Transcendence Theatre co-founders call for resignation of current leadership from Board

Two of the Transcendence Theatre Company’s original founders and Board members have called for the company’s Artistic and Executive Directors to resign from the Company’s Board of Directors.

Leah Sprecher

In a post on the Medium web site, Leah Sprecher, who resigned from the company in 2017, relays experiences with the company that support the allegations of a hostile work environment made by Nikko Kimzin in his recent letter of resignation as TTC’s Director of Education and Community Engagement.

“Though I cannot speak to Nikko’s experiences as a BIPOC artist (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) working for a predominantly white company,” says Ms. Sprecher in her statement, “the suppressive leadership tactics and unbalanced power dynamics he highlighted within the Executive Team created an increasingly hostile work environment that ultimately led to my resignation in 2017.”

“I can recall nearly a dozen examples of qualified and talented artists and operators, inspired by short contracts with TTC, coming to Sonoma to fill the growing need for full-time positions. As with Nikko’s experience in his role, many of these individuals found themselves stymied by over-management and the mistrust to execute their contracted responsibilities. Individuals were brought on board to inspire donors and receive grants but when it came to the execution of actual programming, they and their efforts to implement programming were often suppressed by the Executive Team. When they ideated with other community members, they were often met with lectures by the Executive Team for having conversations without their permission. When the Executive Team did not like their ideas, rather than have “open and honest communications” — as the TTC company values declared were a fundamental bedrock of the organization — they were quietly stripped of responsibilities. Unable to carry out the job for which they were hired, these individuals, as with Nikko, ultimately resigned.”

Ms. Sprecher also notes in her statment that it is telling that of the six original founders of the company, only two remain – Artistic Director Amy Miller and Executive Director Brad Surosky.

“I believe that in order for true change to happen,” Ms. Sprecher continues, “it is critical that beyond just issuing statements with empty words that don’t reflect actual practice, TTC needs accountability. I would call on both the Artistic Director and Executive Director to resign from the Board of Directors, as is common practice with most non-profit theatre organizations. This very structure ensures a system of true checks and balances, and it creates accountability to the community that funds their operations in good faith.”

“Furthermore, I call on TTC to implement an unbiased system of Human Resources that does not answer to the Executive Director, but rather to the Board of Directors. No meaningful system of concerns and grievances can be managed when the entire system funnels back to the person who writes your paycheck.”

Ms. Sprecher concludes “It is my hope that sharing my story will help Transcendence Theatre Company fulfill its very admirable mission, and allow the full community of Sonoma and beyond to benefit from a vital, passionate, and inclusive arts program.”

**********

In a post to his personal Facebook page, Robert Petrarca, a Founding Member of TTC who worked there full time as Artistic Associate from 2013 until 2016, added his voice to the others calling for change at the company.

Robert Petrarca

“I hesitated at first to join the conversation.”, says Mr. Petrarca in his post, “Following my resignation, I purposefully distanced myself from TTC. Reading Nikko’s post, however, I realized that I have an opportunity to stand behind his words and validate that these experiences, as hard as they are to hear, were very much a similar reality throughout my tenure.

“As Leah described, I too watched so many hopeful artists move to Sonoma to follow the Artistic Director’s vision. Her words and “the big dream” have been potent inspirations for so many. The original TTC company values, which I helped draft, were deeply meaningful to artists looking for a place to contribute and add value. But the work of actually living up to a poetic ethos is much more tricky. And at that, TTC very often failed as a direct result of the Executive Leadership.”

“The environment was, in fact, unfair and malicious to a number of people trying to execute their responsibilities. I personally consoled many disheartened employees who were mistrusted, demeaned, and stripped of responsibilities because of fundamental mistrust in the organization and a relentless desire by the Executive Team to control all aspects of Transcendence.”

“I believe Leah Sprecher’s call to have the Executive and Artistic Directors resign from the Board of Directors is in the very best interest of the organization and the public that funds that organization. It is the only means of accountability. I would further call on the community of Sonoma to demand the same thing as they continue to learn about the disparity between the words and actions of Transcendence.”

“As more people speak out, I hope that these expressions of desire for transparency and change are not misconstrued as complaints from disgruntled former employees. In fact, from my own personal perspective, Transcendence was a life-altering experience. I learned how to grow a business, how to unlock the tremendous power of community, and how to lean into a vision to drive incredible growth. I learned these things alongside my Co-Founders, and I am forever changed by it.”

“This is not a campaign to villainize or destroy. If it were, I wouldn’t participate. I don’t want to see Transcendence end. I want to see it grow and actually, for once, be accountable for the full breadth of its actions. In that way, and only in that way, can it be the best and most honest version of itself.”

Mr. Petrarca ends his post with passages from his 2017 letter of resignation: “…I truly believe there is a real separation between ideology and practice (at Transcendence). For a company that puts so much weight in talking about what it stands for, I’m often so surprised to see those same values quickly disregarded at so many turns. This is not without consequence.

The reality is, when so many people who helped build this company continue to step away—from founding company members to stage managers, production staff, actors, donors, and more—it’s a real reflection of the reality of the company culture. When I think back to the first season, it’s shocking to see so many missing faces today.

…People see an organization that is led by leaders who don’t want to welcome dissenting opinions, who stack the cards in favor of their majority, who push out opinions that question their authority, and who don’t listen in any real way.”

Click HERE for the complete text of Ms. Sprecher’s statement.

One thought on “Transcendence Theatre co-founders call for resignation of current leadership from Board

  1. I certainly won’t comment on the internal workings of any theatre company I haven’t been part of. Those digestive processes are too complex. I would only warn about the very seductive desire to comment from outside. I don’t know the work of Transcendance, so these are just general comments.

    I’ve seen nonprofits profit from anything that could get the grant, and screw the people most directly responsible (which had nothing to do with being BIPOC or anything else, just folks you could screw, with the best of non-profit intentions).

    In my personal view, the first imperative of any arts outfit is to produce good art. If they’re equitable, that’s good; if they’re inclusive, that’s good; if they pay well and they’re a good place to work, that’s not only good but contributory to their mission. But to me, the foremost issue is: are they producing the best art they possibly can?

    No one should enter this profession without knowing it’s vicious, not only for POC but for everyone—any more than a vision quest in the desert should be undertaken without knowing it’s a crazy place to be.

    If the A.D.’s work is bad, he/she should be fired. If not, he/she should be engaged in discussion on the complaints. By the way, there are very good reasons the A.D. should not be on the board, and there are very good reasons why they should. I can point to either.

    Liked by 1 person

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