From top: UCD lecturer Annette Clancy; writer and director Grace Dyas; former director of the Gate Theatre Michael Colgan
On Wednesday, October 18, 2017, UCD lecturer Annette Clancy wrote the following about the former director of the Gate Theatre Michael Colgan on Facebook:
In the early 90s I was asked to apply for the manager position at Dublin Theatre Festival. I had been working there as the programme administrator and the then director offered me the post of manager. He later told me I’d have to ‘interview’ for the role….So I did…
Around that time also I had trained as a holistic massage therapist (I can’t write that down without thinking that I have to justify it in some way as if it’s somewhat seedy)…..
So I do the interview and Michael Colgan is on the panel. When it comes to his turn to ask me a question he draws attention to my qualification as a massage therapist and says ‘well I wish you would give me a massage someday’. This, in front of the rest of the panel that included Tony O’Dalaigh and someone else (I can’t remember who). I was gobsmacked…mainly because nobody, not one other person on that panel stepped in to say that it was inappropriate. I looked at Colgan straight in the eyes and told him he ‘couldn’t afford me’.
I didn’t get the job…it was a lousy process and I’ve moved on.
I’m comfortable putting this out there because I took a case against the Festival because of the whole shitty interview process and Colgan’s remarks were referred to by my union representative at the time. In other words, there is paperwork to back this up.
The Festival’s lawyers told them I would be a ‘compelling’ witness if the case went to court. I ended up getting a substantial settlement from the festival and agreed to a ‘voluntary redundancy’.
The whole thing was a charade and I really hadn’t thought about it until this week and the #MeToo campaign and the fear in the Irish arts sector of saying out loud what we know. I’m in a privileged position because I don’t rely on Colgan or the many other men out there in the arts sector in positions of power to give me work.
So I really do acknowledge this. But maybe, just maybe this anecdote will encourage others to come forward and tell their stories about the power abuses on our doorsteps right here in Ireland.
On Friday night.
In a blog post, writer, director, performer and activist Grace Dyas claimed the former director of the Gate Theatre Michael Colgan claimed the following exchange took place at the Dublin Theatre Festival launch last year:
Michael Colgan: “You’ve lost so much weight, I’d almost have sex with you”
Grace Dyas: “Michael! You can’t say that to me!”
Colgan: “What! I didn’t say I would fuck you. You haven’t lost that much weight.”
Ms Dyas says when she later told him that what he said was inappropriate, he told her: “Well Grace, as my mother always said, you won’t get very far in life if you can’t take a joke.”
Mr Colgan then admitted to Jason Byrne, a friend of Grace’s, that he did say it, and added “but it was a joke”.
Ms Dyas then says Mr Colgan got to his feet and roared at here, saying: “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you. I never want to breathe the same air as you”.
After another friend of Ms Diyas’s asked him to calm down, Ms Diyas says he continued shouting: “She’s a pig, she’s a pig, I’d never ever, ever want to have sex with her. I wouldn’t say that about that woman, she’s a big woman I would never say that about a big woman.”
Mr Byrne has confirmed to Broadsheet that he recalls the events of that night exactly as Ms Dyas has recalled them.
On Sunday morning, just after 11.30am, co-director of the Abbey Theatre Graham McLaren, who was also present on the night, tweeted: “Grace It chimes completely with my memory of events.”
At around the same time, fellow co-director of the Abbey Neil Murray, who was also present on the night, also tweeted in response to a question from Ms Dyas about her account, saying: “Accurately and as I recall it.”
Yesterday, Limerick choreographer Ella Clarke wrote:
“…During the preview run [for Sweeney Todd at the Gate in 2007], it was house policy for the creative team to be brought to the hospitality room for a note session with Colgan following each of the performances. On the first night, when he noticed me there he said something to the effect of “What’s she doing here?” meaning me.
Blushing and shaking, I answered that I was there because I was the choreographer of the current show. He asked everyone what they would like to drink, excluding me, and had orders brought from the bar. I was ignored, but continued to give notes when I felt the well being of the cast required it.
The same routine played out for the remainder of the preview performances, four or five nights. Throughout this time, Colgan was hostile and rude towards me, and I was ignored each night.
In the bar after the opening night of the production, Michael Colgan groped my buttock as he passed by me. I choose to believe he didn’t recognise me because I wasn’t wearing my work gear. The thought of the groping being a calculated humiliation of me is painful. I did not call him out about the groping. I was shocked.
