- June 27, 2022
The Garden Theatre's Board of Directors has released an update in relation to the ongoing controversy surrounding turnover in highly visible roles and production cancellations.
"After months of working in good faith to find common ground with Garden Theatre staff, the Board of Directors has made the decision to leverage the near-term programming gaps and temporarily shift our operational focus to the organizational health of the theatre," the board said in a released statement on Wednesday, Aug. 17. "The Board and staff will spend this time conducting an in-depth review of our organizational structure and operations."
The board said although the decision is difficult, the theatre is able to take the step not only because of its financial strength but also the fiscal responsibility of its staff and board.
"We believe this decision provides the theatre with an opportunity to thoughtfully refocus priorities and collectively forge a path forward to ensure that Garden Theatre remains the foremost local provider of performing arts in the Central Florida area," the board said.
The board stated that although board members and board actions have been misrepresented, the group believes an honest review of its organization will be beneficial.
In addition, the board explained it has been intentional in withholding response to public statements made by some staff and members of the community in the hope that the matters would be resolved professionally, respectfully and within the organization.
"This approach was based on our recognition of the significant impact that the theatre and its successful operation has on the patrons, staff, surrounding businesses and countless youth who benefit from the education programs offered by the theatre," the board stated in the release. "It comes from the board’s strong commitment and desire to preserve and perfect – not to destroy or dismantle. After hearing from staff today, we are encouraged that we can work together for our shared love of Garden Theatre."
In order to address the turmoil, the board devised a plan which includes engaging with subject matter experts to build the board and staff capability regarding effective management of non-profit organizations, and evaluating the appropriate organizational structure, staffing duties and leadership practices.
The board explained that diversity, equity and inclusion is a matter the organization takes seriously, and will always be a priority.
"We expect that these decisions will inspire further criticism – please understand this was not a decision the board took lightly," the statement read. "However, as fiduciaries of this organization, the board is tasked with acting in the best interests of the theatre and the community it serves. We are confident that time and introspection will bring understanding, healing, and clarity to what sadly has become a hurtful and confusing situation potentially bringing irreparable harm to the theatre and the city of Winter Garden."
The board thanked the community for its 16 years of support during the developing changes.
"Without you, the theatre would not be what it is today," the board said of the community. "This theatre will only improve as we move forward strategically and holistically. We look forward to welcoming you back to the Garden Theatre as soon as possible – better and stronger than we were before."
The Orange Observer first told the community about the turnover in highly visible roles at the Garden Theatre in June, after the resignation of Artistic Director Joseph Walsh.
The theater then announced former Artistic Director Rob Winn Anderson would return to the role on an interim basis until a permanent replacement was selected. However, Anderson left the post after only one week.
Board Chair Allie Braswell said there have been recent transitions in leadership but Walsh’s resignation “caught us really off-guard.”
“We really thought we were moving in the right direction,” Braswell said in June. “Joe’s (Walsh’s) resignation was not asked for by the board. In no way did we try and shape what Joe (Walsh) put on stage. We were very pleased with this past season and his three years here.”
Executive Director Nao Tsurumaki departed in the spring of 2020, and his interim replacement, Melissa Mason Braillard, left after two months. In November 2020, Elisa Spencer-Kaplan was hired in the newly titled role of managing director but departed after 13 months. The position has been vacant since, although about a month ago, the board hired Tom Carto as interim managing director.
Previous Board Chair Wes Catlett-Miller stepped down in December to spend more time with his family, and Braswell took up the position in March.
Braswell said the hope is to fill both the managing director and artistic director positions by December and that the board will take the time to find the right person that fits all of the nonprofit’s needs.
“I’m on this board because I believe in its diversity,” he said. “I believe in its open mindedness, and I believe that we will continue to move in that direction to make sure all voices are heard, present and maintained in the Garden Theatre. I am one of those residents (who) wants the opportunity for the Garden Theatre to continue to move, to continue to thrive and continue to be a ‘golden nugget’ in Central Florida.”