After Times investigation, a theater festival announces substantive culture changes
Williamstown Theatre Festival announced numerous notable changes to its operations this week, including the immediate abolishment of its ambitious seven-show summer season.
“Beginning in 2022, the number and scale of Williamstown Theatre Festival’s programmatic activities will match its capacity to support the staff and trainees who make the Festival possible,” reads the announcement, published Thursday on the festival’s website. “This will lessen the intensity and sense of urgency once endemic to WTF’s workplace.”
The announcement comes after a Times investigation, published in September 2021, in which 25 current and former workers alleged that the Massachusetts summer theater festival exposed them to repeated safety hazards and a toxic work culture under the guise of prestige. Its artistic director Mandy Greenfield resigned the following month; Jenny Gersten was appointed the festival’s interim artistic director.
“We have heard from current and former Festival trainees, employees, and participants — in communications both public and private — about the need to dismantle old systems and build an organization that is structurally and culturally more equitable, diverse, inclusive, accessible, anti-racist, and anti-oppressive,” reads the announcement.
Alumni say the Williamstown Theatre Festival is “deeply broken.” The festival says it welcomes change. But is it enough?
Many of the changes directly address the dangerous working conditions outlined in The Times investigation: They include providing mandatory technical safety training for anyone supervising or participating in builds or installations, ensuring longer time periods for set “changeovers” between productions, hour-caps for seasonal staff and trainees and at least one day off per week for all employees.
Additionally, the festival announced the hiring of a third-party human resources firm and a year-round senior staff position to oversee the festival’s culture, and it commits to devoting more resources to its abuse reporting procedures. It will also work with a pay equity consultant to improve compensation practices and provide free on-campus housing for all employees and trainees.
Upon learning of these announced changes, the group of 75 alumni who first sent an eight-page letter and accompanying appendix about WTF’s troubling patterns to the festival’s leadership and board last February shared an exclusive statement with The Times:
“Our Collective was formed in order to hold the Festival accountable and provide anonymity to those who wanted to speak out but feared retribution. After reading today’s Progress Report, we choose to assume good faith from the Festival. The Collective has done a tremendous amount of difficult work over the past year and a half, and we are now transferring responsibility back to the Festival administration, where it belongs.
“There is still more work to be done. We are not naive, and recognize that the next months will show whether the Festival is living up to these commitments. We hope that this represents a turning point in our field and we encourage other theatrical institutions to make similar changes.”
Artistic director resigns after Times investigation into theater festival’s culture
Outgoing artistic director Mandy Greenfield will be replaced by interim artistic director Jenny Gersten, the festival announced Monday.
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