An embittered Ari Roth today announced that he has resigned as Artistic Director of Mosaic Theater Company, the company he founded six years ago after parting with Theater J. Board of Directors Bill Tompkins announced that the Board unanimously accepted his resignation.
Roth revealed that unidentified staff had leveled charges of “white supremacist culture and management practices” against him, leading the Board to offer him a three-months sabbatical, during which he read, wrote, and took management and anti-racism trainings. At the conclusion of the sabbatical, he reported in this article in Medium, he issued a “Statement of Contrition,” to which, he said, there was no response.
Roth called the sabbatical “both frustratingly isolating, but soul-searching and cathartic” but concluded that it “begot a power-grab, a redistribution of reporting roles, and a crucial public acknowledgment posted over objections from many, with a cry for consultation and revisions from me that went unheeded, along with a Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival focus shift that I was unable to lobby for any adjustment.” Roth said the charges against him reflected “legitimate concern and a more specious litany of aggressions run through a White Supremacy Culture template.”
Roth said that the changes which Mosaic wrought during his sabbatical included “structural reorganizing [and] program dismantling,” and claimed that the “non-inclusive manner in which new values were formulated while I was placed on sabbatical during a tumultuous summer,” prompted his resignation. “I am stepping down because I have surmised that I can no longer be a generative artist in the very theater that I founded…[my] artistic expression no longer has a place in a rapidly-evolving ethos committed to ‘seeding intersectional equity and oppression; abolishing a colonialist lens,’ and, for the moment, exclusive centering of Palestinian-authored and focused narratives to the elimination of countervailing voices or representations of ally-ship” in the long-running Voices Festival, which Roth began 20 years ago at Theater J.
Roth added that “Mosaic has graciously allowed me to take and move forward with” the Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival.
In a separate release, Board Chair Bill Tompkins said, “As part of [Mosaic’s] next phase, Artistic Director Ari Roth will be leaving Mosaic to pursue new opportunities. Following all due process and a full consideration of his thoughts, and with a sincere thanks to Ari for being the spark that launched Mosaic, The Board of Directors unanimously voted to accept his resignation. His is a legacy of creativity, drive and passion that helped shape this theater company. We will always be grateful for his commitment to Mosaic, and to the arts community in this region and beyond.”
Managing Director Serge Seiden stated that the current pandemic created a “time out” which permitted Mosaic to reexamine its premises. “This ‘time out’ has given us an opportunity to evaluate our internal structures,” Seiden said. “The theater is steeped in the centuries old myth of the singular mostly male artist of genius. But this ‘visionary with vast power mode’ has been problematic.”
Seiden said that the company has “instituted several new management techniques as a result: one on one weekly meetings with direct reports, standard protocols for weekly staff and Department Head meetings, and perhaps most importantly a decision-making, consensus building set of cross departmental Matrix meetings. We’ve also recently engaged non-Profit HR to consult on formalizing our innovations and professionalizing employee relations. We are also researching alternative theater models for further innovation.”
Mosaic produced 36 shows during Roth’s service as Artistic Director, including Wrestling Jerusalem, Satchmo at the Waldorf, Queens Girl in Africa, The Devil’s Music: The Life and Times of Bessie Smith, and Pilgrims Musa & Sheri in the New World. In 2017, Mosaic won the John Aniello Award for Emerging Theater Companies.
Roth’s tumultuous departure from Mosaic evoked his 2014 separation from Theater J, in which he was fired from his job as Artistic Director for insubordination. There, a simmering conflict between Roth and the DC Jewish Community Center, which owns Theater J, over Roth’s willingness to give voice to the Palestinian point of view in plays about the Middle East eventually exploded into open conflict, climaxing with his dismissal. 120 theater artists, led by Tony Kushner, protested Roth’s firing in a letter read dramatically at the conclusion of a Theater J production of Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures.
This separation is less dramatic, and more melancholy. “I had hoped to play a substantial role at Mosaic for years to come,” Roth said. “It is this losing of an Artistic Home – as so many artists are experiencing around the world during this time of Covid – which pains me. I am in ample company, I know. All the same, creative health and renewal is key, and I must seek it, as must we all.”
Ari Roth will be announcing his plans at AriRothProductions.com.
Mosaic has not immediately announced plans to name or search for a new Artistic Director.