Sunday, 31 May 2020

Kenton manager goes by ‘mutual agreement’

THE general manager of the Kenton Theatre in Henley has left after just eight months in the role.

Max Lewendel is said to have gone by mutual agreement but the venue said the details are “confidential”.

He had not been working in his role since the beginning of the year. 

Chris Tapp, chairman of the Kenton trustees, said Mr Lewendel had left the New Street venue on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Kenton has cancelled all shows until September in line with government guidelines about halting the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement Mr Tapp said: “The situation will be under constant review and any developments will be posted on the website.

“We are contacting ticketholders with arrangements for rescheduled dates or refunds and requesting if they would please consider donating the cost of these tickets to the theatre as it is a registered charity, primarily relying on ticket sales for its income.

“Like so many arts institutions in the times ahead, we would be extremely grateful for these donations.”

In January the Henley Standard revealed that Mr Lewendel had been told to leave the theatre.

The reason for this was not made clear but it was understood he was fighting to stay while on paid leave.

Mr Lewendel told friends at the time that he was given three opportunities to resign and if he refused the theatre would fire him.

He is the fifth manager to leave the New Street venue in about four years.

Mr Lewendel, who lives in Welwyn Garden City, joined the Kenton in July last year along with the the theatre’s progamme manager Ron McAllister. 

He spent the previous 15 years running a touring company, the Icarus Theatre Collective. 

Originally from Illinois, he moved to the UK in 2003.  When he joined the Kenton, Mr Lewendel said he wanted to maintain the theatre’s reputation for attracting high-profile comedians and tribute acts as well as showcasing theatre groups and organisations in the town. 

Kenton members have tried to arrange an annual meeting in order to find out why Mr Lewendel was so quickly out of favour.

Under the theatre’s constitution, five per cent of its membership is required to sign a letter calling for it.

There are currently about 245 members and it is free to join. They can vote at the annual meeting to appoint the chairman and trustees, who can serve two three-year terms.

The turnover of managers began in 2016 when Wendy Bowsher left after 15 years.

She was replaced by Zsuzsi Lindsay, who resigned four months later to spend more time with her family.

The role was then taken over on a shared basis by Paula Price-Davies, then a part-time town council officer, and Tom Ryan, then the programming director for the Henley Literary Festival.

Mr Ryan stepped down in July 2018 to focus on the festival, which was founded by his mother Sue.

Ms Price-Davies remained but stepped away from the role in May last year when the job was divided into two separate artistic and management roles. Mr Tapp was elected chairman of the theatre’s trustees in October 2018, succeeding Rick White who resigned after less than two years following “internal disagreement over management issues”.

The theatre has been beset by issues, including a row last year with Muffin Hurst, of Henley Children’s Theatre, one of the Kenton’s longest-serving customers.

It wanted to move her annual Christmas pantomime to free up dates for its own professional show in order to increase revenue and charge her two-and-a-half times as much. 

Ms Hurst objected, saying the higher fee was “unconscionable” and an “insult”. 

Last month the two sides reached a deal whereby the children’s theatre was given a four-day run in December and January to stage Babes in the Wood.

Earlier this month another customer revealed it was unhappy with an increase in hire charges. 

KT Promotions, of Woodley, revealed it would no longer bring acts to the theatre because of the hike.

It claimed it had been told the hire fee for a 2020 show and beyond would be about £1,700 compared with the £1,200 the theatre previously charged.

The company has brought acts such as Paul Young and Hazel O’Connor.

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