I tell this story because it is my opinion that my career has been limited by this kind of power structure, and that speaking up in whatever way I did, when I did, brought me an image that was deemed ‘difficult’. I knew it was likely I would never work in the Gate Theatre again, which I haven’t. I know I wasn’t alone dealing with this kind of abuse of power, and the loss to the art form is what hurts me most…. (more at link below)”
On RTÉ’s Marian Finucane Show.
Ms Finucane opened the show, where Michael Colgan has been a regular guest, by going through the front pages of the newspapers.
The Sunday Times and the Irish Mail on Sunday both reported on their front pages about Ms Dyas’s blog post.
Ms Finucane said:
“Hello there, and very good morning to you.”
“Different opening to normal but, nonetheless, we should have a good two hours ahead for you. Let me start with the headlines.
“The Sunday Independent: Punish sex party players, says minister. Also warning against witch-hunt after calls to ban GAA. How Humphries misled his friends on abuse of girl and it is very well done in the article done today in the Sunday Independent, in the sports section.”
“Brendan O’Connor saying it mightn’t be sun, sea and sangria; it might actually be trouble that’s coming up in Spain.”
“The Irish Mail on Sunday and The Sunday Times, that’s the Ireland edition of The Sunday Times, leads with reports about online allegations that, as the Mail puts it, a leading member of Ireland’s cultural community had made lewd, sexist comments to a female colleague.
“They also, there are some very nice photographs of Katie Taylor…”
Later – after introducing the panel
“I was just saying to our guests, prior to the start of the programme that there’s an awful lot of kind of shady stuff going on from Ballyragget to here to whatever. And a lot of it is played out, now we are not going to mention the names about whom allegations were made over night on social media.
“But I’m going to start on social media. Regina Doherty, there’s an interview in the Sunday Business Post, Noirin [Hegarty] and she refers to social media as well in that. Now none of us want to be involved in censorship but sometimes you think, in the name of god, it’s getting out of control.”
“I don’t want to go all po-faced about this but to have your name or your family member’s name put out there with no evidence, other than allegations, seems to me to be a bit tricky.”
Listen back in full here
Previously: De Sunday Papers
Ciara Elizabeth Smyth
Ciara Elizabeth Smyth writes on Grace’s blog…
“I want to begin by saying I do not regret my time in the Gate. I worked there for the last year of Michael Colgan’s tenure. While I was there, I was Company Manager for the South Carolina tour of The Importance of Being Earnest and Casting and Production Assistant.
“My desk was based in the office across the road from the theatre, commonly referred to as Number 8. This was Michael’s office. In that building, Michael, Teerth (Head of Production) and I worked closely together. Michael’s Assistant, the Head of Marketing and the Marketing Assistant, were also based there. When I was working there these three positions were held by incredible, intelligent and hardworking women. They were, like me, all under 30.
“When I was hired, the Theatre Manager, David Quinlan, told me that I would be “able for Michael”. In my stupidity, I almost took it as a compliment. On my first day, I met with David and he gave me a tour of the building and then sat me down for a chat. He asked me was I aware of Michael’s reputation.”
“David said when things got really bad, and they would get really bad, that I could go to his office to vent. Nothing specific was said after that, it was all vague warnings and implied cautions. I soon learned that speaking like that in the Gate was deliberate. I think no one wanted to say anything that they could have to confess later.”
“I cannot begin to document the plethora of inappropriateness and bullying that I experienced while I was in the Gate. Not all from Michael Colgan either. When it was him, with me, it was mostly behind closed doors.
“Constant touching of my thighs, back and very occasionally my bum while I sat beside him typing from his dictation. He made frequent comments about the size of my breasts and whether or not I’d contemplate a breast reduction, considering my small frame.
“He commented on other women and asked me if I thought they’d give blowjobs or what I thought that they fucked like. He showed me pictures of his girlfriend in her underwear and asked me what I thought of her ass. He would scream, swear and use physical intimidation if anything I did was deemed incompetent.
“And still, I quite liked Michael. We laughed all the time. He used to call me into his office and bitch about whoever had pissed him off that particular hour. He would read passages of Beckett to me. He showed me his letters from Friel and Pinter. Knowing I was a playwright and seeing my eyes light up and dance over his library of scripts, he told me that I could borrow whatever I liked. It was very confusing. Michael had an incredible ability to make you feel so important in one moment and then like dirt in the next.
“The first time I realised how badly affected I had been by my experience at the Gate was after I came back from our tour to South Carolina. I experienced a lot of stress because I was Company Manager and had to act as PA to Michael when I was there. It was not all bad, but I had begun to experience frequent anxiety attacks where it felt like I couldn’t breathe. I would like to mention that the actor Bosco Hogan, who was on tour with us, was one of the only people I ever saw stick up for me with Michael. He is a gentleman and I will never forget his kindness.”
