Harlequin Productions’ board president says the group is investigating the theater’s response to women’s claims of harassment against Israel Horovitz, who visited the theater several times. He won’t be invited back, the theater’s artistic directors say.
The board of directors for Harlequin Productions, an Olympia theater group, has launched an investigation into its artistic directors after two actresses accused them of ignoring or brushing aside sexual-harassment complaints against award-winning playwright Israel Horovitz.
In a Seattle Times story published last Friday, two women described being harassed by Horovitz while he assisted with the productions or attended opening nights when his plays were staged at the Olympia theater. The former employees of the theater company claim Harlequin Production’s artistic directors didn’t take any action because they were star-struck by Horovitz.
Harlequin Productions’ board President Ben Cushman said Monday that if the investigation shows the artistic directors “breached a serious trust” or failed to handle the sexual-harassment allegations properly, “I expect that the board will ask for a resignation and would follow up a refusal with termination.”
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The #MeToo movement has sparked a national conversation about sexual harassment and assault. From actors in Hollywood to security guards at the Seattle Public Library, more people are coming forward with painful and intimate stories of abuse, casting new light on behavior that for too long has been dealt with in whispers, secret settlements or not at all. So where do we go from here? The Seattle Times’ occasional series explores that and other questions as we move forward in this changed landscape.
The board of directors governs Harlequin Productions, a nonprofit, professional theater with an operating budget of about $1 million.
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Scot Whitney and his wife, Linda, started Harlequin Productions in 1991 and are the artistic directors. The Whitneys announced over the weekend that Horovitz will not be invited back to the Olympia theater.
Horovitz, the founding artistic director of Gloucester Stage Company in Massachusetts, has written more than 70 plays, including “Park Your Car in Harvard Yard,” performed on Broadway in 1991. He has also written several screenplays, including “Author! Author!” which was made into a 1982 film starring Al Pacino, and “My Old Lady,” a 2014 movie he also directed that starred Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith.
The 78-year-old recently resigned from the Gloucester theater after The New York Times reported in November that nine women, including actors and others associated with the theater, said they were sexually harassed or abused by the playwright over the past three decades. Similar allegations were the focus of a 1993 story in The (Boston) Phoenix in which 10 women said they had been sexually abused or harassed by Horovitz, seven of them at the Gloucester Stage Company.
In 2011, as Harlequin Productions was staging Horovitz’s “Unexpected Tenderness,” actress Kate Parker said the playwright insisted on seeing her hotel room. She said that once she reluctantly let Horovitz inside, he lunged at her, grabbed her waist and tried to kiss her.
Another actress said that after she refused to go for drinks with Horovitz in 2010, he kissed her fully on the lips while in front of an audience and Scot Whitney.
Horovitz didn’t return calls for comment on the allegations.
Harlequin kept producing Horovitz’s plays and bringing him to the Olympia playhouse to help with productions or for opening nights, even after the alleged incident with Parker was reported to the Whitneys. From 2009 to 2014, Horovitz came to three dress rehearsals and at least five opening nights for six of his plays performed by Harlequin Productions, Scot Whitney said.
Jeffrey Trinin, a board member since 2009, said he didn’t know about the sexual-harassment allegations until he read The Seattle Times story.
“When I opened the newspaper at 5 a.m. is the first inkling I ever had (of) any behavior,” he said. “I’m surprised and taken aback.”
The Whitneys discussed the allegations Friday with the board’s executive committee, which launched an investigation and hired media consultant Lee Keller. On Monday, Keller said Scot Whitney didn’t want to comment on the investigation.
Cushman, the theater’s board president and an attorney, urged anyone who may have information on sexual-harassment allegations at the theater to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Board members will discuss the theater directors’ conduct during their regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday and then set a special session within the next two weeks to discuss and vote on what actions it will take, he said.
None of the board’s meetings are public.
Scot Whitney told The Seattle Times last week that he was aware of the alleged incident between Horovitz and Parker, saying, “She’s a big girl, she can take care of herself.”
Whitney said he never confronted Horovitz, because “it was awkward and weird.”
Cushman was flabbergasted by Whitney’s comments.
“Every single one of his (Scot Whitney’s) quotes expresses an attitude of unprotected space where actors aren’t safe,” Cushman said. “That’s not acceptable.”
The Whitneys issued a statement Saturday to the Harlequin Theater community, saying in part, “We were made aware of one of these allegations and deeply regret that we did not confront Mr. Horovitz about the subject at the time. In retrospect, it should have been the last time we invited him to join us.”
The Whitneys stated on the Harlequin Productions website that they won’t be inviting Horovitz to the theater again and they are reviewing their policies.
“The apology from the Whitneys is not the last word,” Cushman said. “It’s not enough. It needs to say more and do more. We will do more.”