Harlequin tries to redefine itself a year after #MeToo moment

This time last year, Harlequin Productions was preparing to announce its upcoming season lineup when a Seattle Times article — about a well-known playwright, an unwanted come-on and a lack of response by the theater’s leaders — changed everything.

The season announcement was canceled. Within a week, one of Harlequin’s founders, Scot Whitney, resigned. Six months later, another founder, Linda Whitney, was fired.

One year after Harlequin’s #MeToo moment, Olympia’s only professional theater company is still trying to separate itself from its founders. Later this month it will announce its 2020 season — dubbed “Transformation,” its first named season — that could set the tone for its next chapter.

“A lot of the community still identifies this theater company as Scot and Linda Whitney, when in reality it’s a whole staff, it’s a thousand subscribers, many more single-ticket buyers and 120 contracted artists annually,” said Aaron Lamb, who was made artistic director last year, shortly after the story came out.

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In recent months, the theater has started offering new discounts and more student matinees in the hopes of reaching a wider audience. Last month it brought back its theater education program with classes for children, teens and adults, and it is revamping its membership program with new incentives for donors.

It also reorganized its administration following an external review, separating business and artistic duties, and adopted formal policies on harassment and bullying.

More changes will be announced at the season launch event March 30.

Scot Whitney declined to comment for this story, but Linda Whitney maintains they were “scapegoated.” The couple considered a wrongful termination lawsuit but decided not to pursue it; she says she has had no contact with the theater’s board or staff since she left.

Still, she says, they want Harlequin to live on without them.

“I hope they can make it work,” she said. “But it’s a hard question: How?”

‘There’s still some divide…’

The Seattle Times story centered on a 2011 incident involving playwright Israel Horovitz, who faced similar allegations as early as 1993….

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