Colonial Theatre founder resigns as theater concludes sexual harassment probe

December 17, 2018

Westerly — Colonial Theatre, a longtime community theater group known for its summer Shakespeare in the Park productions in Wilcox Park, recently announced the resignation of its founder and producing artistic director Harland Meltzer.

That announcement came as the theater concluded its investigation into two separate allegations of sexual harassment, both made against an unidentified employee of the theater. According to board of trustees vice president Nicholas Moore, the theater concluded its investigation within the last month.

Moore would neither confirm nor deny whether the timing of Meltzer’s resignation and the conclusion of the theater’s investigation were related. Calls made to Meltzer were not returned.

Meltzer announced his resignation in a public letter written by the theater’s Board of Trustees on Dec. 5. That letter contained a portion of an email Meltzer sent to the board in which he stated, “I find that the exigencies of care for my parents leaves me without sufficient time and energy to properly fulfill my functions at The Colonial.”

Moore said he originally launched the investigation about a year ago before it was taken over by Providence attorney Michael Chittick, who was hired in June to serve as a third-party representative to the theater throughout the investigation.

The investigation came to light in May when Moore confirmed that he and a board subcommittee had been investigating two allegations. Separate allegations were made by a former theater employee and a prospective employee. At the time, Moore would not say if the accused employee was male or female but said the employee was immediately suspended.

During that time, Westerly attorney Robert Lombardo said that he represented a third person, separate from the two people who made the claims the board investigated, who had observed a “pervasive atmosphere of sexual harassment throughout the theater.” Lombardo had said his client was not looking to sue the theater but was only seeking legal counsel.

“I think there was a feeling there that this has been going on for a while but nobody has said anything,” Lombardo had said. “These people are terrified...”

Also in May, the theater announced that its annual Shakespeare in the Park production would take a one-year hiatus and that the organization would instead focus on a partnership with Westerly Public Schools. Moore said Friday that the theater intends to continue its Shakespeare in the Park productions next summer.

As of Sunday, no lawsuit had been filed against the theater or against Meltzer in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

“This is a big change for us. This was a well-known figure out there. He was the leader and founder of Colonial and this is a thank you, Harland, for all that you have done,” Moore said by phone Friday.

Moore said that, “through advice from counsel,” the theater’s board determined to leave its findings confidential. He declined to say whether the theater’s hired attorney had made specific recommendations at the conclusion of the investigation and could not comment on whether the alleged victims felt the situation had been fairly resolved.

“The story here is about losing our longtime director and founder,” Moore said. “He has resigned, we’ve accepted that. He is going to take care of his parents in New York. We do want to go forward with the organization, and the letter (the board wrote) praises Harland and the legacy he has left us.”

When asked how Moore and the board addressed the alleged victims and their complaints after the conclusion of the investigation, Moore said, “I’ve communicated to the best degree possible with the individuals who have raised allegations as well as with our day-to-day partners and major contributors.”

Each allegation, Moore had said, raised complaints of sexual harassment against a theater employee who allegedly created a hostile work environment. Moore specified that allegations were not of a “quid pro quo” nature, or someone of authority making promises of career advancement in return for sexual favors.

Since it was founded in 1985 by Meltzer, the theater has staged hundreds of productions, employed thousands of union and non-union actors, and has taken part in educational programs as well as theater training and internships.

Moore said that the theater intends to uphold that reputation as it moves forward with its partnership with Westerly Public Schools, which Meltzer originally envisioned for the theater, according to Moore.

Moore said the theater has established a permanent acting curriculum for Westerly High School’s students, providing a “professional pathway” for students to engage in vocational skills training through professional, theatrical productions. He said the theater intends to hold both school-related and professional productions out of Westerly Public School’s Babcock Auditorium. The Colonial Theatre formerly functioned out of the Granite Theater on Granite Street.

“The colonial is committed to going ahead and adopting, in general, best practices in order to go ahead and be a good corporate entity, a good place to work, a safe environment. We are going to do what we need to maintain the trust of the community that we serve,” Moore said.


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