Submitted by Dan McMahon
EAST HADDAM, CONN., January 13, 2021: After an extensive national search, Goodspeed Musicals’ Board of Trustees announced today that they have selected Donna Lynn Hilton as the new Artistic Director and David B. Byrd as the new Managing Director of the two-time Tony Award-winning theatre. Ms. Hilton and Mr. Byrd will succeed Michael Gennaro, Goodspeed’s Executive Director, who retired at the end of 2020.
Donna Lynn Hilton arrived at Goodspeed Musicals in 1988 and has been a creative force at the organization ever since. For the past thirteen years, Ms. Hilton has been Goodspeed’s highly respected Producer, responsible for guiding productions and musical development at the Goodspeed Opera House and The Terris Theatre. During her tenure, she led the expansion of Goodspeed’s Festival of New Musicals and the creation of the Johnny Mercer Foundation Writers Grove at Goodspeed Musicals. Her work has impacted the development of new musicals and revivals not only on Goodspeed’s stages, but in regional theatres across the country, on Broadway, and the United Kingdom, earning her an international reputation as a leader in the field.
David B. Byrd’s career in the professional regional theatre has spanned 20 years with his most recent position as Managing Director of Virginia Stage Company in Norfolk, Virginia. Prior to his work in Norfolk, Mr. Byrd was Managing Director of the Clarence Brown Theatre at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he introduced a new play program and produced a novel collaboration with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. He also served as Adjunct Professor in the UT-Knoxville Department of Theatre. No stranger to Connecticut, he has held leadership positions at Yale Repertory Theater (Associate Managing Director) and Westport Country Playhouse (Director of Marketing) and is a graduate of the Yale University School of Drama. Mr. Byrd has demonstrated a keen ability to manage complex institutions with limited resources and will be an excellent partner with Ms. Hilton.
“We are thrilled to begin a fresh chapter in Goodspeed’s history with Donna Lynn Hilton and David Byrd as our new leaders,” said Hila Rosen, President of the Goodspeed Board of Trustees. “I am so happy and proud that we are taking a major step forward by appointing Donna Lynn as our first female executive, and I relish the significance of selecting David to bring a new perspective to our beloved institution. At a time when all theatres have been shocked to their core and are fighting to survive, they bring an exciting new vision for Goodspeed that will undoubtedly secure an even brighter future for our historic theatre. Both Donna Lynn and David share the Board of Trustees commitment to prioritizing equity, diversity, inclusion and racial justice for Goodspeed’s staff, creative teams and on our stages,” added Rosen.
Ms. Hilton, who will begin immediately as Goodspeed’s first Artistic Director, said, “I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to lead the theatre that has been my creative home for so long – particularly at this moment, when all we know has been put to the test – and I am excited to welcome David B. Byrd as my partner. It is important to us both that Goodspeed prioritize providing a welcoming and safe environment for diverse voices. Despite the devastating impacts of the pandemic, I am confident that Goodspeed will emerge transformed and well positioned to build on our great legacy of developing, producing and introducing to the world exceptional musical theatre.”
Mr. Byrd, who will join Goodspeed in a few weeks, shared his thoughts about becoming the institution’s first Managing Director. “I have long admired Goodspeed Musicals and its rich history of nurturing new works and creating exceptional musical theatre experiences. I feel honored to join a team of stellar artists, artisans and theatremakers during this most important time for our industry and society at large.” He added, “I am thrilled for the opportunity to join Donna Lynn Hilton in leading such a storied institution at this moment when we need theatre most. Great art will be borne from and lead us out of this difficult stretch. There is a bright future ahead which includes developing new and diverse audiences, stewarding Goodspeed’s physical assets and honoring the rich traditions of the musical theatre with a dedicated Board of Trustees, Members and community.”
Upon learning of Michael Gennaro’s retirement plans earlier this year, the Goodspeed Board of Trustees decided to change the leadership model from one Executive Director to the partnership of an Artistic Director and Managing Director, as is most common in regional theatres across the country. Ms. Hilton, as Artistic Director, will lead the creative aspects of the organization while Mr. Byrd, as Managing Director, will focus on administrative and financial management. Both will share fund-raising responsibilities. The search for Goodspeed’s new Artistic Director and Managing Director was conducted by a committee comprised of Goodspeed Trustees with assistance from Thomas Hall of Albert Hall & Associates
About Donna Lynn Hilton
DONNA LYNN HILTON is a highly-effective creative producer with a significant record of leading, developing and producing new musical theatre works as well as inspiring a re-envisioning of the classic musical theater canon. She has been a creative force at Goodspeed Musicals for over 30 years and led the creation of many of the two-time Tony Award-winning theatre’s most successful productions of the last 13 years, garnering 9 Best Musical Awards from the Connecticut Critics Circle.
