Chicago’s Victory Gardens Is Again Mired in Turmoil

During a recent video interview, Martin said he did not know why he was dismissed. “The board informed me that I was being released from my artistic director contract at Victory Gardens with cause,” he said, reading from a statement he later posted on his personal website. “I asked twice in the meeting what was the cause and was not given any.”

He said he was asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement and give up all claims on future lawsuits. “I am declining the offer,” he said. “It is vitally important that I be able to speak truthfully about the needs of the artists and staff.”

His removal was seen by his supporters as a betrayal, following what some saw as a lack of support for Martin and Conner. Victory Gardens has been without an executive director, the top job at the theater, since 2020, and though a search committee eventually interviewed candidates, the post remains vacant.

“As somebody who has worked in the nonprofit sector for a long time and had a pretty close-up view of the relationships between boards and leadership and staffing structures, it seemed like operationally there were a lot of holes, and Ken-Matt and Roxanna were being relied on to plug all of them,” said Marisa Carr, whom Martin invited to join the playwrights’ ensemble in June 2021 and who resigned a year later. She cited creating the operating budget (a task an executive director would likely be involved in) and even cleaning the theater as duties that fell on their shoulders.

Martin took the reins at Victory Gardens during the pandemic, and at a time when newly formed groups like “We See You, White American Theater,” a national coalition of theater artists, were demanding that antiracism and significant hiring of people of color become the industry standard. Martin supported such efforts, pushing for a pay equity plan at Victory Gardens.

Just over a year later he has now joined a group of Black artistic leaders recently separated from the institutions they had been hired to lead. Elsewhere in Chicago, the House Theater closed its doors this summer after its new artistic director, Lanise Antoine Shelley, had presented just two shows; Jon Carr, the Second City executive producer, left his position in February after 14 months; and Regina Victor, artistic director of Sideshow Theater, resigned on July 20.