Coterie Theatre announces new managing director and interim producing artistic director

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Van and Thomas in the Coterie lobby. // Courtesy David Golston

The Board of Directors of The Coterie Theatre has officially announced the appointments of Jonathan Thomas as the theatre for young audiences’ managing director and Heidi Van as interim producing artistic director—the first leadership changes in the wake of the Jeff Church scandal from December 2022.

Thomas joined The Coterie in April 2022 as director of development and has served as interim managing director since November 2022, following the passing of longtime Coterie executive director Joette Pelster.

Van joined The Coterie in February 2023 following Jeff Church’s resignation after multiple sexual assault allegations surfaced against him in December 2022. Coverage of these events by The Pitch was re-published in national and international news publications, drawing attention to the developing situation in a metro children’s theater known for decades of work in the field. Shortly thereafter, KCPD announced that Church had been discovered deceased in his home.

In response to these events, Coterie announced hiring an outside human resources investigator tasked with researching the claims made around Church’s actions at the theatre and a lack of accountability for those actions when reported. Victims and witnesses to these events were asked to come forward to participate in the outside investigation—the findings of which have not been made public, nor has Coterie acknowledged whether the investigation is ongoing or if it has been resolved.

As further information on the Coterie’s response or new leadership’s role in addressing the theater’s past becomes available, this and other Pitch stories will be updated.

Van will remain an interim leader at The Coterie until the Board completes its search process.

“Jonathan has proven to be the right leader at a critical time for The Coterie Theatre,” says Theresa Stoker, President of The Coterie’s Board of Directors. “He has demonstrated empathy and compassion for our grieving Coterie community while thoughtfully guiding our organization through a significant time of transition.”

Thomas, a native Kansas Citian, has spent the majority of his career in the arts community. His career transitioned into arts administration, and Thomas led development efforts for The Walden School in San Francisco, ArtsKC, the Lyric Opera, and The Coterie Theatre.

Heidi Van is a longtime Kansas City actor, creator, and producer of live theater. She is also owner, operator, and CEO of The Black Box Theatre in KC—where she launched her career 20 years ago.

“I believe The Coterie should be the number one theatre for young audiences in the nation,” says Van in a press release. “The actors, designers and production staff who literally embody the work and mission of The Coterie are important stakeholders in the organization, and I am committed to demonstrating mutual respect and understanding for all who come through our doors. I pledge to lead in alignment with The Coterie’s values: using our voices, leading with love, and confronting injustice through storytelling and imagination.”

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