Former Met general manager RIP

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John F
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Former Met general manager RIP

Post by John F » Fri Jul 26, 2019 3:26 am

It's Hugh Southern, whose tenure was so short and uneventful that if you blinked, you could have missed it.

Hugh Southern, a Creator of the TKTS Booth, Dies at 87
By Katharine Q. Seelye
July 21, 2019

Hugh Southern held some high-profile jobs. He was acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts during the culture wars of the 1980s and, briefly, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. But perhaps his most lasting legacy stems from an earlier stint as executive director of the Theater Development Fund, a nonprofit organization in New York that supports the performing arts. While there, Mr. Southern helped establish the TKTS booth in Times Square, where over the years millions of theatergoers have bought discounted same-day tickets to some of the most heralded shows both on and off Broadway.

Mr. Southern died on July 15 in a hospital in Leesburg, Va. He was 87. His wife, Kathy Dwyer Southern, said the cause was pneumonia and congestive heart failure.

The British-born Mr. Southern was dragged into the culture wars in 1989 over exhibitions, financed by the National Endowment for the Arts, that some deemed obscene and anti-Christian. It was his finesse with Congress over this issue that impressed a Metropolitan Opera search committee, which was looking for a general manager.

But before working at those renowned institutions, Mr. Southern was, from 1968 to 1982, the first executive director of the Theater Development Fund, an organization whose goal was to increase audiences for the performing arts in New York. At the time, the Broadway theater was in the doldrums and Times Square was to be avoided. Mr. Southern was among those who believed that some revenue from a discounted seat was better than no revenue from an empty seat.

This was initially a hard sell to Broadway producers, who worried that cut-rate tickets would drain away patrons who would otherwise pay full price. A team that included Mr. Southern, Mayor John V. Lindsay, the Shubert Organization and Anna Crouse, wife of the playwright Russel Crouse and a member of the fund’s board, helped convince them otherwise.Only by paying full price, they pointed out, could patrons be assured of seeing the show they wanted to see, when they wanted to see it, in seats they chose, without having to stand in line in bad weather. At the same time, they argued, discounted tickets could make up for some lost revenue and open up the theater to people who might not otherwise go.

The producers gave it a try. The first TKTS booth, which was actually a trailer donated by the city Parks Department, opened in June 1973 in Duffy Square, the northern part of Times Square, between 46th and 47th Streets and between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. It has been upgraded over the years and today is a modern glass affair tucked under a set of ruby-red glass steps, where ticket buyers congregate amid the panoply of humanity that swarms through the Crossroads of the World. TKTS now also has two satellite booths in Manhattan, one at Lincoln Center and the other at the South Street Seaport.

And business is booming. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, in which a record 14.7 million people saw Broadway shows, the TKTS booth at all three locations sold more than 1.1 million same-day discounted tickets, about 8 percent of all tickets sold.

Hugh Southern was born on March 20, 1932, in Newcastle upon Tyne, in the north of England, to Norman and Phyllis Margaret (Hiller) Southern. His father was a lawyer, his mother a homemaker. He attended King’s College, Cambridge, where he was part of a “literature discussion and sherry group” led by the novelist E. M. Forster. He graduated in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature.

So eager was he to seek opportunities in America that he and his first wife, Jane Rosemary (Llewellyn) Southern, moved to New York in 1955 before he graduated. He returned to Cambridge for several months to finish his degree before moving to New York permanently. He and his first wife divorced, and in 1988 he married Kathy (Ayers) Dwyer. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his children from his first marriage, William and Hillary Llewellyn Southern; a son, Jaime, from his second; and three grandchildren.

After spending 14 years at the Theater Development Fund, Mr. Southern was deputy chairman of programs for the National Endowment for the Arts from 1982 to 1989. In 1989 he was named acting chairman while President George H. W. Bush sought a permanent chairman. At the time, critics were complaining about taxpayer funding of the arts. Their outrage exploded in 1989 when an N.E.A. grant of $15,000 supported an exhibition of the work of Andres Serrano, which included a photograph of a crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine. Many on the religious right, most prominently the North Carolina Republican senator Jesse Helms, railed against the N.E.A. and called for it to be abolished.

Mr. Southern took the diplomatic approach. “I most certainly can understand that the work in question has offended many people,” he wrote to Congress. “I personally found it offensive.” But, he added, the N.E.A. “is expressly forbidden in its authorizing legislation from interfering with the artistic choices made by its grantees.” He added that the agency had provoked very few controversies with the 85,000 grants it had awarded in its nearly 25-year history. “He stayed cool under fire and had a lovely sense of humor,” his wife said in a phone interview. “And the British accent didn’t hurt.”

Shortly thereafter, President Bush named a permanent head of the agency, John Frohnmayer, and Mr. Southern left. In the end, Congress tightened the rules by which such grants were made, but slightly increased the agency’s appropriation.

The Metropolitan Opera noticed Mr. Southern’s finesse and hired him as its general manager, even though he had had little experience with opera. That lack of experience “did concern us,” Louise Humphrey, president of the Met’s board and head of the search committee, told The New York Times in 1989. But, she said, Mr. Southern got along with people and could help with fund-raising, and she singled out his “diplomacy” in responding to Senator Helms.

But after just eight months on the job, Mr. Southern shocked the opera world by stepping down. He said he had “not found fulfillment.” Others said his authority had been limited, given that the previous general manager had remained as a powerful member of the Met board. At the same time, James Levine, the company’s longtime conductor and artistic director, retained control over artistic matters, leaving Mr. Southern little room to spread his wings...

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/21/thea ... -dead.html

I was then working at Central Opera Service, supported by the Metropolitan Opera National Council, and while we weren't Met insiders we did hear some of the gossip. The word was that Southern left the Met so soon because the board, and particularly its chairman Bruce Crawford who briefly stood in as the general director himself, considered Southern ineffective. The timing was suggestive: Southern resigned the day after a meeting of the Met's board. The NY Times obituary essentially repeats what the Times printed in 1990, and maybe it's true and the scuttlebutt was wrong. Whatever, Hugh Southern and/or the Met cut their losses very quickly, Southern resumed his otherwise very successful career, and Crawford chose Joseph Volpe to become general manager.
John Francis

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