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Theatre & Performance Archives: Soulpepper theatre cut ties with director Laszlo Marton after sexual-harassment complaints

Hungarian director Laszlo Marton worked as a guest artist and ‘master teacher’ at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre.

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This story was originally published in October of 2017.

Soulpepper Theatre Company cut ties with long-time guest artist and "master teacher" Laszlo Marton last year after the Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning stage director was the subject of two sexual-harassment complaints, Toronto's largest not-for-profit theatre revealed on Monday.

In recent weeks, Mr. Marton, an iconic figure in Hungary's theatre world, has been publicly accused of sexual harassment by ten women who worked with him – as the #MeToo movement inspired by female artists speaking out about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein made its way to Central Europe.

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As English-language articles about Mr. Marton began to spread to Canada, Soulpepper's artistic director Albert Schultz and executive director Leslie Lester convened a company meeting on Monday with past and present staff and artists who had worked with the Hungarian director. The meeting, according to a statement sent to The Globe and Mail, was held to "reinforce with the members of our community the protocols and standards in place to protect them against harassment or inappropriate behaviour."

According to that same statement, in the late fall of 2015, a "member of Soulpepper Theatre Company's community" in Toronto came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against Mr. Marton – who had directed over a dozen productions for the company since its early days, and had again been slated to direct Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House at the theatre in the summer of 2016, but was later replaced without explanation.

"Following a formal investigation [that concluded in early 2016], Soulpepper determined that Mr. Marton had engaged in sexual harassment and that his relationship with the Company had to be immediately and permanently terminated," the statement from the theatre company reads.

"Following receipt of this first complaint, Soulpepper became aware of a second complainant who wished to remain completely anonymous and therefore did not want to proceed with an investigation."

Mr. Marton, through his New York representative Sheldon Lubliner, declined to comment.

According to Hungarian media reports, Mr. Marton has stepped away from his roles at the Vigszinhaz – known in English as the Comedy Theatre of Budapest – and at the University of Theatre and Film Arts in the wake of the flurry of allegations of coerced and unwanted sexual contact. The controversy began when Budapest actress Lilla Sarosdi posted on Facebook about just such an experience with a "famous director who still works with young people" that had taken place 20 years earlier.

Ms. Sarosdi soon named Mr. Marton as the director in question – and nine other women then told their own stories about him to local media, some using their names, others remaining anonymous. Hungarian journalist Ivette Korosi has written that the accounts have been similar: "In most cases, the victims were at the beginning of their career and perceived Marton as a mentor who eventually took advantage of this power-relation."

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Last week, Mr. Marton issued a statement addressing the allegations. "I extend to all who have spoken out, whether by name or anonymously, my apologies if I acted or behaved in a way that hurt them or put them in a difficult position," he wrote. Earlier in the same statement, however, he complained: "All my life I have strived to create, to work and to give of myself. All this has now become nothing as a result of largely anonymous accounts which are in many instances also totally one-sided."

Soulpepper declined further comment on the nature of the complaints against Mr. Marton, where or when they took place – or whether the complainants were staff, long-time artists or members of the Soulpepper Academy for emerging artists where Mr. Marton was a guest instructor. "As information about location and timing could identify the complainant, we cannot disclose it," Soulpepper's manager of communications wrote on behalf of the company in response to e-mailed questions. The company said neither Mr. Schultz nor Ms. Lester were available for an interview on the subject.

Mr. Marton is more than an occasional visitor to Soulpepper, however – the 74-year-old director is a long-time friend and mentor of many of Soulpepper's founding artists who had been with the company since its second season in 1999. The Hungarian director helped put the Toronto theatre company on the map that year with his production of Anton Chekhov's Platonov – for which he received his Dora for Outstanding Direction – and another of Ferenc Molnar's The Play's The Thing, which was revived as recently as October, 2015.

The repertory system of Mr. Marton's theatre in Budapest has been described by Mr. Schultz as an inspiration for Soulpepper's – and the company's Academy has been sent on exchange to Budapest in the past. A 2014 blog post still on Soulpepper's website features a picture of Mr. Marton in Budapest surrounded by a group of young Academy members who are described as being "embedded with Master Teacher Laszlo Marton at the Hungary University of Theatre."

Soulpepper's statement noted that the alleged behaviour of Mr. Marton – whose productions with Soulpepper will be permanently retired from the repertory – was "both unacceptable in human terms and in violation of Soulpepper's past and present policies and codes of conduct." Nevertheless, the theatre company added that they had now "engaged a third-party expert to conduct a review of our policies and procedures to ensure we are using best practices."

"We recognize that this news, and the news coming out of Hungary, will be deeply troubling to many, and may cause distress to some," the statement said. "To all those affected, we extend our support, and want to reaffirm that Soulpepper is dedicated to creating a safe place of belonging for artists, audiences and aspirants."

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