For Goodspeed she produced the 2014 World Premiere of Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, developed with Universal Theatrical Group. Holiday Inn was eventually produced on Broadway by Roundabout Theatre Company, licensed by the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization and continues to be produced by theatres nationwide. She drove the creation of Goodspeed’s critically acclaimed 2012 production of Show Boat which was subsequently licensed by Rodgers and Hammerstein and has been produced across the US and in the West End. Donna Lynn brought to Goodspeed the new musicals Because of Winn Dixie, Chasing Rainbows, Amazing Grace and Anne of Green Gables (upcoming fall 2021). At The Terris Theatre, she led the development of many new musicals to successful production, among them The Circus In Winter, The Fabulous Lipitones, Passing Through, Band Geeks! and A Sign of the Times. With the development of Hi, My Name is Ben, she led Goodspeed’s first collaboration with a resident theatre outside the US – Scotland’s Dundee Rep Theatre.
Donna Lynn led the creation of the Johnny Mercer Writers Grove at Goodspeed, the partnership with the Johnny Mercer Foundation which welcomes nearly 50 musical theatre composers, lyricists and librettists to Goodspeed’s campus each winter and has become one of the premiere development opportunities available to emerging musical theatre writers. Under Donna Lynn’s leadership, the Grove is recognized as offering a safe and nurturing environment for new work, with a particular focus on elevating diverse voices. The Grove has enhanced development opportunities with 9 new musicals moving on to production on Goodspeed stages and supported the creation of one work awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. She has nurtured Goodspeed’s annual residency of the NYU Tisch School’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program and led an expansion of Goodspeed’s Festival of New Musicals. Through the Festival, Donna Lynn brought to Goodspeed the first US development of the now international hit Come From Away.
Donna Lynn is a past-President of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre and has served as a co-chair of the Selection Committee for NAMT’s annual Festival of New Musicals. She has served as a panelist for The Kurt Weill Foundation Grant Program and serves on the Advisory Panel for the Rhinebeck Writers Retreat.
She has led Goodspeed’s creative response to the pandemic including the creation of two online series – Greatspeed and In The (Home) Office. Under her leadership Goodspeed’s artistic team launched a podcast – In the Spotlight – and produced 2020’s Shakin’ The Blues Away – A Virtual Gala for Goodspeed. Both have garnered worldwide audiences.
Donna Lynn is a native of North Carolina and a graduate of East Carolina University’s School of Theatre and Dance. She began her career as a stage manager of Musical Theatre and Opera and is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association. Donna Lynn and her husband, Sound Designer Jay Hilton, make their home in Hadlyme with two rescue Border Collie mixes, Cookie and Macy. In her free time, Donna Lynn enjoys gardening, cooking, traveling and entertaining family, friends and colleagues from around the world.
About David B. Byrd
DAVID B. BYRD’S career in the professional regional theatre has spanned 20 years with his most recent position as the Managing Director of Virginia Stage Company, Southeastern Virginia’s largest producing theatre. As the chief operating officer of one of the region’s most respected arts organizations, David guides the organization’s fundraising, marketing and operations functions in addition to stewarding use and care of the historic venue. A passion for placemaking, thoughtful community engagement, arts advocacy and coalition-building have made him a sought-after collaborator throughout the region. His commitment to equity, diversity, access, and inclusion is steadfast, with appointments to anti-racism working groups and other related posts in academia and the non-profit sector.
Prior to his work in Norfolk, David was Managing Director of the Clarence Brown Theatre at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where he also served as Adjunct Professor in the UT-Knoxville Department of Theatre and on the Chancellor’s Commission for LGBT People. While at the Clarence Brown Theatre, David introduced a new play program and produced a fruitful collaboration between the theatre and the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. Additionally, he was named a 40 Under 40 honoree by the Knoxville Business Journal. Dedicated to arts education and integration, David was appointed to the McClung Museum Academic Programs Advisory Board and the Great Schools Partnership Advisory Council.
Throughout his career, he has had a passion for new musicals, beginning with his work as General Manager at Triad Stage in Greensboro, NC where he shepherded many new works including Beautiful Star, Brother Wolf, and Bloody Blackbeard.
No stranger to Connecticut, David has held leadership positions at Yale Repertory Theater (Associate Managing Director), Westport Country Playhouse (Director of Marketing), and the Dwight/Edgewood Project in New Haven (Managing Director). He has served as a grants panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, Tennessee Arts Commission, Virginia Commission for the Arts and the United Way, in addition to participating in union negotiations with the League of Resident Theatres (LORT). David has guest lectured at Greensboro College, UNC-Greensboro, Virginia Wesleyan University, Christopher Newport University and Skidmore College, among others. He received an MFA degree in Theater Management from Yale University School of Drama and a BA degree in Drama from UNC-Greensboro in his native North Carolina.
David and his husband Jeff Stanley are proud dads of two senior rescue dogs, Maddie (Bluetick Beagle) and Queenie (German Shorthaired Pointer) and count regular hikes through the woods as a favorite pastime. When not in a theatre, David enjoys making things grow – he gratefully received his grandfather’s green thumb.
About Goodspeed Musicals
Goodspeed Musicals is dedicated to the preservation, development and advancement of musical theatre and is the first theatre in the nation to receive two Tony Awards (for outstanding achievement). Goodspeed produces three musicals each season at The Goodspeed in East Haddam, Conn., and additional productions at The Terris Theatre in Chester, Conn., which was opened in 1984 for the development of new musicals. Goodspeed also maintains The Scherer Library of Musical Theatre and The Max Showalter Center for Education in Musical Theatre. Goodspeed is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of the Arts.