Victory Gardens Theater’s board of directors has voted to move the long-running Chicago theater away from producing its own shows and instead become a presenting organization, a move that includes layoffs. It pledges to use its space and other resources to support other Chicago theaters with a worthy mission.

The change was decided this week and may not be permanent and has yet to be fully implemented. It was revealed to the Tribune by a spokesperson for the board of directors, and follows weeks of turmoil at the 47-year-old Tony Award-winning theater after artistic director Ken-Matt Martin was suspended and then fired earlier this summer.

A spokeswoman acknowledged that the withdrawal from the production means the theater will lay off its remaining nine full-time employees and nine part-time employees this week, saying the decision was made due to “operational realities.”

That staff has been at war with the racially diverse board in recent weeks, taking over the theater’s social media channels, calling for its employer to resign, accusing board members of “toxic behavior” and advocating for Martin’s reinstatement and hiring. new executive director.

A group of front-of-house workers, stagehands and administrative staff also filed papers with the National Labor Relations Board on Aug. 3 to form a union to be represented by the 2nd Local Theatrical Stagehands International Association. they claimed their dismissal was due to “union busting” and were widely supported by the management of other theaters around the country, many of whom repeated the accusations in their published reports.

“The toxic behavior patterns of the Victory Gardens Board of Directors have made it impossible for this Black-led, mission-centered organization to succeed, leading to the loss of leadership, the resignation of all resident artists, and the collective appeal of the staff. and artists for the resignation of the Board of Directors and the reinstatement of Ken-Matt Martin as artistic director,” the group said in an online statement.

In a statement, the theater’s board of directors said the theater is “dealing with the reality of two difficult years during the pandemic as canceled or shortened seasons, low attendance and more and more employees leave the nonprofit theater.” “

During the 2021-22 season, some performances in the theater were played to only a handful of spectators. Martin never announced the 2022-23 season.

One of the theater’s biggest donors, Steve Miller, a retired supporter of the theater’s outstanding mortgage at the Biograph at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., left the board after former executive director Erica Daniels, an administrator known for other jobs, stepped down. his fundraising prowess and audience cultivation.

A board spokesman said the council had no intention of closing the historic Biograph or retiring the Victory Gardens name, and details of what “support” meant for other groups would be forthcoming, but it could include renting the space at cost or bid. other forms of support. Ultimately, the spokesman said, the non-bankrupt theater hopes to produce its production again.

Much of the media coverage of the dispute has focused on the board’s intention to acquire what is often described as an “adjacent building”—a vacant storefront that was part of the Biograph building but carved out as a commercial condominium while financing the restoration. In 2004. The current council had hoped the cost of around $250,000 could result in an income stream for the theatre, as well as prevent a new ground floor tenant. Many of the staff and the protesting artistic ensemble viewed the purchase as unwise given the building’s renovation needs, although such decisions are generally the province of the board.

Under this new plan, a board spokesman acknowledged that new operations staff will need to be hired at some point, likely a difficult task given weeks of high-profile conflicts. Before the detailed plan was released, it was also unclear what would happen to the theater’s educational programs, many of which involved private and foundation funding.

Although Friday night was lit for the first time in weeks, there are still no shows in the historic tent.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

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