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Performance cancelled after Sydney Theatre Company apology for pro-Palestinian protest on stage

Wednesday night’s performance of the Sydney Theatre Company production of Chekhov’s The Seagull was cancelled at the last minute, just hours after the company issued a statement of apology over the actions of three cast members on opening night.

The apology and cancellation came in the wake of the resignation of one of the STC’s longstanding foundation board members, Judi Hausmann, the founder and chair of the Sydney public relations company the Haus.

The fallout continues from the actions of three of the production’s cast members who draped themselves in traditional keffiyeh headdresses during the curtain call last Saturday, to signal support for Palestinians in the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

One of the protesting actors, Harry Greenwood, is the son of the actor Hugo Weaving, who also sits on the STC’s foundation board with Hausmann.

In a letter obtained by the Australian to STC’s acting board chair, Ann Johnson, the chair of the foundation, Gretel Packer, and the company’s director of private support, Danielle Heidbrink, Hausmann referred to a request she made to STC management for a “one-night pause” of the production, to give the company time to draft a “resolution that would be acceptable to all parties”.

The Monday evening performance of The Seagull went ahead as scheduled, with STC management issuing a statement the same day saying the company had not been aware of the protest before it happened and apologising for “any distress caused”.

The statement issued on Wednesday night went much further, with the company acknowledging that the actors’ actions and the STC’s immediate response had “hurt many in our community”.

“For this, we are deeply sorry,” the statement said, adding that while the company supported individual freedom of expression, it also believed that the right to free speech “does not supersede our responsibility to create safe workplaces and theatres”.

Hausmann’s resignation letter issued on Tuesday said she was “beyond disappointed” that the STC had failed to speak up against the actions of Greenwood and his fellow cast members Megan Wilding and Mabel Li.

Related: The Seagull review – Sigrid Thornton and Toby Schmitz star in contemporary take on Chekhov

“I never imagined my resignation would be necessary because I’m a Jew,” she wrote, according to the Australian. “What hurts most is that I love the STC and all of the people I’ve worked alongside,.”

Hausmann declined to talk to Guardian Australia on Wednesday, saying she was postponing all media interviews to recuperate after three sleepless nights.

The STC statement on Wednesday said it was still working to address the concerns raised about the protest but did not address Hausmann’s resignation directly.

“Theatre is a place for exploring ideas with complexity and context,” it said.

“We recognise that artists bring their whole selves to our stages and in doing so, they bring a rich diversity of views and lived experience. We also recognise that when our audiences attend a production, they come to experience the content in that play and that play only, and that any exception to this needs to be done in consultation with the company and consideration of our duty of care.”

Guardian Australia has sought comment from the artist management company Shanahan, which represents Greenwood and Weaving, and the agents representing Wilding and Li.

The protest has provoked criticism and support on social media.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s acting chief executive, Adam Portelli, said: “MEAA respects the right of performers to freedom of opinion and expression, a right afforded to all Australians. As a union we will support all members should they face disciplinary action for simply exercising that right.”

The Seagull cast members’ protest is the latest action by artists and entertainers weighing in on the Israel-Hamas war. Collecting his album of the year award at the 2023 Aria music awards on 15 November, the rapper Genesis Owusu called for a ceasefire in Gaza during his acceptance speech.

On Sunday the singer songwriter Deborah Conway wore a Star of David pendant and colours of the Israeli flag while performing at Mushroom Records’ 50th anniversary concert at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena. According to Channel 7, more than 800,000 people watched the broadcast on the network.

Conway subsequently posted a photo and a lengthy statement on Facebook, saying: “We wore what we wore as an act of solidarity, of defiance, of kinship.”