A file photo of Lee Trull from 2013. D Magazine archives

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.

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.

Comments

  • B

    Ms. Knecht, I’m told privately by a former employee of D Magazine that you should dutifully point that self-righteousness toward your own institution and condemn its history of abuse. If you haven’t been victimized, she certainly has. Thank you for this post.

  • Angie

    Ms. Knecht. Firstly, let me make it clear that Lee Trull’s actions are horrendous and inexcusable. The brave women who came forward risked everything and that does not go unnoticed. With that said, I think it is incredibly inappropriate to call out the women you did – Jill and Kayleigh. Their job is press ‘send’ on these types of announcements. You can bet that someone higher up wrote those statements and had them vetted by board and legal teams. Have you also considered that in light of this and how recent the decision was made, perhaps Dallas Theater Center couldn’t say “sexual misconduct” because it is probably still under legal investigation? I’m just saying that this just happened last night and even though this has obviously been going on a long time, you don’t know how long the leadership at Dallas Theater Center knew. I am sure there will be more to come, but you want to jump the gun and put people under fire, not even the right people. So these women should risk their jobs at an institution that has obviously had issues with power dynamics and sexual misconduct by making additions to a pre-vetted statement to appease you? To bring instantaneous satisfaction to everyone? I am in agreement that institutions need to be explicit, but it is not always that simple and it isn’t always immediate. We should DEFINITELY hold their feet to the fire and I was on board with you on this article until you showed your lack of knowledge. You, obviously not knowing the internal structure of these institutions, are putting the wrong people in the way of your bullets.

    • Lyndsay Knecht

      Angie,

      First of all, I am, in fact, aware of the internal structure of the organizations. I am of the mind at this point that revering that structure, or obeying the unwritten rules that follow such structures, is no longer useful in dealing with these situations. I suspect the structures themselves – heavy at the top, and unbalanced in perspectives and representation – have afforded a great deal of protection to those committing acts of sexual violence or abuse of power.

      I did not want the PR people for Dallas Theater Center or the Dallas Museum of Art — or their boards, or executive leadership — to “appease me,” nor was I in any way implying instantaneous satisfaction would be the result of adjusting the statements. Right now, the statements are what we have. Those original statements travel far, not only in getting word out about what happened or making record of it, but in preventing a conversation from occurring.

      This post was about language, which is why I named Jill Bernstein and Kaleigh Betts. Yes, they are charged with pressing send. Yes, they are answering to many above them in doing so. Their names and their voices, though, are attached to these statements and quotes, and it’s very important to cut through the pantomimes of formality here and point that out. Who is being used? How do these structures themselves take advantage of people? It’s a valid question to ask — will people have to lose their jobs, to leave over these issues, for patterns to change? I think about this all the time in my own work.

      There are many more issues to address beyond language, but it’s what comes first. There is nothing unlawful about using the term “sexual” in describing the allegations. That was the word that should not have been scrubbed, and I hoped to make that clear.

      I must contend also that what I’m putting out here aren’t “bullets.” My concern in this particular case is that there were so many minors in the charge of Trull and DTC. If we defer to the vague cloud of the board and execs we get nowhere. Framing the problem around the allegations – and the taking-to-task of the DTC – is not the way to go.

      • Angie

        Yeah…okay. So you are not interested in obeying the written rules of the internal structures of organizations and I agree. It is heavy at the top and and those powers have protected people for far too long. It needs to change and we need to call them out. But that doesn’t change the fact that these invisible rules still exists and that women have to deal with this structure every day. So what would you have them do? (knowing this about institutions) Read the statement and go back to the board and say “I want to write it differently or you can fire me?” You admit that the people who make those decisions are not necessarily the employees with the title on the staff page, and knowing that, you still yet you still blame the employee. Go after the top them. Name those names. Your self-righteousness and condescending comments about “what if it were them” and how women should act in this oppressive society that permeates institutions don’t help. They don’t. And how dare you? And rumors have been circulating about D Magazine too as the previous comment implies. So why don’t you put your job on the line?

        • Lyndsay Knecht

          It was not my intention to come across as self-righteous with this post. I was unaware of rumors of abuse at D and emailed the commenter below for clarification. We should all be vetting ourselves personally, too, and I’m spending time trying to locate moments when I should have acted to prevent or stop those patterns and did not. In bringing to light the language used in the statements and the names attached to those statements I was only hoping to prop this door open before it shut again in our faces. There are many facets of this conversation to be had.

          • Angie

            OR – Maybe you should just apologize for using the trauma and abuse that women have endured as a tool to shame more women for actions that we have previously established, was not all on them.

