The Arizona Theatre Company pulled off a fundraising feat this summer, raising $2 million in pledges from Tucson and Phoenix supporters in less than three weeks.
That effort staved off concerns that ATC would have to suspend operations, despite the success of its past three seasons. In the wake of the 2008 financial crash, the nonprofit arts organization has faced mounting debt and flagging contributions from individual and corporate donors, philanthropic foundations and government agencies.
But the recent fundraising triumph means the theater can go ahead with its 50th anniversary season, which is also Artistic Director David Ira Goldstein’s 25th season.
And it means that Goldstein, who has decided to leave ATC after this season, gets to fulfill a long-cherished ambition: to bring “Fiddler on the Roof” to the ATC stage.
“It’s always been one of my favorites,” says Goldstein, who directed the iconic musical a few years ago as a guest director in Seattle.
“It certainly speaks to my heritage, since all four of my grandparents came out of the Pale around the same time that ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ takes place,” he says, referring to the Pale of Settlement, territories of Imperial Russia where Jews were allowed to settle. “Fiddler” is set in the Pale in 1905.
While “Fiddler” speaks to his Jewish soul, “also it’s such a wonderful, universal work of art,” Goldstein says.
With 27 cast members, it’s the largest production to be mounted at ATC during his 25-year tenure. Goldstein likes that “Fiddler” is an intergenerational piece, with roles from the young to the “quite elderly,” he says delicately.
Responding to brisk ticket sales, ATC has already added extra weeks. “Fiddler” will run Dec. 3-31 in Tucson before moving to Phoenix for a three-and-a-half week run.
ATC’s season, which boasts six shows, opens here next week with “King Charles III,” which imagines that Prince Charles has finally ascended the British throne, Camilla at his side. “It’s like a big old Shakespearean play but in modern language,” says Goldstein.
For the first time, the cast includes an actor from Sedona, says Goldstein, who explains that people in Tucson or Phoenix sometimes grumble that a cast isn’t “local” enough, forgetting that as the state theater, ATC draws from both metros and beyond. ATC does have a close relationship with the University of Arizona theater department, says Goldstein, which he hopes his successor will continue.
For Goldstein, working with the only major theater in the country that serves two cities has been both a joy and a challenge. He and his wife, KJZZ radio announcer Michele Rogers, have a home in Phoenix, but Goldstein also keeps an apartment in Tucson and has logged countless hours on I-10 commuting. After 21 years of marriage, “my wife and I are looking forward to not spending half our lives apart,” he says.
The tale of two cities also played a part in ATC’s recent fundraising push. Tucson business leader Mike Kasser, who committed to raising $1 million in Tucson if the second million could be raised in Phoenix, was happy the goal was reached. “With over 700 small-to-medium size donors, it was like a crowd-funding campaign without the internet,” he says, adding thanks to Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and several large donors for their support.
Lynne Wood Dusenberry, ATC board of trustees chair, says the outpouring of support, “even from those who were unable to contribute to the effort, has been simply overwhelming,” adding that “there is still much work to be done on both the fund-raising side and organizationally to ensure ATC’s long-term financial and artistic stability.”
Goldstein had intended to leave ATC in 2013, but agreed to stay on as the theater underwent some management changes. His plans for life after ATC are nebulous. “I’ll probably sleep for a couple of months,” he says, and then he’ll likely do some directing.
But first there’s the 50th anniversary season to produce, which will follow up “King Charles III” with “An Act of God” by David Javerbaum, who won multiple Emmy awards as a writer and producer for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
“It’s a wonderful play, it just closed on Broadway last week,” Goldstein told the AJP Aug. 31, explaining that Javerbaum started “tweeting humorously as God,” then turned those divine commentaries on contemporary American culture into a book and a play. “It’s hilarious” but not sacrilegious, Goldstein says.
ATC’s production of “An Act of God” will be directed by Marsha Mason, best known as an actress in “The Goodbye Girl” and other films. “God will be a woman in this production, and David Javerbaum is all on board with that,” Goldstein says, unwilling to divulge the name of the celestial actress until her contract is signed.
It’s hard for Goldstein to name favorites among 25 years of plays — “they’re all your babies,” he says — but some stand-outs include August Wilson’s “Fences” last spring, the world premiere of Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” in 2009 and “M. Butterfly” in 1993, which featured nudity. “We got threatened with being thrown in the hoosegow over that one” in supposedly liberal Tucson, he says, but had no trouble in Phoenix.
Looking back, Goldstein says he’s “proud of the diversity we’ve put on our stage, both in terms of style and tone and theme, and racial diversity,” calling the Temple of Music and Art “a gathering place for so many communities.”
In 1995, Goldstein told the AJP he’d once wanted to be a rabbi. It’s true, he says now; “I was very involved with my shul” growing up in a suburb of Minneapolis. He was in a kosher Boy Scout troop at the shul, he says, recalling a canoe trip where the Scouts had to portage with two sets of dishes, for milk and meat meals.
As for that long-ago rabbinic ambition, “I decided to do my preaching in a different way,” he says, with just the trace of a laugh.