David Zak resigns as executive director of Chicago’s Pride Films and Plays

The theater’s board of directors announced the news Friday following social media outcry calling for Zak’s removal from the company he founded 10 years ago.

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David Zak is photographed at The Broadway at the Pride Arts Center in January.

David Zak is photographed at The Broadway at the Pride Arts Center in January.

James Foster/For the Sun-Times

David Zak has resigned from his role as executive director of Chicago’s Pride Films and Plays amid allegations of insensitive comments and approach to diversity and gender issues.

The theater’s board of directors announced the news Friday following social media outcry calling for Zak’s removal from the company he founded 10 years ago. Zak has been a leader in the gay theater scene for more than three decades. His work at Pride Films and Plays included the 2019 Jeff Award-nominated “A Man of No Importance,” as well as the holiday-themed musical “America’s Best Outcast Toy.” His pioneering work in the realm of gay theater was also a hallmark of Chicago’s Bailiwick Theatre starting in the early 1980s, where he eventually served as artistic director for 27 years. He was inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame in 2013.

In a statement, the board wrote, in part: “We have heard and taken seriously concerns of individuals who were offended and hurt by comments made by PFP’s leadership. We have had in-depth discussions with the Executive Director, and he is stepping down. The new leadership will be responsible for all programming, and continuing Pride’s work to diversify the company in every way.It is a strategic priority of the Board and leadership to ensure inclusion and diversity in all we do. This includes an emphasis on the voices and talents of people of color and a priority for our organization as we create safe, welcoming creative spaces for all engaged with PFP. We are creating a diversity plan to ensure that BIPOC voices are represented among our artistic associates, on our board, and in all parts of our organization.”

The leadership changes include the appointment of artistic director Donterrio Johnson, with JD Caudill and Robert Ollis continuing on as artistic associates.

Zak issued an official apology on Friday for his actions and words.

“I know the importance of creating a safe work environment in theater and film for all people who are so often marginalized,” Zak said. “And while I am immensely proud of the creative projects done by our many teams, there is much more work that could and should have been done for us to be truly inclusive and sensitive.As the leader of this team, I let too many people down and cannot find words to express how sorry I am.”

The news comes in the wake of a similar shakeup at Second City, where co-owner/executive producer Andrew Alexander resigned from his role with the company amid allegations of institutional racism.

iO Chicago shuttered its doors in June due to financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and allegations of institutional racism levied via online petitions directed at owner/co-founder Charna Halpern.

Donterrio Johnson. Photo by Zeke Dolezalek.

Donterrio Johnson (pictured) has been appointed artistic director at Pride Films and Plays following the resignation of executive director David Zak.

Zeke Dolezalek

“I am delighted to step into the role of artistic director of Pride Films and Plays,” Johnson said via statement. “Of course I wish it were under better circumstances, butmy team and I are ready to turn things around immediately. I believe in the endless future of PFP and I am excited to lead the charge, but we must rebrand, restructure, and reignite the creative spark of this company.”

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