Thursday January 04, 2018

'I was being groomed to think this was normal': Actors sue director Albert Schultz alleging sexual harassment

Trish Fagan and Kristin Booth worked at Soulpepper theatre at the beginning of their careers.

Trish Fagan and Kristin Booth worked at Soulpepper theatre at the beginning of their careers. (Evan Mitsui/CBC, Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

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Warning: Content may be disturbing to some listeners, and includes strong language.

He's been a leading figure in this country's arts scene, but Wednesday, four women filed four statements of claim against Albert Schultz, casting the actor and director in a very different light.

The suits allege that these four women were subjected to unwanted sexual touching and harassment by Schultz while working at Soulpepper, the Toronto theatre for which he was the founding artistic director.

They describe 30 separate incidents, spanning 13 years — including sexual comments and groping.

None of the claims has been proven in court.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Soulpepper's board of directors announced Schultz had agreed to step down while the board investigates the allegations.

On Thursday, four members of the Soulpepper theatre resigned in support of the women in the civil suits.

THEATER SOULPEPPER

Albert Schultz in 2006. Schultz has agreed to step down while the board investigates the allegations. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Albert Schultz has been a titan in Canada's theatre scene for more than three decades. Under his leadership, Soulpepper has grown into one of the most important theatre companies in the country. He has earned a long list of accolades, including a Gemini and the Order of Canada. He's also an executive producer of the CBC TV comedy, Kim's Convenience, which had a successful theatrical run at Soulpepper before being adapted for television.

In 2000, Kristin Booth and Trish Fagan were recent theatre-school graduates — excited after landing coveted spots in Soulpepper's Young Company, and eager to start their careers under the tutelage of Albert Schultz.

Both women are now suing Schultz and Soulpepper. The Current's host Anna Maria Tremonti spoke with them Wednesday afternoon.

Below are excerpts from their conversation:



AMT: It was while you were rehearsing that first play, Twelfth Night, that you both found yourselves in the parking lot outside of rehearsals one night with Albert Schultz. Kristin, what happened?

KB: We had started rehearsing and we were in the parking lot with Albert and he suggested that we participate in an acting exercise, and it was just the three of us, and that acting exercise was sort of outlaid to us as: if we could convince him that by saying that we wanted to f--k various members of the male side of the company, then we would be deemed convincing in our conviction, in our commitment to our craft, and to Soulpepper or the show. It seemed at the time very odd to me. I was uncomfortable with the connotation but at the same time Albert was my boss, Albert was my mentor. I'm not afraid to say that at that time I somewhat worshipped him. He made it very clear that he could either make or break my theatre career.

AMT: And he used the f-word to ask you which of the other company members?

KB: Yes, and it became clear to me quite quickly into this exercise that he was waiting for both Trish and I to say: I would f--k Albert Schultz.



AMT: You weren't the only women in the cast of Twelfth Night. Why do you think he chose the two of you for this?

TF: I mean, I feel like... the way Kristin and I were hired it seemed very, looking back on it now, it seems very calculated that we were brought in with no experience. And we were his two female lead actors. I was coming straight from school so I had absolutely no experience and Kristin had a couple of years of experience in television but hadn't done any Shakespeare. So both of us were coming in completely green, which made us...

KB: ...very vulnerable…

TF: ...very vulnerable, very impressionable. Putty in his hands, basically.

Soulpepper Albert Schultz

Albert Schultz at the opening celebration of Soulpepper's 20th season, in honour of Canada's 150th birthday, at The Pershing Square Signature Theatre in New York City on Canada Day, 2017. (Henry McGee/Soulpepper)



AMT: And you say he would hug you longer, would what would that be like?

KB: His hugs were... he would wrap you in his body, and when I say it felt different, there were moments where I would feel his groin pressed up against my body in a way that was not typical in a greeting, in a hug. There were times where he would come up behind and hug and press his groin into the back of my body. It was just... and it was common, it was almost on a daily basis.

AMT: Did you feel you could say anything?

KB: No, no.

AMT: How did that make you feel when you'd go back to work the next day?

KB: I would have to prepare myself. I would have to be like 'okay Kristin, suck it up,' because I was being groomed to think that this was all normal, that this was all what I had to do to work in the theatre, to be an ingénue in the theatre meant you were sexualized continually. And it was done in plain sight for the most part. So no one else said anything. Everyone just was like, yeah, this is the way it is. No one, no one questioned Albert.



AMT: Trish, what was your experience like in that production?

TF: It turned pretty dark, pretty fast, in that he started to become very... pretty abusive and bullying in rehearsals. A lot of mocking, ridiculing, humiliating. I remember most of that summer trying to work with a big lump in my throat, willing myself not to cry.

KB: And there were many times where Trish and I would cry on each other's shoulders.

AMT: You were talking to each other about this, but no one else?

TF: It's funny, because we've talked about this. We didn't really talk about it, like, calling it what it was, because to be honest I didn't know that there was anything wrong with it. At the time I thought: this is theatre, this is the professional world.



AMT: Kirstin, you were back at Soulpepper in 2005. You were cast as the lead in Olympia.

KB: Yes I was.

AMT: You were feeling uncomfortable with Twelfth Night, why did you come back?

