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Why the entire board of Seattle's ACT Theatre just stepped down

caption: Eagles Auditorium, also known as Kreielsheimer Place where Seattle's ACT Theatre is based.
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Eagles Auditorium, also known as Kreielsheimer Place where Seattle's ACT Theatre is based.

A Contemporary Theatre — Seattle’s ACT company — has announced that its entire board of trustees has voluntarily stepped down.

The only exceptions are three positions required by law — the chair, secretary, and treasurer.

This board overhaul is the result of three months of “deliberation and difficult conversations,” according to ACT’s Artistic Director John Langs. He said the changes are meant to bring the board more in line with the goals of the theatre.

The change was sparked when board members read an article in American Theatre Magazine by Michael Bobbitt titled "Boards are broken, so let's break and remake them." Bobbit was the artistic director at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, Massachusetts when he wrote the article.

In the article, Bobbitt argues that nonprofit boards are broken, and need to be dismantled and rebuilt. He notes that most boards don’t represent the communities they serve, and points out the tension between creative vision and fiduciary responsibility. That further raises questions around who should direct a theatre's creative vision — board members or artistic staff?

Langs said ACT board members then decided to reevaluate their hierarchal structure and dissect inequalities within the board.

“The question we asked most pointedly was: ‘If you can do this all over again, what would you have done differently?’” Langs said. “And from there, we prepared a roadmap through a committee of governance and a couple other key board members and staff members collectively to talk about what we could do. And the outcome of that meeting was: We have to disrupt the status quo.”

Now that the Board has voted, and members have resigned their positions, ACT is ready to rebuild the board from the ground up. Langs said a new committee comprised of executive leadership, representatives selected by staff, representatives selected by artists, and the three remaining trustees will lead the new selection process.

ACT plans on creating a new board with 12-15 members. This group will not use the former “committee” structure. Instead, all trustees will be involved in all aspects of board responsibilities to provide fiduciary oversight, strategic guidance, and risk management.

Once a new board is in place, the three remaining trustees will step down and re-apply for appointments if they wish to resume their positions.

“What is happening at ACT is the result of unprecedented collaboration between the ACT Trustees and ACT’s world-class staff leadership over multiple years," Dr. Eric Bennet, board chair, said in a statement. "Given that there’s no blueprint for this type of organizational equity and change to draw from, this has meant answering fundamental questions together to chart our path forward. The ACT Board’s restructuring is about trusting that, through equity, we’ll be a more vibrant, thriving theatre and able to bring audiences the most authentic contemporary work."

Editors Note: This story was updated to reflect Michael Bobbit’s position at the time he wrote the article

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