The theatre world was shocked yesterday when the Sydney Theatre Company announced that artistic director Jonathan Church had resigned just nine months into a four-year contract. In a statement STC chairman Ian Narev said:

“Since September last year, Jonathan has led the development of an exciting season for 2017. Over these nine months, he has been balancing his time in Sydney with his ongoing commitments in the UK and elsewhere, and it has become apparent that the combined workload and travel will be unsustainable.”

In the hours since the announcement, Australia’s theatre scene has been awash with rumours about what really went down. Critic and playwright Alison Croggan tweeted that the departure was “management initiated” and that he had been treated “very shabbily”. Today she says the rumour is that Church “couldn’t get his program past the board”. A Crikey tipster also takes issue with STC’s statement, saying Church “stepped down” and points to friction with the board:

“He was making plans to move his family to Sydney, had found a home on the North Shore and had already established good connections into the Australian artistic community. Rumours are that key members of the management team found they weren’t that keen to have an AD who actually wanted to run the show, and who questioned the number of administrative staff. The real question is why, after an 18-month search and a well-received appointment of a successful and respected arts leader, the board of directors allowed insecure administrators to persuade them to take such an extraordinary decision, one certain to damage the company’s international reputation?”

Daily Review‘s Ben Neutze writes that part of the issue was the STC board’s agreement with Church that he could retain his commitments to his own theatre company in the UK:

“The STC board was clearly attracted to Church’s track record in the UK, his international connections and his skills in fundraising for major projects. Those skills would have been particularly useful to STC in coming years as all arts companies are facing more precarious financial times.

“Presumably the Board decided it would be worth compromising on Church’s time spent in Australia focused on the company to have such an international heavyweight in the role. Hopefully they’ll refuse to make that compromise with whoever they choose next.”

So what’s the real story here? You can drop us a line (anonymously) if you know more …

EDIT: This article orginally quoted Alison Croggan tweeting that Church “couldn’t get his departure part the board”. This is incorrect. She tweeted that Church “couldn’t get his program past the board”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey