New Haven’s arts world had its Harvey Weinstein moment Monday — and a woman steeped in combatting the “second-class status” of women was called on to take charge.
The Weinstein moment: The New York Times published its latest exposé of a powerful cultural figure allegedly sexually harassing employees for years, in this case, Long Wharf Theatre Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein. The Times spoke to dozens of women, piecing together a tale of relentless sexual misconduct and harassment.
Taking charge in the wake of the allegations was theater board Chair, Laura Pappano. She immediately placed Edelstein on administrative leave. She said the Board of Trustees will take up the matter at a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night. She put theater Managing Director Joshua Borenstein in charge in Edelstein’s absence.
Pappano is accustomed to questioning gender imbalances and playing the role of reporter. A regular New York Times contributor and former Boston Globe reporter, she co-authored a book — called Playing with the Boys: Why Separate is not Equal — about how “society relegates [women] to second-class status” by keeping them from “playing with the boys” on the athletic field. A writer-in-residence at the Centers for Women at Wellesley College, she knows the turf. (She also founded The New Haven Student Journalism Project, which teams Yale mentors with public school students.)
But instead of making the call to ask the difficult questions, Pappano this time found herself answering them this weekend when she was first contacted for The New York Times exposé. She responded as though she were working on a story: She buried herself in the theater archives to separate fact from fiction.
“I went through everything,” Pappano told the Independent Monday afternoon. She said she found that the notes from the original complaint filed by the main figure in the Times story, former theater Education Director Kim Rubenstein, were not as “salacious” as those now reported in the Times.
“It doesn’t mean she is not in pain. It doesn’t mean that Gordon was right. It just means that it’s different,” Pappano said.
Pappano concluded that Long Wharf appropriately disciplined Edelstein at the time based on what it knew. She reached the same conclusion about a decision last October to reprimand Edelstein and warn him against further similar conduct after he reportedly quipped twice to employees that he had had “sex with all the nuns” at Albertus Magnus College after the school gave him an honorary degree.
Until the Times article, the theater had not known of the more detailed allegations about Edelstein’s alleged actions toward Rubinstein in 2007 and about other stories of alleged unwanted advances and groping reported in the Times article, according to Pappano.
Given the new information, she decided she needed to act. She informed Edelstein at 9 a.m. Monday that she was placing him on leave.
“You don’t just want to look good. You want to be good,” Pappano said. “We have really, really fantastic people working at Long Wharf. The theater isn’t one person. The theater is the sum of all of these fantastic and talented people. We have to turn the page and move forward. ... It’s very clear that the sort of behavior that is detailed, whether or not it was reported, is something that we just can’t have be part of our culture.”
Edelstein’s name has been synonymous with Long Wharf’s since he succeeded Doug Hughes as artistic director in 2002. A big personality with supreme stated confidence in his talent, he has attracted marquee playwrights and actors like Athol Fugard, Steve Martin, Kathleen Turner, and Sam Shepard to the Long Wharf stage. He oversaw a $3.8 million renovation of the theater in 2012.
Edelstein did not respond to an emailed request for comment for this story and did not offer comment to the Times.
Kim Rubenstein started working there as education director in 2003. Edelstein took her out to dinner, the Times story reported.
“Toward the end of the meal, after returning from the bathroom, he suddenly kissed her, with his tongue,” the Times reported. “‘I immediately stopped him, told him to sit down, and told him in no uncertain terms that any physical relationship between us was a very bad idea,’ said Ms. Rubinstein…. ‘He seemed to listen, but when we got into his car to drive me home, he leaned over and started kissing me again, groping my breasts.’
Edelstein’s behavior continued for years, according to the Times. Edelstein masturbated in front of her in her office, Rubenstein said. Or he would “push me up against the wall or corner of my office, squeeze my breasts, kiss me with tongue, and dry hump me until he came in his pants.”
“There were many ways I tried to make it stop, which included giving in to having sex with him, which I did but was disassociated, frozen inside myself, barely there,” Rubenstein is quoted as saying.
The Times interviewed 24 current and former Long Wharf employees and collaborators for its article. Among them, playwright and actor Halley Feiffer described being groped by Edelstein at an opening night party in 2008. Annie DiMartino, former education director at Long Wharf, said that Edelstein “grabbed my hand and placed it on his crotch under the table” at a holiday party. Laura Collins-Hughes, a former arts editor for the New Haven Register, described an unwanted kiss from Edelstein in 2003.
One former employee said that Edelstein harassed her and another employee about their sex lives and “talk[ed] about wanting to have threesomes and hook up.”
What Else Might Have Happened?
One person particularly distressed by the Times revelations was Joan Channick, who served as Long Wharf’s managing director from 2006 through 2008.
The theater’s board informed her of the original Rubinstein allegations, which occurred right before she took the job, Channick said. She said no one, including Edelstein and Rubinstein, told her the details. As the managing director, she told the Independent Monday, she made sure that Edelstein participated in mandated counseling sessions and that promised staff training occurred on appropriate behavior in the workplace. She also made sure to “check in periodically” with Rubinstein to see how she was doing.
“I thought the theater had handled it pretty well. Kim had done the right thing. She spoke up and reported her complaint, which is a brave thing to do. The board heard her and believed her and took action,” recalled Channick, who is now a theater management professor at Yale.
A year later, Rubinstein told her that she was leaving the theater, Channick recalled. Rubinstein told her she “felt she had no choice but to leave.”
“She felt she was losing something by leaving and it was unfair. That was the really the first I realized she was not satisfied with the resolution.”
Channick said she knew of no other instances of sexual misconduct during her two-plus-year tenure at the theater. Because no one else reported a problem. Now Channick wonders what she might have missed. “When you see a long-term pattern, I don’t know what else might have happened that I wasn’t aware of and other people weren’t aware of.”
The Broader Impact
Revelations of sexual misconduct in the theater world came as no surprise to playwright, performance artist and and Yale theater professor Deborah Margolin.
She said Monday that in the theater, “women face this all the time.”
“We have been grappling with the gaping distance between the number of gifted female playwrights and the number of female playwrights whose work is produced, in New York, and elsewhere. There is an enormous power imbalance in theater as in most work places, partially because of the dominance of male artistic directors and partially because the work of a good male playwright touches on things considered universal, whereas women’s work is considered personal. There is the invisibility of middle-aged women in the theater, as actors and as writers, and the emphasis on appearance. When the lights come up on a man onstage, we notice his age and body and general mien, and then we wait to see what he has to say. When the lights come up on a woman onstage, a sexual rubric is immediately placed upon her: is she hot? is she thin? is she young?”
New Haven State Rep. Pat Dillon, who has supported state aid to the Long Wharf and attended shows there for years, spoke of the need to “treat the women fairly.”
“I’m crushed for the women artists who may have lost career opportunities. You don’t get those back,” Dillon said. “I want to make sure we take advantage of this moment to make sure things get better, that there’s some reasonable recourse.” She spoke of the need for more female directors in the theater.
Meanwhile, as Edelstein’s fate hangs in the balance, Long Wharf will open its latest show, Office Hour, Wednesday night. It has a female writer (Julia Cho) and a female director (Lisa Peterson).
Brian Slattery contributed to this story.