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Arts & Entertainment

Dallas Theater Center Fires Lee Trull For Sexual Misconduct Without Naming the Problem

Institutions: we will not accept 'inappropriate behavior' in place of specifics in these announcements.
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Another leader in the arts community has been fired without sufficient explanation from his employer. The Dallas Theater Center let its director of new play development, Lee Trull, go Monday, citing a complaint—not complaints, a complaint—of “inappropriate behavior.” Later in the statement, the word “harassment” is used. Never the word “sexual.”

Theater Jones just released detailed allegations by Trull’s colleagues and other young women he apparently abused his power to access. The stories are awful. “Inappropriate behavior” is nothing compared to what these women describe: forced sexual contact, repeated abuse of power and manipulation of young women placed in his charge, the sending of sexually explicit images, overt propositioning. This man worked with minors at Booker T Washington, with undergrads at SMU. He used his influence and standing to corner the likes of standout playwright Claire Carson, who speaks out bravely on record in the TJ piece.

At least one of the women did not report forced sexual contact to DTC. With the institutional attitudes revealed in the statement, I wonder why.

That story, released a day after Trull’s firing, follows the Dallas Museum of Art’s use of “inappropriate behavior” in describing the allegations that brought about curator Gavin Delahunty’s firing. More on that—and a curiously congruent anonymous story released by ArtNews days before his termination—here.

Let’s talk about words. They’re all we get from institutions in situations like these, when there’s no police report and the subject matter is apparently sensitive. Who is being protected, though—the person who acted, or the person who was acted upon—is to be debated.

The most recent national incident involving a public figure’s termination without a police report was disgraced figurehead Matt Lauer’s firing from NBC. The network used the phrase “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace” in prefacing what Variety and other publications were able to detail in stories being reported as NBC made that decision. Yes, it’s up to the victims as to whether they tell their stories. No, it’s not OK to omit the word “sexual” from the soundbite in representing an organization that benefited greatly from the women they are gaslighting, as these bosses instead protect the abusers, even as they fire them.

Leaders. Gatekeepers. Please use your words. Open the door for these conversations. Don’t leave it to the victims to explain, to decide between their own safety and the health of the organization. That’s your job.

Editor’s note: this post was altered after it was published. Here’s an explanation.

UPDATE, Friday at 1:20 p.m.:

Please note this official, board-approved statement from Cara Mía Theater Company, whose executive artistic director David Lozano worked closely with Lee Trull. They co-wrote a play called Deferred Action which saw its world premiere at DTC last year before visiting the Latino Cultural Center, SMU, and UNT. The Cara Mía production traveled also to Houston and Los Angeles.

A Message From Cara Mía Theatre Co.’s Executive Artistic Director regarding the recent firing and sexual misconduct of Lee Trull:

I’ve been in shock for the past two days, devastated by what Lee did to these young women. Reading assault after assault broke me apart until I was sick. I have stayed sick and I’m not sure my words are sufficient to express how I feel.

I’ve been puzzled. I’ve tried to understand how I could have worked so closely with Lee over the course of three years without hearing a single instance of his behavior. How? Probably because I was Lee’s writing partner. I was his friend. I was a man in a position of authority. On that show, l was a man in a high position at a large institution where Lee was senior staff. Someone who wanted to speak up may have thought twice about telling me for all of these reasons.

The Silence Breakers have dealt a blow to this paradigm of fear in Dallas. Women who were once intimidated by Lee’s power to determine whether they worked in this town or not, broke their silence and justice came down on him. These brave women have educated people like me on the code of the whisper network, why it exists, and why it’s existence exposed everything wrong with the current power structure. We learned this week that our standards, current codes of conduct and vocabulary must change because we need to understand now that whispers are not rumors but red flags, unwelcome flirting should be quickly addressed, and men in power must genuinely bridge the gap between their positions of authority and the most vulnerable in our theatres. This is the new paradigm.

Cara Mía Theatre is committing itself to being proactive in helping establish this new code of conduct. We will continue to maintain a space where people can work free from harm and abuse. We will communicate with everyone who works in our theatre so that they feel confident to share their concerns or their stories with anyone on our staff, safe from retribution. We will listen to the whispers and confront red flags when they appear and not dismiss them as rumors. Staff leadership is going to listen carefully and act.

Cara Mía Theatre has always worked very hard to create a safe space in rehearsal for actors and crew to personally share as a family each day. We’ve also started doing this during staff meetings. Now, its clear that we must increase our efforts even further. The paradigm and vocabulary are changing because of the bravery of the Silence Breakers. Cara Mía Theatre is going to follow their lead.

~David Lozano, Executive Artistic Director – Cara Mía Theatre Co.