My Statement in regards to the closing of Reckless Theatre
In 2017, a theater I owned that many people loved closed without explanation. The fallout is still something I’m processing every day. After five years of therapy, spiritual guidance, reflection - I’m still sorting out the knot of accountability, resentment, sadness and loss.
My dream had been to create a theater where people were empowered to do great work, and celebrate ensemble. The theater exceeded my expectations. The level of play, the students, the performers, the community grew beyond my dreams, beyond the brick and mortar, beyond the stage. It wasn’t just an institution, it was a community and it wasn’t just a community it became a family.
I was not prepared for this level of growth and the responsibility it demanded. Not by design but all at once, I was the educational and artistic director, web designer, registrar, art designer, super fan, janitor, parental figure, brother, and counselor. My professional life became my only life.
As a new theater, we sought the guidance of an Assistant Professor of Social Behavior at Cornell to address diversity, inclusion and distribution of power. We consulted with him to implement new modes of communication to empower our community.
Changes were made to increase awareness and accountability. I did reflection as a director, as a leader, as a partner, and as an individual. I took stock of my past and current relationships and saw where I could do and be better. In the theater’s two years, I dated three women within our community. These were relationships between consenting adults. One relationship began months before opening, another lasted a few weeks where we both expressed genuine interest in one another before mutually deciding not to date, and another lasted years after the theater closed. We instituted a protocol so that a person in a relationship had the choice to decide if their partner would have any say or not over their placement or advancement - but I didn’t go as far as to say that there could be no dating in the community. However, I was the owner of the theater, and today I would not make the decision to date anyone in the theater I have oversight over because of the negative impacts it can have on the community.
As a staff we decided to be forthcoming about these relationships with our company members. The naive hope was that by being open and addressing the relationships it would answer questions and concerns people had about them. These steps had the opposite effect, instead of easing concern it spurred judgement and whispers of favoritism which fueled speculation among the community about my professionalism and the stage-worthiness of the women I had dated.
I acknowledged this conflict at the company meeting, and shared our plan to reform by asking people to be aware and accountable of their relationships within the community. Unfortunately, however mutual, the perception of my past relationships created a powder keg, with the main focus on whether consent is possible if there is a power differential in the relationship. My ex-girlfriend and my then girlfriend stood up for me, affirming that they never felt a loss of agency but were shut down and silenced.
I left the meeting thinking I had said what needed to be said, but I was unprepared for what followed. In the next hours, I received a call that someone had secretly recorded the meeting and would send it to the NY Times if I did not step down by the end of the day. This blindsided me.
I wish I had the wherewithal to stop everything that moment to see things rationally, but improv message boards were erupting. Everyone wanted answers but I felt no one wanted them from me. Soon I was receiving death threats.
My first thought was that I could not allow the community to disappear over conjecture. I agreed to step back as Artistic Director if members of my staff would take over as joint directors. I reluctantly wrote a resignation letter that was edited then re-edited by others against my better judgement. I fought exaggerations that conflated language and warped the truth to meet criteria to have me banned from joining other theaters. Quickly these edits took my relationships that were mutually reciprocated, and made them inappropriate, then unprofessional then vaguely criminal. I tried to stand up for myself and argued these points but the threat of the NY Times strong-armed me. I feared that the conjecture would be even more sensationalized by the press, dooming the theater and leaving me bankrupt and anchored to a lease without any way of paying for it.
The resignation email went out to all students and rumors began churning. Then I was contacted by a journalist at the NY Times who wanted a comment for an article he was writing.
I shut down.
I sought legal counsel. My lawyer explained I was blackmailed with the threat that the recording would ruin me and that I was bullied into giving up my theater.
Almost overnight the theater was gone. The community was outraged and pained from this loss. They searched for answers to justify the theater closing and assumed I must have done something very wrong for this to happen. I wish I had been strong enough to deliver all the answers they were looking for. Instead I remained silent. The resignation was not in my words and the retraction had been my lawyer’s, but I never spoke for myself. By not speaking, things went undefined and where there were no hard facts sensational ideas ran rampant.
All the positivity the theater held weeks before shifted polarity. Under this lens - the investment and love I poured into the theater was flipped and framed as selfish and manipulative. My identity as a mentor was questioned and corrupted. It was painful. I was speechless and I regret it. A normal reaction would be to fight back to explain how out of context and out whack this was. Instead, I was in shock.
Insinuations built a giant wave of speculation. When people spoke to my defense they were questioned and attacked publicly until they were silenced, even being asked to delete what they posted.
Meeting with company members, everyone wanted a justification for why the theater was gone. They wanted to know why I didn’t fight for it harder. I was silent for a lot of reasons.
I was scared.
I was threatened.
I was being investigated.
I was financially handcuffed to the theater.
But mainly I was sad and depressed - I was sad because I’d always carried myself with decency and respect for others. I strive to be a friend to everyone. I preferred to show who I am with my actions and my compassion not my words. The fact that I had been so giving and dedicated to the community and to have these rumors outweigh what I had shown myself to be was incredibly hurtful. It made me question if I even cared to be part of the community, question the last 20 years of my life, question if anything was worth anything. I felt the very real failings of myself as a leader. I just surrendered to the tidal wave of gossip and allowed myself to shrug and be pulled under by its force. What was there to defend if the only thing that mattered to begin with was ensemble and community and that was no longer there?
Finally, the NY Times completed their investigation notifying me there was no story, but it was too late. I had already broken the lease, literally tore apart the theater I built with a crowbar and vacated the building. I lost close to a quarter of a million dollars. I was crushed. Even more sad that the theater was gone.
I loved what we had.
I loved the work.
I was angry for what was lost.
And I was angry for allowing it to be lost.
This is not about winning or having the last word. I have already lost in every way a person can lose. I have taken this failure and tried to learn from it, and I will continue everyday to learn from it and be a better friend, teacher, son, brother, and husband.
I choose to meet the world with joy not bitterness. I share my experiences with everyone and don’t shrink from it. I have more to my life than improv.
I am still inspired to create excellent ensemble work on and off stage all around the world. But that is not my everything anymore.
I am offering this information to give context to address the rumors that reappear from time to time. I hope this helps to understand why the theater closed and why I was silent for so long. I appreciate and value everyone who has examined the grey and taken the time to process their opinions for themselves. I encourage you to do your due diligence for yourself and your community. Please know that you can reach out with any questions you may have.