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Letter: STC, YES situation raises troubling questions

In advance of the May 25 press conference at which answers are promises, local theatre professional France Huot hopes the board of directors at Sudbury Theatre Centre answers the questions the theatre community, and the community as a whole, needs to know
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Two weeks ago, I decided to add my name to an open letter from local and national artists drawing attention to the situation at the Sudbury Theatre Centre (STC). 

Below are some of my reflections regarding comments I’ve heard or read since then. 

It seems that many people are viewing the May 6 letter as a negative and harmful attack to the STC and YES Theatre. To me, the letter issued is an invitation for both organizations to open a dialogue with our community in regards to the concerns voiced about its current situation.

After all, the STC is a publicly funded institution. What is happening at the STC has been described to me as a merger, a partnership, and a takeover; all of which creates confusion since those three words mean very different things. 

If a partnership truly is intended, its precise nature still remains unclear.

What does it look like in practice? How will employees be affected? How will it be equitable for both organizations? Why is this partnership presented as the only solution to ultimately save STC? Were there consultations prior to this to find other solutions to get the STC in a better position? 

Was there an evaluation of risk management before approaching YES? Are the budgets for both organizations going to remain separate? How are they going to navigate different industry standards associated with each company who have different professional practices? How’s that going to work with different funding envelopes? 

Does that mean the artistic director and general manager by interim write grants for the two different organizations? Do they both respond and write their reports to two different boards of directors then? What about the previous activities offered by STC to foster the work of local playwrights? 

And what happens after that first year of partnership? What about the individual mandates for both companies?

I will stress that the last question is of importance to me. I’ve been told that YES Theatre and STC have similar mandates on paper. They both produce great works of theatre for the benefit of our community, but, in practice, I’ve known YES for their productions of (predominantly) American musicals with mostly local artists, while STC produces and creates original works by and with Canadian artists. 

In the STC statement issued May 12th, the board wrote that there would be a “drastic increase in professional artistic opportunities for Canadian Artists and compelling artistic material for Sudbury audiences.” 

During this “revitalization” of STC, are we sweeping aside the creation of original Canadian theatre to focus on remounting American musicals all year round? Is this how the STC will be rebuilt and will remain after its partnership?

Having worked for the Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario for five years and being a board member for different arts organizations, I’ve seen how a mandate, mission, and values are important. They orient programing, projects, priorities, activities, ties to the community, workshops, and much more. They go hand in hand with your strategic planning, which should include public consultation.

This is why I still believe the STC’s board needs to explain this new partnership to its community. We need to know why funding from the Canada Council for the Arts was recently slashed by 70 per cent. Decisions like these from funders don’t happen overnight. 

After the travesty that happened at Laurentian University, I think we all want more transparency in our publicly funded institutions. The intent of the original letter was not to cause division, but rather to ask for accountability from the board of STC as to how it got in its current situation and to explain its decisions. 

While some people choose to believe that the public letters and articles are coming from a place of “professional jealousy”, I can assure it is coming from a place of genuine concern for the organization. I also believe these are fair questions from professional artists like myself to ask about the work STC will produce and, more importantly, how it will sustain itself moving forward. 

It's important to remind ourselves that an institution does not exist in a vacuum, and I believe STC is going to need help on all levels (governance, operations, community building, granting bodies, partners, artists) because its problems have become too unwieldy to solve by itself. 

If I know anything about my many years of experience in the arts and culture sector, it’s not going to take one solution. It’s going to need many contributions in order to find itself in a better, healthier, thriving place. It takes a community. And you can’t foster a community without transparency. 

Ultimately, I believe we all want the same thing, but how we get there is also important. I will close by stating that I’m not against this partnership if it gets STC to a healthier place, truly. I know that an organizational structure needs to shift for a time in order to survive. It would also serve as a tremendous opportunity for growth and learning for YES Theatre. 

It will be a challenge for the company, one I hope they are equipped to handle and I say that with no malicious intent. If it’s the case, I will view this a positive change. Until then, I look very much forward to my questions, and those of others, being answered on May 25. 

France Huot 
Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario