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Academy staff quits ‘stressful’ environment; Board pushes back against early meeting

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Photo: Sienna Frost.

The Academy Theatre’s long-time manager of administrative services, Loretta Kingston, has quit, as has box office support staff member, Penny Hainer, amidst a trying time for the theatre.

Kingston, the long-time administrator, has been under more stress of late after dealing with the loss of former General Manager Helen Nestor, who was turfed by the board in August after only four months at the helm. Many of Nestor’s duties fell to Kingston to try to manage.

“I’ve been feeling stressed for a long time and finally decided it’s time to move on from the Academy,” Kingston tells the Advocate.

“I loved my 17 years at the theatre. This wasn’t an easy decision to make but the best one for me. I wish everyone the best.”

Her last day is Dec. 22.

As reported in the Advocate recently, there have been at least nine general managers at the theatre since 2006, and currently there is no general manager at all. According to one arts community leader, Susan Taylor, it is a lack of education about how to run a non-profit board, like the Academy that “is preventing representation to the best of their ability.”

Penny Hainer, working in the box office, was a fairly new hire, with just over a year under her belt.

“Unfortunately this means I have been here through a lot of the turmoil,” Hainer tells the Advocate, who is right behind Kingston, leaving Dec. 23.

Hainer says working at the Academy has been a great experience, overall, as she has always enjoyed working with the public.

“The staff and volunteers are a wonderful group of people dedicated to the success of the theatre. Personally I worked very well with Helen (Nestor) and thought she provided a very positive working atmosphere,” says Hainer.

But, she says, “the current situation at the Academy is very stressful and frankly exhausting. I am not sure how the situation can be improved.”

The situation is such that an early board meeting this week was pushed by a number of people who are looking for some governance changes at the non-profit. These individuals represented some of the membership at large of the Academy.

This was quickly shut down with a forceful, nearly-1,200 word email by Chair Mike Piggott on Dec. 6, which was leaked to the Advocate.

“There are many grounds on which this meeting can, and will be, denied,” reads the first sentence.

(Piggott only recently took over the chair duties from Alex McLeod.) 

Piggott then goes on to outline Academy Theatre Foundation by-laws and Ontario Business Corporations Act.

“Based on our by-laws and the Ontario Business Corporations Act, members cannot simply call a meeting. If this was the case, how would order ever be maintained?” Piggott asks in the email reply.

Many members, who asked not to be identified in this story, have been calling for a careful review of the Academy’s finances. Piggott addresses this desire in part of his reply:

“From the last membership meeting, a group of 12 was formed to review the finances of the theatre. That was completed, and no business arose from that review as was reflected in the minutes circulated to the committee. The ‘(committee chair) mentioned that there is not much to do in terms of reviewing any of the financials; looking back in the financials would not help move things forward …  there is not much that can be done to change the past but that we should focus on moving things forward.’ (Special Finance Committee minutes).”

Piggott, in the email reply, also presses for the names of those who are asking for a quick meeting.

“…we would also ask that the names of the members requesting this meeting be stated so that the rest of the members can be assured that this request is being made by a reasonable percentage of existing members as of the date of the notice.”

He goes on to point out that since there is already a “follow-up membership meeting” that is slated for Jan. 24, 2020, then there is no need for an earlier meeting.

He ends the email on a more positive note, while acknowledging the challenges.

“Please note that these past few months have been very trying; it is very easy to criticize without having all the facts…Please be assured that the Board of Directors, staff and many of the members are moving forward with one simple philosophy, and that is ‘theatre first’!”

A member of the adhoc committee that did not want to be identified told the Advocate that the cancellation of this week’s meeting does not mean their concerns won’t be dealt with.

“This is only a pause for the adhoc committee. It may be that the AGM may serve to be the best platform for initiating change,” the person said, referring to the Jan. 24 meeting.

To become an Academy Theatre member, call 705-324-9111 or visit the box office.

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Lindsay Advocate. He is the author of 'Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World,' and is also on the communications team of the Basic Income Canada Network. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, Roderick has interviewed former Prime Ministers of Canada, Senators, and Mayors across Canada. He also wrote and published a series of books for youth about Canada's Prime Ministers as teens.

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