An Acrosstown board member who asked his friend’s sexual assault victim if she would consider “alternative” solutions to court has not resigned despite multiple statements on the record.
In mid-July, The Fine Print published an in-depth investigation into sexual assault and harassment at the Acrosstown Repertory Theater, a community theater located in the Baird Center downtown. Spanning 25 interviews with current and former volunteers, the article detailed the experiences of three former members who said they had been the victim of sexual assault or harassment while they were involved with the theater.
July 6, the day after the article hit the stands, The Fine Print received a tip that the entire contents of the newspaper box located outside Maude’s Classic Cafe had been taken by Michael Bobbitt, a board member at the Acrosstown whose friend Michael McShane was accused of sexually assaulting a former volunteer. The Fine Print later obtained video of several issues strewn across the backside of a truck parked outside the Baird Center that reportedly belonged to Bobbitt.
After The Fine Print posted the video on social media, Bobbitt replaced the issues and apologized to The Fine Print.
“I did the wrong thing,” he said. “I got emotional.”
Bobbitt told The Fine Print that he had resigned from the board. Later that day, he also posted that he had resigned in two comments on a post about the investigation in a closed Facebook group dedicated to keeping the downtown community safe.
“I have resigned from the theater’s board so as not to do additional harm to the caring artists there who really do want to make a safe place for art,” Bobbitt wrote in one comment. “I have resigned from the theater’s board so as not to do additional harm to the caring artists there who really do want to make a safe place for art,” he wrote in the other.
But it appears that despite these multiple statements, Bobbitt has not actually resigned from the Acrosstown board of directors. He is still listed on the Acrosstown’s website as the facilities manager, a board position. He attended a board meetings as recently as August 2018, according to meeting minutes that are posted online.
As of press time, neither Bobbitt nor the Acrosstown have responded to multiple phone calls, texts and emails seeking comment.
Early December 2017, Bobbitt’s friend McShane — who had volunteered for years at the Acrosstown as a director and lighting designer — was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting another volunteer, named Clara in The Fine Print’s investigation.
Two days later, Bobbitt messaged Clara over Facebook to ask if she would meet with him to “formulate a plan for protecting everyone’s interests and sense of respect and security.”
“As a board member of the theater and likely about to assume the presidency, I have to make sure that our community theater is a safe place for everyone and I am concerned about the conflict on the horizon,” he wrote.
Clara agreed to meet. A few days later at Patticakes in downtown, Clara, bringing her friend Bailey Piper, met Bobbitt and his wife, Laura Jackson (who is also an Acrosstown board member). Clara and Piper both recall that Bobbitt began the meeting by saying, “‘As you probably know, Michael McShane is my best friend in all of Gainesville.’”
“I felt like they were trying to guilt her,” Piper told The Fine Print. “Because they were saying, ‘He’ll die in prison.’”
Bobbitt wrote to The Fine Print that he had never said that.
Clara and Piper told The Fine Print that Bobbitt said he was prepared to spend $10,000 on McShane’s defense and was helping him find housing. “To hear [that] from a board member of the local community theater who has said he was going to be the next president of the Acrosstown?” Clara told The Fine Print. “That power stance is really — just really gross.”
Bobbitt wrote to The Fine Print that he had thought Clara was open to exploring alternative solutions to court, and that at the meeting, “she expressed an interest in exploring multiple possible resolutions to this incident, stating clearly that she, ‘Didn’t want to see Mr. McShane go to prison’ and that she would also like to avoid a trial if possible.”
A few weeks later, Bobbitt messaged Clara again on Facebook, writing, “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.”
“Never did I tell the accuser what she should do, and never did I tell her that she should not pursue legal avenues for recourse,” Bobbitt wrote in a statement to the Fine Print, later concluding, “I stand by my actions in this matter. I was a supportive friend to someone who denied the allegations against him, and I also tried to offer support to the accuser.”
Another former member, named Matt in the piece, was cast as Rocky in the Acrosstown’s November 2017 production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Matt told The Fine Print that Bobbitt came into his workplace to ask if he was quitting the production after the actor missed two rehearsals due to work and left the show’s group chat. “If I opened my mouth to argue back I could get fired,” Matt said, adding the incident got him in trouble with his boss.
In a phone call to The Fine Print, Bobbitt had said that Matt’s “claims are wildly off base.” Bobbitt said he stopped by the actor’s work because Matt was threatening to quit, which the actor denies.
Matt no longer volunteers as an actor at the Acrosstown because he had begun to feel it was “toxic” for him, like it was taking over his personal and professional lives.
“To hear [that] from a board member of the local community theater who has said he was going to be the next president of the Acrosstown?” Clara told The Fine Print. “That power stance is really — just really gross.”
According to the July board meeting minutes, the Acrosstown board “admonished” Bobbitt’s “actions,” writing in a Google document, “In the future, if any board member would like to take action that would affect the board or the theatre, they will consult the board before taking such action and will not take action until the board has consented.”
It’s unclear if the actions in question were Bobbitt’s treatment of volunteers at the theater, his taking the entire contents of a Fine Print newspaper box after the investigation was published or both.
After The Fine Print published its first investigation, the Acrosstown issued an apology in an August 27 statement on its blog (you can read the full statement here). According to the August board meeting minutes, the apology was issued by Aleksandr Wilde, a director at the theater who was not directly involved in any of the incidents described in the piece.
“We recognize that past incidents and alleged incidents involving volunteers and board members at the Acrosstown were mishandled – there was no malicious intent, but we understand that some of the choices made were not in the best interest of preserving the Acrosstown as a safe and welcoming organization,” the statement reads. “We would like to take this time to apologize to anyone who was hurt or made to feel unsafe by those choices.”
The Acrosstown implemented several new policies, which are outlined in the August 27 statement. These policies include a code of conduct, a harassment policy and grievance procedures, “along with several points of contact [volunteers] may use for filing complaints or concerns.”
The board also voted to create a board liaison program, which is “intended to ensure a smooth production process as well to provide more regulated oversight for the safety of our volunteers,” according to the August 27 statement. “Volunteers may utilize their show liaisons as one method by which to convey grievances or complaints without the knowledge of their director or stage manager.”
Bobbitt is listed as the board liaison for two upcoming productions, the Acrosstown’s Homegrown festival in December and “Beggar’s Opera” next summer.
In its apology, the Acrosstown noted that the individuals accused of sexual harassment are no longer involved with the theater. It was unclear if those individuals were disciplined or if they left the theater on their own accord.
“We cannot change the events of the past, but we can use our experiences, and feedback from the community, to put additional structure and policies in place to ensure the best experience for all of our volunteers,” the August 27 statement reads. “We can do better to communicate our expectations and standards to our volunteers, and provide more oversight to ensure our standards are being observed.” •