Letter to the editor: The Old Creamery Theatre board’s silence on Black Lives Matter has become deafening

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Old Creamery Theatre’s performance space in Amana, Iowa. — Old Creamery Theatre/video still

By Marcia Hughes, Cedar Rapids

I take tremendous pride in supporting the shared cultural fabric of our Corridor communities — as a patron, performer, volunteer and donor. The recent succession of events at the Old Creamery Theatre Company, then, was especially disturbing.

The thoughtful Black Lives Matter support statement developed by the OCTC creative staff and approved by the executive director presented a robust approach to addressing racial disparities in staffing, programming and casting. It included inspiring action steps toward building a more inclusive and equitable theatre environment at OCTC and certainly served as a model for other theatre companies. It would have strengthened our cultural fabric. This OCTC board’s swift, unexplained directive to erase it from all theatre communication platforms was a stunning and dismissive affront. With no context or justification provided at the time, their actions also painted a very worrisome picture for patrons and community members regarding motive. Why would they not support this message of inclusivity? Their continuing silence on the issue of BLM has become deafening. As of this writing — now more than a month after the original statement was shared — no other statement has been communicated. This calls into question their termination of the entire staff — without notice — soon after the statement being erased from social media.

I understand how the financial landscape created by COVID-19 would likely have created an eventual need for layoffs. Instead, the OCTC board chose to abruptly terminate the staff with no notice, hastily putting each of these dedicated and hard-working individuals out as if they had harmed the organization, and leaving them in the position of now having to forever explain themselves to potential future employers for having been fired from OCTC. Why in the world would they choose to do that to those they have called family? The answers provided on behalf of the board by the president and vice president don’t hold up. Furloughed employees are eligible for unemployment and are always able to pursue other employment. Only one of those fired staff members had vacation/health insurance benefits to protect, as the board used as part of their justification for the timing.

It is heart-breaking for our cultural community to lose some of its brightest creatives. Given the timing and implausible explanations of the board’s actions, it is nauseating to consider the possible reason why this has happened. The future of OCTC demands forward thinking and active support of diversity and the BLM movement. It is the responsibility of the board to lead in this direction to strengthen the cultural fabric. If they are not willing to do so, they should step aside and make way for those who will.

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