington is a tricky audience,” Cammarato adds. “It’s not a traditional, theater-going city. That being said, it was never expressed to me by the board that my job was to make a hit out of every show. The way I interpreted it, and the way they approved it, my job was to put together a season of five plays that brought an audience on a varied journey. We always expected that some plays would connect well and some wouldn’t.”
And, Cammarato claims, “I’m the most collaborative leader DTC has ever had.”
Whether Cammarato’s termination was sparked by questions raised about racism in “10 Months” remains in question. All parties agree that her ending was handled badly. She was fired in May, when theater staffs are prepping for next season and directors are reading scripts, not resumes.
Theater is a business. Cammarato did not fill seats with butts. But given the fact that many Delawareans still don’t know where DTC is and, even after 32 years in existence, still confuse it with The Grand Opera House, it’s not clear anyone can.
“The challenges of running a theater in Wilmington are significant,” says Syer. “So often boards think that if you change the plays, you’ll get a bigger audience. That doesn’t necessarily follow. Wilmington is a small city. The number of people who want to see substantive theater is even smaller.”
DTC’s two other artistic directors—Syer and cofounder Cleveland Morris—both suffered nauseating sales swings. Neither was fired for them. So it’s fair to ask if the board ever considered giving Cammarato a warning.
“No, we did not,” says Marquardt. “I’ve gone back and forth in my mind about that, and it’s still painful.”
The sentiment is too little and too late. Cammarato has hired a lawyer. “Had the board said, ‘We feel your work isn’t connecting to the audience, so let’s talk about what that means,’ we may have come to the mutual agreement that I was not the right fit,” Cammarato says.
What invokes the most sadness for Cammarato is uprooting her 6-year-old son. She hopes to land a job in Washington, D.C.
Marquardt has bad days, too. He and Cammarato worked respectfully together for years. He’s lost a friend. But he stands by the board’s decision.
“We all hope that 10 or 15 years from now,” he says, “Anne Marie will look back and say the theater did her a favor.”