Leaving his mark on Union's theater, director Goldberg retires

Jan. 14, 2003

by Esty Dinur

Quality. Choice of artists. As he nears his retirement as Wisconsin Union Theater director, Michael Goldberg will tell you that those two details are essential when it comes to the performing arts.

Goldberg, who has led the theater since 1983, will leave a legacy of excellence in programming when he retires at the end of the month.

His fascination with all things theater began in 1960 when, as a UW-Madison freshman, he volunteered as a student stagehand. After graduating in 1964 with a degree in English, he joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Ethiopia. Upon his return Goldberg joined the Theatre Department as a graduate student and returned to the Wisconsin Union Theater in a technical role. He was hired by then-theater Director William Dawson in 1967 as adviser to the film committee and assistant to the director.

After two years working for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters and three years in various performing arts positions in New York and Chicago during the 1970s, Goldberg returned to the Wisconsin Union Theater in 1979 to work for then director Ralph Sandler. Upon Sandler's departure in 1980, Goldberg became the theater's program director and then its director.

"I first walked through the stage door of the Union Theater in October of 1960 and I have spent most of my life working here, so it is with a torrent of feelings that I take my leave," Goldberg says. "To say that working at the Wisconsin Union Theater and at the Wisconsin Union has been a privilege would be a gross understatement. It has been the formative and the transforming experience of my personal and professional life. It has been an honor to serve two splendid institutions — the Wisconsin Union and its theater, as well as our great University of Wisconsin."

Throughout his Union Theater career, Goldberg worked with and trained generations of students. Some of the students who worked with him as Wisconsin Union Directorate committee members and directors now lead performing arts venues throughout the United States.

"Michael is a creative and patient teacher," says Susan Dibbell, assistant director for social education at the Wisconsin Union. "The students who worked with him learned many aspects of theater management, program development and production. Michael's mentoring has led to numerous students pursuing careers in arts administration or to become active promoters of the arts in their communities."

Goldberg's staff will miss the many personal touches he brought to the theater, and his relaxed and generous management style. "He takes with him a great chunk of this theater's history. We will definitely feel his absence," says Operations Manager Bruce Ehlinger.

Wisconsin Union Director Mark Guthier says, "Michael's commitment and contribution to the arts on campus and in Madison are unparalleled. He has not only been a leader in that regard, he has been a teacher as well — inspiring students and staff alike to pursue their passions."

One of Goldberg's last tasks was booking the 2003-04 season, which, he says, "will be of the same high quality our audiences are used to." He intends to spend quality time with his family and to pursue projects and opportunities of special interest.

The Union plans to conduct a national search for a candidate to fill the theater director's position.