Person of the Week
Hila Rosen: Expecting the Unexpected
As president of the Goodspeed Musicals Board of Trustees, Hila Rosen is helping to shape the regional treasure during a time of uncertainty. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
To say that this year has not turned out the way Hila Rosen expected it to is an understatement. Still, it is the place to begin.
What made it unexpected for Hila, who is the president of the board of trustees of Goodspeed Musicals, was not only COVID-19 but also the retirement announcement of Michael Gennaro, the executive director of the theater, who is stepping down at the end of 2020. Gennaro became executive director of the Goodspeed five years ago on the retirement of longtime executive director Michael Price.
The Goodspeed board has decided on a significant change going forward. The job of executive director will split into two positions, with an artistic director and a managing director.
Among those suggesting the change was Gennaro himself.
“Michael recognized that the job is now too big for one person,” Hila says.
She adds that the board spent time talking with other theaters with similar dual leadership and are confident the system will work.
“We look forward to mutually happy decisions,” she says.
With the help of a search firm, the Goodspeed is now in the process of locating people for both positions. The board is aiming to have both new heads in place by the end of this year.
Some two months after Hila assumed her position in January, COVID-19 began its worldwide spread. She recalls watching the progress of the disease as it hit the New York metropolitan area.
“By the third week, we knew we were going to have to shut down,” she says.
At first, the Goodspeed decided to delay the start of the season and, instead of three musicals, to stage only two, South Pacific and a new show based on the classic novel Anne of Green Gables.
Ultimately, however, the Goodspeed realized it would have to cancel the entire 2020 season. The theater decided not to reschedule the same plays for 2021. Rather, the leadership wanted to rethink the entire season. According to Hila, the new plays for the 2021 season will be announced in several months.
The canceled season is more than an artistic loss. The loss of revenue from ticket sales will amount to some $5 million. Some staffers have been furloughed; the rest are working reduced time.
Hila says, nonetheless, patrons have been generous in their contributions.
“I appreciate how much love we’ve gotten,” she says.
For those who want to give, Hila points out it is not difficult—“There’s a donate button on the web page. It is the easiest thing in the world to press it.”
What’s more, the Goodspeed has not gone away. Rather there are Goodspeed-centered programs every week on You Tube. Greatspeed presents highlights from past Goodspeed shows; In the (Home) Office highlights the development of new musicals with producer Donna Lynn Hilton. There is also a bi-weekly podcast, In the Spotlight, that features discussion and music from shows both contemporary and classical.
Hila, who grew up in Brooklyn, met her husband Saul at Brooklyn College. Now the couple have two grown sons, Lev, a novelist, and Ellis, an illustrator and cartoonist whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.
Hila and Saul her first came to Chester in 1981 to visit a friend renting a house while working at the Coast Guard Academy. They liked the area so much they, too, rented a house for three seasons. Then a neighbor, selling a house, said to them, as Hila recalls, “I guess you want to buy our house.”
In fact, she confesses, they had not been thinking of buying the house at all, but, looking back over nearly 40 years, are very glad they did. Now they divide their time between Chester and Manhattan.
Before coming to Chester, Hila was unacquainted with the Goodspeed.
“I didn’t know there was a great musical theater right across the river,” she says. “It truly is a treasure.”
Finding the Goodspeed was a fortunate discovery. Hila has loved musical theater all her life.
“I grew up surrounded by cast albums,” she says.
When asked what musical she would like to see the Goodspeed stage, she names a Rodgers and Hart classic, The Boys from Syracuse. It is loosely based on Shakespeare’s’ farce of mistaken identity, The Comedy of Errors, which is itself based on a Roman comedy, The Menaechmi, by the Latin author Plautus.
“I love old musicals and the reason I want to see it is not that it is my favorite, but that I’ve never seen it,” she says.
She is fond of several of the songs in the show, including “Falling in Love with Love,” “This Can’t Be Love,” and “Sing for Your Supper.” Still, don’t expect her to sing them. She describes her voice, after several moments of hesitation, as a baritone.
“And there are not too many female baritones,” she adds.
Hila is grateful for that long ago visit to the friend that brought them to this area.
“I hate to think what would have happened if my friend had gotten a job somewhere else and I had not known about the Goodspeed. It is an extraordinary gift to Connecticut,” she says.
For more about the Goodspeed’s online programs, visit www.goodspeed.org.