What’s In a Name?

“The Gilbert & Sullivan Light Opera Company of Long Island” may not be the longest name of any G&S company in the world, but it’s right up there.  It does have an abbreviation, Gaslocoli, but there’s disagreement as to whether it’s pronounced “Gas-LOCK-oh-lee” or “Gaz-lah-COE-lee.”  In any case, poster artists, logo designers, donors writing out checks, radio hosts and sponsors introducing our shows are united in one question: “How could this have happened?”

The company’s original name, the Gilbert & Sullivan Workshop of Long Island, grew out of its beginnings in 1953/1954 as an adult-education course in Gilbert & Sullivan performance.  By 1979, however, there was a general feeling that it didn’t sound right.  It sounded as if we were doing workshop productions, rather than finished shows.  (The New York Theater Workshop and numerous other groups don’t seem to see that as a problem, but no matter.)

In the spring of 1979, therefore, the company’s board discussed the question—and quickly found that there was no easy answer.  Accordingly, president Arlene Greenberg appointed an ad-hoc committee to study the situation and recommend a new name by July.  All but one of the members of that committee are now dead; this isn’t because of violence at committee meetings, sole survivor Gayden Wren insists, “but it could have been.”

The problem, as Wren recalls it, was that the question of the company’s name was a stalking horse for the actual issue then dividing both the company and its board:  whether or not the company should expand its repertoire beyond the Savoy operas and related works.  This question was itself a proxy for personality conflicts between several members, and would lead to a split in the company by late summer, with the company’s president, music director and several other members leaving to found a rival company that, as matters turned out, would never actually mount a performance.

That was still in the future as of spring 1979, however, and the issue at hand was what the company should be called.  Those who favored a continued focus on the works of Gilbert & Sullivan rallied behind “the Long Island Gilbert & Sullivan Society” (though some within that bloc actually preferred “the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Long Island”).  Those who wanted a wider repertoire toyed with “Long Island Music Theater,” but finally coalesced around “the Light Opera Company of Long Island” or, perhaps, “the Long Island Light Opera Company.”

That the three- or four-person blocs favoring each name were not themselves unified made it fairly clear that the chances of the seven-person committee producing a unanimous recommendation were slim, and two contentious meetings only underlined that fact.

A third meeting, conducted in Bob Tartell’s living room, began with a unanimous resolution that the committee would not adjourn that night until a resolution had been reached.  Regardless of their other disagreements, everybody wanted this over and done with.

Unfortunately, that was the extent of unanimity achievable by the committee, and as the evening wore on—as 9:00 turned to 10:00 and 11:00 loomed on the horizon—the company’s best minds turned away from the question at hand and toward the question of how they could comply with the president’s mandate without anyone abandoning his/her strongly felt position.

The conclusion:  The committee would recommend “the Gilbert & Sullivan Light Opera Company of Long Island,” in full recognition that it was too long, it was redundant and it wasn’t anybody’s preferred option, but also would provide two one-paragraph statements advocating “the Long Island Gilbert & Sullivan Society” and “the Light Opera Company of Long Island.”  In addition to its recommendation, the committee would recommend that the board disregard its recommendation and pick one of the other two possibilities.

This recommendation was duly presented to the board (three of whose members also had served on the committee) at its June meeting.  It didn’t take an Einstein to see that this was the kind of discussion that could last for years, and the board wanted no part of any such discussion.  Swiftly and with very little discussion, the board approved the committee recommendation and moved on to other business.

There was a general sense that this would be an interim name, particularly since its abbreviation—however it was pronounced—seemed vaguely unpleasant.  “A form of intestinal bacteria,” some suggested, or “the result of eating broccoli too quickly.”  At some later date, when the company had some spare time, the issue could be revisited.

Spare time has been in short supply in the past 40 years, however, and by now the current name has long outlasted the original name.  Wren attributes its survival in part to the fact that there’s still at least one member of the committee still with the company.

“As long as I’m around,” he said, “we have an institutional memory of what those committee meetings were like, and we’re unlikely to try that one again.  After I’m gone, maybe.”

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