Georgia's Serenbe Playhouse will be internally rebuilt following a sweeping move by the Board of Directors of The Serenbe Institute for Art, Culture & the Environment to lay off all staff and temporarily suspend all operations, including planned 2020 performances. The decision comes in the wake of a number allegations that the theatre was not a safe working environment for many artists, particularly the BIPOC community.
"While we have ALL enjoyed world class productions at the Playhouse over the years, it has recently come to our attention through numerous, and very serious allegations, that our beloved experiences may possibly have come hand-in-hand with a culture that has been fraught with poor working conditions, racial and gender discrimination," reads a statement from Serenbe Institute Executive Director Jennifer Bauer-Lyons and Chair of the Board of Directors Deborah Griffin.
The public allegations against Serenbe, as well as against the company's former artistic director Brian Clowdus (who departed in 2019 and started his own production company), echo an industry-wide movement of BIPOC theatre artists speaking out about toxic work environments. Circulated on social media, these testimonies are further fortified by a widely circulated letter, penned by 300 BIPOC artists, addressed to the White American Theater earlier this month, exposing the indignities and racism that BIPOC, and in particular Black theatremakers, face on a day-to-day basis.
"The nature and extent of the allegations warrant immediate action consistent with the values of the Serenbe community, and we realize that the only way to ensure a fair and equitable work environment and patron experience at the Playhouse is to redesign the culture that has been established over the past 12 years from the ground up with new DNA," continues the statement from The Serenbe Institute.
So far, the redesign will involve listening sessions, to gather more artists' stories; working with diversity, equity, and inclusion practitioner Dr. Tiffany Russell on ally education and equitable hiring practices, as well as creating a culture that supports all voices at the table; working with the Playhouse Board of Directors to make the necessary changes to have a board and an organization that is reflective of the community at large; and assessing and rebuilding the apprentice program so that every artist who participates is provided with equitable living and working conditions, and fair treatment.
The process of rebuilding will be overseen by Travis Townsend, a member of the Institute Executive Committee, and an attorney and consultant who has worked with the National Urban League and other institutions to correct internal inequities.
The Playhouse has canceled all shows for the rest of the year, with ticketholders informed that their purchase will be valid for a future performance.