Investigation Reveals Allegations Of Harassment & Violence at San Francisco's THE SPEAKEASY

Former Actors and staff raise serious concerns over safety, harassment, and unlicensed activities during the immersive theater's run.

By: Apr. 04, 2024
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In 2014, Caitlin Gardner, an actor in San Francisco's The Speakeasy, experienced an incident where she felt heavily drugged after consuming a prop drink provided during the show.

Charlie Gray, a trans and nonbinary actor, reported being physically and verbally harassed by audience members both during performances and as a spectator. Ezra Reaves, another actor who uses gender-neutral pronouns, highlighted frequent harassment of the production's "chorus girls" by the audience, noting a lack of protective measures akin to those in strip clubs.

The San Francisco Chronicle conducted interviews over several years with people associated with The Speakeasy, uncovering a range of issues, including physical violence, sexual harassment, pay disputes, and racist remarks during performances.

During its initial run in 2014, The Speakeasy reportedly sold cocktails without a valid liquor license, a fact corroborated by California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control records.

This situation was part of broader concerns related to the show's handling of alcohol, which cast members indicated contributed to an overall culture of excessive drinking and compromised safety for both audience and workers.

Selling alcohol without a license typically constitutes a misdemeanor offense. Despite these allegations, when questioned, Boxcar Theatre spokesperson David Oates told The Chronicle he could not locate any documentation of a liquor license for that period.

Workers reportedly alleged a workplace culture of excessive drinking and unsafe conditions, further exacerbated by the behavior of Boxcar Theatre founder Nick Olivero. Despite these allegations, Olivero denied many and did not comment on others, asserting the importance of safety for all involved in the production.

David Gluck, a past producer still involved with the show, claimed adherence to contractual obligations regarding payment when asked about past pay disputes by The Chronicle. Boxcar Theatre spokesperson David Oates mentioned efforts to address issues of racism and safety, including significant changes to the production team and new measures like hiring an intimacy choreographer and offering audience badges for interaction opt-out.

Despite the allegations, many involved with The Speakeasy praised the production for its ambition and the immersive experience it offered. Some former staff expressed skepticism about the management's commitment to change.

Boxcar Theatre, founded in 2005, gained recognition for its edgy productions. "The Speakeasy, its most ambitious project, ran initially in 2014 and again from 2016 to 2019, drawing attention for its immersive experience but also for controversial elements like depicting racism of the 1920s. Issues with licensing and the treatment of staff and actors have overshadowed some of the production's achievements. The recent remounting of The Speakeasy has brought these issues back into focus, with some former workers voicing their concerns while others note changes aimed at improving the work environment.

Photo by Valerie Guseva via Jonh Hill PR/The Speakeasy


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