Letter to the editor: An open letter to the Old Creamery Theatre board

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Katie Colletta and child actors perform at the Old Creamery Theatre. — courtesy of Jennifer Wagner

Submitted to July 14

By Jennifer Wagner

Dear Old Creamery Theater Board of Trustees,

Four months into our pandemic crisis, aware of the many losses we all have suffered, I want to pause for a moment and call to special attention something Seamus is grieving. My son had a dream ripped from his heart last week and it is the fault of the Board of Trustees (BOT) at Old Creamery Theatre, specifically Peter Teahen and Debbie Brooks.

For the past six years of his childhood he had the good fortune of exploring theater under the magical mentorship of Katie Christopher Colletta and Keegan Christopher Colletta Huckfeldt, and many other OCT friends. We’ve sat in the audience for Theater for Young Audiences since 2014 and he’s joined the OCT Camp Creamery since 2015. He was a student of Katie and Keegan’s when they offered young thespian acting classes at Kirkwood and he was excited when he tried the virtual program offered in the early 2020 spring. Katie, Keegan, Sean and Jackie have been like best friends to my son and like family for me and my parents.

Seamus has spent years mesmerized by the outstanding performances on stage, I have laughed and cried in awe of the main stage productions, and as a mom I’ve been so grateful for our local and affordable access to the talent and generosity of truly wonderful people. At intermission, we always treated ourselves to a cream soda or root beer and more recently looked forward to Dan & Debbie’s ice cream. For years, I’ve looked forward to watching Seamus grow into his thespian shoes and shine as a young man on stage and I’ve always imagined OCT being a part of his story. It felt like home for us. My son’s dream of growing and learning as an actor on the OCT campus and among their programs under the leadership of the finest, and our entertainment delights, have come to an abrupt end.

Alongside the pandemic crisis, our world is navigating a shift and long overdue dialogue on anti-racism, diversity, equity and our shared values. Katie, Keegan and the former executive director co-created a statement for OCT admitting past practices that don’t align with staff core values and set forth an articulate, thoughtful action plan. Two days later the BOT demanded the post be removed and Mr. Teahen immediately fired 10 staff by email, informing everyone to leave the premises permanently by day’s end with a complimentary sheriff to supervise a peaceful departure.

My heart breaks for this disrespectful, heartless treatment of my friends. As backlash ensued, the BOT gave the public their own charade citing COVID and financial hardship as the reason for cleaning house. As our local media has uncovered, staff were aware of financial planning, limited resources, fundraising and grants in March but were never included in meetings or plans thereafter. Mr. Teahen explained the anti-racism post was removed because it didn’t have BOT approval first, yet social media posts are frequently created and posted by staff without permission; however, no one from OCT have released any statement regarding anti-racism, anti-discrimination, pro-diversity and pro-equity practices. The decision to fire staff was made without the full board present, was not made by unanimous vote and resulted in one immediate resignation by a BOT member.

BOT: we can connect the dots. We see very clearly who has made these decisions, the motivations and rationale employed, and the cowardly and offensive explanations tossed out to quell the public outrage. You underestimate your audience. It’s 2020 and we are raising the young children you hope to inspire, we are the season ticket holders you hope to retain, we are the loyal following who have devoted our passion for theater to be saved only for the box office and performers at OCT. You are on the wrong side of this dialogue, you are conducting a dangerous misread of the room, and when Katie and Keegan move on to find companies and organizations that communities will support because this conversation is not going away, you will have alienated the Corridor’s community unwilling to buy a ticket from a company driven by racist leaders and outdated practices. As Ibram X. Kendi writes in Stamped, “Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America.” You have significant responsibility in getting this right and I have an 11-year-old boy watching you.

I look forward to seeing:

  • Explicit public support for BLM and theater artists advocating for BLM
  • An immediate repost of OCT’s original statement as written by Katie, Keegan and Ashley
  • Public mission statement, core values and policies reflecting anti-racist, non-discriminatory practices
  • Hold the BOT accountable for the retaliatory firing of staff and mandate training for diversity, inclusion and equity for all OCT BOT, staff and theater artists
  • Commit to BIPOC voices included among administration and artistic leadership
  • Intentional outreach to diversify your audience and participation among young performers for classes and camp
  • Old Creamery Theatre has been a huge part of my life. I have years of photos taken with my family sitting on the wooden bench out front or looking at the flowers on the back patio. My heart has grown by the talent and grace of these extraordinary actors and actresses. I hope the public can become aware of the behavior of the current leadership at OCT and withhold our patronage until the people responsible resign and commitments towards equity, anti-racism and representation for all in the theater artists, board members and stories shared on stage are made explicitly clear.

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