Under-The-Radar Transition at Women’s Project Theater

June 26th, 2014 § 12 comments

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 9.42.04 AM“Off record tip: Wondering if you’ve noticed that there’s someone missing from the Women’s Project masthead on their website.”

That’s the direct messaged tweet I received yesterday morning. Another one with essentially the same content, came in the early afternoon, from a separate individual. Of course, by that time, I’d already perused the Women’s Project Theater masthead.

It was readily apparent what I was being led to discover. The name that was missing was that of Julie Crosby, who had been named the company’s managing director in November 2005 and became the company’s producing artistic director in 2007. Her name was gone from the staff list, as was her biography.

The funny thing is, I couldn’t find a single press announcement of her departure, on their site or via Google news search. That fact, and the reticence of my correspondents to even directly come out and tell me why they were writing seemed odd. I was intrigued, but I’m in the midst of a big grant application in my day job, so I had to table my curiosity until early evening.

Since that time, I have sent two e-mails to Bruce Cohen, publicist for the Women’s Project, inquiring about this leadership transition. As I publish this, more than 14 hours since my first inquiry to him, I’ve had to no response.  I wrote early this morning to Arlene Scanlan, co-chair of the Women’s Project board of directors, at her work e-mail as published on her business website. No reply.

However, after two Facebook messages to Crosby, I received the following statement from her: “I poured my heart, soul, and brainpower into Women’s Project Theater for nearly a decade. It was my privilege and dream to lead the theater and work with so many extraordinarily talented women theater artists, and I’m incredibly proud of how much we accomplished. I would never resign.”

Julie Crosby

Julie Crosby

So there’s no doubt that Crosby is no longer at the Women’s Project Theater. She has not said that she was fired, but suggests that she did not depart voluntarily.

Jessica R. Jenen, who I know from her tenure at Classic Stage, is now listed as “interim executive producer.” As recently as April, Jenen was identified by the Women’s Project as “executive consultant.”

Several people I spoke with who declined to be named suggested that some, if not all, of the Women’s Project Theater advisory board have resigned. I am unable to confirm this officially. One advisory board member who was willing to speak on the record, agent Beth Blickers, would only say to me, “Julie Crosby has my absolute and utter support and it seems short sighted to me that she is not still the head of that organization.”

Another advisory board member, who counts me among her more than 3,000 Facebook friends, yesterday posted to her wall, “Ironic and depressing that in this crucial time for women artists in the theater that cultural organizations of, for and by women act in destructive ways to that intent…really really bad timing.” But maybe it’s just a coincidence that it appeared when it did; I do not name her because of the grey area of quoting from Facebook posts that may not be fully public.

In the absence of any further detail or comments from the company, all I can do is speculate, based on having followed institutional transitions at arts organizations for many years. I infer from Crosby’s careful statement that the parting was not amicable. The lack of any company announcement, or prepared statement, intimates that the separation was abrupt, and that perhaps there are legal issues to be worked out. If indeed some or all of the advisory board, which is largely filled with artists and arts professionals, has resigned, it suggests the creative community of the company is at odds with the board of directors over what has transpired.

Women’s Project Theater productions

Women’s Project Theater productions

Whatever precisely has transpired, it strikes me as a particularly unfortunate time for one of the country’s premier theatre groups dedicated to plays by women, led by women, employing women artists and administrators in a range of positions, to be undergoing turmoil, however hushed it may be. Conversations about gender parity in the arts, and theatre specifically, continue to grow more eloquent and effective. The topic has been spotlighted most recently by the establishment of The Kilroys and their list of 46 recommended plays by women, for theatres that feel (inexplicably) that they haven’t been able to surface female-written plays to include in their seasons. Having been a leader in efforts on behalf of women in theatre since its establishment 36 years ago, the Women’s Project deserves to be at the forefront of these redoubled and essential efforts to eradicate the patriarchal structure of American theatre, not taking a bunker mentality to even their own work and operations. Other companies have to be taught to include women, even in 2014, while the Women’s Project has taken that as their mission from the very start.

