Theatre Deli: Sheffield artistic director Nathan Geering quits amid 'racism' row
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Nathan Geering, who has a background in dance and working with people with disabilities, took over as co-artistic director of Theatre Deli with fellow Sheffielder Ryan Harston a year ago. He said that Ryan, who works in theatre and film, has already resigned from the role.
The theatre, which is just moving into new premises on Arley Street in Highfield, said it was “saddened and surprised” by Nathan’s resignation. Theatre Deli is based in both Sheffield and London.
Nathan said in a statement: “Today I officially resigned from being co-artistic director of Theatre Deli. I no longer feel safe working there as a person of colour due to all of the nuanced institutionalised racism I had to to endure over this past year.
“I have been othered and treated less than human and on frequent occasions. Certain members of staff wouldn’t even say hello and acknowledge my presence whereas all of my white colleagues were treated with courtesy and respect."
Nathan accused the theatre of repeatedly sabotaging events he and Ryan put on as artistic directors by not providing proper technical support or equipment.
He said that when he raised issues, “I had to speak of reporting Theatre Deli to the Race Equality Commission before the Chair and Chief Exec would even take what I was saying seriously”.
He also said that other people of colour complained that white staff did not make them feel welcome at events.
Nathan said: “My co-artistic director and I also had all line management responsibilities taken away from us and it was presented to us as helping us to focus more on the artistic direction practicalities of reaching communities.
“In hindsight it was apparent that they did this to render our authority as members of the senior management team powerless. Again the only people of colour in the organisation had no official authority when it came to line management… even though we are part of the senior management team.”
After Ryan Harston left, Nathan said that he was not given the chance to take on the role full time.
“They paraded myself about to show they supported diversity”
He said: “They wanted to reduce the hours of the artistic director’s job role to pay for new job roles but would not consider doing the same for any of the job roles occupied by white employees.“They wanted to diversify the team and employ more people of colour at the expense of the only senior management job role that was occupied by a person of colour.”
Nathan said: “They paraded me about to show they supported diversity but the rest of the workforce was white until I employed three other people of colour to work in our organisation.
“They treated me and my co-artistic director as 'figure heads' and would make many artistic decisions in our London venue without consulting us even though we were co-artistic directors of both Sheffield and London venues.”
He added: “The nuanced institutionalised racism within the Theatre Deli organisation is rife and people of colour are not safe working in such an organisation.
“As people of colour, we are the experts on racism as we experience it every day but this expertise was not acknowledged or valued.”
He concluded: “It is with a sad heart that I say all this but Theatre Deli made all the right noises superficially but it failed me as a person of colour.
“On the surface they appear to be very supportive but scratch deeper and their true colours are revealed.”
The theatre responded: “We are saddened and surprised by Nathan Geering's resignation which he has tendered with immediate effect.
“We will be making a more complete public statement when it is possible and appropriate for us to do so.
“We do not recognise the Theatre Deli described in Nathan's public post”
“We have reached out to Nathan with the hopes that he will attend an externally facilitated and impartial grievance panel to discuss the serious allegations he has made. We will then carry out a thorough investigation, in line with our Grievance Procedure.
“Multiple confidential HR issues involving members of staff with different intersecting identities have influenced our decision making in recent months. We have a duty of care to everyone that works with us.
“We understand how pervasive and nuanced institutional and systemic racism can be. At the same time, we do not recognise the Theatre Deli described in Nathan's public post.
“We will continue to work to be an organisation which welcomes everyone, which provides safe spaces to create art, and we hope to continue to learn from everyone who works with us.
“We thank you for any patience you are able to afford us as we investigate further.
“We hope to rebuild trust with the communities and individuals we work with in the coming months, which we know will have been affected by these public comments.”
Theatre Deli's Executive Director and CEO David Ralf said: “Our organisation was pleased to receive in April a resignation from Ryan Harston, our Co-Artistic Director, for the best possible reason: an exciting role offer and a wish to focus on his performing career.
“Ryan is currently finishing up his notice with us. It is a shame that an announcement of his positive news has been delayed and overtaken by disagreement over the future of the senior management of the organisation.
“Without wishing to prejudge the impartial investigation which will follow, or the chance that Nathan will change his mind about his resignation, it is important to note that we agreed a new artistic director job description with increased hours with Nathan Geering on April 25, in response to his skillset, interpretation of the role, and Deli's need for competent management in Sheffield.
“After this, Nathan continued to raise issues regarding pay and hours in conversations that led directly up to his resignation.”
He added: “Historically the organisation has not had a single full-time artistic director and this role has been filled in several different ways over recent years.
“We have not responded directly to Nathan's individual public allegations, both to preserve the integrity of the impartial investigation, which we welcome, and to protect our staff.
“Despite all this we are proud of Nathan's work for Theatre Deli, and his work with communities in Sheffield, and were working directly up to his resignation on retaining him, and continuing to accommodate different ways of working.”
Labour councillor Abtisam Mohamed, who represents Firth Park, said: “Nathan has done some excellent work at Theatre Deli and more importantly has allowed them to reach a new audience they normally would not engage with. I was saddened to hear of Nathan’s resignation but completely understand why felt he needed to do so.
“I do have concerns with the statement made by Theatre Deli in which they state ‘we do not recognise the Threatre Deli described in Nathan’s public post’.
“Sadly this reinforces the position that they do not understand how to address or deal with racism. Denying the experience isn’t helpful.
“We have an ambition that we will become an anti-racist city. But in doing so organisations that want to become actively anti-racist need to recognise that racism exists. Racism in all forms, which includes the micro-aggressions that many people of colour face in the workplace but are very often very difficult to evidence.
“Theatre Deli will need to learn, reflect and change as a result of this experience and work hard to rebuild trust.”