Ari Roth, longtime Artistic Director of Theater J, the resident company at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center (DCJCC), was fired recently, and summarily escorted out of the building by security.
Unusually for this sort of transition, Roth’s firing has been covered in the New York Times, Washington Post, and LA Times. A letter, signed by sixty Artistic Directors from around the country, covered by Peter Marks in the Washington Post (12/22) states, “It is absolutely clear that Roth was fired because of the content of the work he has so thoughtfully and ably championed for the last two decades.”
A post on this site a few months ago notes that as a business your reputation “is the most valuable stock you own,” and if the DCJCC is not what it seemed to be under Roth’s theatrical leadership, his firing may mark the beginning of a significant decline.
There has been a lot of coverage about the recent closing of DC’s Corcoran Museum and School, and the financial troubles that necessitated it. Those troubles can be traced back to a damaging PR incident perhaps not unlike the Roth firing. In 1989 the Corcoran leadership cancelled a planned exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe photography under pressure from conservative funders. The planned retrospective was eventually shown at a much smaller venue, and recruitment of Corcoran leadership, including Board members, suffered because of the negative public attention. The Corcoran never recovered, and the DCJCC could suffer the same fate.
Regardless of what we think of the role of any community theater to stimulate dialogue, the Corcoran experience makes serious public investigation of the firing of Ari Roth important. The DCJCC has lost a brilliant and popular director, playwright, and dramaturge; the institution itself has been damned. But perhaps that was a rush to judgment.
This piece was originally published January 11, 2015 on the commentary site, Editorial IV. Thanks to Joseph at Editorial IV for contributing to the piece through his comments, and publication. Check out the live post on Editorial IV here.