Soulpepper Theatre Company ‘not a safe work environment,’ actresses say
Women who are suing the Toronto theatre company and artistic director Albert Schultz say the “sanctity of the theatre…is being violated.”
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Four women who are suing Toronto theatre company Soulpepper and artistic director Albert Schultz said they hope their actions help restore the atmosphere of the theatre, which they say “is not a safe work environment.”
“There is a sanctity of the theatre that is being violated,” said plaintiff Hannah Miller, her eyes welling, “so the implication we are ruining something is maybe why it’s so hard (to come forward).”
Miller was joined at a Thursday morning news conference by fellow plaintiffs Kristin Booth, Diana Bentley, and Patricia Fagan, all actresses who had worked with the company, some starting just after it opened its doors in 1998.
They filed civil lawsuits Wednesday seeking a total of $4.25 million in damages from Soulpepper and $3.6 million from Schultz for what they described as a pattern of sexual harassment.
The claims have not been proven in court. Soulpepper and Schultz have not yet filed a statement of defence.
Booth, a Gemini Award-winning actress, said the decision to come forward was a very difficult one, but “there is a window open” given recent allegations of sexual abuse in the entertainment world, particularly against a man the women alleged wielded a lot of power over their careers.
“Albert Schultz wasn't just their boss. Mr. Schultz was their mentor, their guide, their teacher and an icon in the theatre world,” said lawyer Alexi Wood.
The news conference came on the same day four members of the company – including two who co-founded it with Schultz – said they were resigning.
Ted Dykstra, Stuart Hughes, Michelle Monteith, and Rick Roberts said they will not work at the company as long as Schultz has any role with the organization.
Schultz was told to step down from his roles on the heels of sexual abuse and harassment allegations by four women who have filed lawsuits against him and the company, Soulpepper said Wednesday.
Soulpepper’s board of directors announced Schultz’s departure – which he characterized as a “leave of absence” – from the company Wednesday and said an investigation is underway.
Associate artistic director Alan Dilworth will assume Schultz’s responsibilities during the investigation. Schultz’s wife, executive director Leslie Lester, has also volunteered to take a leave of absence in the interim, a statement from Soulpepper said.
“Mr. Dykstra, Mr. Hughes, Ms. Monteith and Mr. Roberts are aware that Mr. Schultz has been asked to step down during an investigation into the allegations,” Wood said in a written statement Thursday morning.
“The four artists support the choice of Alan Dilworth as acting artistic director, but until Mr. Schultz has no role with the company, they will not work there.”
Dykstra and Hughes were founding members of Soulpepper along with Schultz.
Some of the allegations against Schultz began in 2000, just two years after the start of the company, which now receives more than 1,000 applications each year for its paid professional training program, the Soulpepper Academy, according to a statement of claim.
In four statements of claim, the women allege being victimized by a “serial sexual predator,” with each enduring various forms of abuse, including enduring slaps on the buttocks, unwanted embraces and remarks and innuendos about their bodies, clothing and sex.
Schultz said he was taking a “leave of absence” pending the investigation outcome.
“These claims make serious allegations against me which I do not take lightly,” Schultz said. “I intend to vehemently defend myself.”
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