If I am indeed letting a proverbial cat out of a bag with this post, then it’s fair to assume that more information will be forthcoming. I will update this post as warranted, in the genuine hope that both Crosby and the organization will emerge from whatever exactly is going on in a way that sustains their roles as strong advocates for women playwrights and all women in theatre.

I will conclude with one parting tip about transitions: if you don’t want people to know something is going on behind the scenes at your organization, don’t change your website until you’re ready to talk.

Note: while the comments section is open, I urge anyone wishing to post that I do my best to maintain constructive conversation on my site, so attacks will be removed, as will anonymously sourced criticisms of any party. If you want to shed light, do so in full light, not under cover of a pseudonym. Thanks.

Addendum, 11:30 am, June 26: I just received the following e-mail from Arlene Scanlan, co-chair of the Women’s Project board of directors:

We are discussing a release that will come via the WP.  Bruce Cohen is not our current press agent.

It should be noted that, as I write, the Women’s Project’s website still lists Bruce Cohen as the press contact. While the site is being updated for an evolving situation, this change in the company’s media representation has not yet been amended to reflect its current status. My efforts to contact the company since yesterday evening were based on what their site states.

Addendum, 12:45 pm, June 26: The media page on the Women’s Project website now reflects that Marc Thibodeau at The Publicity Office is representing the company. I am reaching out to him for the statement that Scanlan indicated would be forthcoming.

Addendum, 5:15 pm, June 26: The Women’s Project, through Marc Thibodeau, provided me with a statement from its Board of Directors, concurrent with the issuance of a general press release by the company. The material in the statement which is not duplicated in the release reads:

Julie Crosby informed the Board via email on June 4 that she would be leaving her position as Producing Artistic Director and asked that we contact her attorney to discuss the terms of her departure. Since that time we have refrained from making a public statement in order to finalize those terms.

The general press release begins as follows:


Women’s Project Theater has begun a national search for a new Artistic Director to lead the company for the coming 2014-15 season and beyond.  The new Artistic Director will succeed Julie Crosby, who recently departed the company as Producing Artistic Director, a position she held since 2006.  During her tenure, Ms. Crosby led and nurtured the institution immeasurably, producing more than 25 plays by women playwrights and directors, and championing the careers of its alumnae lab artists.

Women’s Project Theater’s Board of Directors remain steadfastly committed to the mission of the theatre founded by Julia Miles in 1978. For the last 36 years, WP has championed work by women theater artists and shall continue to do so for many years in the future.

In the interim, Jessica R. Jenen, the Tony-nominated producer and former Executive Director of Classic Stage Company, will move into the role of Interim Executive Producer during this transition period. Ms. Jenen was to have departed WP as Executive Consultant at the end of June, but will remain with the theater through the transition period to a new Artistic Director

The remainder of the release cites the many achievements of the company over the years.

The statement of course does not agree with Crosby’s assertion that she would “never resign,” so what has taken place remains unclear. The statement also does not address the resignation of advisory board members or, as some have suggested in comments below, members of the board itself. I suspect I will not be alone in asking for greater transparency from this essential company now that the situation has been forced into the open. The public, the theatre community and the artists both past and present who care about the vitality of the Women’s Project Theatre deserve a fuller explanation of what led to this parting.

Addendum, 10:45 pm, June 26: I just visited the Women’s Project website again, to look at the list of their advisory board. It no longer appears on the site. There is no indication that any advisory board remains part of the organization.

Addendum, July 23: The Women’s Project today announced the appointment of Lisa McNulty as their new producing artistic director. She has been the artistic line producer at Manhattan Theatre Club since 2006, and will begin at the Women’s Project in September. For the New York Times report of the announcement, click here.


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  • somebuddy

    A severe disappointment if this is the new direction Women’s Project is to take. I know the board and community will soon regret this decision.

