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A third member of the Sydney Theatre Company’s foundation board has resigned in light of the company’s handling of the fallout of The Seagull opening night, when three actors made a pro-Palestinian protest at curtain call.
The Walsh Bay Theatre company has been in turmoil since Harry Greenwood, Mabel Li and Megan Wilding took their bows wearing keffiyeh scarves in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip at the end of the Anton Chekhov play on November 25.
Sydney Theatre Company’s opening night curtain call for the production of The Seagull.Credit: Andrew Burke
Since then, a show has been called off, subscribers have cancelled and two foundation board members, PR veteran Judi Hausmann and Alex Schuman, CEO of fashion house Carla Zampatti, have resigned.
Now, writer and former Sydney Morning Herald columnist Ruth Ritchie, who has been a member of the board that oversees the theatre company’s fundraising efforts for the past three years, has also resigned because of what she says is the “awkward silence” from STC leadership. All three members who have resigned are Jewish.
“This is the time for awkward difficult conversations,” Ritchie told her fellow foundation board members, who include actors Hugo Weaving, father of one the protesters, Mia Wasikowska and Heather Mitchell, performer Tim Minchin and philanthropists Gretel Packer and Frances Ingham, in a letter.
“Saying nothing is worse than saying the wrong thing. If you don’t feel confident about your position on the war, rights to free speech, or the place for appropriate protest, do the homework, examine your conscience and step up to listen and to speak,” she said in her resignation letter.
Writer Ruth Ritchie has resigned from the STC Foundation board.Credit: James Brickwood
“Our ‘three-dumb-monkey’ noncommittal posture is as powerful as a scarf in a curtain call or a resignation in high dudgeon… In silence, we just walk around with our shoelaces undone, about to trip over and make things worse,” she said.
“There will be another Seagull Three at your beloved ballet, museum, symphony, theatre, festival or library. Let’s not canonise or demonise artists or be surprised by their protest.
“It takes a lot of courage to be an artist. Robust disagreement should be more welcome than a bad review or an audition rejection. Have we been silent in the hope this will blow over? It will not. It is blowing up,” she said.
Last week, fellow STC performer Violetta Ayad, who stars in the production Oil at the Wharf Theatre, vowed to wear the keffiyeh at curtain call every night of the season, in honour of her Palestinian Christian family, some of whom have been killed, others displaced in the Gaza conflict.
On Wednesday, Ayad is expected to be joined by other creatives across the country who have agreed to wear keffiyehs on stages. About 3200 have signed a letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the nation’s top arts organisations, calling for a ceasefire in the Middle East, and Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.
The three Seagull actors have not commented on their motivations, but in a statement to this masthead, Ayad thanked them and the cast of The Visitors, who in Canberra last month, made a statement in support of the Palestinian cause.
“I want to thank Megan Wilding, Mabel Li and Harry Greenwood, and the cast of The Visitors who showed tremendous courage in starting and continuing this conversation. I believe when Mabel, Megan and Harry took to the stage, they were doing it for my family and all the Palestinian families who are suffering,” she said.
Hausmann was the first to resign in the wake of the crisis, writing in her resignation letter: “I never imagined my resignation would be necessary because I’m a Jew.” Schuman, son of fashion icon Zampatti, made no public comment about his motives when resigning.
Ritchie paid tribute to Hausmann and Schuman’s “talents, energy and enormous contributions” and also performer Tim Minchin, for speaking publicly about the issue last week at a concert in Canberra.
“I don’t know what Tim Minchin actually said on that stage in Canberra. But the refreshing relief of Tim breaking the silence, as only Tim Minchin can, is an example of the leadership and courage that is required right now. I’ve spoken to many artists who echo his stance and fear the repercussions of speaking up,” she said.
Can we look at who has the power right now, she asked her fellow foundation board members.
“It’s not bewildered Jewish theatregoers, intimidated and triggered in the place they love, support and usually feel safe,” she said.
She called on the foundation board members and the STC board and executive to: “Please think about how we can constructively pick our way through this minefield. I’m stepping away from the foundation, but not the fight.”
The Sydney Theatre Company was approached for comment.
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