Sudbury Theatre Centre not transparent with new direction, say critics

The Sudbury Theatre Centre (STC) has confirmed plans to partner with the Yes Theatre organization, but some members of the city’s artistic community say the move is a merger that was done without public consultation.

STC has confirmed that it is partnering with YES Theatre

Sudbury actor, writer and director, Matthew Heiti, seen here in the Sudbury Theatre Centre's production of A Christmas Carol, signed an open letter denouncing the organizations plans to partner with the YES Theatre organization. Critics say the plans were made in secret. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

The Sudbury Theatre Centre (STC) has confirmed plans to partner with another local group, YES Theatre, but some members of the city's artistic community say the move is a merger that was done without public consultation.

Earlier this month 44 members of Sudbury's small artistic and theatre community signed an open letter that denounced the STC's partnership with YES Theatre — a partnership which had not yet been formally announced.

Matthew Heiti, a Sudbury-based writer, teacher and theatre creator, was one of the letter's signatories.

"Locally, I think we have had a number of situations like the disaster at Laurentian, where the community has been left entirely out of a conversation about something that drastically affects the future and health of both the people in the city and our economy and culture," he said.

In March 2022, the STC fired its artistic director, John McHenry, midway through the season. After he was let go, Alessandro Costantini, YES Theatre's artistic and managing director, was appointed to the role.

Critics have said Costantini got the job behind closed doors without a public job posting.

Heiti said several of the STC's board members are also involved with YES Theatre, and now Costantini is the artistic director for both organizations.

"Who is speaking up for each of these organizations distinctly and individually?" Heiti asked. "And if this is a partnership, or merger, how do these two identities maintain going forward?"

My heart is terribly sad that this is happening.- Kim Fahner, Sudbury playwright and teacher

Kim Fahner, a local teacher, playwright and poet, also signed the open letter and said the situation makes her question how the arts will be managed in Sudbury.

"My heart is terribly sad that this is happening," she said.

Both Fahner and Heiti said they support the work YES Theatre does, and it's contribution to the arts community. However they want to see the two organizations remain distinct.

In a press release the STC said it needed to follow a new path after its Canada Council for the Arts funding was cut by 70 per cent with a warning that "if certain actions or changes were not taken, our funding would be lost altogether."

The release said the STC approached the YES Theatre leadership in December 2021 to discuss a collaboration.

But critics said that meeting was never made public, until recently.

Alessandro Costantini is the artistic director of YES Theatre, and interim artistic director of the Sudbury Theatre Centre. (Submitted by Alessandro Costantini)

Costantini, STC's new interim artistic director, told CBC News it was difficult for him to read the critical open letter from many artists he has admired his entire life.

But he said the collaboration between the STC and YES Theatre will make both organizations stronger.

"We are coming together in this spirit of collaboration, this direct partnership," Costantini said. "We will see a sharing of resources, sharing of opportunities to create more work. So it's not a direct merger."

On the issue of transparency he said a lot of work was necessary behind the scenes to form the partnership between both organizations.

"I wanted to make sure that what we're presenting is strong, is well-thought, is considered and has the best interests of the artists and the community at mind," he said.

Costantini said the STC will share more about its upcoming season, and its plans with YES Theatre, during a press conference on May 25.

With files from Sarah MacMillan