Arts & Culture

Harlequin Productions fires artistic director Linda Whitney

Brian S. Lewis and Ryan Holmberg in Harlequin Productions’ ”Dry Powder.” Linda Whitney designed the set for the play, but has not been able to see it used.
Brian S. Lewis and Ryan Holmberg in Harlequin Productions’ ”Dry Powder.” Linda Whitney designed the set for the play, but has not been able to see it used. Courtesy of Harlequin Productions

Harlequin Productions last week fired co-founder and artistic director Linda Whitney.

The nonprofit theater company, founded in 1991 by Whitney and her husband, Scot Whitney, has been in transition since Scot Whitney resigned in March amid accusations that he ignored sexual harassment allegations against visiting playwright Israel Horovitz.

Aaron Lamb, an actor and director who has served since spring as associate artistic director, is now acting artistic director.

Neither Linda Whitney nor anyone The Olympian contacted at the theater would elaborate on the reasons for her dismissal.

After the Seattle Times reported on allegations against Horovitz, who worked with Harlequin on productions of his plays between 2009 and 2014, both Whitneys issued a public apology. “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,” they wrote.

After her husband’s resignation, Linda Whitney continued as artistic director and directing “The Magical Mystery Midsummer Musical.” She was slated to direct a new installment of the popular “Stardust” series of retro holiday musicals, but that show will now be replaced by another holiday revue, “The 1940s Radio Hour,” which Harlequin produced in 1993.

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Linda Whitney says Harlequin Productions was wrong to fire her. Tor Clausen Courtesy of Linda Whitney

Whitney’s last work for Harlequin can be seen on the stage of the State Theater now. She designed the set for “Dry Powder,” a dark comedy about a financial firm in a public relations crisis in the week of massive layoffs.

“They fired me a few days before the show opened last week, and I am forbidden entry,” she told The Olympian. “Consequently, I will never actually see it in action.”

Whitney’s dismissal was among what an Oct. 3 Harlequin press release termed “sweeping changes” after an audit by Stellar Associates of Lacey, which reported its findings to the board of trustees at the end of June.

“We’re looking at a whole new Harlequin going forward,” Lamb, who splits his time between Olympia and Seattle, told The Olympian.

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Aaron Lamb is now acting artistic director of Harlequin Productions. Courtesy of Harlequin Productions

The theater is changing its structure, including adopting new human resources procedures and separating business management from artistic matters. Hap Clemons, who had been serving as interim executive director since April, will continue in a similar role with the title of acting managing director.

Such changes as the creation of a new procedure for handling grievances and the adoption of the Chicago Theatre Community’s #NotInOurHouse standards, developed to guard against bullying and harassment in theaters, seem at least in part a direct response to the Horovitz accusations.

The Harlequin board also has adopted a values statement and new mission and vision statements. All are available at https://harlequinproductions.org/mission/.

The values statement includes commitments to creating a safe workplace and protecting “the artistic legacy of our founders.”

That legacy is central to the theater’s artistic mission, Lamb said.

“I don’t see an artistic shift but I do see artistic growth going forward,” he said. “Our audience will still see the quality of work they’ve come to expect.”

Board secretary Nick Milner expressed his appreciation for Linda Whitney’s contributions to the theater. “We wish her the best,” he said.

Whitney said she wanted to thank those who’ve reached out to her and her husband during the past seven months.

“It has been a great comfort,” she said. “I am profoundly grateful.”

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