By Jeff Balke
By Ben DuBose
By Ben DuBose
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Calvin TerBeek
By Jeff Balke
By Jeff Balke
May was a good month for the Alley Theatre. Not only had their season ended with a pair of hit plays, but the theater had also been tapped for one of the highest honors in the performing arts -- a Tony Award for the nation's best regional theater. The award credited the Alley's artistic excellence, and Gregory Boyd, the Alley's artistic director and the most powerful figure in Houston's theater community, was basking in the glow of success. He wasn't alone; the pleasure of winning the award had rippled out to touch almost everyone connected with the theater company.
Because of all that good feeling, and because she had worked as Boyd's assistant for several years, it's likely that Vicki Weathersby wasn't particularly surprised when Boyd invited her to join him at the Tony Awards ceremony in New York.
The Houston actor and director, who had studied theater at the University of Houston, had held several administrative and artistic roles at the Alley, including assistant directing Jekyll and Hyde and casting a number of the Alley's shows. Most recently, Weathersby had assistant directed the Alley's production of The Food Chain. Though in the process of gearing up her own company, the Shirk Workers Union, Weathersby retained ties to the Alley. Most particularly, she later related to associates, as well as to the Press, she had been told by Boyd that she would have an acting role in Bertolt Brecht's In the Jungle of Cities, the Alley's opener for the 1996-97 season.
If what Weathersby said about Jungle of Cities is true, it would have been a coup for her; she's a non-Equity actress, and the Alley is an Equity theater. By performing the Jungle of Cities role and earning professional wages, she could well have qualified for an Equity card, which is a ticket for insurance, pension benefits and higher-paying acting jobs.
At the same time, Weathersby's casting would have made a certain sense. Two years ago, when another local theater company, Infernal Bridegroom Productions, staged the Brecht work, Weathersby was involved. So she has a history with the play.
What she doesn't have, she'd admitted, is a written contract confirming her role. Because of her professional relationship with Boyd, and because contracts are signed at varying times depending on each situation, the absence of a written contract in May wouldn't have been especially odd. And, as she later related the story to the Press, she saw nothing to be concerned about when Boyd offered her the invitation to the Tony celebration. She was in New York on other business, and the invitation seemed a professional courtesy. Part of Boyd's invitation, Weathersby has also said, included a pre-awards dinner with other revelers from the Alley, and at that dinner, in the presence of others, Boyd allegedly discussed the fine details of her role as Jane in Jungle of Cities, including her costuming and which songs she would sing.
But as Weathersby later laid out the story, the evening didn't end with the dinner and the awards. Instead, Boyd showed up at her door with a sheaf of love poems and expressing an unmistakable romantic interest in her. To imagine Boyd's doing so doesn't require stretching credulity very far. In the tiny world of theater, romantic liaisons are not uncommon, particularly between people who work together closely. And as Weathersby later outlined the events, if Boyd did show up at her door, he didn't stay long, departing when told that his romantic interest wasn't reciprocated and leaving her holding the love poetry. And that appeared to be that.
Until, Weathersby later said, she returned to Houston and found that she had become persona non grata at the Alley. Her phone calls regarding rehearsals for the Brecht play and assistant directing the theater's summer productions resulted in vague messages from Boyd indicating that she didn't need to come in. Then, Weathersby said, she learned that another actress had been cast in the role of Jane, the role she felt she had been promised. The implication, at least as rolled out to the Press and some of Weathersby's theater associates, seemed clear: no romance with Gregory Boyd meant no work at the Alley.
What Gregory Boyd's side of the story is couldn't be determined. He failed to return several calls, and also failed to respond to a series of questions faxed to his attention at the Alley. Paul Tertreault, the Alley's managing director, said that it was against the theater's policy to comment on former employees such as Weathersby, and would not respond to any allegations.
And further details from Weathersby are impossible to secure. She had been asked to provide copies of the love poems allegedly given her by Boyd, and had also been asked to provide a copy of a legal settlement reached between her and the Alley. A few days after Weathersby was asked for the documents, and after the Alley has been contacted for comment, Weathersby's lawyer, Diana Marshall, called to say that an attorney for Vinson & Elkins, which represents the Alley, had threatened to take action against Weathersby for violating a confidentiality clause in her employment settlement. Shortly thereafter, Weathersby contacted the Press to ask that no story be done. She also denied everything she had told the Press, and at one point denied she had met with a Press reporter. In further conversation she said that she'd lied, that there had been no romantic overtures from Boyd and no promise of a role in Jungle of Cities. She also said that she refused to confirm that she had ever made any allegations about Boyd. Her final contact with the Press was to reaffirm her denial.
It's possible, of course, that Weathersby did make up the story she told the Press. And though two of Weathersby's associates, one of whom contacted the Press independently, said that they'd heard the same story from Weathersby as did the Press, it's also possible that she lied to them.
What's hard to determine is why Weathersby would have fabricated such a tale. The world of professional theater is small, and the even smaller community of theater in Houston is ripe for gossip. It's difficult to imagine that Weathersby thought her story would remain confidential once she told it to even a single person. It's also difficult to imagine how a false story about someone as powerful as Gregory Boyd would benefit Weathersby. What's easier to imagine are the problems that confronting Boyd could bring.
None of which, of course, means that what she said originally was true, or that her later denial was false. But in her initial meeting with the Press, Weathersby said that when she caught wind of a rumor that another actress had been cast in the role of Jane, "I was absolutely stunned. It was my part. He had been talking about my doing that part for months." In late July, Weathersby said, she sent a letter to the Alley informing Boyd that she intended to show up for In the Jungle of Cities rehearsals. Not long afterward, Weathersby said, she received a polite call from a lawyer at Vinson & Elkins who wondered if there wasn't something they could do about the misunderstanding over casting.
At that point, Weathersby said, she got her own lawyer, and ultimately the Alley made a settlement offer that was twice what her wages would have been for actually performing in the play. Though she doesn't hold her Equity card yet, Weathersby said Boyd had offered her union wages for playing the role of Jane. According to Kenneth Klem in Actor's Equity's New York offices, paying a non-union actor union wages is unusual; he also said that according to their Equity rating, the Alley is required to pay union actors a minimum of $563 per week. Based on the play's scheduled three-week run, that means Weathersby's settlement would have been at least $3,378. Klem added that a verbal commitment from a director about a role "is worth the paper it isn't written on," and noted that even if Weathersby had been an Equity actor, the union wouldn't have argued on her behalf without a written contract.
Prior to denying that anything untoward had happened, Weathersby said she knew she probably wouldn't work at the Alley again, and that her future in theater didn't include, by choice, a career as an actor. She also said that the one thing she had hoped for, but doubted she would get, was an apology from Boyd.
As for Boyd, he's well into rehearsals for In the Jungle of Cities, with New York actress Sherri Parker Lee performing the role of Jane. Weathersby isn't sharing her future plans with the Press. And as for the truth of what happened between them -- well, as is the case with good drama, the truth lies in the heart of the players.