The married couple ousted from the leadership of Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company in the wake of a sexual-harassment scandal earlier this year has re-emerged behind the scenes at a growing theatre company in nearby Port Hope, Ont. – one that is about to announce the resignation of its current artistic director and general manager amid restructuring.
The Cameco Capitol Arts Centre, better known to locals as the Capitol Theatre, hired Soulpepper’s former executive director Leslie Lester this summer to do a third-party assessment of its five-year strategic plan, the not-for-profit theatre company’s president and board chair Olga Cwiek told The Globe and Mail.
And Albert Schultz, Lester’s husband and artistic director of Soulpepper until he was asked to resign by its board in January, has also been providing informal counsel to Cwiek on running the theatre company, she said. Cwiek noted that that Schultz, a Port Hope-born actor and director who recently relocated back to his home in the area, has done so on and off for many years.
Cwiek said she hopes Lester will apply for a new full-time position as managing director of the Cameco Capitol Arts Centre, a position that was created following her consultations. “We had come to the conclusion that we had to make some changes [to the organizational structure] – and Leslie, when she reported back, supported that,” Cwiek said.
“From my perspective, Leslie is pretty extraordinarily talented ... If she applied for the position, that would be pretty wonderful.”
Lester’s potential return to a position of power in the Canadian theatre scene comes less than a year after Soulpepper’s board announced it had severed its relationship with her following the launch of four civil lawsuits against the theatre and Schultz by four actresses.
The former Soulpepper ensemble members alleged in their statements of claim that Schultz had sexually harassed and assaulted them, on stage and off, in incidents that spanned two decades – and that because Soulpepper’s workplace violence and harassment policy required cast members to report issues to the executive director, a position held for many years by Lester, they could not expect to do so “without the perception of bias and fear of reprisal.”
In a statement after Soulpepper severed its relationship with her, Lester said: “No allegations of any nature whatsoever were ever brought to my attention against Albert Schultz at any time throughout my employment. If they had been, they would have been immediately investigated.”
Cwiek said she does not know anything more about the departure of Lester from her previous place of work – which have never been fully explained by either Soulpepper’s board of directors or Lester – and said only that she consider that “a business decision between Soulpepper and Leslie."
Cwiek, a retired broadcasting executive, said Port Hope is lucky to have Schultz – whose lawyer said in August that the lawsuits against him had been “resolved in a way that is satisfactory to him” – back in the area.
“I want to say that Albert is Port Hope’s favourite son,” said Cwiek, who considers herself a friend of both Lester and Schultz. “We’re lucky that he is available to us now for advice.”
The leadership restructuring at the Cameco Capitol Arts Centre – a designated National Historic Site that produces and plays host to a mix of professional and amateur productions from musicals to pantomimes in its main 380-seat venue – will lead to the departure of its current head, Antonio Sarmiento.
On Monday, the theatre will announce that Sarmiento has resigned as artistic director and general manager after five years of “transformative creative leadership” that doubled the theatre’s annual income to around to $2-million from $1-million and expanded its market base from Toronto to Ottawa.
This fall, the board decided to split Sarmiento’s job into two because of that growth. Sarmiento said he has decided not to apply for the new role of artistic director at the arts organization, which he says has tripled its audiences during his tenure.
“The Capitol theatre is looking to change artistic direction in 2019 – and it’s not in line with what I want to do, so I’m going to be moving on,” Sarmiento said in an interview. “It’s unfortunate they’re choosing to change artistic direction, but that’s the board of directors’ decision.”
Sarmiento declined further comment saying, “I’ll be exiting gracefully.”
Earlier this month, the Cameco Capitol Arts Centre posted an ad looking for its new managing director – and it will shortly post another for artistic director, Cwiek said.
Cwiek said she was unsure if Lester would, indeed, apply for the former, she said she was certain that Schultz will not apply for the latter – and that there were no plans for him to take on any other official role at the theatre.
“I’d like to be able to tap into [Schultz’s] background if necessary, as I have in the past,” Cwiek said. “If that’s a role, then that’s a role, but not a position, not as a salaried employee, not as a full-time employee.”
Neither Lester nor Schultz responded to requests for comment.