Victory Gardens Theater, in turmoil, cancels performances of ‘cullud wattah’

·1 min read

The crisis at Victory Gardens Theater deepened Friday as the company canceled all of its upcoming performances of ”cullud wattah” after the playwright, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, exercised her contractual right to pull her play from production.

The production also did not perform its scheduled Wednesday and Thursday night performances. The play, about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, opened in late June and had been slated to run though July 17.

In a statement, the Actors’ Equity union said that it had secured full pay through the end of the scheduled run for all of its involved members, in accordance with the contract. The union also accused the Victory Gardens board of directors of “failed stewardship.”

In a further, strikingly critical comment, the union made the charge that the board was “perceived as unable to support workers of color.”

Earlier this week, the Victory Gardens board of directors informed the staff that the current artistic director, Ken-Matt Martin, who is Black, had been placed on leave. Acting managing director Roxanna Conner subsequently announced her resignation, as did a group of affiliated artists including resident directors Lili-Anne Brown and Jess McLeod, and ensemble playwrights Marisa Carr, Keelay Gipson, Isaac Gómez and Stacey Rose.

Board chair Charles E. Harris, who is himself Black and leads a board that is racially diverse, declined to speak further on the controversy.

He reiterated an earlier statement that the board intended to meet and discuss a way forward for a theater that now has no scheduled programing.

Victory Gardens owns and operates the Biograph Theatre in Lincoln Park. The historic venue was restored in 2006.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

cjones5@chicagotribune.com