Ad exec Dale to direct theater Playbill: Former W. B. Doner agency executive, active in other arts in city, will be named today to lead the Mechanic Theatre's operations.

April 25, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Jim Dale, former chief executive officer of W. B. Donor & Co. Advertising, has been named executive director of the Mechanic Theatre, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is expected to announce at his weekly press conference today.

Mr. Dale, who joined the theater's board of directors late last summer, was asked to assume the management role by board chairman Frank P. Bramble, who called him "a trustee we feel has the management capability to figure out what this theater needs going forward."

Adding that the board has been playing "an unusually involved role" in the theater, Mr. Bramble said, "We on the board are relieved and excited -- relieved because of all the time we were giving it But now we have a leader."

After 25 years at Doner, first as a copywriter and eventually as chairman and chief executive, Mr. Dale left the city's largest advertising agency a year ago to focus on a career as a writer. His first book, "Palmer and Weaver -- Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine," co-written with former Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer, was published this spring. He also wrote the screenplay for a recent episode of the new UPN television series, "Swift Justice."

Although he doesn't know how much time his new Mechanic post will leave for his writing, Mr. Dale, 47, said, "I'm fairly civic minded, so this appeals to my feeling to try to give back to the community."

Besides the Mechanic's board, he also serves on the boards of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Museum of Art and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maryland.

A theater fan, but not an insider, Mr. Dale is filling the job vacated by Hope Quackenbush, who stepped down in 1993 after 15 years but has remained active on the board. In the interim, operation of the theater has been handled by the general manager, first Steve Goldstein and most recently Brian Liddicoat, who will continue to serve as general manager and who Mr. Bramble described as "a very highly regarded theater manager [who] is very important to the future of the theater and has been asked to do more than he should."

Mr. Dale's appointment is part of continuing changes at the Mechanic, whose recovery from an extremely weak 1994-1995 season has been bolstered by an expanded board of directors, a current season of high artistic quality, and in particular, a partnership formed last summer with the influential Jujamcyn Theaters and Productions, a consultant on booking and marketing.

"I think what the board was looking for was someone who is known in the community," said Mrs. Quackenbush. "Mr. Dale will have his hands full learning the intricacies of the theater business, but we are sure that he will become a good student."

Explaining that Mr. Dale's role will be "to make sure we're doing our job," Michael J. Brand, executive director of Jujamcyn Productions, said, "I think he's going to be a strong executive."

"I think it's an outstanding choice by the Mechanic," said Herbert D. Fried, chairman of the board of W. B. Doner. "He is very well-suited for this particular job. He's always been interested in the arts, and this is certainly part of the culture of Baltimore."

Describing his new position as "overseer," Mr. Dale said that "if the cooperative venture between Jujamcyn and the operations staff works, the less I do the better."

He hopes to divide his time between the Mechanic and his office in the Mill Center, where he writes and also works on Dale Cards, a line of greeting cards he developed with his wife in 1979.

He added that when he accepted the job, he did so for "the near term," which he defined as "as long as it works."

Mr. Bramble elaborated: "It wouldn't surprise me if in 12 to 18 months from now, or in whatever time frame Jim thinks is reasonable, he might not come to the board recommending that we bring in someone who would run this long term."

But for now, the board chairman said, Mr. Dale will be making "a substantial commitment" to the theater, which begins with a staff meeting this morning.

The theater also has announced four non-subscription shows for the 1996-1997 season, as well as the selection of the 1995 Tony nominee "Having Our Say" as the one subscription offering not previously announced.

More shows

Coming to the Mechanic in 1996-1997:

"Having Our Say," the story of the centenarian Delany sisters, will fill the to-be-announced slot in the Mechanic Theater's six-play subscription series, with performances running April 8-20 next year.

Four non-subscription shows also have been announced for Mechanic's '96-'97 season, with exact dates to be revealed later. "Grease," fall. "Always, Patsy Cline," late fall. "A Chorus Line," winter. "Cats," early summer.

Pub Date: 4/25/96

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