In four statements of claim, the women allege being victimized by a “serial sexual predator,” with each enduring various forms of abuse, including enduring slaps on the buttocks, unwanted embraces and remarks and innuendos about their bodies, clothing and sex.
One woman alleged that Schultz’s authority and power, wielded both on and off stage, made her “feel vulnerable and hunted … a sitting duck for Albert’s sexual predation.”
The claims have not been proven in court. Soulpepper and Schultz have not yet filed a statement of defence.
Schultz said he was taking a “leave of absence” pending the investigation outcome.
“These claims make serious allegations against me which I do not take lightly,” Schultz said. “I intend to vehemently defend myself.”
“Soulpepper’s priority is to create a workplace where all its employees feel safe,” the theatre’s directors said. “Soulpepper has recently commissioned and received a report from an independent workplace policy expert, which affirms the appropriateness of Soulpepper’s standards and processes.”
Given the litigation, the company said it would have no further comment.
The women are represented by Tatha Swann of Levitt LLP and Alexi Wood of St. Lawrence Barristers LLP, who will appear alongside their clients in a Thursday morning press conference.
In the statement, Wood claimed that Soulpepper did nothing to protect her clients from Schultz.
“Mr. Schultz abused his power for years,” Wood said in her statement. “My clients fully intend to hold him and Soulpepper Theatre Company accountable. Their brave lawsuit is the first step towards righting this incredible wrong.”
Among the allegations are incidents that date to the very beginnings of each plaintiff’s acting career.
Just 10 days after graduating from George Brown Theatre School in 2000, Patricia Fagan landed the lead role in Twelfth Night at Soulpepper’s training academy. It was her first foray into Toronto’s professional theatre scene.
During rehearsals for the production, she claimed, Schultz instructed Fagan’s co-star to “wriggle” his penis in between the then 23-year-old’s buttocks, and then demonstrated it, though the co-star did not imitate the movement during performance.
According to her statement of claim, Schultz suggested an acting exercise to Fagan and Kristin Booth, asking them which members of the cast they would “f—.”
“Albert characterized this demand as an ‘acting exercise,’ with Albert assessing each woman’s ‘commitment’ to acting as commensurate with her expressed level of enthusiasm to have sex with various men,” according to the statement of claim.
Booth was cast in the same production, and claimed that Schultz ran his hands over her body during rehearsal to “demonstrate how a man should touch a woman in a ‘sexy’ way so that the audience would ‘get wet.’ ”
In her statement of claim, Booth detailed instances in which Schultz kissed her on the lips “under the pretense of greeting her.” Greetings would also include almost daily hugs where he pushed his sometimes erect penis against her body.
Schultz is also alleged to have propositioned Booth, suggesting they get a hotel room together on multiple occasions.
“These unwanted advances made Kristin feel embarrassed, ashamed and utterly bewildered by Albert’s audacity,” according to the statement of claim.
Booth says that, as a result of her treatment at Soulpepper, she shifted her career away from theatre. She has since become an award-winning television actress.
Fagan refused an offer to work for another production at Soulpepper in 2015, and has stopped working in theatre entirely.
Plaintiff Hannah Miller also alleges that the sexual abuse by Schultz began right after she started at Soulpepper in 2011.
Miller had moved to Canada from Israel and began her studies at George Brown College’s theatre school. She first met Schultz as a lecturer in her classes, her statement of claim said.
After a rigorous audition process, she became a member of the Soulpepper Academy in 2011. Miller alleges that Schultz made remarks and innuendos about her body, clothing and sex and forcibly touched her in a sexual way on multiple occasions after she started at Soulpepper.
Miller claims that during a teaching session Schultz told a “cautionary tale” about making sexual harassment complaints about him. In his story, he allegedly described to her and her classmates how he hid inside the female dressing room while an actress was changing.
“Albert is a serial sexual predator who … had well-developed methods for targeting actresses and luring them into situations that he considered optimal for harassing and assaulting them,” Miller stated in her claim.
The fourth plaintiff, Diana Bentley, began working at Soulpepper in late 2009. Two years later, she landed a role in Our Town, a Soulpepper production starring Schultz, where she was subjected to slaps on her buttocks during their shared scenes, according to a statement of claim.
“It is Albert’s practice to use his position to cultivate the use of specific moments, hidden from the audience’s view, to touch actresses on stage while unable to escape him,” the court filings say.
“Each time this happened, Diana felt humiliated but did not know what to do,” the claim said, alleging that Schultz brushed Bentley off when she confronted him about the slapping.
The actress felt “powerless” when faced with Schultz’s denial, and noticed his treatment toward her shifted to becoming “cold and distant” after the confrontation.
Bentley, then in her late 20s, was invited to audition for the prestigious Soulpepper Academy, but she opted to leave the company because she “could not face being subjected to Albert’s harassment and assaults,” according to her statement of claim.
She left Soulpepper and co-founded Coal Mine Theatre with her husband, Ted Dykstra.
Dykstra and actor Stuart Hughes are among the 11 founding members of Soulpepper and are voicing their support for the women in their lawsuit. Along with Soulpepper actress Michelle Monteith, the trio issued a statement denouncing Schultz.
It is “our hope that by supporting them we are sending a message to organizations everywhere: Sexual harassment in the workplace can not be tolerated. By anyone,” it reads.
Actor Rick Roberts, who has worked on several Soulpepper productions, echoed this sentiment in a Twitter post.
“I stand in solidarity with these women. Albert Schultz must be removed as Artistic Director,” he wrote.
Soulpepper operates on a $12-million annual budget, as the largest not-for-profit theatre company in Toronto.
All four women are claiming that Schultz is liable for lost wages and damages for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code.
A notable figure in the theatre world, Schultz’s influence extends from the stage and screen. His accolades include being appointed to the Order of Canada in 2013, a Gemini Award, two honorary degrees, and the Joan Chalmers National Award for Artistic Direction.
The 54-year-old previously lead the Soulpepper Academy, Canada’s only paid professional theatre training program, and is also general director of the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
Schultz is also an executive director on the hit CBC television series Kim’s Convenience, which is independently produced for the public broadcaster by Vancouver-based Thunderbird Productions.
“In light of the serious allegations made public today, we expect Thunderbird will take the necessary actions to ensure a safe and respectful workplace and we have conveyed that to them,” said Emma Bedard, a spokesperson for CBC.
The lawsuits come just months after Soulpepper severed ties with guest artist Laszlo Marton following sexual harassment allegations.
The allegations against Marton surfaced in late 2015. Soulpepper then launched a formal investigation, finding Marton, who has since left for Hungary, “had engaged in sexual harassment and that his relationship with the company had to be immediately and permanently terminated,” according to a statement from the company in October.
At least two complainants came forward at the time, but details surrounding their allegations were not released to protect the complainants’ identities, Soulpepper said.
Schultz and Lester also led a company meeting with staff and artists to reinforce those protocols and standards at the time.