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SSDC Defunding SDCF?

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A struggle appears to be ongoing between two of the nation's premier organizations for directors and choreographers.

A petition, currently circulating among members of the profession, claims the board of directors of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC) is "considering withdrawing" its funding for the not-for-profit Stage Directors & Choreographers Foundation (SDCF), which provides a range of services and professional-development programs for the industry.

There are two versions of the petition. An earlier draft states, "The reason for the vote has nothing to do with the effectiveness of the Foundation's programs or the financial state of SSDC." And while it neither indicates nor speculates as to why the SSDC board is considering this action, it does make it clear that the implications could be severe for the members of the theatrical community who currently benefit from the foundation's activities. "It's very important for all of us who have benefited from support organizations like SDCF at some point…to make sure the Foundation doesn't go away."

A final version of the petition is more detailed. Addressed to the SSDC board, the signatories state that they "support the work [SDCF Executive Director] Joe Miloscia has done" in forming "a community of young directors and choreographers" as well as his creation of "a dialogue between the Foundation and its constituents that is unique in the organization's history." The signatories further "urge" the SSDC board "not to close an institution that has done so much to benefit a wealth of promising artists, union members, and industry leaders."

To date, over 70 signatures have been affixed to the petition, including those of Tony-winning directors Jack O'Brien and John Rando and Tony-nominated choreographer Jerry Mitchell.

While the SSDC is generally regarded as one of the SDCF's main funders, it is not, according to the website of the SDCF, its sole source of annual income. Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, and the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, a major arts supporter, are also principal benefactors; the organization also receives annual appropriations from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Reached by telephone, Barbara Hauptman, the executive director of the SSDC, was tight-lipped regarding why the board was mulling withdrawing funding for the SDCF, contending that it was an internal matter and that she would have no further comment; she did not indicate when the SSDC board would next meet to discuss the matter. Pamela Berlin, who serves as the president of the SSDC board, told Back Stage that she, too, would have no comment on the letter or on any tensions between the two organizations. SDCF Executive Director Joe Miloscia also refused to comment.

One signatory of the petition, under condition of anonymity, told Back Stage that the letter was written by a member of the SDCF Artists Action Committee, a group of midcareer directors who serve as informal consultants to the foundation, providing advisement on programming. A majority of the committee's 16 members have added their names to the list, which also includes several working professionals from around the nation.

Founded in 1965, the SDCF has substantially increased its profile over the last several years, particularly as its programmatic offerings have grown. Currently, the SDCF presents a semiannual One-on-One Conversation series with well-known directors, an annual National Directing Symposium, a Director/Dramatist Exchange and Director/Musical Theatre Exchange, and a monthly Director/Choreographer Network.

In addition, the organization doles out the annual "Mr. Abbott" Award and Joe A. Callaway Award, two distinguished honors in directing; offers early-career artists both an observership program and three fellowships; and publishes The Journal for Stage Directors and Choreographers, a biannual magazine. A more recent SDCF creation is Dance Break, which allows rising choreographers to showcase their work for Broadway producers.

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