Michael Price Retiring From Goodspeed Opera House

The Hartford Courant

After 46 years as executive director of the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Michael Price will end one of the longest runs in American theater.

Price, 75, will retire at the end of 2014 from the theater he knew from its first day of operation in 1963. and which he built to become a leading light for the American musical, both old and new. A national search for his successor who will take over in 2015 will begin immediately.

As the two-time Tony Award-winning theater's artistic and business leader, Price, oversaw hundreds of musicals — many of them like "Annie," "Shenandoah," "Very Good Eddie" and "By Jeeves" moving on to Broadway and other theaters. He also built its $23 million endowment, grew its subscription base to 16,000 and created a multi-town theater operation that includes a second theater, a rehearsal hall, the largest scenic and paint shop in New England, a costume shop with 175,000 costumes, a musical theater library and research center, new artist housing and a restaurant in a adjacent historic building that also overlooks the Connecticut River.

"It's been several years in the planning," says Price, who lives in neighboring Chester, the location of Goodspeed Musical's second smaller theater, the Norma Terris Theatre.

"I was going to leave at the end of 2013 but I didn't want to announce it during the theater's 50th anniversary season," he says. "But I think it's time now. We have the strongest board and staff in place than at any time in the theater's history and I think it's appropriate to have another generation to produce for the future. It's been a wonderful run and I've enjoyed 99 44/100s of it."

John F. (Jef) Wolter, president of the theater's board of trustees, called Price "an extraordinary and tireless leader of Goodspeed Musicals for virtually its entire existence. [He] built it into one of the most respected, artistically successful and financially secure theaters in the country. The institution he entrusts to his successor is among the elite of American artistic institutions."

Says Howard Sherman, former head of the American Theatre Wing and former general manager at Goodspeed in the '90s, "What Michael has meant to Goodspeed is incalculable. There would not be a Goodspeed as we know it without Michael Price, who transformed it from a three-month a year summer stock operation into a full-fledged regional theater with two venues, a vastly expanded season and a wide array of educational and industry supporting projects."

Price, just out of the Yale School of Drama, was part of the production team for the theater's first season in 1963. He left at the end of that year but returned five years later to head the then-struggling theater. He has been there ever since, making him one of, if not the longest, still-serving head of a major American theater.

Price says the search, led by Thomas Hall of AlbertHall Associates, will be looking for a single person to oversee both the business and artistic sides of running the theater. "That person is essentially the producer of the theater," says Price.

Price will be retained as part-time consultant to the theater for two years. He will remain on the Goodspeed board and will be on its search committee for his successor who is expected to be named this summer.

Price will remain active in the theater, serving in boards at many non-profit institutions such as the American Theatre Wing, where he is treasurer and the Johnny Mercer Foundation. He is also on the board of the Union for Reformed Judaism. He has been a member of the board of the variations of the state arts commission since 1984, and its chairman of its advisory committee since 1992. (It is currently the Office of Culture and Tourism as part of the Department of Economic and Community Development).

As for overseeing future shows elsewhere, Price says his producing days are over. "I would like to be a patron of the arts instead of one of its creators." He says he is open to teaching "if someone asks."

Goodspeed Musicals, the umbrella name for all of the operations in East Haddam and Chester, has an annual budget of $11.5 million, the largest for a theater producing organization in the state and 33 buildings in the area. Three shows are done annually at the East Haddam theater over about 35 weeks and three shows at the Chester theater —- which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year —- of 12 to 14 weeks.

Goodspeed also presents a festival of readings of three new musicals every January. It also offers workshops and residencies to musical theater artists. There are more than 7,500 donors annually to the theater.

Read Frank Rizzo's blog on theater, the arts and entertainment at www.courant.com/curtain. "Friend" Frank on Facebook at "Frank Rizzo." And be the first to know — and retweet the news — by following Frank on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/ShowRiz/.

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