  • Angie

    As previously said, you can bet that the statement sent by DTC was vetted and dictated by board and executives. I understand that sometimes women can be part of the problem, but the journalist was calling out the wrong people and in the wrong way. Also, suggesting that even if they are victims in their own lives, they are somehow heartless and irresponsible. That is uncalled for and tacky. They are not high enough on the ladder to make a change and we all know it. Yet they are the easy targets I suppose. They are obviously working in institutions with systemic oppressive problems and they are supposed to risk their jobs over one word? So they can be fired and replaced by someone else who will keep status quo? Really Mary? That is going to fix the problem? Why not call out the names that you KNOW are responsible for this language and for the culture? It took me two seconds to look it up online so I’ll do it since no one will.

    Alfred Butler, Jeffrey Woodward, Kevin Moriarty, and the board of directors- YOU NEED TO DO BETTER! YOU NEED TO HAVE EXPLICIT LANGUAGE AND YOU NEED TO SUPPORT TRANSPARENCY IN YOUR INSTITUTION.

    As far as #metoo statement. Do you know for sure both of these women said #metoo? And even if they did and still work in their institution, it is not that black and white. You don’t know their lives. Maybe they are trying to enforce change in their own ways and in the ways they can find power in that institution. It is not like just one day and one hashtag changes everything. It is long overdue and we need change now, but I am not naive enough to think it will happen over night. There are THOUSANDS of women who can say #metoo, but sill have to put food on the table. Our entire society is patriarchal. You think if they quit their job, they are going to easily find another job that is not touched by this system, that will not put them in the same difficult position? Seriously? You need to refrain from judging others when you don’t know their circumstances. By your standards, the vast majority of women should quit their jobs in protest if they can say #metoo and then go back to work. How realistic is that? Don’t you get that the first big change is the bravery and the ability to even say #metoo? What all the single mothers out there who say #metoo, but need to hold onto their job to pay rent? What about them? Should they quit in protest? Anyone who lives close or below the poverty line? Paycheck to paycheck? Anyone in debt or with dependents? I am not sure what you are expecting. You are oversimplifying a very complex issue that women have been dealing with since forever and especially since we have been able to really enter the workforce.

    You have no idea if these women are trying to move the needle behind close doors to the best of their ability. How do you know that they aren’t trying to institute small changes that the actually have control over? You have no right to judge them just for the position they happen to hold when you KNOW they are beholden to multiple supervisors, managers, executives, and board members in an institution that (as proven by recent news) obviously has issues.

    So, I will say one last time and I am done— I didn’t have an issue with the article with the exception of the inflammatory way the journalist called out the two women by using other women’s trauma and possibly the publicist’s own abuse to make them feel ashamed about something they clearly don’t have full control over. Or maybe that was the whole point -‘lets make more women feel ashamed’. I am not sure what good that does. I would appreciate people not using abuse and trauma as a tool to shame more women. It certainly doesn’t help the problem, but I am sure that is what the patriarchy wants, us women to blame ourselves for their abuse.

  • Angie

    As previously stated, these women are not completely in charge of this statement. Yes, sometimes women are part of the problem, but we know that the culture needs to change and that comes from places of power. We know these women are not at the top of this organization and they are beholden to managers, executives, and the board. These statements were pre-vetted by board and executives, yet we shame the publicists? So once again- What would you have them do? Loose their job over one word so they can be replaced by someone who will keep the status quo? What good does that do? And how do you know that these women aren’t trying to move the needle in their own way behind closed doors?

    It isn’t as black and white as you are making it. You would be hard-pressed to find a woman who couldn’t also say #metoo. But one hashtag and one creep being taken down does not change everything at once. This is a slow journey that women have been making forever. Yes, things need to change and now, but I am not naive enough to believe it will happen over night.

    So these women should make a stand (which you don’t know whether they already did or not in their institutions), loose their jobs, and magically find another job right away that isn’t a part of our oppressive patriarchal system so they can be the perfect feminists 24/7? I don’t know what world you live in or how easy you think it is to switch jobs and find another one. According to your statements, all us women need to risk our jobs and if we don’t do that, we aren’t doing enough. We live in a patriarchal society that oppresses us in all ways: education, healthcare, government, AND our jobs. Don’t you get that just the ability to say #metoo is a huge step in-and-of itself? You’re saying that women who say #metoo and go back to work are hypocrites. Your privilege is showing. How do you know that they aren’t trying to effect change in the ways in which they have power in their organizations? What about all the women who live close or below the poverty line who can say #metoo, but still have to put food on the table? Should they put their jobs on the line? What about all the women who are single mothers, or who have debt, or elderly parents to care for? According to you it is one or the other. You are either part of the problem by just working OR you take a stand and risk everything. I thought that is what we were fighting against; not having to make those tough decisions. There are other ways and women do it everyday. Women DO make change, but in every job I have, I realize that I have to pick my battles and that is just the reality of it. I can’t always fight, I will be fired and seen as a nuisance. This happens everyday and you are asking these women to basically do that. You have no right to tell them how to fight.

