Albert Schultz accusers speak out: The sanctity of the theatre is being violated”

Update: Late in the afternoon on January 4, Albert Schultz resigned from his position as Soulpepper's founding artistic director via.


Update: Late in the afternoon on January 4, Albert Schultz resigned from his position as Soulpepper’s founding artistic director via a letter sent to Soulpepper’s board of directors.

“While I will continue to vigorously defend myself against the allegations that are being made, I have made this decision in the interest of the future of the company into which I poured the last 20 years of my life, and in the interest of the aspirations of the artists and administrators of the company,” he said in a statement. “I would like to thank chair Shawn Cooper and the entire Soulpepper board for their leadership in this very difficult time. I wish all of Soulpepper’s artists, administrators and volunteers the very best well into the future.”

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Soulpepper is not a safe environment, says Hannah Miller, one of four actors who filed civil lawsuits on Wednesday accusing the theatre company’s artistic director, Albert Schultz, of sexual misconduct.

Its certainly not for an actor whose desire and training leads them to be open and vulnerable and to delve into passion, said the actor in an especially emotional moment during a news conference. Miller played a lead in the companys 2013 production of The Crucible.

The sanctity of the theatre is being violated,” she added. “Women out there who are young, at the start of their career, [should] deserve… a safe environment, a safe place to make art.

All four plaintiffs Miller, Patricia Fagan, Kristin Booth and Diana Bentley were in their 20s when the alleged abuse took place. According to their statements of claim, the abuse included unwanted groping, kissing, slapping and exposing himself over a 13-year period. The suits also name the company, alleging Schultzs methods were facilitated by Soulpepper.

The actors are seeking damages totalling $4.25 million from Soulpepper and $3.6 million from Schultz. The claims have not been proven in court.

The women’s lawyer, Alexi Wood of St. Lawrence Barristers LLP, spelled things out clearly at the beginning of the conference.

Albert Schultz is a mentor, guide, teacher and an icon in the theatre world. [These women] were taught to understand that in order to succeed, not just in Soulpepper but in Canadian theatre, they would have to suffer in silence.

Before the press conference, four senior Soulpepper artists Ted Dykstra, Stuart Hughes, Michelle Monteith and Rick Roberts resigned from the company.

Wood read out a statement about their decision during the press conference: These artists support and stand with the brave women who have come forward to end the culture of silence that has existed at Soulpepper under Mr. Schultz. They believe the allegations made by these women.

Dykstra and Hughes were both founding members of the company Dykstra regularly directed plays, while Hughes was a long-time actor. (Dykstra is also the husband of one of the plaintiffs, Bentley.)

Roberts and Monteith both starred in two of Soulpeppers most recent productions: Picture This and Waiting For Godot in fall 2017.

Hughes and Monteith were set to star in the companys March production of Idomeneus, and Dykstra was cast in the Schultz-directed production of A Chorus Of Disapproval scheduled for May.

Last night, Soulpeppers board of directors announced it had instructed Schultz to step aside during the investigation Alan Dilworth will be acting artistic director in the interim. The companys executive director, Leslie Lester (also Schultzs wife), has agreed to take a voluntary leave of absence.

“These claims make serious allegations against me which I do not take lightly,” Schultz said in his own statement. “Over the coming time period, I intend to vehemently defend myself.”

The four Soulpepper artists who resigned say until Mr. Schultz has no role with the Company, they will not work there.

When Dykstra was asked at the press conference why he chose to step aside, he said, I dont think choice is involved. I know I cant work there knowing what I know. I know these women and I believe their stories. It follows that if thats true, I cant work there.

Dykstra also pointed to the companys well-publicized announcement last October about severing ties with director Laszlo Marton after they received allegations of sexual harassment.

Thats another story, but I encourage you to look into that deeply, Dykstra said. It is our hope that we are the tip of the iceberg, rather than the whole story.

At the press conference, Booth too alluded to a Toronto Star story about the Marton affair in which Soulepper said it had anti-harassment policies and procedures in place.

Booth said the hypocrisy of that statement motivated her to see that “it does not happen to one other young woman coming up in the company.”

Yesterday, after the news of the story first broke, Booth received this offensive tweet, since deleted, from an account called @CanLaw: “You are a lying greedy grasping whore I hope he sues your ass off for defamation. Women Like you should be in jail” (sic). Here’s her reply:

Meanwhile, on the companys website, all record of Schultz seems to have been wiped out. Featured prominently on the site before after all, he is the face of the company hes now gone, even from the list of founding members.

Update (11:30 pm, January 4): The Soulpepper website has now reinstated Schultz’s image and title on their company’s website. He’s listed as “founding artistic director.”

glenns@nowtoronto.com |@glennsumi

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