To the Board of Directors, the Executive Director, and the Artistic Director of Adventure Theatre,

 

This letter was written by members of the staff at ATMTC. We, the members of full-time and part-time staff of Adventure Theatre have been systemically subjected to inhumane working conditions due to the incompetence and lack of support and accountability of the theatre’s leadership, including the Interim Executive Director Jeanne Ellinport, Artistic Director Chil Kong, and members of the Board led by Board chair Mary Slimp. We have witnessed and/or experienced repeat patterns of the targeted hiring of Black, Indigenous, people of color, women and people of expansive genders, and young/early career employees to exploit their identities, experience, and labor by not providing safe and secure working environments or policies, paying non-livable wages, and unethically and illegally manipulating and misaligning exempt and non-exempt job duties in service of their profits. These systemic issues have existed for years.

The 21-22 Production season at Adventure, previously helmed by Executive Director Leon Seemann, has been a case study in mismanagement, which was further exacerbated at the end of February 2022 by the arrival of Jeanne Ellinport as Interim Executive Director, who has no professional theatre or arts management experience and is ignorant of EDI practices. Jeanne Ellinport, former Board Treasurer, may have non-profit management experience, however the performing arts industry requires robust, specialized knowledge, experience, and skills to effectively lead, especially during a pandemic and the industry-wide movement to eliminate racial inequities. Jeanne Ellinport’s mismanagement over the past 4 months has left the staff and contractors confused over the Board of Director’s choice to appoint her as Interim Executive Director, and frustrated with their failure to appoint a capable Executive Director. To date, the Board has not even begun the search for a permanent, experienced Executive Director.

In an all-staff meeting on July 12th, 2022, the following safety concerns were raised by the staff. The Interim Executive Director and Artistic Director declined to offer solutions, citing the need to prioritize the Board of Directors’ profit-centered business plan instead of the safety and wellbeing of the staff and the contractors they employ. Executive Leaders Jeanne Ellinport and Chil Kong have repeatedly excused harmful decisions by stating, “This year we have to focus on making money.” Despite accusations from the Interim Executive Director that these issues are new information that the staff withheld in an attempt to ambush leadership, we have documented repeated attempts to communicate these issues to the Interim Executive Director, Artistic Director, and Board of Directors, with increasing urgency over the past 6 weeks.

Nothing other than empty apologies and platitudes have been offered, but the following safety concerns require immediate action:

 

  • 1. Safety issues caused by both COVID outbreaks and physical injury in three out of the four productions this season have not been adequately addressed. The first two productions have ongoing complaints with NIOHDC against the Executive Team, the most recent meeting with NIOHDC was on June 27, and is still unresolved. The breakneck pace set by Executive Leadership for the rehearsal and tech process have repeatedly jeopardized the safety of the production team, cast, and contractors. Executive Leadership have failed in their responsibility to provide a safe working environment, so the production staff have been forced to improvise solutions to ensure the safety of the cast, often at the expense of their own safety while Executive Leadership is not on premises or at risk.

  • 2. Executive Leadership has failed to establish a COVID-19 safety policy and hire a COVID Safety Officer to enact it. The Production team has not been provided with the resources necessary to address COVID-19 outbreaks.

  • 3. Non-exempt staff are expected to work unlimited overtime hours without additional compensation. Exempt staff are expected to work well over 40 hours, often 65-70 hours a week, without bonus or compensation. During the tech process for our current production, this resulted in the production staff providing 50 hours each of uncompensated overtime labor in a single week. The staff is experiencing extreme burnout and the negative health effects associated with it, and Executive Leadership have declined to provide staffing or financial support.

  • 4. Executive Leadership has repeatedly declined to fill empty staff positions that would ensure the safety of all workers, including a Technical Director, Casting Director, and COVID-19 Safety Officer. When the staff informed the Interim Executive Director that it is impossible to follow a professional theatre schedule without being staffed to a professional level, they were told to find alternate (unfunded) solutions themselves.

 

This is the second staff-wide burnout of this season, the first of which resulted in an almost complete staff resignation. This is the third time that Not In Our House has provided support to employees due to various safety concerns, systemic and direct racial harm, and inadequate pay/labor violations in less than one calendar year. The majority of the current staff has only been employed at ATMTC for 6-8 months and within that short amount of time have lost all trust and confidence in the Executive Leadership of the Theatre (excluding the Academy) and the Board of Directors. After repeated attempts to communicate with the Interim Executive Director, the Artistic Director, and the Board President, it has become abundantly clear that concerns about safety, well-being, and livelihood are ignored and dismissed.

