Arts & Culture

Linda Whitney says Harlequin was wrong to fire her, and one board member has resigned

Harlequin Productions co-founder Linda Whitney says the theater company’s board of directors was wrong to fire her — and longtime board member Cris Henry has quit in response to the way she was fired.
Harlequin Productions co-founder Linda Whitney says the theater company’s board of directors was wrong to fire her — and longtime board member Cris Henry has quit in response to the way she was fired. sbloom@theolympian.com

Harlequin Productions co-founder Linda Whitney says the theater company’s board of directors was wrong to fire her — and a longtime board member has quit in response to the way she was fired.

Whitney, who started the nonprofit theater company in 1991 with her husband, Scot Whitney, was fired Oct. 1, six months after Scot Whitney resigned amid accusations that he ignored sexual harassment allegations against visiting playwright Israel Horovitz.

Neither Linda Whitney nor board President Ben Cushman would speak specifically to the reasons for the termination. “I am seeing an attorney about this,” Whitney told The Olympian.

She described the termination letter she received as “the single worst and nastiest message anyone has sent me in my life — and I went to junior high and high school like everybody else.”

“It’s made of unfounded accusations and falsehoods,” she said.

Cris Henry, who had served on the board since the early 2000s, quit over the way Whitney was fired.

“It was distressing to me,” he told The Olympian. “The board didn’t conduct the termination in a way that was professional or sound or reasonable or even honest.

“Linda was very highly regarded by the people who have come to this theater to practice their craft.”

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

Cushman said Whitney’s dismissal came after a thorough investigation by the board and an audit by Stellar Associates of Lacey.

“The final decision about Linda Whitney was a result of that entire process,” he told The Olympian. “It is not limited to the Horovitz incident. It also involves other things that came out during both the management review and other board review of the internal operations of Harlequin.”

The board has restructured the theater company, separating business management functions from artistic direction and implementing new human resources and financial procedures. Aaron Lamb, who had since March served as associate artistic director, was named acting artistic director.

Henry wasn’t involved with many of the meetings that led up to the changes made over the past several months.

“I’ve been out of the loop,” he said. “Structurally, there might be a sound reason for (the dismissal), but I didn’t see that expressed.

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“Linda’s presence in the theater has been tremendous,” he added. “The Whitneys built a fantastic theater, and it was built on good practices, built on love and respect and decency.”

Whitney said she’s heard from others in the community who are outraged by her dismissal.

“Some have canceled subscriptions,” she said. “I have not encouraged people to leave the organization, but for some, it’s the best way of expressing their dismay.”

The theater has been offering 50 percent off tickets to some performances of “Dry Powder,” a dark comedy that closes Saturday. That, Lamb said, is a new marketing strategy, not a sign that sales have fallen off.

“We’ve never really offered ticket deals before, and we’re starting to offer them now,” he told The Olympian. “Our attendance numbers are actually up from this time a year ago.”

Cushman said he believes the theater will emerge from this turbulent time stronger than ever and will continue to offer the same artistic quality that’s been its hallmark.

Whitney, too, sees hope for the theater’s artistic future.

“Aaron is uniquely qualified to run the company as artistic director,” she said. “His dynamic vision and leadership will take it to a new level if he is given the kind of board fundraising support he will need.”

She and Scot Whitney had worked with Lamb for nine years and had planned to turn the reins over to him when they retired — a plan that recent events have accelerated sharply.

“The Whitneys have built something bigger than themselves, and it will go on,” Cushman said. “We’re going to be doing the same good work in the same place that we have been doing for years, and that legacy will continue to be the legacy of the Whitneys. We can’t take that away from them, and we don’t want to.”

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