A Vancouver actor, best known for playing one of the Seven Dwarfs on the TV series Once Upon A Time, has left the acting school he co-owned after allegations were made at a #MeToo town hall aimed at women in Vancouver's TV and film production industry. But the actor, Michael Coleman, says the allegations are unrelated to his decision to step down from his roles at Go Studios and SchoolCreative Institute of the Arts.
Mr. Coleman, who plays Happy on the B.C.-shot fairy tale-inspired series, said the "ongoing" dispute with shareholders that has gone on for several months has nothing to do with "recent unfounded allegations," which he says are all untrue. He has been bought out by his former partners and is no longer artistic director at the school.
Vancouver lawyer J.J. McIntyre confirmed to The Globe and Mail earlier this month that he was representing more than one client in relation to allegations against Mr. Coleman, but he would not say how many women he was representing or what their allegations are. No court action has been filed.
School president Scott Gamble said Mr. Coleman will no longer be involved in any aspect of the school's or studio's operations. The school, which has about 100 students according to Mr. Gamble, also offers courses in disciplines such as screenwriting, photography, animation and video game design and programming.
Last October, dozens of women attended a Union of BC Performers/ACTRA town hall meeting for Women in Film and Television in response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal. At that meeting, an allegation was made against Mr. Coleman.
The woman's allegation dated back to 2009, before the founding of SchoolCreative, Mr. Gamble said.
The woman who made the allegation declined to be interviewed by The Globe. And UBCP/ACTRA Women's Committee Chair Christine Willes, who organized the meeting, declined to comment for this story.
The school, an accredited postsecondary institution that is affiliated with GO Studios, launched an investigation and Mr. Coleman went on a mutually agreed upon leave of absence, Mr. Gamble said.
Mr. Coleman told The Globe the investigation was never completed.
"I was provided with some details about four complaints but I was never given an opportunity to respond to those allegations, all of which are untrue. Moreover, I was not provided with any information whatsoever about any other allegations purportedly made to the school. I am confident I have done nothing wrong," he said in a written statement to The Globe.
Kirsten Clarkson, Mr. Coleman's former business partner at SchoolCreative, a school she founded but left in 2011, told The Globe that "I was aware of his behaviour and reported it (along with another person, who is also no longer at the school). I am unwilling to say anything further because I am scared of what he might do."
She said the behaviour was reported to the Private Training Institutions Branch, which is responsible for providing career training institutions in B.C. with accreditation.
At one point this month, it appeared Mr. Coleman would be returning to his role, and the school was hit with an exodus of faculty members. Mr. Gamble said that to his knowledge, no students have left the school as a result of the controversy.
Things came to a head before the Family Day weekend. Last week, Mr. Gamble confirmed that Mr. Coleman had sold his ownership shares in the school and studio and would no longer be involved in any aspect of the school's or studio's operations.
"It's good to have it behind us, for sure," Mr. Gamble said.
The change in ownership was also a relief for organizers of a feminist literary festival, Growing Room, that begins March 1 and is being held at the venue, which the school is donating for the event. The festival, which was tipped off about the controversy by an anonymous e-mail, found itself in the uncomfortable position of either staying at a school owned by someone who was accused of sexual assault or scrambling to find a new venue over the next couple of weeks.
"The prospect of finding a replacement venue at the last minute was daunting and distressing," Growing Room organizer Meghan Bell told The Globe. "We're grateful for Scott Gamble's support and honesty ... and it's a relief to hear of this development."