Massachusetts' Williamstown Theatre Festival has unveiled a new slate of leadership hires, part of a larger shift to move towards a rotating leadership structure that the company hopes will create opportunities for emerging artists and promote the concept of shared ownership.
The esteemed and Tony-winning company has faced criticism about its former structure for years, most notably in a 2021 LA Times report that included allegations from 25 current and former staffers detailing what they described as a toxic and unsafe work environment, particularly within the Festival's internship training program for early career artists. That report followed a 2020 letter privately sent to the Festival's then-leadership, which detailed stories of racism, classism, labor exploitation, ableism, sexism, homophobia, and other discriminatory acts from 75 Festival alumni.
The controversy resulted in the resignation of then-Artistic Director Mandy Greenfield, plus an internal investigation carried out by a law firm hired by the Festival's board. The company presented a reduced slate of programming in 2023 as it underwent major leadership changes following that investigation.
Announcement of the new leadership hires and structure comes as the Festival's next summer of programming rapidly approaches. Newly joining the team is Raphael Picciarelli as managing director, strategy and transformation. Eric Gershmann, who joined the company in 2023 as a management consultant, has been named the interim managing director, operations and advancement, a new role for the Festival. A national search for a permanent hire in the role is being facilitated by the Tom O'Connor Consulting Group and a committee comprising WTF artists, staff, and board members.
Current Interim Artistic Director Jenny Gersten, who joined in that role soon after allegations emerged, will depart the company at the conclusion of the 2024 summer season. Gersten will also be honored at the upcoming WTF Gala, being held at City Winery February 12.
More changes are ahead for the organization, with the final leadership model expected to debut with the 2025 season.
“WTF is proud of its 70-year legacy of artistic excellence and innovation and is building upon it to develop a leadership model that serves the evolving needs of the Festival," reads a statement from Festival Board of Trustees Chair Margaret Gould Stewart. "This reinvention is critical to ensuring that WTF can continue to deliver on its mission now and for generations to come.
“We are deeply grateful to Jenny for her tireless commitment to the Festival and the enormous contributions she has made in getting us to where we are today. As we look toward the future of WTF, I am excited to welcome Raph, who has an extensive history of working with organizations at inflection points to reimagine how they engage with the world. I’m thrilled that Eric will continue to serve as interim managing director, operations and advancement until his successor is found. Eric’s a multifaceted leader with experience across the spectrum of live entertainment. His steadfast guidance will be invaluable in the coming months.
“As we embark on our next 70 years, we will be introducing a new collective artistic leadership model starting with the 2025 Season. We look forward to sharing more about our future vision in the coming months as we embark on an exciting next chapter for this cherished institution.”
The Festival's 2024 season has not yet been announced.