From the Harman To a New Life Stage
Shakespeare Theatre Exec Leaves a Glittering Legacy

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Shakespeare Theatre Company Managing Director Nicholas T. Goldsborough is about to take his leave while on the crest of an $89 million wave and a high-profile new building.

After six years with the organization, Goldsborough announced he'll depart in December, having led the company through the capital campaign and construction project that culminated in last month's opening of Sidney Harman Hall, which, along with the older Lansburgh Theatre, constitutes the Harman Center for the Arts.

Goldsborough is the second business leader of a major nonprofit theater in the area to announce his parting this month. The first was Signature Theatre's Sam Sweet.

"It's been quite a trip," says the dapper Goldsborough, 65. "I've loved being here first of all, being much closer to the art form than I was in the past because, in addition to my responsibility for overseeing the building of the hall and the fundraising for it, I was also running a theater company."

Though his family's connections in Washington and Maryland go back generations, Goldsborough grew up in a small town outside Rochester, N.Y., where his genteel relations included a couple of aunts who worked as costume designers. The family would "sweep into New York" for their openings, and little Nick clearly caught the theater bug.

"My aunt would have fabulous parties and Helen Hayes and Geraldine Fitzgerald and Brian Aherne and all these friends of theirs would be there and I was absolutely star-struck," he remembers. "To meet all these people, and I was just a nobody kid. All of that helped to inspire me to want to be part of the world of the arts."

In 30 years of working for nonprofits, Goldsborough has lent his fundraising skills to the Music Center in Los Angeles as executive vice president and CEO and to its new Walt Disney Concert Hall and served as a deputy director of development at UCLA; as a manager of projects for Carnegie Hall, the New York City Opera and Lincoln Center Theatre; and as a major gifts fundraiser for Harvard University.

Goldsborough says he began talking to Michael Kahn, whom he has come to regard as a "master storyteller" of the stage, about working for the Shakespeare shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He came on board in January 2002. "I really came here to help Michael fulfill his vision for transforming this company into a national destination theater, and the fact that we have been able to build this theater and have it open on time is very, very satisfying for me," he says. He was also involved with the company touring productions of "The Oedipus Plays" to Greece and "Love's Labor's Lost" to the Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works festival in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

He also proudly reports that public spaces at Harman Hall already have been rented out for at least one wedding, a bar mitzvah and a huge party for a law firm. It is, he says proudly, becoming one of Washington's "hottest places to do events."

Goldsborough intends to start his own consulting firm for nonprofit arts organizations. He'll keep his Capitol Hill home, but also return to another he has long owned near Palm Springs, Calif. "I've been thinking about starting my own company for quite a long time," says Goldsborough. "If I wait around a couple years, I'm not going to have the energy to do it. So this is the time for me to leave. We've got a great staff in place to take over my duties, and I'll be around to help them any way I can."

Conquering Ellipses

Getting one's mind and voice around the speeches of contemporary Irish playwright Conor McPherson can be far trickier than wrestling with Shakespeare, says actor Edward Gero, who should know. The winner of multiple Helen Hayes Awards, Gero has played major roles in 57 productions at the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

But right now he's appearing in McPherson's "Shining City," at Studio Theatre through Dec. 30. Gero's character, the anguished widower John, is haunted not only by guilt over a couple of extramarital forays. He tells his therapist (Donald Carrier), a conflicted former priest, that his recently deceased wife has been making ghostly visitations to his house.

John tells one story that runs about 25 pages in the script, and Gero (pronounced JAIR-o) says it was a bear to learn. "It isn't iambic pentameter," notes the actor dryly. The un-Shakespearean use of pauses, sentence fragments and repetitions is much harder to memorize, plus the actor must create a subtext with what his character doesn't say. In Shakespeare, the meaning is in the lines, not between them, but in McPherson's works ("The Weir," "This Lime Tree Bower"), "it's in the 'you-knows' and 'you-know-what-I mean, you-know,' " says Gero, adding the middle-class Dublin lilt he uses in the show.

To memorize his lines, Gero says, he worked an extra four hours a day. The stress of it threw his back out, but the three days he spent in bed provided the extra memorization time he needed.

McPherson's script is peppered with ellipses, and the cast and director Joy Zinoman spent much time on them. "Should they be cut off? Are they extended thoughts that are just hanging in space?" Gero remembers wondering. "We really labored over that."

When McPherson came to opening night, the actor says, "We asked him about that . . . and he said, 'Oh, well, that's just the way I write. Do them any way you want.' "

Gero's feelings about his character have evolved, from his first impression -- "where are the laughs? It just seemed so dour" -- to seeing "just how human and flawed and really lovable" John is. "You can embrace him. He just seems to be an Everyman, with hidden desires and regrets and hopes. . . . There's a wonderful childlike quality about John that I find wonderful to play."

In May, Gero will take on a very different sort of speechifier -- Richard Nixon in "Nixon's Nixon" at Round House Theatre.

Follow Spots

¿ Olney Theatre Center has a new managing director. Amy Marshall previously was executive director of the Milwaukee Ballet and production director with Milwaukee's Florentine Opera Company.

¿ Actor, rap artist, director and writer Danny Hoch will perform a solo comedy work about urban gentrification, "Taking Over," at Georgetown University's Gonda Theatre Nov. 29-Dec. 1. The show is presented by Arena Stage in partnership with Georgetown. Call 202-687-ARTS or visit http://performingarts.georgetown.edu.

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