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Broadway producer Scott Rudin steps aside amid accusations of abusive behavior going back decades, apologizes for pain he caused

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 4/17/2021 Peter Marks
Bette Midler, Scott Rudin posing for a photo: Producer Scott Rudin and the cast of “Hello, Dolly!” accept the award for best revival of a musical at the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall. © Theo Wargo/Getty Images Producer Scott Rudin and the cast of “Hello, Dolly!” accept the award for best revival of a musical at the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall.

Apologizing “for the pain [his] behavior caused” colleagues, producer Scott Rudin — a titanic force on Broadway and in Hollywood — told The Washington Post on Saturday that he will “step back” from his Broadway ventures. He added that he was “taking steps that I should have taken years ago to address this behavior.”

Rudin, 62, producer of such Broadway hits as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Book of Mormon” and Oscar winners including “No Country for Old Men,” was accused in an April 7 article by the Hollywood Reporter of “acts of intimidation” and humiliation against his employees, going back decades.

The story, in which several people described allegations that have circulated in the entertainment industry for years about Rudin’s bullying and rages, rocked the theater world. In one anecdote, he allegedly smashed a computer monitor on an assistant’s hand over an unsuccessful flight booking, sending the employee to the emergency room. He’s also accused of throwing objects at workers, including a stapler and a baked potato.

Demands for artists who work with Rudin to publicly repudiate him mounted on social media in the days after the report. The outrage culminated Wednesday with Tony-winning actress Karen Olivo declaring in an Instagram video that she would not be returning to the Broadway production of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” after the shutdown because she said “the silence about Scott Rudin” was “unacceptable.”

“Building a better industry is more important than putting money in my pocket,” said Olivo, who last year formed with actress Eden Espinosa a reform group, Artists for Economic Transparency. “People are more important than your pocketbook. That’s it.”

Karen Olivo et al. standing on a stage: Aaron Tveit, left, and Karen Olivo at the curtain call for the Broadway opening night of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on July 25, 2019. © Greg Allen/Invision/AP Aaron Tveit, left, and Karen Olivo at the curtain call for the Broadway opening night of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on July 25, 2019.

In his first public statement about the controversy, Rudin — who is not involved with “Moulin Rouge!” — acknowledged the seriousness of the allegations against him, while not addressing their specifics.

“Much has been written about my history of troubling interactions with colleagues, and I am profoundly sorry for the pain my behavior caused to individuals, ­directly and indirectly,” he wrote in a three-paragraph statement emailed to The Post.

“After a period of reflection, I’ve made the decision to step back from active participation on our Broadway productions, effective immediately. My roles will be filled by others from the Broadway community and in a number of cases, from the roster of participants already in place on those shows.”

“My passionate hope and expectation is that Broadway will reopen successfully very soon, and that the many talented artists associated with it will once again begin to thrive and share their artistry with the world. I do not want any controversy associated with me to interrupt Broadway’s well deserved return, or specifically, the return of the 1500 people working on these shows.”

Rudin declined to elaborate on the statement, or on what exactly retreating from “active participation” entails. He has spoken to confidants about beginning a program of anger management or some manner of coaching. Whether his actions will in some way quell the calls for punitive action to be taken against him is unclear. Producers who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the allegations have spoken of some sanction by the Broadway League, whose members are Broadway producers and theater owners. But the league exists primarily as a trade organization and overseer of the Tony Awards with the American Theatre Wing. Every commercial Broadway production is, in essence, its own private enterprise.

“All change is theoretical,” said Olivo, in response to Rudin’s statement, “Action and time are needed before we can name it transformation. . . . Rudin is but one dragon to slay. There are more.”

Some members of the Broadway community say Rudin is just one of many abusive people — directors, choreographers, actors, business executives — whose behavior has been tolerated. His stepping back from “active participation” will probably not change the environment, they say.

“It’s a first step. Is it enough? No,” said one Broadway producer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of negative consequences. “There are people at every point in the business that have been taught that this is how you get the results you need. So the behavior gets replicated.”

“We have been taught that we have to sacrifice for our art,” this producer said about why bad behavior remains prevalent. “But you can do great work without creating a toxic environment.”

Actors’ Equity, the national labor union, called for Rudin to release his staff from any nondisclosure agreements that they may have had to sign, saying it would be “an important first step in creating truly safe and harassment-free theatrical workplaces on Broadway and beyond.”

“Since news reports emerged about Scott Rudin, we have had many private conversations with our sibling unions and the Broadway League. We have heard from hundreds of members that these allegations are inexcusable, and everyone deserves a safe workplace whether they are a union member or not,” president Kate Shindle and executive director Mary McColl said in a joint statement.

An exit by Rudin has potentially immense consequences for an industry that is short on visionary leaders. The Internet Broadway Database lists 77 plays and musicals produced by Rudin since the early 1990s. They run the gamut from star-driven revivals (Bette Midler in “Hello, Dolly!”; Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in “Fences”) to risky new work by writers previously unseen on Broadway (Taylor Mac’s “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus,” Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House Part 2”).

Rudin also has been instrumental behind the scenes over the past several months with Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Group, in efforts to put Broadway on a safe timetable for its return. At the behest of New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), he and Jane Rosenthal, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, launched a months-long initiative, the NY PopsUp festival, to herald the impending reinstatement of live performance.

Allies of Rudin’s reached Saturday, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the allegations against him, said it was chiefly Rudin who spearheaded efforts to put Broadway in touch with New York state officials, secure high-level Washington lobbyists and help enlist Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) in the campaign to obtain federal relief for arts venues. That resulted in the $16.1 billion in aid provided by the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant program, which has yet to begin dispensing money.

[Enter Nathan Lane and Savion Glover, as Broadway opens its doors for the first time in 13 months]

Before the shutdown, Rudin had three shows running on Broadway: the long-running “Book of Mormon,” Aaron Sorkin’s hit adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and director Ivo van Hove’s provocative, multimedia reinterpretation of “West Side Story.” Announced, too, was a $17 million revival of “The Music Man,” directed by Jerry Zaks and starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, and a touring version of “Mockingbird,” now set to come to the Kennedy Center in spring of 2022.

Rudin’s announcement means he will cede direct handling of these productions when they return to others. No mention was made in his statement of his film projects, which include the release on Netflix next month of “The Woman in the Window,” starring Amy Adams.

The people close to Rudin expressed sadness about his alleged behavior but added that a departure from day-to-day responsibilities of some duration was the right thing. “It’s a sad story all around, and whatever he did do, I can’t condone it,” said one Broadway insider. “There is no way of telling this story without admitting it’s a tale of two Scotts.”

Correction: A previous version of this article reported Bartlett Sher is the director of “The Music Man.” The director is Jerry Zaks. This version has been updated.

Peggy McGlone contributed to this report.

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