East London venue the Courtyard has come under fire from a series of theatremakers claiming to have experienced issues including non-payment, unprofessionalism, “filthy” conditions and verbally aggressive behaviour from management.
The Stage spoke to eight artists from seven different theatre companies, one of whom “strongly advises producers and performers to avoid working at this venue”.
Located in Hoxton, the Courtyard is a fringe theatre with a 150-seat main space and an 80-seat studio. It is run by a management team that includes artistic director Timothy Gill and theatres manager Rupert Holloway.
Allegations against the theatre include:
• Non-payment of box office income
• Late payment of box office income
• Lack of response to emails and phone calls chasing payment
• Lack of transparency about ticket sales
• Unclean working conditions, including mice and litter
• Unprofessionalism – including lack of promised rehearsal space and box office not opening on time
• Verbally aggressive behaviour from members of the management team
Theatremaker Sandra Thompson-Quartey had agreed a residency at the Courtyard with her new-writing company Writers Avenue, taking over the venue’s main space for a minimum of nine months. However, she said her “dreams quickly turned into a nightmare” and she felt forced to leave the venue after just a month, as she “could not, with good conscience”, allow other companies to experience what her company had.
She told The Stage: “The building was in disrepair when I showed up for my first day despite my paying thousands towards hire, repairs and redecorating. Mice were running around in the dressing rooms, bar and on stage, box office receipts were not being sent and the operations were shocking.”
Thompson-Quartey claimed she experienced verbally aggressive behaviour from artistic director Gill on more than one occasion, which left her feeling “unsafe”.
She said that Writers Avenue was left with more than £15,000 of debt from the venture, including £10,360 paid to hire the Courtyard.
“I was emotionally drained and overwhelmed with stress. It took a mental toll on me and I put Writers Avenue on hiatus in 2017 to give myself time to recover,” she said.
Thompson-Quartey added: “I urge anyone who has had a poor experience at the Courtyard to speak up. Silence is how they have managed to get away with this type of conduct. I would strongly advise producers and performers to avoid working at this venue.”
Chloe Wigmore, who directed an all-female Macbeth at the venue in November 2017 for East London Shakespeare Company, told The Stage that her experience at the Courtyard was the first time in her professional career that she had questioned whether to continue in the industry.
Wigmore alleges that working conditions were “massively unsafe”, with the company having to clear nails from the floor and rehearse fight scenes in the bar due to rehearsal space being unavailable.
She added that she experienced verbally aggressive behaviour from Holloway, and payment to East London Shakespeare Company had been six months late.
Actor Skye Lourie from Blue Plaque House Theatre said her company had been owed an estimated £1,250 in ticket sales for its production of Bathroom Sessions since December 2018.
Lourie said the company’s phone calls and emails about pay had been ignored, and cited unclean working conditions at the venue. Since The Stage approached the venue for comment this month, the company has been paid.
Kelechi Okafor, who performed in and directed Bottle Up and Explode at the venue in October 2017, claimed she had also experienced verbally aggressive behaviour while working at the theatre, describing the experience as “harrowing”.
Two members of the team working on Spada Productions’ Julius Caesar had similar complaints. Actor Kerry Fitzgerald told The Stage: “I’ve never worked at a venue that treated the performers with so much disrespect, from double-booking the space to having bands on and sound bleeds they didn’t seem to want to fix, and not being transparent about figures. I would never bring a show there and I would recommend nobody else does either.”
Two other theatre companies, which asked to remain anonymous, also spoke to The Stage, with one alleging it had experienced “a total odyssey of unprofessionalism”, including payment that was two months late.
The other theatre company said it had still not received a financial breakdown or payment for a show that took place in 2017.
The Courtyard Theatre has not responded to repeated requests for comment.