by KAREN LUNDE and NED HAYES
In the winter of 2018, Olympia’s own theatrical powerhouse, Harlequin Productions, weathered a significant storm. The theater’s Board of Directors took immediate and decisive action to correct behavior that they saw as endangering the safety and well-being of actors and members of the Harlequin community. Founding Artistic Director Scot Whitney resigned, and the company changed course in a dramatic fashion (for the backstory, see OLY ARTS complete coverage at OlyArts.com/harlequin).
Associate Artistic Director Aaron Lamb has been asked by the Harlequin Board to assist with current season planning alongside founding Artistic Director Linda Whitney. Under Lamb’s guidance and direction, the board has righted the Harlequin ship and is headed in a positive direction for the future.
“The artistic legacy is intact, but we are focused on continuing that legacy into the future in a healthy and dynamic manner,” said Lamb. “We are making changes to ensure that we are an inclusive, safe and respectful place to work at the same time continuing the artistic legacy.”
All existing planned Harlequin shows remain on track, albeit with new directors. The current shows underway for this year – Three Days of Rain, Magical Mystery Midsummer Musical, Ruthless! and A Steady Rain each now have confirmed directors who have solid pedigrees in South Sound theater. Associate Artistic Director Aaron Lamb will be directing Three Days, while the Harlequin community hopes to see Linda Whitney helm Midsummer Musical.
Harlequin has chosen a new season for 2018-2019, which will be previewed and announced on June 1 at “Eclectica!”, their re-scheduled Season Preview Gala. At the gala event, guests will hear more about each of the seven shows for the 2019 Season. The evening includes show readings, songs from musicals, a catered dinner and a live auction. Harlequin Board Treasurer Joe Hyer will serve as Master of Ceremonies.
In the days that followed the Board’s rapid action, the theatrical community of Harlequin Productions worked together on deeper solutions that would ensure that the South Sound’s premier, Equity-class theater would survive and thrive. An outside human resources firm, Stellar Associates has also been contracted to assist Harlequin in creating new policies and procedures. Stellar is a woman-owned management and human resources firm led by Julie Boyer, former Assistant Director at the Department of Natural Resources.
The artistic community in the Olympia area rallied around Harlequin’s new direction.
“Harlequin has contributed to our cultural economy for almost three decades,” said Washington Center for the Performing Arts Executive Director Jill Barnes. “We want to see sustainable theater in Olympia for generations to come. Our community desires and deserves quality theatrical productions.”
Olympia Family Theater Managing Director Jen Ryle also provided her perspective: “Harlequin has been through a tough time, but we want them to survive and thrive. It is difficult to negotiate these waters, but speaking out and standing up for others is the right thing to do. This is a good reminder for all of us in this community to strive to do better.”
Former Harlequin Production Stage Manager Kate Arvin helped to voice the original allegations that brought to light past issues at Harlequin. Arvin stated: “My intention in coming forward about this was not to cause harm to the theater, but to encourage improvements for future generations. Any business that can step up to that challenge is one worthy of support.”
Lamb sees continued engagement with the community as crucial for Harlequin’s continued positive momentum. “We can’t be a good arts organization unless we listen to the community. What we owe the audience and the community is a theater company that challenges the social status quo, and creates the conditions for positive dialogue and social change. We have already made real changes so that that we can come out of this with great opportunities for growth.”
Eclectica! The annual Harlequin Gala and Season Announcement
6 – 9 p.m. Friday, June 1
The Historic State Theater,
202 4th Avenue East, Olympia
$25 (FREE for Subscribers)