    I am in support of this article except that I DON’T appreciate the journalist using woman’s trauma and possibly the abuse of the publicist’s mentioned to shame them for things they cannot control. Why not call out the real names that need to be called out? The people who DO effect change and dictate culture in the organization? If you won’t, I will:

    Alfred Butler, Jeffrey Woodward, Kevin Moriarty and the board of directors. YOU NEED TO DO BETTER! YOU NEED TO HAVE TRANSPARENT LANGUAGE THAT SHOWS YOU SUPPORT AND CARE ABOUT THIS!

    This is the last I will say about it – It is UNPROFESSIONAL and INEXCUSABLE to use the abuse women have endured to shame more women. Period. I am sure that is what the patriarchy wants though – us fighting and blaming ourselves why they get to continue with the abuse, control, harassment, etc.

  • Angie

    So why does my comment keep getting deleted? Because I call out the actual people who need to be called out? Looks like D Magazine is protecting their interests.

  • Angie

    So it is obvious to me that after posting my reply and re-posting it, D Magazine is part of the problem. Who are you protecting D Magazine? Your rich white friends? It seems you care more about them the women. You are willing to pick on women who are just doing their job, but when I call out those in charge, you delete it?

    So, for the third time.

    Alfred Butler, Jeffrey Woodward, Kevin Moriarty and the board of Dallas Theater Center – YOU NEED TO DO BETTER.

    And I have one to add to the list—

    D MAGAZINE – YOU NEED TO DO BETTER! Don’t post articles like these as if you care when YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM! YOU WILL NOT SILENCE US!

    • S. Holland Murphy

      Hi Angie — associate editor at D Mag. Our online editor sent me the list of most recently deleted comments and yours does not appear here. See screenshot below. No one is trying to silence you. We only delete profane comments and spam.

      While I don’t think Lyndsay was wrong to challenge the PR folks, I wholeheartedly agree that the higher ups need to shoulder the blame, Kevin Moriarty in particular. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d7cc0103c3a1e13d4f214f45b2e193c662df54d58c28ede1453b3d514c715eab.png

      • Angie

        Then where did they go? They were posted and multiple people told me they saw it. I posted twice and both times they were deleted. They were on there for hours as well before they were deleted. Even after page refreshing. People confirmed they saw both… now they are gone. I surely didn’t delete them. It all seems VERY suspect to me.

        • S. Holland Murphy

          I asked our digital director if there’s any other reason it might have disappeared. In the meantime, if it won’t stick again, feel free to email it to me and I can post for you: [email protected].

        • Ariana Cook

          I have been following this thread for the past couple of days and I can confirm that the comment in question was posted yesterday and I read it. I also shared the link with a couple of friends and they also read the comment. I don’t know where it went or how, but it was there.

          • S. Holland Murphy

            Good news, all. We found the post in the our system’s spam folder. Our digital director suspects that because it is a long comment with all-caps sprinkled throughout, the Disqus robot tagged it as spam (thus why it wasn’t in our “deleted” folder). He is restoring the comment.

            Fire away. We aren’t afraid of anyone’s opinions or naming names. Heck, read any of the political posts, and the comments are far more inflammatory.

          • Lyndsay Knecht

            Thank you, Ariana, for both following and confirming that you did see the comment. I, like Holland, was able to look through the spam folder and see those comments waiting there after our web team showed us. I’m not sure how or why the originals disappeared.

            There’s more forthcoming to this effect – but – I want to reiterate that the intention of this post about language was not at all to blame the PR reps solely for the problems, and I apologize for that impression. I welcome comments here and in my inbox.

            [email protected]

        • JamieT

          Disqus’ spam engine is a notorious blog comment killer, which may be one reason the Dallas city magazine blog in the fifth largest media market in the nation is normally a comment desert rather than the conversational hub one might expect it to be.

          The problem is the engine’s aggressive positive feedback, which has a hair trigger to begin with – too complex sentences can set it off, editing, a drop in barometric pressure. From there it is all downhill: once a comment is “detected as spam” you are earmarked as a spammer, so your next comment is even more likely to be “detected as spam”, damning you further, etc., etc.

          Unless the site you comment on is reachable by email and extremely cooperative as these ladies are being, you are doomed; Disqus itself will do nothing. As a result, many people simply avoid the Disqus quicksand altogether.

  • Lyndsay Knecht

    hello, all. I apologize for naming the two PR reps of the DMA and DTC, and stand with my editors in the apology we’ve issued here:

    https://www.dmagazine.com/frontburner/2017/12/editors-note-an-apology-to-the-pr-heads-at-the-dma-and-dtc/

    Those two women were not responsible for the errors and disingenuousness in the statements, crafted in what was obviously a top-heavy writing session. I crossed a line in trying to communicate a need to resist institutional formula and pantomiming closure in situations where employees and others in the community are in danger without further information. To put it on the two women in the prescriptive way I wrote this was not fair.

    • Angie

      Ms. Knecht,

      I appreciate the apology. As you know, I think it is important to make sure we are being clear about those in power and those who hold the real keys to change. Thank you.