[image-1]A Gate Theatre member has accused Gate Theatre artistic director Michael Colgan of sexual harrasment during the Irish company’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest during Spoleto Festival USA’s 2016 season.
In “Through the Gate: Ciara Elizabeth Smyth & Ruth Gordon experiences with Michael Colgan,” Ciara Elizabeth Smyth details the “plethora of inappropriateness and bullying” she experienced from Colgan while working as the casting and production assistant as well as company manager for Gate Theatre’s South Carolina tour of The Importance of Being Earnest.
Smyth’s story came out just days after The Times of London published a piece, “Former Gate theatre boss in ‘sex pest’ storm,” about Colgan on Oct. 29, 2017. The article details accusations from three women about inappropriate sexual comments made to them by Colgan over the years. It references, specifically, a Gate Theatre director, Grace Dyas, who claims that, among other harassments, Colgan once told her, “I’d almost have sex with you,” after she’d lost weight. According to The Times, Colgan denied to Dyas that he’d made the comment. Dyas’ accusations were met with many women saying that they too had been harassed by Colgan. Dyas compiled a number of these responses in a Tumblr account including Smyth’s.
In May 2016 The Gate’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest traveled to Charleston as part of Spoleto Festival USA, with both Smyth and Colgan as part of the traveling crew. In her account Smyth writes, “The first time I realised how badly affected I had been by my experience at the Gate was after I came back from our tour to South Carolina.”
In her account Smyth accuses Colgan of “constant touching of my thighs, back, and very occasionally my bum while I sat beside him typing from his dictation.” She recounts a particular incident that occurred upon the company’s return to Ireland that left her “so hurt and embarrassed” that she tried to file a complaint against Colgan with theater manager, David Quinlan.
On the day of the incident, I had organised auditions in the auditorium. Michael was in attendance, as were two prominent Irish actors acting as readers and the director of the play we were auditioning for. They were all men in their 40’s and 50’s. I brought the actor about to audition in and she took the stage. Everyone was still standing around talking and as I went to leave, Michael pulled me back, hard, by the jacket. He noticed it was new and asked me where I got it. He mentioned the colours, announcing to the room that I only ever wore black and that this new blue and white jacket was quite out of character for me. He asked me was it a Waterford jacket. I said I hadn’t a clue. He then drew his hand up high in the air, as if he was going to slap me. I put my hand out to stop him and said quietly, “Michael, don’t.” At this stage I imagined everyone was looking at us, but I didn’t take my eyes off him to check. Michael then said “Would you ever fuck off; I wasn’t going to hit you”. I smiled and turned on my heel to leave. The second I turned he walloped me on the ass. It caught me off guard and force of the slap caused me to stumble forward. I turned to look at him and the only word I could manage to say was his name.
When Smyth described the incident to Quinlan the next day he told her that she needed to make her “boundaries clear” with Colgan. He also suggested that she write a letter of complaint to the Gate Board, which Colgan was on. Smyth no longer works for the Gate Theatre. Smyth did not respond to requests for an interview.
On Thurs., Nov. 2 The Gate issued a statement in response to the claims of sexual harassment and abuse of power directly related to The Gate Theatre. The statement reads:
The Gate Theatre joined with other theatrical institutions last week to condemn the issue of sexual harassment and abuse of power in the theatre world in Ireland and internationally.
The Gate board and management made it clear in our statement that we will listen to what people have to say and our aim is to foster a safe and supportive working environment in our theatre.
If you have been contracted by The Gate Theatre or in our employment and wish to talk to us about any concerns please contact us on email@example.com.
Any experience shared will be treated in the utmost confidence and we intend to appoint an independent professional HR advisor to handle any issues raised.
Colgan served as artistic director of the Gate for 33 years before stepping down earlier this year. The Gate has brought its productions to Spoleto Festival USA eight times in the past 41 years (according to the organization’s program history). In 2016 a City Paper article about the Gate’s The Importance of Being Earnest production cited a 2010 quote from Nigel Redden: “Almost inevitably — many years, anyway — the Gate has been, in a sense, a reward for the audience for their stalwartness for going to other things. It’s a treat.”
When asked for a statement in response to these accusations against Colgan, Spoleto Festival USA said, “Spoleto Festival USA condemns all forms of sexual harassment and assault among and against employees, artists, and contractors.”