During a recent video interview, Martin said he didn’t know why he was fired. “The board informed me that I was being released from my contract as Artistic Director at Victory Gardens for good reason,” he said, reading from a statement he later posted on his personal website.. “I asked twice in the meeting what the cause was and got none.”
He said he was asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement and to surrender all claims to future lawsuits. “I decline the offer,” he said. “It’s vital that I can speak honestly about the needs of the artists and staff.”
His removal was seen as a betrayal by his supporters, after what some saw as a lack of support for Martin and Conner. Victory Gardens has been without an Executive Director, the theater’s top position, since 2020, and although a search committee eventually interviewed candidates, the position remains vacant.
“As someone who has worked in the non-profit sector for a long time and had a pretty close-up view of the relationships between boards and leadership and workforce structures, it seemed like there were a lot of operational gaps, and Ken-Matt and Roxanna trusted to plug them all in,” said Marisa Carr, who invited Martin to join the playwright ensemble in June 2021 and who resigned a year later. She cited making the operating budget (a task an executive director would likely be involved in) and even cleaning the theater as tasks that fell on their shoulders.
Martin took the reins at Victory Gardens during the pandemic, and at a time when newly formed groups such as “We See You, White American Theatre,” a national coalition of theater performers, were demanding that anti-racism and significant hiring of people of color be the industry standard. Martin supported such efforts and pushed for a pay equality plan in Victory Gardens.
Just over a year later, he joins a group of black artistic leaders who had recently been separated from the institutions they were hired to do. Elsewhere in Chicago, the House Theater closed its doors this summer after its new Artistic Director, Lanise Antoine Shelley, presented just two shows; Second City executive producer Jon Carr left his post in February after 14 months; and Regina Victor, Artistic Director of Sideshow Theater, resigned on July 20.