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Mass Board Resignation At Los Alamos Little Theatre

on April 8, 2019 - 4:39pm

Trouble has apparently erupted at the Performing Arts Center (PAC) at 1670 Nectar St. The PAC is a Los Alamos County facility managed and operated by the Los Alamos Little Theatre since 1973. The building was constructed in 1943 and served as the East Mess Hall during the Manhattan Project. Courtesy/LALT

 

LALT News:

 

The Los Alamos Daily Post received the following letter in an email sent by former Board President John Cullinan for publication after 4 p.m. today. A response from LALT Board Secretary John Gustafson to the letter submitted to the Post by Cullinan is included below his letter:

 

April 8, 2019

 

To Whom it May Concern,

 

It is with heavy hearts that we submit this letter to patrons and participants of the Los Alamos Little Theatre.

 

The culture at LALT over the last decade has been one of increasing toxicity and dysfunction. The organization is structured in a way that values personal seniority and preservation of the distant past over the most basic of best practices, and over any attempt to make positive changes in policy, procedure, or behavior to ensure a healthy community theatre organization for the future.

 

Board activities this season have exposed many specific issues with LALT’s continuing practices, codified in the organization’s bylaws but also steeped in the ongoing culture. Individual participants have attempted to suggest changes over many years, but have been met by hostility and sabotage by a faction of “tenured” members of the organization. Changes not wanted by this senior faction are sabotaged, weakened, or outright ignored, even if passed by a majority of the board. Members advocating change are bullied, belittled, or cut from participation in the organization. Complaints about misbehavior are ignored, and complainants have been told to simply “Get over it.” This ongoing behavior is now at a tipping point.

 

Areas of dysfunction include:

  • Any attempt to write effective policy to improve operations and institute best practices is directly sabotaged to weaken structures of accountability
  • Any attempt to form support committees for basic operational details such as publicity and box office management is met with sabotage, dismissal, personal attacks and verbal abuse of volunteers by “senior” members of the organization, including present Board members
  • Territorialism in which “tenured” members of the organization, including present Board members, claim absolute ownership over vital functions and activities allows direct sabotage of these functions - most recently the website, which was held hostage by the current webmaster for more than three months this season due to a disagreement about the proper use of intellectual property
  • Decisions made by a vote of the Board are ignored by individual Board members or other “tenured” members
  • No systems of accountability exist to correct toxic and abusive behavior at any level of the organization
  • Lack of a code of conduct for Board members and for participants in LALT productions
  • Lack of a general safety policy for use of the facility.
  • Inadequate child safety policy that places the burden of policy creation on individual directors instead of the Board
  • Season selection is director-driven, in conflict with existing bylaws that require the Board to select shows and then solicit directors. This encourages vanity projects instead of producing a coherent season allowing for balanced opportunities by gender and age of performers and appropriate ranges of technical requirements
  • The Board is not structured to provide adequate support for production teams, and new teams in particular are left to figure things out on their own, and then chastised if they break unwritten rules such as not asking the right people to perform certain functions
  • Lack of a budget process beyond Board approval of directors’ proposals for productions, no effective reporting to the Board or to production teams on box office numbers or progress of each production, and no effective reporting to the membership of the true state of the organization’s finances

The majority of the Board serving in the 2018-19 season were elected on statements of wanting positive change in many of these areas. Some progress has been made, but at great individual cost due to the increasingly abusive behavior by the “tenured” minority faction also serving on this Board.

 

At the April Board meeting, the unanimously-elected President of the Board began a report detailing the challenges of these issues, with the aim of suggesting a way forward and embarking on a process of making needed changes in the structures that have allowed this toxic culture to fester. Two “tenured” members of the Board shouted him down, not allowing him to get even halfway through his report.

 

This is the point where we realize that the current structure and culture of LALT are too broken to fix. Abusive behavior on the part of the established “elders” is actively encouraged and continually rewarded through capitulation and lack of accountability or consequences, creating a toxic environment where new ideas and civil discussion cannot exist. We believe strongly that community theatre is vitally important in Los Alamos, both as an artistic outlet and as a source of entertainment for the public, but it is not right that participants be subjected to such abuse, and we have had enough. We have tried fighting for positive change from within, and we are deeply saddened that it has come to a point where we just can’t fight anymore.

 

Thus, we the undersigned 2018-19 members of the Board of Directors have resigned from LALT, and will no longer support any activities of this organization.

 

John Cullinan, former board president

Holly Robinson, former board vice-president

Patrick Webb

Alex L’Esperance

Ian Foti-Landis

Cindy Hines

 

Response from LALT Board Secretary John Gustafson:

Los Alamos Little Theatre remains as a viable entity and I, for one, am working very hard to bring our May production — 8x10 Six — to the stage.

LALT also recently submitted to LA County a proposal to continue to manage the Performing Arts Center and if we are awarded the bid we intend to execute on what we promised.

The LALT Board of Directors has four remaining members, meaning that until we have new elections to the Board at our June 9 annual meeting we lack a quorum to take actions. We invite all interested community members to attend the meeting, pay their $5 annual membership fee and vote for the candidates they believe best reflect the values they would like LALT to demonstrate.

The note from John Cullinan and his co-signers speaks to a conflict that has been festering in LALT for a while, namely the tension between the established processes of a 75-year-old organization and the desire to do things in new ways. John’s note points out some of the improvements that we have aimed for in recent years.  In some cases, we have made limited progress. John was in many ways a spearhead for these attempted improvements and he has a very clear vision for what LALT can be.

As an example, the publicity committee was formed this year. I was the initial chairperson for it. However, I just stepped off the committee because I realized my perspective and skill set was not suited to the committee’s success — and I know that I sometimes generated conflict with my attempts to communicate on some of the issues the committee handled. I think the publicity committee is an example of some of the new, valuable approaches LALT can try, but managing change is hard. As well, meshing a coordinated overall process with the long-standing independence of shows is a balance we have not yet struck.

I still think that in all organizations the best approach is to try to talk things out. The six people resigning represent a majority on our Board of Directors. They could have, by sheer numbers, created any changes within the organization that they sought. That they instead decided to take this dramatic action, I think, speaks to the frustration
and personal hurt that has accumulated over the last year or two.

I would encourage LALT patrons to stick around, attend the annual meeting on June 9 to help chart the future of LALT — be the change you want to
see! — and help us continue to be part of the Los Alamos community for the next 75 years.


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