Leading artistic figures defend British director Ruth Mackenzie after Paris theatre sacking – Reports

Scores of leading UK and international arts figures have signed a petition in protest at the shock dismissal of Ruth Mackenzie, the first British director of one of France’s most prestigious theatres.

Ms Mackenzie, who became the first female and first non-French artistic director at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, was told her contract was being terminated with immediate effect last week.

Calling her dismissal “brutal and inexplicable, she told the Telegraph: “They stopped my salary, ended my contract and published a press release to tell the world I was fired. So I have no money, no reputation, no future. Even for me it is hard to feel positive.”

An independent inquiry into two complaints regarding her “management style” cleared her of any serious wrongdoing bar failing to say “bonjour” to staff or speak perfect French.

However, last week her lawyer received a letter terminating her contract and citing “bullying”.

The theatre refused to comment but French media reported a source as saying she had been fired for a “serious fault” connected to “management and financial problems” and that she had run up a €3m (£2.68m) deficit.

A host of figures from the arts world on Tuesday signed a letter of support, including the British director and filmmaker Sir Steve McQueen, the artist Anish Kapoor, as well as the director of the Tate Maria Balshaw, and the deputy mayor for culture, London, UK, Justine Simons.

“Ruth Mackenzie CBE is an international visionary leader who champions culture for all, passionately supports artists and inspires her teams to deliver their best work,” they wrote.

“At Théâtre du Châtelet she broke boundaries. As the first woman and the first non-French Artistic Director, she commissioned work from diverse artists, including the first musical directed by a Black director, Abd al Malik. Her Robin Hood ticket scheme opened the municipal theatre to all Parisians, not just the elite.”

They added: “We stand in solidarity with Ruth Mackenzie. Her vision for culture is a 21st century vision, one that combines artistic ambition with the universal right to culture for all citizens.”

In response, Ms Mackenzie said: “It’s incredibly moving to see artists coming out and backing me. It’s a little bit like reading your own obituary. I’m sorry about that because I hadn’t intended to end the adventure. 

A former director of Holland Festival, Manchester International Festival and Scottish Opera, and who was in charge of the official cultural programme for the 2012 London Olympics, Ms Mackenzie was appointed by the theatre in 2017 but arrived as it closed for a £28.6m restoration.

It reopened last September but was forced to close six months later due to the coronavirus lockdown. She had a full season organised.

Ms Mackenzie was appointed to work in tandem with Thomas Lauriot dit Prévost, the general director, and the pair pledged to make the theatre more innovative and less elitist.

They introduced a “Robin Hood scheme” for theatregoers and sponsors to buy extra tickets for those who could not afford them. The Châtelet offered 10,000 €10 (£8.90) tickets a year to the under-25s.

It is understood Lauriot dit Prévost will remain in his job.

“Anyone who knows me, who has worked with me, knows that I’m not in any way a bully,” she said after he sacking.

“Maybe the problem is that certain French people of a certain age, colour and class think the theatre belongs to them and someone like me who is not French shouldn’t open doors to others.”

She said that Jean-Luc Choplin, her French predecessor, met similar resistance when he introduced American musicals to the theatre. “I saw first hand how difficult it was for Jean-Luc and how some of the staff were resistant” to anything but more traditional fare, she said. 

Eventually, he was a hit and they were thrilled, she added.

“The same thing happened to me. There are some staff who don’t like change and resist something new and the sad thing is they haven’t been given enough time to get used to it and me.”

Carine Rolland, the deputy mayor in charge of culture, denied a “cultural gulf” was the origin of the crisis.“Ruth Mackenzie’s talent is not in question … the city must show responsibility notably when suffering, whatever its form, is expressed,” she told AFP.

The post Leading artistic figures defend British director Ruth Mackenzie after Paris theatre sacking appeared first on The Telegraph.

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