Three top leaders at ImprovBoston have resigned following a meeting where members of the nonprofit’s community voiced concerns about tokenization, abuse of power, and handling of reports of sexual misconduct, according to multiple ImprovBoston community members.
Artistic Director Mike Descoteaux and Director of the National Touring Company and Director of Sales Deana Criess resigned last week, according to announcements sent to ImprovBoston community members and statements posted to the community’s public Facebook group. Managing Director Tom Spataro resigned on Sunday.
The resignations followed an Oct. 22 safety meeting, says an ImprovBoston community member who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. The meeting was called in response to concerns voiced in a private ImprovBoston Facebook group, the person says.
“We strongly believe the changes we’ve made are necessary to move the theater and the community forward,” the board of directors told Scout in a statement. “We’ve formed a strong transition team which includes our Artistic Director Emeritus Will Luera, current and former performers, and the Board of Directors. As we continue to develop the plan for the future, the theater will remain open for audiences and performers to enjoy.”
Ari Stern, who started at the nonprofit in 2010 and became a performer, teacher, and producer with the theater, says he left in 2015 because of the atmosphere created by Descoteaux, Spataro, and Criess. He rejoined in 2016, but a year later left again “for the same reasons.”
“I am excited to go back under the prospect of new leadership, and I am very happy with how the board seems to have been acting quickly this last week,” Stern says. In a follow-up email he highlighted how Chairperson of the Board of Directors Leslie Walstrom “has listened and acted swiftly.”
The ImprovBoston board of directors has assembled a transition advisory team, and Board Member Kristie LaSalle has been highlighted as the point person for “safety or harassment related concerns,” Walstrom wrote in a statement posted to the ImprovBoston public Facebook group.
“We have all heard stories of reports that had gone unanswered in the past,” she wrote. “Kristie took on her role at the theater to improve the theater’s response to such reports—to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard, and that no report goes unanswered. In the coming months we will work with the community to find ways to further improve the system, including better training for supervisors, better training for the community, and (to the extent possible) increased transparency in how the system operates.”
Luera plans to fly up from Florida to participate in a town hall meeting on Nov. 19, and will help with the transition, according to an announcement from Walstrom.
A spokesperson for the board of directors said the board was not ready to answer further questions.
“In my 18 years of arts leadership, my primary goal has always been to support the incredible artists around me,” Descoteaux said in a statement announcing his resignation. “As improv guru Martin De Maat said, ‘you are pure potential.’ To those I’ve failed over the years, I am sincerely sorry. And while I may not have found the best ways to say it, I am proud of all of you and believe in you still.”
“It is my sincere hope that this can be a catalyst for healing and renewal for ImprovBoston and the people who make IB great,” Spataro wrote in an email sharing his resignation with the theater’s community members.
Descoteaux, Spataro, and Criess did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.