“A few months after we came home from the tour, an incident occurred that I was so hurt and embarrassed by that I tried to make a complaint about Michael to the Theatre Manager, David Quinlan.
“On the day of the incident, I had organised auditions in the auditorium. Michael was in attendance, as were two prominent Irish actors acting as readers and the director of the play we were auditioning for. They were all men in their 40’s and 50’s.
“I brought the actor about to audition in and she took the stage. Everyone was still standing around talking and as I went to leave, Michael pulled me back, hard, by the jacket. He noticed it was new and asked me where I got it. He mentioned the colours, announcing to the room that I only ever wore black and that this new blue and white jacket was quite out of character for me. He asked me was it a Waterford jacket. I said I hadn’t a clue.
“He then drew his hand up high in the air, as if he was going to slap me. I put my hand out to stop him and said quietly, “Michael, don’t.” At this stage I imagined everyone was looking at us, but I didn’t take my eyes off him to check. Michael then said “Would you ever fuck off; I wasn’t going to hit you”. I smiled and turned on my heel to leave. The second I turned he walloped me on the ass.
“It caught me off guard and force of the slap caused me to stumble forward. I turned to look at him and the only word I could manage to say was his name.
“I checked to see did the group of men see what had happened and although their bodies were facing us, they had turned their heads in different directions. Mortified, I made for the door and again Michael grabbed me, around the wrist this time. “Sit in on this audition will you, I want to get your opinion on this actress”. This, I felt, was a consolation prize for the slap. A prize Michael knew I would be delighted by, under normal circumstances. I had once told him that if couldn’t get a job in theatre, I’d sweep the floors of the Gate.
“I took a seat in row J and stared at the stage dumbstruck. He had been sexually inappropriate towards me countless times and he had embarrassed me in public by shouting at me or being breathtakingly rude. But this time he had mixed the two in order to humiliate me, in a new, fresh manner and he had. During work, in front of a group of people he knew I respected.
“During the audition, while I sat there silently staring at the stage feeling worthless, one of the actors who was acting as a reader sat beside me. I adored him. He started whispering to me, asking what I thought of the actor auditioning and what my thoughts were on the script. I wondered was this consolation prize. I checked later that day and Michael had slapped me so hard it had left a red mark on my skin.
“The rest of that day was uneventful. I went back to Number 8; I don’t think Michael returned from the auditions. The next day, I felt shaken. I didn’t know if there was anything I could do, but I did not want to feel like this again. I was no longer able to tolerate the everyday touching and comments. I rang the Theatre Manager, David Quinlan, and made an appointment to meet with him during lunchtime that day.
“When I walked into David’s office and closed the door, I realised I was crying. I explained to David, in detail what had happened. As I spoke, the colour drained from his face and he became noticeably more reserved. He asked – had I told Michael not to do that. Yes, I said. He then told me that I needed to make my “boundaries clear” with Michael. I asked why David thought that I needed to tell Michael that he shouldn’t hit me. David said something to the effect of – if it happened, of course he shouldn’t hit me.
“Ignoring this comment, I asked what I could do as I didn’t want this to happen again. I was told I could write a letter of complaint, which would go to the Gate Board and they may decide a course of action. “But Michael is on the board” I said. “Yes”, he said. I left his office.
“Disappointed with this encounter, I returned to Number 8. Still upset, I decided to mention it to the Head of Production, Teerth. She did not console me, ask me questions or offer any advice. She did not seem interested or have any desire to continue the conversation. After this, I wondered was I overreacting. I didn’t want to write a letter of complaint to the Board. I felt Michael would be furious with me and I would have to leave my job. However, not being able to shake the feeling of anxiety, I decided to speak with Michael.
“When he came into work, I asked him for a word and he told me to come into his office and close the door. I said he had done something the other day that had really upset me. To which he responded “What did I do darling?”. I reminded him what had happened. He immediately said “But darling I hit my daughters on the ass”. I then outlined that I was not one of his daughters, but his employee; that he shouldn’t hit me. I felt like an idiot. He apologised and said he wouldn’t do it again. At the time, I thought that was the best possible outcome of that situation.
“Unfortunately, in the weeks that followed, he ridiculed me for doing this. In meetings with the Heads of Department, while I was typing beside him and in front of people who I was meeting for the first time. Always in public. He would raise his hand as if to hit me, then punch me on the arm and say “Oh we can’t hit Ciara”. In one meeting, when he did that, I looked around the room at all the Heads of Department and everyone was smiling. Some people laughed. I was angrier with them than I ever was with him.
