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Soulpepper set to stage A Delicate Balance in wake of harassment scandal

Just over a week after four actresses filed separate lawsuits against the company and Albert Schultz, the theatre will start running its next production.

Production begins days after misconduct allegations against founding artistic director Albert Schultz

A 'behind-the-scenes' photo of Soulpepper Theatre's production of A Delicate Balance. (Daniel Malavasi/Soulpepper Theatre)

The show will go on at the Toronto-based Soulpepper Theatre Company.

On Saturday, just over a week after four actresses filed separate lawsuits against the company and its founding artistic director Albert Schultz, the theatre will start running its next production: American playwright Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning A Delicate Balance

"Soulpepper Theatre Company is determined to emerge a stronger organization that serves as a home for art and artists in Toronto," the company said Thursday evening in a statement signed by dozens of artists.

"This past week has deeply shaken our community. We are not naive to the challenges we face. We know there is much for us to reconcile. But we want you to know that hundreds of artists, administrators, staff, creators and supporters believe in this company."

Scandal poses conundrum for patrons, artists 

The Schultz scandal has posed a conundrum for patrons and artists alike, who must decide whether to support a production at Soulpepper as the company further investigates sexual harassment claims. 

The lawsuits filed by Diana Bentley, Kristin Booth, Patricia Fagan and Hannah Miller allege Schultz groped them, exposed himself, pressed against them, or otherwise behaved inappropriately.

None of their allegations have been tested in court and neither Schultz nor Soulpepper have filed a statement of defence. Schultz said he will "vigorously defend" himself against the allegations.

Plaintiffs, from left, Diana Bentley, Hannah Miller, Kristin Booth and Patricia Fagan attend a press conference after filing lawsuits alleging sexual harassment by Soulpepper Theatre Company director Albert Schultz. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Soulpepper has said it was unaware of any allegations of sexual misconduct against Schultz or anyone else, having conducted investigations into the issue as recently as this past fall.

Some patrons plan to boycott Soulpepper until it overhauls its board of directors, while others feel more comfortable attending a show now that Schultz has resigned and an upcoming production of Amadeus that he was slated to direct has been cancelled. Alan Dilworth is now acting artistic director.

Requests to speak to Soulpepper and A Delicate Balance cast members were declined, but in Thursday's statement, the company said its "continued existence as an organization depends upon those dedicated supporters now more than ever."

"We want those supporters to know that the artists, staff, and other members of the Soulpepper community are deeply committed. Our intention is foremost to listen, act, and make meaningful change."

Toronto actor Brendan Wall, who had a nine-year relationship with Soulpepper, said he knows some of the talent in the A Delicate Balance and is planning to see the show.

At the same time, he supports the women who filed the lawsuits and he wants their voices to be at the forefront.

"The theatre company has been the home to an enormous amount of talented and creative people, many of whom I call my friends," said Wall.

Albert Schultz has vowed to 'vehemently defend' himself against accusations of sexual misconduct. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

"In the last week and a half I've been thinking about the men and women who work every day in the office and have made that place their home. I 100 per cent believe the allegations made by Diana and Kristin and Hannah and Patricia, and I support them 100 per cent.

"I do think there's a lot of wonderful, creative people in that place and I hope they're OK right now."

Lisa Wakelam, a theatre enthusiast based in Hamilton, is a longtime Soulpepper subscriber and has tickets to see A Delicate Balance on Jan. 20.

It's a play she's been wanting to see for many years but when she first heard of the accusations at Soulpepper, she felt "unease, shock" about attending a production there. But Schultz's resignation changed her mind.

"Having digested everything, we have to support the organization and the artists and I'm glad that they're proceeding," Wakelam said.

"I want to support everyone as best we can. As a patron, we can only do so much and of course attending is the best way." 
Lawyers Alexi Wood, left, and Tatha Swann, second from left, and plaintiffs Hannah Miller, Patricia Fagan, Diana Bentley and Kristin Booth attend a press conference after filing lawsuits alleging sexual harassment by Soulpepper Theatre Company director Albert Schultz. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Soulpepper co-founder Ted Dykstra, who isn't working on A Delicate Balance, did not want to be interviewed but told The Canadian Press he's also glad the show is going ahead.

And in a recent Facebook post, Simon Fon, the show's fight director, said he supports the four women behind the lawsuits as well as Dilworth "and the work that lies ahead."

"To the artists that are now in production at Soulpepper, do not lose faith in your own creativity and humanity," Fon wrote.

"Support each other with the dignity, respect and compassion that I have always witnessed and admired when collaborating with you."

Tension expected in audience

A Delicate Balance is about an upper-middle-class family and the drama that ensues when the daughter returns home and friends move in.

"In all things — friendship, intimacy, civility — there is a balance that must be carefully maintained to avert disaster," reads the Soulpepper website's description of the play.

Diana Leblanc, a Soulpepper founding member, is directing.

"Diana Leblanc is a very, very, very intelligent woman and I think she's a passionate theatre artist and I think anything she has to say is worth listening to," Wall said.

"I'm sure it'll be directed and produced with great sensitivity. I know a lot of the people involved with it and I know they're going to work very hard to make it an insightful piece of theatre."

Wakelam said she expects there might be some tension in the audience.

"You're going to be looking around at what other reactions are, like to sort of people-watch and listen in as I'm sitting there," she said. 

Past Soulpepper productions of The Gigli Concert and Hosanna have moved her to tears and she hopes the company will weather the storm, she added.

"It's just a fantastic organization," Wakelam said. "I have preached about them for many years, they do a fantastic job. I like their approach to things, the staging. I think it will continue."