Harlequin Productions co-founder Scot Whitney resigned Wednesday as the company’s managing artistic director after he was accused of ignoring sexual harassment allegations against New York playwright Israel Horovitz, whose plays had been produced many times by the Olympia theater company.
“I thought it might be the only way to save the theater,” Whitney told The Olympian Thursday.
He also resigned from the nonprofit theater company’s board, which has promised an independent investigation of the incidents, which were detailed last week in a Seattle Times article.
In a letter shared with The Olympian Thursday, Whitney apologized for his “terrible error in judgment.”
“I had two staff members try to tell me that Horovitz should be kicked out immediately and never allowed to return,” he wrote in the apology, drafted on Sunday. “They tried to tell me that my admiration for Horovitz was getting in the way of my better judgment. They were right and I was wrong.”
In the article, Seattle actress Kate Parker described an assault during Harlequin’s 2011 production of Horowitz’s “Unexpected Tenderness.” The article also quotes Jill Carter, then the company’s production manager, and Kate Arvin, then stage manager, in whom Parker confided at the time.
“He should have been told to pack up and go home,” Carter told the Times.
Many women who worked with Horovitz on the East Coast have come forward with similar stories, and the playwright resigned in November from the theater company he founded, Massachusetts’ Gloucester Stage Company.
In the wake of Whitney’s resignation, Arvin told the Olympian that she felt “overwhelmed.”
“I think overall it’s a good thing that changes are going to be made,” she said. “A lot of wonderful people that work there deserve to continue their jobs and continue making the beautiful art that they do.
“Our community is blessed to have a place like that and deserves it to match the standards we have of ourselves and each other.”
But on Thursday it was unclear what was next for Harlequin, a professional theater company that’s been operating since 1991.
“I don’t think I can make any comment until after a special executive committee meeting, set to be held tonight,” board president Ben Cushman told The Olympian. “I will probably be able to comment after that.”
In a Wednesday letter announcing the board’s acceptance of Whitney’s resignation, the board also canceled Eclectica, a season-announcement party and fundraiser scheduled for March 31.
“The board feels that this is no time for a party and absolutely no time for a fundraiser,” Cushman wrote in the letter.
Whitney was to direct the theater’s next production, “Three Days of Rain,” scheduled to open May 3. The first read-through was scheduled to be a public event April 8 at the Waterstreet Cafe.
There also was no information available Thursday on the status of Linda Whitney, the theater’s co-founder and Scot Whitney’s wife.
Linda Whitney was not mentioned in the Times article, but both Whitneys issued a public apology March 17, the day after the article appeared.
“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 in a letter.
Here is the full text of Scot Whitney’s apology, shared with The Olympian:
In 2011 I made a terrible error in judgement. We had been working with Israel Horovitz for three years, and he was in town to attend two days of rehearsals. There was an incident of sexual abuse in a hotel room between Mr. Horovitz and one of the actresses. We met with the actress and discussed it. She had handled an ugly situation extremely well, and it seemed to me to be an ugly, embarrassing-for-everyone incident. I had two staff members try to tell me that Horovitz should be kicked out immediately and never allowed to return. They tried to tell me that my admiration for Horovitz was getting in the way of my better judgement. They were right and I was wrong, but I wouldn’t figure that out for a long time.
I directed three more of Horovitz’s plays, and he returned to Olympia to attend a performance of two of them, in 2012 and 2013, without further incident.
Then four months ago, in November 2017, news broke in the New York Times revealing a pattern of sexual abuse by Horovitz that was truly shocking. That certainly altered my perspective, but didn’t wake me up to the extent of my mistake.
When I was interviewed by the Seattle Times, I was shocked and appalled to feel that I was being made out as a villain who had somehow colluded to enable sexual harassment in our company. When I read the article, I had many reactions: anger, disbelief, appalled by my own words. I also found myself with a lot of time to reflect on the whole incident and on my own nature.
But it was when I tried to contact the actress to talk to her and apologize, and she wouldn’t respond, that the bomb dropped. This is a person who I have always loved, respected and admired, and I had managed to break a trust between us that caused her tremendous and lasting pain. In that moment, I found myself reviewing again the accusation of being blinded by my admiration of Israel Horovitz with a simple question: Would I have invited anyone else back into the theater that had done that?
I’m not a person who dwells on regret, but I deeply regret my decision in 2011. And I deeply regret my words with the Seattle Times reporter. It resulted in making a bad situation even worse.
I have spent 27 years building a company based on the highest standards of integrity, transparency and commitment to the potential of live theater; to challenge assumptions, expand our perceptions of the world, to inspire empathy, and light candles in the darkness.
This incident in 2011, and my regrettable error in judgement, has cast a shadow on our work, and I am ready, as I have been since we opened the theater, to step down from the board, management or complete involvement, if our board or audience believe that that is what is called for.
I apologize to those closely involved and to the entirety of our Harlequin “family”. My error was not malicious. It was made in ignorance and arrogance.
Letter from the board
Here is the full text Thursday’s announcement from the Harlequin Productions’ board of directors:
March 21, 2018
To our cast members and company, patrons and community, We have heard you. As boardmembers, it is our responsibility to ensure an environment where our artists can be free from discrimination, harassment, bullying, or inappropriate behavior of any kind. And we have failed to maintain that environment.
On March 16, 2018, the Seattle Times released an article in which Harlequin Managing Artistic Director, Scot Whitney, was quoted in response to questions involving actors having come forward with allegations of sexual harassment by playwright Israel Horovitz during the time his plays were being produced by the theater. The board would like to go on record that the statements made by Director Whitney do not reflect the opinions of the board, nor the opinion of Harlequin Productions.
This afternoon, Scot Whitney contacted the executive committee, and offered his immediate resignation as board member and Managing Artistic Director. This evening, the board voted to accept his resignation.
In addition, the board moved to engage an independent team to conduct a thorough investigation of culture, incidents, policies and procedures regarding harassment at Harlequin Productions, and report to the board with findings and recommended actions to ensure Harlequin provides a safe and inclusive environment for all.
We realize that there is an unfortunate history of sexual harassment in the performing arts industry and abhor that this incident took place within our own theater community.
While no organization is perfect, we strive to uphold the highest standards when it comes to the physical and emotional safety of our actors and staff. This situation is unacceptable and we wish to be an example to the community at large in our efforts to right these wrongs.
In ten days, we are scheduled to host our season launch party, Eclectica. No. The board feels that this is no time for a party, and absolutely no time for a fundraiser. Our season announcement used to come in May – to that end, we are postponing the Eclectica event and season launch, with a new date to be determined.
The executive committee of the board will be meeting again this week to discuss these actions more fully and in depth. Every board member, however, wanted to provide this message immediately — our number one goal is to ensure that Harlequin Productions is able to flourish long into the future.
Ben Cushman, Chair
On behalf of the Board of Directors