  • Jasper Taylor

    something rotten in the state of denmark… there were unhappy rumblings about this from the cognoscenti yesterday on social media

  • Deb

    Very sad to hear this is going on. As with any organization, there are always many moving parts and 36 years is miraculous. On behalf of myself and Venus Theatre, we cast no judgements and send up our best wishes for a clear and articulate resolve free from harmful emotional attacks. The world needs the voice of women. The work is essential.

  • sallie bingham

    As a member of the advisory board of the Women’s Project, and one of three women, Julia Miles, Joan Vail Thorne, and myself, I resigned as soon as i heard the news of this disgraceful firing.To my knowledge, all the other members of the advisory board, save one, and two members of the board, have resigned. Sallie Bingham

    • Thank you, Sallie, for confirming for the record what I’d been hearing. I am wondering: was there any response from the board of directors or staff upon receipt of your notice of resignation?

  • Susan Jonas

    Half or more of the board of trustees has also resigned. I dearly hope that rather than lose its core support across all categories, the remaining minority will realize the inappropriateness and consequences of its behavior, and make the crucial decisions that will allow for the swift and critical restoration of the loyal and effective WP supporters, all of who credit Julie Crosby with extraordinary leadership. Boards function best when they understand their role is to support the health of the institution, cleave to the mission and empower the leadership to do its best work.

    Susan Jonas
    A Former Advisory Board member, a former New York State Council on the Arts analyst and WP grantor, and Co-Founder with julie crosby and melody brooks of “”50/50 in 2020.”

  • Melodious Dissent

    And yet…look, I get that the easy thing here is to jump to the conclusion that a wonderful and talented Artistic Director was ousted and wonderful and dedicated board members are rallying behind her, but as someone who has worked in arts organizations where the staff loathed and dreaded coming to work because of rampant incompetence and/or corruption in both the board and executive leadership, I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions here. Sure, the transition has clearly been mismanaged, but if the existing leadership didn’t have a strong and competent communications staff on the team who could handle such a transition, well, that’s part of your problem right there. I know everyone wants to think they’re being a hero but oftentimes boards are made up of or cultivated into personal friends and supporters of EDs and ADs and they, frankly, have little or no clue what actual arts administration looks like. Just because Julie Crosby is a woman and just because she’s worked there for years and years doesn’t mean she’s the best person to run the company. And lest we forget, the role of the staff and board is to SERVE THE MISSION, and subsequently the public, not the Artistic Director. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, nowhere moreso than in the arts.

  • Pingback: Goodbye to the Women's Project — Sallie Bingham()

  • Leonard Jacobs

    According to playwright Brian James Polak, who has offered the following information elsewhere (happy to provide a link, Howard), the 46 plays are NOT Kilroys-recommended. Is it your understanding that they are?

    • Quoting from The Kilroys’ website: “THE LIST comprises the 46 most recommended plays from this survey,” a survey conducted by The Kilroys. Therefore, I don’’t think it’s wrong to say it is “their [The Kilroys’] list of recommended plays,” since they created it. However, if anyone affiliated with The Kilroys feels that I have inaccurately represented their efforts, I would revise accordingly, and note that I’ve done so.

      • Leonard Jacobs

        Have you asked them if they themselves, as a collective group, do specifically recommend the list of the 46 plays? Grammatically, your use of the possessive “their” in the sentence “The topic has been spotlighted most recently by the establishment of The Kilroys and their list of 46 recommended plays by women…” could only refer to The Kilroys, especially as no distinction is made between The Kilroys and the group that created the list. It is, as you wrote, “their” list. Or is that to say they own and promote a list that they themselves, as a collective group, specifically and explicitly do NOT recommend, that they do not stand behind it? Is it possible for someone to stand behind something they don’t recommend? Indeed, if they don’t specifically recommend the plays but, like presenters, are merely presenting the list of plays as recommended by others, then the “their” remains rather misleading. It implies that they own something, which they do, that they take no position on. Is it possible for a group to promote something that they don’t stand behind?

  • Anthony Ramos

    I will no longer support WPT

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