“Michael was not the only one who was actively sexually inappropriate. The Production Manager, Jim McConnell, used to call me, on the phone, at my desk and tell me my voice was “dulcet, sultry and sensual”. He’d ask me to speak slowly or to say his name. He’d ask what I was wearing. On these occasions, I would tell him to shut up or fuck off but I tried to make my tone jovial, so he wouldn’t think I was a bitch.
“When he would come over to the Number 8, if I were alone in the room, he’d call me baby and tell me I looked stunning. If I wore a low cut top he would always make comment on my breasts. It got to the point where I was avoiding being alone with him or putting a jumper on when he came over to the office.
“My point is this was not just Michael Colgan. He was happy to accept and cultivate his reputation. But in my opinion and experience a number of people in positions of power aided and abetted him at worst, at best, did nothing to intervene. Some tried to be like him, some would not admit what was happening in front of them and some just weren’t interested. But everyone knew.
“I was not the first woman that had worked in Number 8. I was not the first woman that had gone on tour with Michael. I was not the first woman to be humiliated, degraded, abused and felt up. There were fucking loads of us. We were led into that building like lambs to the slaughter. Interviewed by the people that would later ignore us when we were crying.
“I believe that the Board must have known and that management must have known and if they didn’t, they should have known. From my experience and time in theatre in Dublin, those who knew Michael Colgan, knew. I can only guess at why they allowed him to behave in that manner.
“The worst thing for me now is still feeling like I am overreacting. I was slow to write anything down because of that feeling. I imagine other girls and women had far worse experiences. I also imagine that there are far worse men than Michael Colgan. If nothing else happens, we need some funding for accountability, for proper HR departments in theatres and theatre companies. Someone to hold abusers accountable.”
Ruth Gordon writes on Grace’s blog…
“I was interviewed by Michael Colgan in 2011 for the role of Assistant to Head of Production at the Gate. I was initially interviewed by two Gate staff members and was subsequently emailed inviting me to a second meeting; this was to meet Michael Colgan.
“During this meeting Michael Colgan asked me questions of a discriminatory nature about my gender, age, and marital status that weren’t appropriate. The original two staff members who interviewed me, Teerth Chungh and David Quinlan, were also present.
“Neither spoke during the interview except to greet me and say goodbye at the end, they didn’t say anything about the inappropriate questions, or intervene.
“His opening question was “Any date set?”. I was immediately thrown. This had nothing to do with anything. As it happened I had recently got engaged but I wasn’t wearing a ring so I recalibrated as quickly as I could and answered, truthfully, no. I was immediately on the backfoot. Where was this going?
“He talked at length then, not asking many questions. I had been tipped off by the girl working in reception that he liked to talk a lot so I took this as normal for him and waited to be asked something. He eventually asked a few job related questions and then said, “What age are you Ruth?”. Put on the spot, I told him my age reluctantly. This was swiftly followed up by, “How do I know you’re not going to go off in 18 months and have a load of babies?” I sort of laughed from shock, shaking my head and I shrugged my shoulders by way of response. I simply did not know what to say. At this point I just wanted to leave. I already knew that I didn’t want the job.
“The subject turned to which Gate shows I had seen. I named “Waiting for Godot” and then began faltering saying something like, “…and …eh….”. My confidence was shot; my mind blank. When I wasn’t forthcoming, Michael mimicked my own voice back at me, tilting his head to the side and saying “and … eh…. Waiting for Godot?”.
“There was nowhere to go from there. I averted my gaze, turning away from him and placed my hands on my lap closing myself off. We were done. I was thanked, we shook hands and I left.
I was relieved initially to be out. But the relief was soon replaced by a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“I felt humiliated, belittled, mistreated but also numb and dazed with confusion as to what had just happened. I didn’t know what to do. It took 3 days before anger fully set in. I tried to think of something I could do. Maybe I would just ring the Gate and feed back that I was unhappy with the questions I had been asked.
“That wouldn’t change anything though. I told a few people in the upper echelons of theatre in Galway and Ireland – a manager of a large theatre company, a venue manager, and a festival manager, all of whom knew me and whom I trusted. They all felt terrible for me and were appalled, but not surprised, by Michael Colgan’s behaviour, but they were at a loss as to what action could be taken that wouldn’t have a negative impact on my career.
“I have always considered myself a feminist and someone who does “the right thing” but in this instance I felt too small and insignificant to make any difference to this man’s behaviour. He was in the position of power, I was not. I had everything to lose so I was afraid to speak up.”