Encore Michigan

Purple Rose Theatre tells donors that Guy Sanville is stepping down as Artistic Director

News November 05, 2021 David Kiley

CHELSEA, MI – The Purple Rose Theatre has sent a letter to donors that states long-time Artistic Director Guy Sanville will be stepping away from his post.

In the last 18 months, Sanville has been the subject of numerous complaints from artists and apprentices who have worked at the theatre, which was founded by Emmy Award winning actor Jeff Daniels.

Complaints ranging from bullying behavior to creating a hostile work environment for artists of color and the LGBTQ community have been detailed in a series of articles in Onstageblog.com by Michigan arts reporter Bridgette Redman, who is also a contributor to EncoreMichigan.

Read her stories here.

EncoreMichigan reported on the complaints earlier this week here.

Sanville has been Artistic Director of the theatre for 26 years, directing numerous plays, acting in many, especially in the early years of the theatre.

It remains to be seen if any other staff members will exit the company.

In the last few months as the theatre has geared up for its first production since COVID-19 put theaters on hiatus, the theatre has hired several new staff, and the long-time apprentice program has been suspended.

Founder Jeff Daniels has not addressed the complaints publicly. He has engaged his personal public relations firm for advice. With the story of workplace complaints in the public square now, it seems likely that national media will engage with the story.

The text of the letter is as follows:

“While our staff is working every day to get back, at last, to fulfilling our mission of staging live productions, there has been some attention in recent days on theater media sources and social media that we would like address for you.

You may have seen or heard of allegations of impropriety, several of which date back more than a decade. These are similar to the types of stories that have appeared about arts and cultural organizations across the country.

Many of these allegations focus on Guy Sanville, our longtime artistic director. Late this week, Guy shared with the Board his plans to step down from the organization so as not to distract from the mission of The Purple Rose. We will work out the details of his departure with him.

The Board, in its governance role on behalf of our community, has been aware of most of the allegations for more than a year and has taken steps to look into and address these situations.

Upon learning of specific allegations last Fall, we took all of them seriously. Our Board ordered an internal review of our human resources records to ensure that nothing has been missed over the years. We have no records of complaints against any of our management via the union by any employees at any time. For every performance, there is a member of the cast designated as a deputy – an Actors’ Equity Association union member and representative – to ensure that all proper and appropriate practices are followed. There had been no reports from those deputies of anything inappropriate in any of our performances.

We have no tolerance for inappropriate workplace behavior and strive to maintain the highest standards for everyone in our organization.

Even prior to 2020, before any allegations came to leadership’s attention, we recognized the need for improved HR processes and procedures. It was a natural part of our evolution as an organization. We hired a professional human resources firm to update all of our policies and to be available to help with any concerns brought forward in the future. Details of this are on our website.

Also, in the Summer of 2020, the organization completed its plan for a detailed and unwavering commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, making this a top priority of the organization. Details of this are also on our website.

When the union brought grievances on behalf of nine former employees or apprentices, we attempted to resolve the claims. When a resolution is not reached, the union contract specifies arbitration as the next step. We have participated in good faith in the arbitration process. In 8 of the 9 claims, an arbitrator dismissed the cases. We are awaiting a ruling in the 9th case.

Some of the allegations involve the Purple Rose’s longstanding apprentice program. We have settled the dispute over wages and hours with a handful of former apprentices and, at least for now, have suspended this program and the offering of these types of entry-level opportunities for aspiring theater professionals. We are taking the time to explore whether an immersive program concept still holds interest for those who wish to enter this profession.

The Board is committed to learning whatever is necessary to help guide the organization into the future. We will continue to monitor and look into any allegations.

We greatly appreciate your continued support of The Purple Rose as we begin to emerge from the challenges of the past year and a half, with staff members who are committed to our mission and to providing entertainment and enrichment to our community.”

Sincerely,

Steve Hamp

Board Chair

The Purple Rose Theatre Company

Editor’s Note: A previous version of the story listed Jeff Daniels as chairman of the board. Encore checked the PRT’s Board page this week, but apparently had Googled into a cached page. Steve Hamp is board chair.

Week of 11/29/2021

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