Earlier this month, the Fine Print published an in-depth investigation into sexual assault and harassment that have occurred between members at the Acrosstown Repertory Theater.
The article detailed multiple instances of sexual assault and harassment including how one member, named Clara in the piece, was allegedly sexually assaulted in her bed by Michael McShane, another volunteer. After Clara went to the police, board members Michael Bobbitt and Anna Marie Kirkpatrick, close friends of McShane’s, sent her messages she interpreted as pressuring her not to press charges.
In a long message to Clara, Kirkpatrick described how McShane had lost his job and been placed on house arrest as a result of the state attorney’s investigation into the alleged rape. She mistakenly identified Clara as McShane’s girlfriend, writing that while she wanted healing for everyone, “the path you are heading down now is going to cause more damage than I think you realize. Already shock is vibrating throughout the community.”
Bobbitt, who had messaged Clara to ask if she would meet with him to “formulate a plan for protecting everyone’s interests and sense of respect and security,” wrote to Clara weeks after their meeting that “I would rather use my resources to help you rather than fight against you if possible because I think you have a lot to offer the community as a whole and specifically are [sic] Theatre community.”
Carolyne Salt, president of the Acrosstown board of directors, defended Bobbitt and Kirkpatrick’s messages to the Fine Print when she was interviewed for the recent article. Since Clara and McShane were not working on the same production, the incident did not physically happen inside the theater and neither Bobbitt nor Kirkpatrick were acting on behalf of the theater, Salt said it was not “an Acrosstown issue.”
“That’s like saying they met at Publix and you were going shopping together, and therefore Publix is implicit in that relationship,” Salt told the Fine Print.
Salt and Kirkpatrick have not resigned from the board, despite comments Bobbitt made to the Fine Print that the entire board would be resigning upon the article’s publication. “You’ll see after the article goes out,” he had said, declining to comment further.
Bobbitt resigned after the Fine Print published video footage of a stack of papers, the entire contents of the Fine Print’s Maude’s newspaper box, sitting in the backseat of his truck. Bobbitt later apologized to the Fine Print and replaced the issues. “I did the wrong thing,” he said. “I got emotional.”
Bobbitt later texted a Fine Print reporter, writing, “I feel like a real idiot, especially considering that your article was entirely fair and tried to present my side of the story.”
Arnold, another director who was named in the piece, has also resigned from the board.
The board has since issued an anti-harassment policy, which can be found under the “about” section on the Acrosstown website.
“If they put up a harassment policy, that’s more than they’ve ever done before,” said Jill Burton, a former volunteer at the theater.
Burton says she views issuing a harassment policy as a good first step. “They should acknowledge that all of them were out of line,” she said. “The board should probably apologize publicly.”
Neither Salt, nor any members of the board, would respond to repeated requests from the Fine Print asking if it would be publicly addressing the actions taken by Bobbitt and Kirkpatrick to protect McShane after he was charged with sexual assault.
The closest the board has come to publicly discussing the issue is a line in the minutes of its June meeting. Under “Discussion of Fine Print article,” the board noted: “Let’s wait until the article comes out and decide what our response should be, if any.”
One member of the theater community said they felt it was painful for the board to stay quiet about what had happened. They asked to remain unnamed because they’d been “personally attacked once because of speculation for saying something” to the Fine Print.
“I think their silence is hurting them more than if they spoke,” they wrote. “… I think they are scared for the future of a theater that is already on its last legs financially. But the longer they stay silent the more they seem like they are sympathetic to the attacker not the victim.” •