 

The following patterns of toxic management practices make it impossible for us to continue to, in good faith, produce and invite workers to Adventure Theatre:

 

  • Leadership has failed to establish comprehensive job positions and pay structures. Leadership has failed to communicate and execute fair labor practices concerning the job duties and expectations of the staff leading to:

    • Staff working beyond contracted/paid hours with no overtime or bonus structure in place; staff paid less than a living wage

    • Staff providing services or labor beyond job duties; job descriptions are not maintained or honored; jobs recently restructured to include managerial duties for non-management job titles and pay

    • Staff and contract workers provide unpaid labor due to inadequate staffing and/or contracting labor and also due to misclassifying staff as salaried to avoid paying overtime

    • Staff working in unsafe or harmful conditions

    • Vacated positions essential to a professional theatre, such as Technical Director, Marketing/Communications Director, have not been refilled or have been restructured/combined into other positions, or contracted out and are not being managed appropriately by the respective leaders, so the work falls on staff or doesn’t get done; ie the Executive Director and LINK did not create an effective or accurate marketing campaign for the current show, did not display promotional material in the actual theatre, which has impacted ticket sales and cast morale

 

  • Leadership engages in dishonest and manipulative language and behaviors that include deflection of responsibility, toxic positivity, gaslighting, and empty promises about compensation and work hours causing:

    • Staff confusion as to the chain of command at the theatre; siloing, which creates an adversarial relationship between artistic and administrative teams

    • Staff demoralized by the lack of job recognition, leadership takes credit for work conceived and executed by staff

    • Staff is compelled to find solutions on their own because they know others might be in harm’s way

    • Staff is compelled to consider putting their safety and well-being at risk to complete a job task

    • Staff anxiety because of the uncertainty for their livelihoods

    • Leadership has consistently over scheduled seasons with no breaks in between productions for ATMTC staff, creating overlaps of duties and no opportunity for time off; leadership consistently creates inhumane performance schedules without adequate breaks that overextend actors/crew and put undue stress on their bodies and voices, potentially leading to lasting health issues

 

  • Leadership has repeatedly failed to create safety policies, procedures, and protocols regarding COVID-19 and has not taken comprehensive steps to mitigate its spread causing:

    • Staff/contractors to work in conditions of possible exposure to the virus without any guidance or support should they get sick on premises

    • Staff confusion as to how to notify and proceed if a possible exposure or actual infection occurs; the handbook of policies was last updated in 2018 and no COVID policies have been added

    • Staff compelled to make decisions that may make them liable for putting audiences, artists, and contractors in harm’s way

    • Staff and employees made to perform despite being unsafe in order to ensure the theatre does not cancel a performance or refund tickets - the bottom line matters more than the humans at risk.

 

The Interim Executive Director, Artistic Director, and Board of Directors have an ethical and legal obligation to provide fair compensation and a safe work environment, especially for under-represented/protected classes. The “Show Must Go On,” profit-first mentality must end and be replaced with the anti-harm, anti-racist policies that Adventure Theatre purports to believe in. It’s clear that the concerns brought forth in the two previous Not In Our House letters of complaint have not been addressed with any meaningful change. It is only a matter of time before yet another complaint is lodged.

 

We do not believe that ATMTC can continue into a production process for its next show, On the Wings of a Mariposa, until Leadership can ensure the safety of all staff and contractors. ATMTC should cease production of its next season until such a time as comprehensive fair labor and safety policies and procedures are drafted and implemented company-wide. ATMTC should also provide fair compensation practices as stated in FLSA, and ensure that all employees are making at least minimum wage as defined by the State of Maryland. We are no longer seeking dialogue with Executive Leadership and the Board as it has proven ineffective, only meaningful change to protect future employees. We believe that public accountability is now the only path forward. This letter will be sent to the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County and the Maryland State Arts Council as well as other local and national news outlets. The following questions are at minimum what needs to be publicly addressed by the Board of Directors in order to provide a fair and safe working environment at Adventure.

 

  1. Why was an Interim Executive Director with no theatre experience appointed to this position?

    1. Why are additional critical roles at the theatre being filled with people and by firms with no theatre experience?

    2. Why is LINK listed as a sponsor of the theatre as well as a paid marketing consultant?

  2. What is the timeline for a new Executive Director being onboarded? The 5 open roles at the company? The additional 3 roles needed at the company?

    1. Will all these new hires have theatre experience?

    2. Jeanne Ellinport recently created new positions (i.e. Social Media Manager). Who authorized those decisions and is vetting her hiring choices?

  3. When will the Board provide and communicate adequate Human Resources infrastructure to the staff?

  4. When will a COVID Safety Officer be hired? a. When will official COVID safety guidelines be communicated and implemented?

  5. When will the staff be provided fair compensation, as stated in FLSA, for their labor?

    1. When will staff be provided a complete and comprehensive job description?

  6. What is the Board’s plan of action moving forward?

    1. How will the Board protect current and future staff against harm?

    2. What hiring and business practices will change?

    3. What aspects of the culture will change and how will a positive, EDI-centered work culture be maintained?

    4. When will the Board compensate staff members for their documented, unpaid overtime? It is the responsibility of the Board of Directors to intervene on behalf of the staff that has put themselves in harm’s way to keep the theatre doors open.

Adventure Theatre claims to lead with joy, but until we are safe, empowered, and compensated, that is simply untrue.

Sincerely, The Adventure Theatre MTC Staff

 

CC: DC Theatre Arts, The Washington Post, Bethesda Magazine, theatreWashington, NIOHDC, Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, Maryland State Arts Council

Relevant Industry Information:
Boards Are Broken, So Let’s Break and Remake Them by Michael Bobbitt for American
Theatre Magazine


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ACTORS’ EQUITY ASSOCIATION SUPPORTS VICTORY GARDENS THEATER WORKERS