As The Scandal Widens, What's Next For The Alley?

The Alley's 2016 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. According to Joy Yvonne Jones, far left, parts of the rehearsal process were anything but a dream.
The Alley's 2016 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. According to Joy Yvonne Jones, far left, parts of the rehearsal process were anything but a dream. Photo by Lynn Lane
Joy Yvonne Jones appeared on the Alley stage in 2015/16 as an ensemble player in As You Like it and a fairy in A Midsummer Night's Dream, both of which were directed by Alley Artistic Director Gregory Boyd. Even before she set foot in the rehearsal room, she was warned about the perils of working with Boyd.

“I was told ahead of time do not go in the elevator alone. Do not be in small spaces, keep your head down and don’t get noticed,” says Jones. “He looks for the goat in the room, the person that’s the lowest on the totem pole.” Jones says these warnings came directly from Alley Theatre repertory actors. Actors who have worked with Boyd for years.

“The code was, when you came into rehearsal, you’d ask how’s the weather? Which meant how’s Greg doing that day, what mood is he in? And if he was in a bad mood, he would yell and fuss and fight,” explains Jones who was the recipient of one particular instance of Boyd’s bad moods. “He got almost nose to nose with me in a way that made me feel uncomfortable,” said Jones who claims that during the encounter Boyd was yelling at her with gritted teeth and being very aggressive. “But the key was to keep your calm and not show fear because if you showed fear he’d come back the next day and get closer.”

As little as a week ago, its quite possible Jones would never had told her story to the Houston Press. Never spoken publicly about Boyd's behavior.  But recent events mean the old rules are out and those that have kept quiet are starting to speak up.

On January 9, the Alley Theatre, as reported in the Houston Press announced the abrupt retirement of long time Artistic Director Gregory Boyd. While the announcement itself was surprising enough, the truly head scratching part was the timing. Boyd, the announcement said, would step away in just two days’ time.

Then on January 11, the same day as his retirement, the Houston Chronicle published an article in which former employees accused Boyd of toxic bullying, abusive behavior toward young women and sexual misconduct in the form of inappropriate touching. The article also confirmed that Boyd was just one year into a recently signed five year contract that netted him at least $420,000 a year.

Also on January 11, the Houston Press obtained a copy of an internal email from the Alley’s Director of Marketing and Communications reminding everyone on the Alley’s internal list of the company’s no talking to media under any circumstances policy. That article published on January 12, as additional bullying complaints surfaced, also included the first response from the Alley: a brief statement (distributed by Pierpont Communications, whom the Alley seems to have hired specifically for the situation) stating that a special committee would be created to evaluate the Alley’s workplace environment. No mention was made of the allegation against Boyd.

So this is where we are. But what’s next? What should and will the Alley do to address the growing scandal? Since no one at the Alley is talking (requests for interviews have been denied to every media outlet at this time) we turned to former Alley employees (some of whom have been on the receiving end of Boyd’s buying and sexually inappropriate behavior) to get their take on what they believe is the best path forward.

Jones is both pragmatic and compassionate about what should happen next. “He’s gone, that’s it. The next thing is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. If we’re going to keep the Alley as the city’s cornerstone theater it’s about moving forward. I don’t need other people to go down.”

While Jones believes that almost everyone at the theater knew about and covered up Boyd’s behavior, she says she understands why no one came forward. “People were afraid and they wanted to keep their job,” says Jones who supports the proposed committee and looks forward to changes being made. “If people feel guilty and start doing better work, great! If it takes this man burning at the stake to make people do something different, fine. I don’t think the whole theater needs to go down.”

Jon Harvey, a sound designer who worked at the Alley for five years in the late '90s also feels the committee is a step in the right direction. But mostly he’s feeling hopeful because of the staff still working inside the building. “When I was at the Alley, the people around me were the best people, the most talented I’ve ever known,” says Harvey. “Even though I know it’s not those same people in control of things, I know there are a bunch of really great people inside those walls unsure about what to do right now, and I think that given the opportunity they will show that they are capable of doing things the right way.”

Harvey knows firsthand what it’s like to be inside those walls when a scandal hits. He was there in 1996 when the Houston Press published an account about an actress who alleged sexual harassment by Boyd but later mysteriously denied it, and he sees similarities to the way things are being handled presently.

“Whenever there has been bad press we were under like a full hush,” says Harvey. “When that article came out we weren’t supposed to have a copy of the Houston Press inside the building. We weren’t even supposed to talk about it. It wasn’t like someone above us came in and said you can’t do this, it was kind of whispered from person to person, like if you want to keep your job, don’t talk about it.” Harvey says that’s probably where things are for employees at the Alley right now. “The higher ups are irritated and no one should be doing anything to further anger those people.”

As to what artists and administrators outside the building should be doing, Harvey has advice. “We should be making sure our own houses are in order before doing anything in response to the Alley, he says. “I really think that we need to be supportive because there are so many good people inside that building that I know are confused and hurt… and they will still be there once the dust settles and they need our support to know that we are still proud of the Alley and support the institution.”

Philip Lehl, an actor who has worked at the Alley on and off for 14 years, initially was taken aback at how badly the Alley handled Boyd’s retirement announcement. “I was surprised that they didn’t know that these stories would come out once Greg was gone,” says Lehl. But he goes on to say that he is supportive of the proposed committee. “I think they have to handle it that way. They need time, I think, to figure out exactly what was happening and how to proceed. I think that’s OK.”

When it comes to the Alley Board and who knew what, Lehl is hopeful. “I have confidence that there are people on that board who genuinely want the best in the fullest sense of that word.” Lehl goes a step further to say, “There are good people on that board and I can’t believe that they knew. And allowed it to continue.”

It’s Lehl’s hope that at the end of this process, the Alley has a board that’s better in touch with the entire staff and an artistic leadership that engages with the entire theatrical community. “I have great hope that something positive is actually going to come out of this but I think it’s too early for people like me to start making demands.”

That feeling of holding off demands at this exact moment in lieu of hopeful watching for change was a thread that everyone we spoke to alluded to in some form or another.

However, when it comes to this discussion of what next, we’ll leave the last word to Emily Trask, the former Alley Repertory member who alleges that it was Boyd’s sexual misconduct and bullying that gave her no choice but to leave the company.

“The moments of inappropriate touching that happened to me at the Alley were only a small part of why I left. As a woman in the world, and especially in the theater, I have found ways to navigate these moments which happen to many of us too frequently. What I ultimately could not endure was the emotional abuse. As an actor your job requires you to be physically and emotionally vulnerable. Therefore, to be manipulated and attacked when one is at their most exposed is not only violent and cruel, but makes it impossible to do your job.

I have the utmost respect and love for all of the artists at the Alley Theatre. It is my deepest hope this will be a catalyst for meaningful and positive change for the many good and talented people who work there.”

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Jessica Goldman was the theater critic for CBC Radio in Calgary prior to joining the Houston Press team. Her work has also appeared in American Theatre Magazine, Globe and Mail and Alberta Views. Jessica is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.
Contact: Jessica Goldman