A chat with Daniel Fitzmaurice, new Managing Director of Elm Shakespeare Co.

Daniel Headshot Edited

Elm Shakespeare Co. has made it official and hired Daniel Fitzmaurice as its new Managing Director. I chatted with Fitzmaurice on Monday, shortly after a press release was issued by the New Haven-based theater-in-the-park institurion was issued confirming his hiring.

Fitzmaurice grew up in Connecticut, and while his work background is largely in music. He was the assistant director of Audubon Arts for the Neighborhood Music School earlier this year, but before that was in Portland, Oregon for several years, where he was the founder and director of a non-profit community center (the Music Studio on Harrison Hill), worked as the office manager for Portland’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony, taught music and was the piano accompanist for the Portland Peace Choir.

By contrast, his entrance into Elm Shakespeare smacked of disharmony and war—onstage, that is. Fitzmaurice shadowed the company all summer while it readied Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for three weeks of performances in Edgerton Park.

The thrust of Elm Shakespeare’s activities is its annual presentation of a Shakespeare play in New Haven’s Edgerton Park. But the company is a year-round endeavor: bringing educational initiatives into local schools, holding special performances and other events, and fundraising fundraising fundraising.

He’ll continue to be able to consult the outgoing Managing Director, Margie Andreassi, who is the wife of Elm Shakespeare founder and Artistic Director James Andreassi. Margie will continue to be actively involved with Elm Shakespeare.

Having Fitzmaurice on board right now means  that, while the rest of the company can recover from Julius Caesar, which just closed a few weeks ago, the new Managing Director can really dig in to a relatively new and serious fundraising opportunity, the Great Give. This annual effort supported by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven  spotlights a number of local non-profits, in the arts and otherwise, and arranges a special 36-hour window in which those organizations which raise the most money are eligible for special prizes and honors.

The Great Give ends tonight (Thursday, October 3) at 8 p.m. Details at http://givegreater.guidestar.org/

“I spent all of August and all of September working with Margie,” Daniel Fitzmaurice said in a phone chat earlier this week. “Now I’m getting ready for the Great Give.

“Margie has been a gem. She has worked really hard behind the scenes even when she wasn’t Managing Director, and she’s still passionately involved. Everyone on the staff is energized by these changes .” Besides an Artistic Director and Managing Director, administrative jobs at Elm Shakespeare include Director of Development Barbara Schaffer and various educational outreaches (including the Elm Scholar program which allows local teens to take part in the summer productions).

“The mission remains the same,” Fitzmaurice continues. “We’re hoping to spend more time on educational programs. We’ll be hiring a new Education Director shortly. That’s a newer part of the organization. We’re expanding that position significantly. Elm Scholars is a huge program. We’re seeing how we can feed more into that program, including giving some adults the opportunity to be part of it.”

In recent years, Elm Shakespeare staged smaller productions by contemporary writers (Yasmina Reza, David Mamet, Harold Pinter) indoors in an art gallery space in Westville. That won’t be happening this year, while Elm Shakespeare concentrates on non-theatrical events such as a winter celebration “loosely in honor of Margie.”

But an increase in Elm Shakespeare productions is on the horizon. As it approaches its 20th anniversary in 2015, the company is hoping to do two shows per summer, as it was able to do for a few summers in a row a few years back. “We’re looking forward to having a rotating rep again,” Fitzmaurice says. It’s something people are clamoring for.”

Something else they’re clamoring for, apparently: diversity. Shakespeare in the Park, to some, has an inescapable air of white, canonistic, classical Europe to it. A bit unfair, since ElmShakes shows have consistently cast black and Latino actors in its shows, and reached out to an audience broader than the upscale Edgerton Park neighborhood itself.  When a board member approached Fitzmaurice at a gathering recently and suggested “reaching out to other communities,” the new Managing Director took that as a very good sign. His new watchcry has become “community engagement,” and it comes up constantly in our conversation.

“There are ways to engage a community without necessarily putting on a show,” Fitzmaurice says.

“There are a couple of little things leading up to the summer show, about community engagement.”

“While we’re considering what will happen next summer, we’re already trying to set up community programs.

As for fundraising, state and national grants aren’t as easy to come by as they used to be, both because there’s less money to be had and because funding trends and interests can change over time.

Fitzmaurice isn’t overly concerns. “Funding’s just… different. Elm Shakespeare has done a good job acclimating to the changes. Last year [when the company presented Macbeth in 2012] was the most well-attended, well-funded production ever.

“You don’t want to mess with it much 40,000 people are attending your shows.”

Next summer’s Elm Shakespeare Company main event in Edgerton Park won’t be known for months. Yet “the work for summer basically begins in January.”  James Andreassi “has a different show picked out every day” at this time of year, Fitzmaurice says of the artistic director’s process. “By December, he has it, and he may even have it lightly cast.” By spring, the title gets bandied about town, prior to the big publicity push of early summer.

“This is a year-round endeavor,” says the new Managing Director of Elm Shakespeare. “It’s kind of like summer all the time. We already have the party planned.”