A group of community members who claim to speak for the real supporters of Philadelphia’s New Freedom Theatre find themselves in opposition with the current direction of the theatre company. Their disagreements have increased over the last few years as they’ve questioned the decisions of Executive Producing Director Sandra Norris Haughton and Board Chair Derek Hargeaves.
The group has named itself The Freedom Theatre Alumni Coalition. Their list of grievances against Freedom’s leaders include the abandoning the original vision of Founder John Allen, Jr., suspicious activities around how resource mismanagement has been conducted, the expulsion of members of the board who disagreed the current course of the organization, as well as a perceived alienation of former collaborators.
The animosity between the two sides has increased since the search for a new artistic director concluded with the board choosing Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, an Indo-Caribbean American director-choreographer in 2016. Some felt this choice exemplified the abandonment of Freedom’s original vision. Maharaj has stage credits directing at some of our oldest Black Theatres including Crossroads Theatre Company and the St. Louis Black Rep. Also in his background is an artist’s residency Maharaj did at Freedom. In spite of all that his hiring has been seen as a significant deviation for the theater, having begun life as the cultural wing of Philadelphia’s Black Power Movement of the 1960s.
Below are some resources that provide background on the situation and the positions of both sides.