Controlling the Globe

Last year on News and Notes I got all up in arms over the Globe Theatre forcing out their newly-minted Artistic Director, Emma Rice. I had a lot of snotty things to say to the classicists who couldn't stand her attempts to bring the modern world into their genuine reproduction antique, and I still stand by them. Rice is going on to start her own company, and now the Globe has picked their new AD, Michelle Terry. The Olivier-winning actor has been on the Globe stage multiple times, and though she has directed several short films, Terry is not known as a stage director. To some, this may seem to be an unusual pick, but for others, it's more like a return to form. The founding Globe AD, Mark Rylance, was more accomplished as an actor than as a director. Indeed, in Shakespeare's time, this dynamic of "actor/manager" was the norm, since the distinct role of "director" didn't really exist yet.

So, is this a big win for the classicists? In an article at the Guardian, theater critic Mark Shenton was quoted as saying, “Terry is already an innovator as an actor… so I doubt she’ll roll over and play safe now that she’s been appointed to run the Globe.”

Who knows? In a few more years, we have a second woman kicked to the curb for not hewing to the classical line. Progress!

A Civic lesson

If you roll back the clock to April, the resignation of Rochester Civic Theatre's Executive Director Gregory Stavrou seems pretty benign. The ED, who had worked for RCT for almost a decade, chose to step down partially due to health concerns. He had recently had a heart attack, and, besides, he had achieved all of his goals at the theater. The board bragged about his leadership resulting in three consecutive financial years in the black and wished him well.

But that wasn't the whole truth. Certain critical details were left out. The company was actually running a $60,000 debt on the current season, and, according to an outside community group, Stavrou's tenure as a whole resulted in at least $250,000 in losses. The board and the ED were trying to pull every little trick they could, (like adding an intermission to a show that didn't have one scripted, in the hopes of driving up concession sales); but, immediately after Stavrou's departure, the final show of the season was canceled, and the board took the extreme step of abruptly firing the long-serving Artistic Director and eliminating his position entirely. When the dire truth of the company's finances was revealed, community members and volunteers called upon the board to fix many of the problems that they saw as caused by Stavrou.

Among the problems cited was a steep decline in the number of volunteers at the theater. Stavrou may have been responsible for bringing in over $1 million in grants to Rochester Civic during his time, but there appeared to be something about him that was driving away new, young volunteers.

Now, a few months later, we see what that "something" was. As you may have guessed, there's even more to the story. Minnesota Public Radio recently reported on multiple female employees and volunteers of RCT claiming that Stavrou sexually harassed them. These were not isolated incidents. Several of the women tell of Stavrou repeatedly making unwanted advances on them during their time there, and the incidents described occurred across his entire tenure. It goes back even further. According to MPR's reporting, Stavrou had left a previous arts administration job in the Twin Cities back in 2006, after four women there reported sexual harassment, and the organization launched a formal investigation.

There is a recent article at HowlRound by Abbey Fenbert, titled "If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, Say it Anyway". In it, Fenbert urges all theater makers to speak out about this very kind of thing, no matter how worried the victim may be about their career. Without people being willing to speak up, the larger world would never have learned about the awful practices at Chicago's Profiles Theater, much less the dangerously unprofessional behaviors occurring in our own back yard.

However, being heard requires both a speaker and a listener. Many of the women in the MPR story did, in fact, go to the theater's board with their complaints. They did speak up. The board did no investigations. It appears that every incident was chalked up to "he said, she said" and safely swept under the rug, even when Stavrou was plying underage volunteers with alcohol. If you're wondering why women are so underrepresented in the theater world, I think you have part of the answer right there.

Now there is a growing community in Rochester demanding a complete overhaul of RCT's board. After some stonewalling, the board has said that they are "working toward a conversation" with their community. I'll leave it up to you as to how much you believe them.

There is a curious phenomenon I have seen in the online comments around this story. If the conversation goes on long enough, inevitably, some guy (and it's always a guy) chimes in to say Stavrou technically didn't do anything illegal, since many of the incidents occurred offsite, outside of working hours. Since many of the victims were volunteers, these guys go on to argue, they're technically not covered under "workplace harassment" laws. Now, I'm no expert on the law, but I'm pretty sure serving alcohol to a minor and sliding your hand up her skirt is pretty illegal, regardless of her employment classification. However, even if I give these guys (and, remember, it's always guys) the benefit of the doubt and say that Stavrou didn't technically break the law, is that really our standard for behavior? Is that the deep, meaningful moral lesson you would teach a child about how to discern between right and wrong? "Don't worry, kid, as long as you don't technically break the law, you can do whatever you want!"

Jerry Casper is a former board member of Rochester Civic who resigned this past March over his frustrations with the board's executive committee and their reluctance to follow up on complaints from volunteers. The board president, Heather Holmes, has been quick to say that the board did nothing illegal in its handling of Stavrou's many accusers (please note, board of RCT, other organizations have tried this defense before, and it never seems to work out for the best). However, just a few hours before I sat down to write this column, the Rochester Post-Bulletin published a letter from Casper shaming the rest of the board for its behavior. He begins it with "There is a difference between legal and ethical" and ends it with "Legal doesn't mean right."

It's a distinction that I fear too many people are forgetting, and we do it at our own peril. We can't afford to think this way, both for the sake of the victims and for the sake of our industry. 

Something in America

Speaking of people who can't tell the difference between "legal" and "ethical": Tony Kushner is working on a play about Trump. Won't that be fun? I guess it makes sense, though. Trump's major role model in the field of sleazebaggery, Roy Cohn, is already a major character in Kushner's famous Angels in America. I can't wait to see who they cast in the movie adaptation.