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Opinion: Former manager has strong words for STC board

Eamonn Reil says the Sudbury Theatre Centre board should resign over handling of merger with YES Theatre

I am calling for the resignation of the board of directors of the Sudbury Theatre Centre in response to the takeover of STC by YES Theatre. A merger should be a collaborative effort.  This is not a collaboration, but an abandonment.

I am tired of the open secrets. Secrecy is the death of art and culture, or has the community forgotten what is occurring at Laurentian?

I am one person, and this is one person’s opinion, but below are my main reasons.

The board has abandoned its responsibilities and willfully neglected its supervisory role of STC. Sadly, this is not a new development. 

A functional board provides governance and oversight to an arts organization, as well as; A) providing fundraising, awareness and marketing support, or; B) acting as a managing board, which is hands-on in terms of the operations of a theatre company.

The regulations that govern the STC board are contained in a well-crafted document that gathers the aforementioned items together. The board has resisted efforts to engage in fundraising activities, both in ceasing any and all fundraising pursuits, and in preventing past board members from engaging in this necessary role.

The board has also neglected direct management duties, with one specific example being the state of disrepair of two of the four HVAC units at STC. During COVID, the ability to cycle air has been proven to be one of the few measures that can be taken to keep people safe, and funds were made available through a variety of grants.

Further, yearly maintenance would have prevented the condemnation of these units and proven financially responsible.

Members of the board have frequently neglected their duty to attend performances at STC, and not been internally held accountable. The board members have removed their names from the STC website and there is no means to contact them unless one has an existing personal relationship.  

The board has shown no desire for training in either theatre operations nor board governance, and has been resistant to bringing in a younger demographic of member, except if that member has a connection with YES theatre.

Though it is in the board’s capacity to hand over the keys of STC to another group, in doing so they are abandoning the mandate of STC. Further, they have failed to adequately inform the membership of what they intend to do with the millions of dollars in assets.

The board has strong personal and professional connections to YES Theatre and the fact that there are mixed resources and finances shared between the two organizations is another act of secrecy.

The dismissal of Artistic Director John McHenry, who reduced the debt of STC by approximately $500,000 while continuing to uphold the STC’s mandate, should be praised. 

Instead, the next season was abruptly cancelled, his contract was not renewed, and he was told not to pursue grants. John McHenry was a rare mix of artist and artist manager. Having professional experience and training in both the artistic and administrative side of theatre is a rare combination of skill sets in Canadian theatre, and provides one with an insight to make sound informed judgments. 

The loss of John McHenry is an insult to anyone who has tried to make STC a better place.

There needs to be a change in members of the board of directors. I recommend the following: 

  1. That the current board members provide letters of resignation 
  2. That the last act of the current board should be to call an early AGM, where the membership can decide as to whether or not STC as a producing arts organization should continue.  
  3. The City of Greater Sudbury, as members of the board, should provide oversight for a period of three years (one board cycle) to ensure that this civic resource — on land which was purchased and is owned by the city — is managed appropriately.
  4. John McHenry be offered an additional term at the artistic director of the Sudbury Theate Centre, and to continue the work and mandate in a post-COVID era.

The board of STC is meant to provide a combination of responsible oversight and cheerleading squad, and should serve as a last line of defense against bad business practices. 

There is no responsible oversight right now, and the lack of support has driven staff and members away from the organization. What has been happening with STC is a great definition of bad practice.

Eamonn Reil is an events manager and worked in live theatre for 20 years. He was a stage manager at STC from 2010-2016 and served as the interim operations manager in 2015.