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At Boston Children’s Theatre, crisis deepens

A nude scene in a recent production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’’Burgess Clark

The drama continued to unfold at Boston Children’s Theatre on Thursday, as a purported deal to bring back the company’s artistic director appeared to collapse.

Only hours after the theater’s top executive and board had sought to assure donors and parents that they had resolved a company crisis and told The Boston Globe it had made peace with executive artistic director Burgess Clark, the two sides were again at odds, according to several people with knowledge of the dispute.

Clark, who’s been at the center of a controversy over a nude scene in a recent production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” told the Globe in an e-mail Thursday that he had not been reinstated and had turned the matter over to an attorney. “I had hoped for a timely resolution for all concerned (particularly the students),” he wrote, “but with the board in such disarray and no meaningful dialogue by this point, frankly I have lost faith.”

It was unclear how the negotiations had gone wrong. In a statement Thursday, the board said, “We are now working to understand which issues persist with Mr. Clark and hope we can resolve them in a timely manner.”


Clark declined to be interviewed and deferred requests to his lawyer, who declined to comment.

Meanwhile, two more trustees have quit the board, a total of five departures in recent days, leaving seven trustees, according to several people briefed on the situation who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak for the company. The dispute has also led the theater to postpone until fall its annual fund-raiser, which had been planned for May 16.

Director Burgess Clark (center) instructed Teresa Gelsomini, 18, playing Nurse Ratched (left), as they ran through a scene during rehearsal of Boston Children's Theatre production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.” Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe

Late Wednesday night, the theater sent an e-mail to its supporters suggesting that its troubles were over. “Thank you for your tremendous patience and understanding as we worked to resolve differences related to the management of Boston Children’s Theatre,” the e-mail stated. Notably, the e-mail made no direct mention of Clark.


The turmoil comes as the company prepares for its large summer program, which accounts for half its annual revenue. More than 1,000 students are expected to enroll, according to executive director and producer Toby Schine.

And the crisis — triggered by Clark’s decision to have a 21-year-old actor play a nude scene in “Cuckoo’s Nest” without the trustees’ knowledge — leaves a vacuum on the board at a time when the organization has been looking to improve its finances.

The board had been conducting a review of the cash-strapped nonprofit’s books, according to two people with knowledge of the inquiry, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak for the organization. The board, in its statement, chalked up its recent troubles to “growing pains.”

“When an organization is expanding as quickly as we are — growing its audience and its following — sometimes not everyone is on the same page with the pace of change,’’ the statement said. “That may have happened in this case, but we are confident that we can resolve this misunderstanding and move forward.”

Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth. Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.