Pioneer Theatre and Arts Manager

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Louis K. Fleming, a former president of Theatre Projects' US operations and a director of Theatre Projects International, passed away peacefully on December 24, 2014 at the age of 90. Lou will be remembered as a beloved friend, husband, father and co-worker, as  well as for the leading role he played in establishing Theatre Projects as a predominant player in the theatre consulting field in America

Lou was born in London on April 5, 1925, the son of Austin Lloyd and Helen Hyde.

After service in the Canadian Navy, Lou began his career in 1946 as a theatre technician for Moral Re-Armament Productions in New York. He became the technical director and lighting designer of MRA in 1950, and travelled extensively around the world before becoming based at the Westminster Theatre in London, where he was executive director from 1965 to 1975. In 1975 he returned to Canada as a consultant to the Ontario Ministry of Culture and became a freelance theatre consultant in 1979. He was managing director of the then, recently established Artec Consultants in New York from 1979-1982. In 1982 Richard Pilbrow and TPC Inc. President Wally Russell invited Lou to become managing director of Theatre Projects that was then expanding into the USA. 

Richard Pilbrow recalls: "Theatre Projects Inc. began in New York in 1965, principally to service our activities as lighting and projection consultants on Broadway. By the early 1980s it became clear that there was a role for our theatre design consulting activities in North America, because of our rediscovery of the virtues of intimate three-dimensional theatre forms that were then little understood. We won such prestigious contracts as the Portland Oregon and Calgary Alberta Performing Arts Centers and it became obvious that we needed a full time American presence. I first turned to two friends, Wally Russell and NY designer Eldon Elder. Wally became our President and in turn engaged Lou Fleming to develop work on new projects that needed feasibility evaluation. Lou was an always urbane, consummate diplomat, and a real gentleman. He excelled in the preparation of proposals for consulting services and, through gaining the trust of clients, delivered outstanding studies to establish the viability of a performing arts project. He was a wise counselor and created an atmosphere of confidence among civic, business, and arts leaders. A man of exceptional distinction."

Lou was a perfectionist and also a generous mentor. He recruited Robert Long (also from Artec), Steve Wolff, and subsequently Duncan Webb to TPC, all of whom made major contributions before going on to distinguished careers under their own banners with, respectively, Theatre Consultants Collaborative, AMS Management Consultants, and Webb Management Consultants. 

His colleagues remember that Lou would often counsel: "We may work in the arts, but it is really about politics and economics." He always advised patience with: "It takes a long time for something to happen suddenly," and prudence: "Don't use the word 'very' unless you really mean it."

Lou did much to establish TPC in the United States by helping to gain such projects as the Blumenthal Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, Texas, The Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California, and other projects such as those in Tampa, Florida, and Cincinnati, Ohio. David Staples of Theatre Projects remembers of Dallas: “The inner city was decaying but the city leadership determined to halt the decline with a number of initiatives including the 55 acre Dallas Arts District. Theatre Projects were appointed to conduct a feasibility study which recommended the construction of a number of new theatres and an opera house. We were summoned to Dallas to present our recommendations to City Council and Lou decided I should make the presentation. Over breakfast I realized Lou (whom we nicknamed ‘the Silver Fox’) had deftly put me in the firing line as we were recommending the construction of over one third of a billion dollars of arts buildings (in 1985 that was a lot of money).”

In 1990, Lou retired and returned to live in the UK where he remained active as an assessor for the Lottery Fund of the Arts Council of Great Britain playing a key role on such projects as the Lowry Centre, Salford. David Staples recalls “When we arrived in Salford it was the most disadvantaged municipality in the UK, on almost any measure - poverty, health, education, crime, etc. The Council were determined to regenerate the docklands with a cultural centre at its heart. Today, 15 years after opening it is acknowledged as the most successful arts led regeneration project in Europe if not the World. 

Lou’s association with Theatre Projects continued and he played an important role in securing the Den Norske Oper project in Oslo. Staples again: “The Oslo Opera House is one of the new generation of European opera houses and probably the most iconic arts building since the Sydney Opera House. Our involvement happened because Lou had become friends with Norwegian Chris Borchgrevink in Moral Re-Armament. Chris introduced us to the key individuals involved which led to an over ten year involvement in the planning, design and construction of this amazing building.

Robert Long recollects; "I first worked with Lou for two years at Artec.  He left and joined TPC. Lou invited me to join him at TPC in September, 1982.  Our first office, in Eldon Elder's studio on West 67th Street, was so small that it had room for only two people.  Lou shared it with our wonderful assistant, Michele LaRue in the morning and with me in the afternoon.  We helped to launch TPC in the US with a handful of Kodak slides and the mystique of the courtyard theatre.  Lou could write a report, assemble a design team and charm a client better than anyone that I have ever known. He had a wonderful, sideways smile, and could devour a large slice of Texas Mud Pie all on his own! Lou had an intuitive approach to his work and spoke of his "green thumb" when it came to proposals, contracts and fees.  I learned so much from Lou."

Michele LaRue adds: "Lou was an appreciative, perceptive mentor, he trusted this actress-writer to invent and edit the Theatre Projects Bulletin and to support him in our performing arts surveys. He became a dearly loved friend. He threw himself into proposal writing—it was half high-stakes competition, half challenging puzzle. He joked that proposals were won by bulk: thrown down the stairs, the heaviest fell farthest and its authors got the job. He loved winning—his exultation inevitably followed by a boisterous, wry, “Now we have to do the work!”

Lou Fleming was a member of the Institute of Directors in London, the Royal Society of Arts, the International Society of Performing Arts Managers, and the Institute of Management Consultants in London.

Lou was educated at Appleby, then Lakefield Colleges, followed by Jervis College, Ontario in 1944. In 1952 he married Valerie Ann Exton, who died in 2008. He is survived by their daughter, Elaine Leslie Fleming Fish and grandchildren, Kristina and Danni, his second wife Anita, and his twin brother Bob of Kingston Ontario.

Richard Pilbrow
January 6th, 2015