Alan Joyce, the former CEO of Qantas, has resigned from his position as the chairman of the Sydney Theatre Company (STC). This decision comes a month after the company faced a controversy due to an onstage protest by actors supporting Palestinian rights during the Israeli-Gaza conflict.
Joyce, who was on leave overseas during the incident, did not make any public comments as STC grappled with the fallout, including a consumer and donor boycott. The controversy is believed to have cost the theatre over $1 million in lost philanthropic support, ticket cancellations, and sponsorship.
Ann Johnson, a prominent philanthropist from Point Piper, will replace Joyce. She had been acting as the interim chair since Joyce first took leave from the board in October. In his statement, Joyce mentioned that his return to the leadership role at STC was planned for the end of January. However, he acknowledged that the “current challenges” facing the company required more time commitment than he could provide.
Joyce, who was appointed chair in March 2023, has maintained a low profile in Australian public life since leaving Qantas, where he served as CEO for 15 years. He notably did not appear at a Senate inquiry into Qatar Airlines.
The controversy that led to his resignation stemmed from a November incident where three cast members of STC’s production “The Seagull” displayed solidarity with Palestinians during the Israeli-Gaza conflict by wearing traditional keffiyeh scarves. This act led to significant backlash within the arts community, including resignations from the STC’s fundraising arm and a petition signed by over a thousand patrons.
STC is facing financial challenges, with the end of COVID support and rising costs. The loss of donations and sponsorships due to the controversy is expected to impact the 2024 budget. Despite a modest operating surplus in 2022, the first in five years, the company anticipates difficulties ahead.
Johnson, in her statement, recognized the significant challenges faced by non-profits like STC, especially in times of rising costs and uncertain revenues. She emphasized the hard work of arts boards across Australia to ensure the viability of their organizations.
Joyce and his husband, Shane Lloyd, were acknowledged as top-tier donors in STC’s 2022 annual report, showing their continued support for the company’s productions.
Joyce’s resignation was officially submitted on January 5, marking the end of his tenure with the Sydney Theatre Company board.