Just a week after replacing Garden Theater art director Joseph Walsh, Rob Winn Anderson resigned. This leaves the Winter Garden theater with no one in the highest creative position while also continuing to seek out a full-time business manager of the organization.
“I love theater,” Anderson said, explaining that that’s why he said yes when asked to replace Walsh on an interim basis. “It took me a long time for 12 years.”
A director and award-winning playwright, Anderson had been art director before Walsh, who arrived three years ago. Walsh stepped down this month, citing his health toll in running the organization without the help of a CEO since Elisa Spencer-Kaplan’s departure in December.
But Anderson said he was taken aback by the low morale of the staff and concerns about management by the theater’s board.
“I wasn’t expecting what I got when I walked in the door on Monday,” he said. Spending the week talking to staff members, she found them “sad, angry and frustrated”.
“They’re really sad about Joe’s departure, and so am I,” Anderson said. “I was a champion of him when he crossed the threshold”.
In turn, Prime Minister Allie Braswell said he was taken aback by Anderson’s sudden departure.
“Since Joe Walsh recently announced his resignation from the Garden Theater, there has been a tsunami of inaccurate and misleading information being distributed by people that has generated mis-characterization, which apparently contributed to Rob’s surprise decision.” , he wrote in a statement provided to the Orlando Sentinel.
Many in the art community have expressed dismay and outrage on social media at Walsh’s departure along with speculation about the circumstances leading up to his exit.
“We have been clear from the start that Joe’s positive impact is greatly appreciated; his contributions are obvious and welcome, ”Braswell’s statement continued. “We ask those who are interested in this problem and care about the Garden, to allow us time to follow best practices in implementing a proper research process, which will take time.”
Previously, Braswell said Anderson was asked to return due to his experience and familiarity with the theater. Anderson had quit his job in 2019 to recharge and focus on her other creative endeavors.
Anderson said that while he’s not a regular social media user, talking to staff and others in the arts community has opened his eyes to the depths of negative feelings about the situation.
“I realized very quickly that my presence would continue to suffer,” he said, a statement that echoed his resignation letter, which was obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.
“The Orlando theater community is suffering. Pain that must be acknowledged and addressed by Garden, “Anderson wrote to the board.” My presence in the theater only adds to the pain. “
The turmoil of leadership is felt in the art of theater.
The end-of-season production of “On Your Feet” was already in rehearsal, under the direction of Garden Theater Education Director Nick Bazo, when Walsh resigned. It opens on July 9th.
But the first production of the 2022-23 season, “A Bronx Tale,” has faced an exodus of talent since Walsh’s departure was announced. Director Felichia Chivaughn, who directed Garden’s acclaimed production of “The Mountaintop” in January, has resigned from “A Bronx Tale” – along with assistant director, choreographer and lighting / set director, confirmed several people related to the show.
A casting for actors has recently been extended to appear in the musical, a sign that no artists with the required skills have yet been found. “A Bronx Tale” will open the Garden season on August 26, which means that under normal circumstances rehearsals will begin in a matter of weeks.
Proponents of the theater, such as Harold Mills, keep an eye on developments. Mills and his wife, Rosy, fund the Garden’s William Daniel Mills apprenticeship program for emerging young theater artists in memory of their son.
“We are very pleased with the production and the productions being staged,” during the first year of the program, Mills said, adding that the focus on diversity and inclusion among the chosen attendees was particularly encouraging. The theater gained a regional reputation as a leader in diversity efforts under Walsh.
“I am disappointed with the governance problems that are manifesting in public,” Mills said, adding: “We have been assured that the apprenticeship program will not be affected.”
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In his resignation letter, Anderson praised the theater staff, who said he didn’t feel supported by the board: “These people are passionate and good at their jobs and they need to be relieved.”
Braswell’s statement stated that board members would consult employees on next steps, writing, “We will schedule a meeting with staff to hear their concerns and hopefully their ideas about the future.”
Anderson said the board has work to do to repair its relationship with employees, artists and patrons.
“The Garden must heal the wounds of the staff and the community,” he wrote in his resignation letter. “If there is no sincere contact, the repercussions of recent events will be felt for a long time, and if I don’t walk away then I’m part of the problem.”
Braswell asked people to separate speculation from the work the theater is doing.
“No organization is immune to rumors and gossip, which sometimes accompany the discomfort of change,” he wrote. “What is important to remember is that the Garden Theater is a gem; was built on a love of the performing arts and will continue to be a loved part of our community. We ask for support to be able to move forward together with patience and respect ”.
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