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Theatre & Performance Soulpepper forecasts deficit as theatre company undergoes staff and board changes, embarks on ‘transition plan’

Soulpepper Theatre Company is forecasting a deficit for 2018 in the face of “extraordinary one-time costs and revenue reductions” and the rescinding of a planned increase in funding from the Canada Council for the Arts.

The financial setbacks have come in the wake of four civil suits filed on Jan. 3 against the Toronto theatre and founding artistic director Albert Schultz, alleging Mr. Schultz was a “serial sexual predator.”

Soulpepper quietly announced the news in an unsigned statement posted on its website this month that also thanked donors for rallying around the company and contributing an “unprecedented” $650,000 to a transition campaign to help it survive “a difficult crisis.”

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The online statement details a flurry of recent changes behind the scenes at the 20-year-old institution – which quickly grew to become Toronto’s largest not-for-profit theatre – including a comprehensive review of “formal policies regarding Codes of Conduct, Whistle-Blowing, New employee orientation, and training for staff and managers.”

As of Feb. 26, Shawn Cooper has been replaced as chair of the board of directors by Vanessa Morgan – who was, in fact, unanimously chosen chair-elect in November, but had her investiture delayed after the civil suits were filed.

Ms. Morgan will also head a search committee for new artistic and executive directors – which, a spokesperson for the company says, is in the process of hiring an external recruitment firm to aid in the process.

Alan Dilworth, formerly the associate artistic director, was made interim artistic director early in January. His appointment will last until Jan. 3, 2019.

Meanwhile, Kevin Garland, a former executive director of the National Ballet of Canada, began her term as interim executive director on Feb. 5 and will serve in the role until April 30; her position was formerly held by Leslie Lester, Mr. Schultz’s wife, with who the board “severed” ties in January, two days after instructing Mr. Schultz to resign.

Ms. Garland and her husband, Roger Garland, who is honorary chair emeritus at Soulpepper, have a long history as prominent supporters of the theatre company, their names adorning the Kevin and Roger Garland Cabaret – a multifunctional space at the theatre. They also donated $1-million in 2016 to kick off a sesquicentennial theatre commissioning project.

Neither Ms. Morgan nor Ms. Garland were available for interviews about the forecast deficit or transition plan. “Please understand that with legal proceedings underway and at the advice of our insurance providers, we are severely limited in conversations with the press,” said Brad Lepp, Soulpepper’s director of communications, in an e-mail.

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Soulpepper is highly dependent on private support to make ends meet. In its 2016 financial report to the Canada Revenue Agency, for instance, its revenue from donations and gifts totalled more than $5-million – approximately 43 per cent of its annual budget.

Last month, the Canada Council for the Arts revealed it had cancelled a planned $375,000 raise in its annual grant to the company.

“We came to the conclusion that the [peer-assessment] jury did not have the information it needed and that it did not have a clear understanding of the situation at Soulpepper, and therefore it would be only fair and normal to recommend a rescind of the raise,” Canada Council CEO Simon Brault told The Globe and Mail at the time.

Despite its financial situation, Soulpepper says it plans to announce a four-play summer season soon and, in the spring, a full roster of fall programming, including its holiday Family Festival.

”As we look forward into 2019-2020 we will be working very hard to demonstrate to all our stakeholders that Soulpepper can fulfill its artistic mission and become a leader in the creation of a safe, inclusive and productive workplace,” the online statement reads.

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