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Stakeholders worried a quiet takeover of Sudbury Theatre Centre is happening behind closed doors

With allegations swirling that STC is merging with YES Theatre, a former poet laureate, a playwright and a past interim director of operations speak out
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Sudbury Theatre Centre and YES Theatre reps say they’re planning to make a statement later this month following an open letter from local theatre supporters who allege a merger or takeover is occurring behind closed doors.

Following the release of the May 6 letter, reached out to both John Dow, co-president of STC’s board, and Alessandro Costantini, artistic and managing director of YES Theatre.

While both Costantini and Dow declined to speak about the situation at this time, the theatre companies say they will be releasing information soon.

Dow said a press release will be issued by STC on May 25. A statement relating to the May 25 press release will be coming out this week.

To recap, the May 6 letter, which was signed by more than 40 concerned current and former Sudburians, alleges that “in what might be described as a merger, or perhaps viewed more cynically as a takeover, the (Sudbury Theatre Centre) board would hand over operations of the (STC) building to another local company, YES Theatre.”

The letter said that in March, the artistic director of STC (John McHenry) was let go midway through the season, and YES Theatre’s general manager (Scott Denniston) was appointed as the general manager of STC.

This as STC has taken a financial hit due to the pandemic.

“At least three members of the STC board, including the co-chair, have strong ties to YES Theatre as board members, key company members or performers,” said the letter from the STC supporters.

“With such overlap in board membership, any decision to transfer STC operations to YES Theatre raises conflict of interest concerns.” has reached out to several of the people who signed their names to the open letter about the STC-YES Theatre situation.

That includes Katherine Smith, who worked her way up the ladder at STC during the 2010s, eventually becoming the interim director of operations. She left the theatre company in the summer of 2019.

Smith said she has an “interesting relationship” with STC, saying lots of her friends got their start in the industry at the Sudbury theatre, and she was “super excited to go and be in that place,” adding that it’s a “little hidden gem.”

“I was always very proud to work there,” she said.

“But also the time that I spent at STC taught me a lot about bad board governance and what can happen to an organization when there's poor board governance,” Smith added.

Smith said she has seen documents that indicate the merger is happening. 

She asks “if the merger is such a great thing for everybody, then why is this thing being done so secretively, and so shadily, and why did we have to write a letter, an open letter coming from the community in order to get anybody talking about this?”

Smith said that she’s pretty sure that legally, if Sudbury Theatre Centre wants to change its trajectory away from its articles of incorporation, it “has to be on the up and up about that.”

“This all smacks of a shady backroom deal to me,” she said.

Smith also feels that the overlap in STC and YES Theatre’s board is a conflict of interest. For example, Patricia Meehan is both a member of YES Theatre’s board and the co-chair of Sudbury Theatre Centre’s board, she said.

Also, as stated above, Scott Denniston is the general manager and executive producer of YES Theatre, and was also recently appointed general manager of STC. 

“What I don't understand is how this conflict of interest has been allowed to get to this point?” Smith said.

“The governors of STC’s job is to protect STC’s best interest, and I don't believe that that's what's happening.”

Playwright, author and actor Matt Heiti, another member of the community with close ties to STC who signed the recent open letter, said a merger is not really what seems to be on the table.

He said the more likely reality is that STC will close. 

“When you look at make-up of the board of STC right now, or its remaining and newly appointed staff, with that many members of YES Theatre involved, the question becomes who is there to speak for STC?” Heiti said, in an email.

“My concern is that there is no one involved in the decision-making process who can represent what is best for STC.”

Both Heiti and Smith are careful to say that in speaking out, it doesn’t mean they’re not supporters of YES Theatre’s work.

“But that is not to say that is the only kind of theatre I want to see in Sudbury, or the only theatre company,” said Heiti, a former playwright-in-residence with STC who has also been an actor, director and dramaturg with the organization, and also originated STC’s Playwright’s Junction program for novice playwrights.

He explains that Sudbury Theatre Centre is a member of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres (PACT), while YES Theatre is not.

PACT requires members to uphold professional standards, safety and certain levels of pay, Heiti said.

While many people may say YES Theatre presents a professional-level quality of work, they don’t necessarily have to pay their performers, designers and directors, “and they do not have to hold their stages to the professional quality of practice,” he said.

Former Greater Sudbury poet laureate and local writer Kim Fahner also signed her name to the open letter about the situation at STC.

She said she became a playwright thanks to STC’s Playwright’s Junction program. 

Her play “All the Things I Draw” was supposed to be part of STC’s script-reading series this year, but that was cancelled due to McHenry’s departure from the theatre company. 

Fahner said her play will instead be read during Pat the Dog Theatre Creation’s PlaySmelter festival this Friday.

If there’s a merger between STC and YES Theatre, Fahner said she’s concerned that other aspiring local playwrights won’t get the opportunities she’s had.

“I'm really concerned about the creation of new stories written in the north, for the north,” she said. “YES typically only does musicals. Well, you know, that's not that's not all that theatre has to offer.”

Fahner said that Sudbury Theatre Centre is “not a treehouse to be fought over,” and that the loss of the STC organization in a merger would have a “huge ripple effect” in Northeastern Ontario. 

“This to me is more worrisome in terms of the notion of a merger,” she said.

“I would put that in quotation marks … It seems more that it's usurping or erasing an entire organization. I've heard the phrase a hostile takeover uttered by a few people in the community just secondhand. 

“And to me, if that's the way it's being approached, I have a real concern about that. 

“Because to me, that again, is that treehouse thing … you can take the treehouse, but then the organization that lives inside the treehouse will die. You know, and are people okay with that?”

Heidi Ulrichsen is the associate content editor at She also covers education and the arts scene.


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