From top: Michael Colgan; The Gate Theatre, Dublin 1 and (clockwise from top left) Ciara Elizabeth Smyth, Ruth Gordon, Annette Clancy, Ali White, Ella Clarke and Grace Dyas;
Ciara Elizabeth Smyth and Ruth Gordon joined Grace Dyas, Annette Clancy, Ali White and Ella Clarke in sharing their experiences of working with former Gate Theatre artistic director Michael Colgan who stepped down from his position at the Gate last year, after 33 years.
This brings to six the number of women who have made claims about Mr Colgan who was the longest-serving chief executive in Irish theatre.
Grace Dyas and Annette Clancy’s statements featured in last weekend’s Sunday Times and Irish Mail on Sunday – though the Irish Mail on Sunday did not name Mr Colgan.
The Sunday Times also covered claims made by Ali White. RTÉ has yet to cover the women’s testimonies.
The Gate Theatre received €860,000 in state funding in 2016. Mr Colgan was paid €231,000, including salary, expenses and pension payments in the same year.
Last night’s Ms Smyth, a theatre manager, recalled instances of Mr Colgan allegedly inappropriately touching her while working in his office.
Ms Smyth writes:
“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.
Ms Smyth also told how, while working as a PA to Mr Colgan and during an audition where other people were present:
“He – Mr Colgan – 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.
Ms Smyth said she went to the office of the Gate’s Theatre Manager, David Quinlan, to make a complaint.
Ms Smyth said:
“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.”
Ms Smyth said she then went to Mr Colgan and raised the matter with him.
Ms Smyth claims Mr Colgan replied: “But darling I hit my daughters on the ass.”
Ms Smyth told him she wasn’t one of his daughters, but an employee, and that he shouldn’t hit her. She said he apologised.
Ms Smyth said:
“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.”
Theatre worker Ruth Gordon claimed last night that, during an interview, Mr Colgan asked her “How do I know you’re not going to go off in 18 months and have a load of babies?”
She also claimed he mimicked her during the interview.
Ms Gordon wrote:
“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.”
On October 18, UCD lecturer and trained holistic massage therapist Annette Clancy wrote on Facebook about an interview she underwent for a manager position at the Dublin Theatre Festival in the early 1990s. She was programme administrator of the festival at the time.
Mr Colgan was on the interview panel and Ms Clancy recalled Mr Colgan saying to her: “Well I wish you would give me a massage someday.”
Ms Clancy later took a case against the festival because of the interview process as a whole while Colgan’s remarks were referred to by Ms Clancy’s union representative in the taking of that case. Ms Clancy got a substantial settlement from the festival and agreed to a “voluntary redundancy”.
Last Friday evening, director, performer and activist Grace Dyas claimed she had the following exchange with Mr Colgan at the launch of the Dublin Theatre Festival 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.”
Later, after Ms Dyas told him this was inappropriate, Ms Dyas said Mr Colgan said: “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 Dyas’s asked him to calm down, Ms Dyas 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.”
Limerick choreographer Ella Clarke wrote that during the four/five-night preview run for Sweeney Todd at the Gate in 2007, during which she was the choreographer, Mr Colgan was rude and hostile towards her.
Then, she claims, on the opening night of the show, he groped her buttock as he passed her.
Ms Clarke wrote:
“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.”
Meanwhile, at the weekend, The Sunday Times also reported:
“Ali White, an actress who performed a series of Beckett plays at the Barbican in London in 1999 for the Gate, claimed she was asked to change into a push-up bra, hold-up stockings and high heels for a photocall overseen by Colgan.
“The abuse of power I experienced first-hand at the photoshoot and witnessed on many occasions made me wary of him and ultimately angry that he was getting away with it,” she said.
White alleged Colgan subsequently made a lewd remark to her in public.”
We have contacted the Gate Theatre and await a response.
I’ve Been Thinking About Michael Colgan Lately….(Grace Dyas)
Previously: Barbarian At The Gate
A statement from the Gate Theatre Board and Management says:
“The Gate Theatre joined with other theatrical institutions last week to condemn the issue of sexual harassment & abuse of power in the theatre world in Ireland and internationally.”
“The Gate Board and Management made it clear in our statement that we will listen to what people have to say and our aim is to foster a safe and supportive working environment in our Theatre.”
“If you have been contracted by The Gate Theatre or in our employment and wish to talk to us about any concerns please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.”
“Any experience shared will be treated in the utmost confidence and we intend to appoint an independent professional HR advisor to handle any issues raised.”