PlayPenn, the new-play development organization that blew up last summer amid charges of racism and sexual misconduct, has slowly begun to rebuild itself.

A new board chair was named this month and three new board of trustee members have joined the group. An acting executive director is running operations, and interim artistic heads of The Foundry, PlayPenn’s writing workshop, have been hired.

More members are expected to join the board, which currently numbers 11, possibly by the end of March. The organization’s big event, its summer new-play conference, will most likely be postponed this year, although administrators acknowledge that a slew of decisions remains to be made.

Since 2005, PlayPenn has helped playwrights develop their work, with the results landing on regional stages around the country, and even on Broadway. More than 100 new plays have gone through the process.

But last July, long-simmering anger, directed primarily at PlayPenn founder and director Paul Meshejian, erupted across social media, with playwrights, performers, and theatrical tech workers recounting numerous instances of racist behavior and practices that PlayPenn leadership later acknowledged. There were also allegations of improper sexual advances leveled separately at former board member and donor Victor Keen, with whom PlayPenn quickly severed ties. Keen has apologized in a public statement.

Meshejian resigned in July and his longtime colleague, associate artistic director Michele Volansky, was fired by PlayPenn’s board of directors after weeks of the lacerating allegations. Last summer’s conference was canceled.

In the wake of the implosion, PlayPenn’s full-time staff dwindled to one and the organization’s board hunkered down and tried to determine a way forward.

The first sign of change has now surfaced.

» READ MORE: The painful inside view of the racism behind PlayPenn’s implosion

Changes at the top

Board member and actor Nancy Boykin, long involved with PlayPenn, has been named board chair, and Sabrina Profitt, the lone staff member, has stepped up from development coordinator to take over duties as acting director. Stephan Schifter, former board president, has now left the organization.

“I want to build something in this next three to four months that’s going to at least last for another five years,” Boykin said in an interview. “And I want it to be something everyone will trust. The playwrights will trust it. The donors will trust it. The actors will trust it. The general population will trust it. The other artists in town who may or may not be involved in placement will trust that we’re doing something in the way that they would consider admirable, honorable, equal in every way, every way.”

Well-known actor Kimberly S. Fairbanks, sound designer, composer, and actor Daniel Ison, and DeLanna Studi, artistic director of Native Voices at the Autry in Los Angeles, have joined the board.

In addition, Keelay Gipson, an actor, playwright and social-justice activist, and L.M. Feldman, a queer, feminist playwright and circus artist, have been named interim lead artists for The Foundry, PlayPenn’s emerging-writers program.

PlayPenn had been criticized in July for its all-white staff. The three new board members are people of color. Of the Foundry hires, Gipson is Black and Feldman is white.

Jury still out on impact

Some of last summer’s observers and critics are encouraged by the changes.

Playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger said she is “very excited to see the shake-up in PlayPenn’s board and staff.” Goldfinger was involved with the organization’s education department several years ago and was a vocal critic last summer.

“In the nonprofit world, many executive decisions are made by the board and so board makeup and education is key if you want to help the organization evolve,” she said.

» READ MORE: ‘We failed’: Amid accusations of racism, calls for resignations, Philly theater organization cancels season (from July 2020)

Goldfinger said she was “thrilled” by the hiring of Gipson and Feldman. They are, she said, “two artists who share visions of inclusivity and support diversity of aesthetic. This is great news for both new work in Philadelphia and around the country.”

Playwright, actor, and Villanova professor James Ijames, a former board member at PlayPenn, quit all of his board memberships last summer “so that I could more fully focus on my work as an educator and an artist,” he said. Ijames also had just taken on the role of lead artistic director at the Wilma Theater for the 2021-2022 season and “felt I needed to make more space for that work.” He did not make any public comments regarding PlayPenn last summer.

On the new PlayPenn additions he said, “I know many of them and I think they are great additions.”

Not everyone had a positive reaction to the news. Performer Terrell Green, a strong critic during the summer, said he is unimpressed.

“PlayPenn is moving in the WRONG direction,” he wrote in an email from Los Angeles, where he is now based. “The board President [and] executive director should be Black women, LGBTQIA identified.”

He characterized the reconstituted leadership as composed of “passive, quiet progressives.”

They “did nothing in the past to change the status quo or bring equity to the theatre community,” he said. “I am very disappointed with PlayPenn and their choices.”

Boykin said there has been no decision on a permanent director and the search is not quite underway.

“As the president of the board, if I could say to you right now, I know that this time next year we will have a Black woman in charge, I cannot say that yet,” she said. “But I also can’t say that that may not be a priority, OK. I mean we have priorities, and I know that the priority for staffing is definitely in that direction.”

Diversity in hiring is a key consideration, she said, a point echoed by Profitt, the acting director.

“It’s important to me, in the time that I’m in this position, to welcome as many perspectives and voices and capabilities as we can,” Profitt said. “I think that the only way that we can begin to understand and begin to serve the new-play field is if everyone is welcomed at the table.”

Boykin agreed with that assessment. She said the announcement of new board members and staff hires constitute “step one.”

“Step two is to begin to express those things that we are dedicated to doing, right?” she said. “That’s going to include how we want to stay committed to embracing diversity, how we are committed to land acknowledgment, I mean, on and on and on.”