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Serenbe Playhouse Suspends Operations and Lays Off Staff After Multiple Allegations of Racism

The Atlanta-based theater is known for large-scale outdoor productions.

A scene from Titanic at the Serenbe Playhouse
(© BreeAnne Clowdus)

Georgia's Serenbe Institute for Art, Culture & the Environment has temporarily suspended all operations of its well-known Serenbe Playhouse after multiple serious allegations of anti-BIPOC racism have come to light.

The outdoor theater, which made a name for itself in recent years with large-scale, site-specific productions including Titanic (where a ship actually sunk) and Miss Saigon (with a working Vietnam War-era helicopter), had come under scrutiny in recent weeks after performers alleged racial and gender discrimination and poor working conditions. Most were aimed at the alleged discriminatory practices of former artistic director and founder Brian Clowdus, who left the theater in 2019 to open his own company, as well as some members of the theater's staff.

According to an email from Executive Director Jennifer Bauer-Lyons, the theater has not only suspended operations, but laid off the current staff and is working to rebuild the theater from the ground up. "The nature and extent of the allegations warrant immediate action consistent with the values of the Serenbe community, and we realize that the only way to ensure a fair and equitable work environment and patron experience at the Playhouse is to redesign the culture that has been established over the past 12 years from the ground up with new DNA," she said. "This process will be overseen by Travis Townsend, who is a member of the Institute Executive Committee. Travis is an attorney and consultant with many years of experience working with the National Urban League and other institutions to correct internal inequities."

The theater is working with diversity, equity, and inclusion practitioner Dr. Tiffany Russell on ally education and equitable hiring practices, as well as creating the culture that supports all voices at the table.

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