KB: Many reasons. One was that it was Soulpepper. And if I wanted to be in the theatre,  which at that point I still did, it was the place to be. But there was also... it's a very hard thing to describe. Almost loving or caring very deeply about the person that is abusing you.

I would say that even today I have moments where I still almost... I can remember, and still understand worshipping Albert, because his treatment of me was such that when he would break me down, or humiliate me, it was coupled or then followed with this unbelievable love and praise and acceptance.

He was very good at breaking you down and building you back up to the point where you almost needed him. So when I was asked to come back in 2005, there was this element of: 'he wants me back. He he likes me. He loves me. He thinks I'm, I'm good enough.'

AMT: What was his behaviour like during that play?

KB: It escalated. He started inquiring about my sex life with my fiancé. Questioning whether or not I was satisfied, and implying that if I wasn't, I could always come to him... I'm laughing because it just sounds so insane and ridiculous.

AMT: You're crying too.

KB: Yeah, I'm crying.

There's still a lot of... I still have a lot of self… I don't want to say hatred because that's very strong. I don't hate myself. But I still have a lot of questions about my own culpability. Because I did go back. I went back for more. But I also felt like this was what it meant to be in the theatre. And I had spent my entire childhood since I was 12 years old pursuing an acting career. That's what I wanted to do. I had such a drive to be a professional actor, and to be in the theatre. And film and television but the theatre was special. It's what I studied in. It was... it held a special place in my heart.

So yeah. When Albert Schultz of Soulpepper theatre invited me back to play the title role in Olympia, yes I did it. I came back.

Albert Schultz

Albert Schultz has been a titan in Canada's theatre scene for more than three decades. (Sian Richards)



AMT: In that play, he directed another actor in an intimate scene with you. What happened?

KB: We were on stage, we were rehearsing and we were coming up on our opening night. And my co-star was the lovely Stuart Hughes. And Albert directed Stewart, as I lay down — he directed me to lay back on a chaise lounge — and once I was laying back basically enticing Stu, that Stu was to come to me and, starting up my ankles, rub his hands up my legs, up my thighs, up my hips, up my abdomen, up to my breasts. And once he reached my breasts and was at the sides of my breasts, he was to stop himself because he wasn't going, in the context of the play, he wasn't going to give in to his desire. And Stu did as he was directed.

Albert was not satisfied with Stu's interpretation of his direction.

So Albert jumped onstage and said that he would demonstrate to Stu how a man should touch a woman, to get the audience wet, and mocked...

AMT: That's what he said?

KB: Yes that is what he said. And mocked Stu for not being manly enough, or sexy enough. It was very obvious that he was emasculating Stu. And then he proceeded to rub his hands up my body, from my ankles to my breasts.

And it's like, there: That's how it's done.

AMT: How did you react to that?

KB: I did as I was told.

AMT: How did you react to that internally?

KB: I was angry. I felt it was a deliberate attempt to cop a feel. I was embarrassed and I was ashamed. I felt like here's this man, like, groping me in front of my co-star and I'm letting it happen. Again that was just what you did. That was the theatre, and you had to be open and you had to be available. And you couldn't be a prude.



THEATRE Soulpepper Off Broadway 20170627

Director Albert Schultz, centre, speaks to cast members during rehearsals for the production of Spoon River at the Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto's Young Centre for the Performing Arts, March 20, 2017. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The Current asked Albert Schultz for an interview, and have not heard back. In a statement, he writes:

Earlier today statements of claim were filed against me and Soulpepper Theatre Company, the theatre company of which I am the Founding Artistic Director. While the Board of Directors of Soulpepper conducts an investigation into these matters I will be on leave of absence, effective immediately.

These claims make serious allegations against me which I do not take lightly. Over the coming time period, I intend to vehemently defend myself.

In a statement, Soulpepper Theatre Company said:

"Soulpepper Theatre Company confirms that, today, it received statements of claim from four actors regarding a number of workplace issues including allegations against the organization's Artistic Director Albert Schultz.

The Board of Directors has commenced an immediate investigation. The board has further instructed Mr. Schultz to step down from all his Soulpepper responsibilities while this investigation takes place. Executive Director Leslie Lester has also agreed to take a voluntary leave of absence for the duration of the investigation.

The Board of Directors has asked Associate Artistic Director Alan Dilworth to assume the role of Acting Artistic Director. Sarah Farrell, General Counsel and Director of HR, will oversee all human resources matters and represent management during this process, reporting to the Executive Committee directly. Tania Senewiratne, General Manager, will oversee all production-related activity at Soulpepper and Lisa Hamel, Director of Finance, will oversee all other administrative activity at Soulpepper.

As a responsible organization, Soulpepper's priority is to create a workplace where all its employees feel safe. It therefore takes all allegations of harassment very seriously. It has policies and procedures in place that prohibit harassment anywhere in its workspace, and that provide a clear process to report harassment, in a safe, private and respectful way.

In fact, Soulpepper has recently commissioned and received a report from an independent workplace policy expert, which affirms the appropriateness of Soulpepper's standards and processes.

As this is now a matter of ongoing litigation, Soulpepper will have no further comment at this time."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this page.


This segment was produced by The Current's John Chipman.