After 23 years at the helm, Founder and Artistic Producer Melanie Joseph was thinking about her life beyond The Foundry Theatre and what that might mean for the future of the organization. She was not interested in continuing as the sole Artistic Producer indefinitely. The Foundry Theatre was renowned for its revolutionary and experimental works performed in venues throughout New York City and its community-based programs and dialogues with social justice organizers. After returning from a six-month sabbatical in 2015-16, followed shortly by several staff departures, Joseph was again taking on the lion’s share of responsibility. She valued the shared, horizontal leadership structure she had implemented twice during The Foundry’s history despite the mixed success of each iteration. She attempted in 2016 to find a cohort of artists she could guide through a several-year process of taking over as co-leaders but had been unable to find the right people.
After many long, circular discussions with the Board of Directors, Joseph sent an e-mail in November 2016 to the Board and several former staff members outlining her plan to sunset the organization. She proposed fiscal year 2017 to be the final season of The Foundry Theatre and include one last production, a new commission by playwright and long-time Foundry collaborator W. David Hancock, as well as plans to create a website archive and book about The Foundry’s history The Board supported Joseph’s decision to close intentionally over the next year. However, the e-mail sparked an unexpected response from four former staff members who replied with an urgent plea to keep The Foundry open. They proposed to take over as the new shared leadership cohort without Joseph. Despite initial wariness, Joseph encouraged the Board to consider the proposal. During the production process of Hancock’s MASTER in early 2017, relationships between Joseph and the cohort were strained and conversations around the possible leadership transition broke down. Six months later at the upcoming summer retreat, Joseph and the Board would need to make a final decision. Should they approve the proposal to keep The Foundry Theatre open under new leadership or move forward with the plan to close it permanently?
Publication Date: 2022-01-18
Suggested Citation: Sarah Cain, "The Foundry Theatre (2017)," Yale Theater Management Knowledge Base Case 20-104, January 18, 2022
Keywords: Governance, Leadership Transition, Organizational Direction, Strategy, Succession Planning
Teaching Notes: Yes (contact firstname.lastname@example.org)