Big changes in the board of a volunteer-run Victoria theatre company are being hailed as a shift toward inclusivity or a calculated takeover, depending on who you ask.
At an annual general meeting for Langham Court Theatre Society last Sunday that dragged on for five hours, voters elected six board members. The majority are first-time board members for the theatre, which has been criticized as exclusive and lacking in representation.
The theatre reached a settlement this year in a human rights tribunal case in which a Black actor alleged the company and a director discriminated against her on the basis of race after she was told there were no roles for Black women in a play.
Newly elected president Janine Longy, who had been previously elected as a member-at-large, and vice-president Kathy Macovichuk, whose role was not up for re-election, have resigned since the vote.
Macovichuk said she resigned because she believed that’s what the majority of the new board wanted, based on an earlier online campaign calling for her resignation.
“They knew that they wanted to have some changes be done and didn’t think that the present board was capable of doing it. So they had decided to come in and basically take over the theatre,” she said.
Macovichuk said she recognized change was needed at the theatre and she was trying to implement workshops on diversity and inclusion to improve representation in the wake of the human rights complaint, but it didn’t seem to be enough for many people.
“There is a group who is not forgiving and who cannot move on and they are just forging forward and wanting to punish,” she said.
Macovichuk said she has heard from some long-time Langham Court members who are worried about the changes and wonder whether they are still welcome in the organization.
“We’ve been told many, many times that we’re privileged white racists. … It’s like a country club or golf club or something,” she said. “It’s not like that. We’ve always been very welcoming for everyone.”
Sadie Fox, a volunteer who chairs the human resources committee at Langham Court, characterized the changes as symbolic of a general shift in theatre to being more inclusive.
“We want everyone to have a place to participate, and it’s easier if we work as a community. And I do think that’s where we’re moving to in general in theatre and Langham is catching up,” she said.
Fox said there have been toxic dynamics and high stress levels at the theatre for many years, leading to burnout in some volunteers and a high turnover this year.
“I think [Sunday] night, what we saw was the result of that kind of turmoil within an organization. You know, things can’t persist indefinitely with that kind of energy, without change happening at some point,” Fox said.
After an emotional discussion at the meeting, members voted to revoke a lifetime membership for Judy Treloar, the director who told a Black actor there were no roles for Black women in a play.