Former Qantas boss Alan Joyce has resigned as chair of the Sydney Theatre Company just a month after the company was engulfed in controversy, sparked by actors wearing Palestinian scarves.
In a statement, Sydney Theatre Company (STC) confirmed Mr Joyce had stepped down from his role on Wednesday.
He joined the company’s Board of Directors in 2022 and was elected chair in March last year.
Mr Joyce, who has been on leave since October last year, said he was intending to return to his role at the end of February.
But he confirmed current challenges facing the STC required “significant time” in the role.
“I do not believe that I will be able to devote the considerable time necessary in the next couple of months,’’ Mr Joyce said.
“Although I will reluctantly be stepping aside, I will continue to be passionate about the amazing work the STC produces and I wish the company all the best for the future.”
Philanthropist Ann Johnson will succeed Mr Joyce’s role, an STC spokeswoman confirmed.
Ms Johnson has held positions on the company’s board since 2013 – first as a director, then as deputy chair since 2016 and acting chair – since October 2023.
Mr Joyce’s departure follows outrage against the company in November last year, after several actors wore traditional Palestinian keffiyehs on the opening night of The Seagull.
The black-and-white scarves are considered a symbol of Palestinian identity and resistance.
The move led to outrage from Jewish subscribers while three members of the board resigned in the wake of the controversy.
One of them was Alex Schuman, the brother of Wentworth MP Allegra Spender.
At the time, STC said other cast and crew members were not aware of the actors’ move in advance.
“We support individual freedom of expression but believe that the right to free speech does not supersede our responsibility to create safe workplaces and theatres,” the company said in a statement on November 28, 2023.
“We believe that it was not the intent of the actors involved to cause any harm or offence. We have emphasised to our performers that they are free to express their opinions and views on their own platforms.
“STC is working to address concerns raised and to engage further with individuals and community groups.”
Thousands signed petitions calling for the actors’ resignation and decisive action from the STC, while creatives across Australia called for a ceasefire and the “withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territories”.
Mr Joyce had retired as Qantas’ chief executive just five months earlier, after 22 years in the role.
He had endured a bruising few months at the airline, which was last year hit with allegations by the consumer watchdog that “ghost flights” had been sold to customers.
A blowout over Covid refunds and a grilling by senators over competitors’ flights also contributed to the negative feedback.
Speaking on Mr Joyce’s STC resignation, Ms Johnson thanked him for his support of the company.
“Alan understood the significant challenges that STC as a not-for-profit arts organisation faces amidst rising costs and increasingly uncertain revenues,” she said in a statement.
“Arts boards around Australia are working harder than ever to ensure the long-term financial viability of their organisations and the next few years will be difficult for the performing arts sector.
“STC is very grateful for Alan’s leadership and generous philanthropic support which have helped the company continue to produce world class theatre.”