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.”
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.
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 LAUNCHES SEARCH FOR NEW ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
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.