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Lee Trull Accused of Misconduct

The Dallas Theater Center's Director of New Play Development, accused of inappropriate behavior, has been fired.



published Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Photo: Robert Hart
Lee Trull

Dallas — In the Dallas Theater Center’s early seasons at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, which opened in 2009, a Southern Methodist University student who performed at the theater says that Lee Trull, then a DTC casting director and a Hal and Diane Brierley Resident Acting Company member, repeatedly harassed her. At one point he “put his hand on my butt and grabbed it hard,” said the actress, who wishes to remain anonymous. This behavior continued—and worsened.

“He proceeded in the months following to corner me in my dressing room after a show and push himself up against my back so I would be firmly stuck between him and the dressing table,” she said. “On these occasions, he would take my hand and put it on his penis when he was erect. He would hold my neck, turn my head, kiss me and jab his tongue in my mouth.

“I would feel frozen in these moments, and I would even play along just enough to not make him upset,” she said. “I did not want him that close to me. I did not want to touch his penis. I did not want to kiss him. … I was scared that if I fought him off or pushed him away, he would find a way to speak poorly of me to the rest of the artistic staff and it might affect whether or not I could continue to work at DTC.”

She did not report the incident.

This actress is one of multiple women who have shared their stories with TheaterJones, revealing a pattern of harassment and abuse of power by Trull, who since 2013 has been DTC’s Director of New Play Development, becoming a major player in commissioning and developing new plays and musicals at the Dallas Theater Center and with various producing partners.

The allegations include a woman to whom he allegedly sent lewd photos; a woman to whom he made suggestive propositions via Facebook messages; another who was pursued and whom he tried to kiss despite her telling him “no.”

Other women said they were first contacted by Trull under the guise of discussing their careers or hinting at auditions for shows that were not on the Dallas Theater Center’s season. They were almost always college students, mostly at SMU, but also at Texas Christian University.

One of Trull’s accusers filed a complaint with Dallas Theater Center’s administration. On Monday evening (Dec. 4), TheaterJones received an official statement from managing director Jeffrey Woodward:

Theater is a collaborative art form that requires each person to bring his or her whole self to work and participate in the creative process. Dallas Theater Center is committed to providing the type of environment necessary for the creative process to flourish. Anyone who contributes to an unsafe, unwelcome, or inequitable environment not only violates DTC’s policies, but also undermines DTC’s fundamental goal of creating the highest quality theatrical art that deeply engages our community.

DTC recently received a complaint about inappropriate behavior by Lee Trull.  DTC promptly investigated and determined that the alleged conduct is a violation of DTC’s policies. As a result, Lee's employment has been terminated today, effective immediately. DTC remains dedicated to taking any action necessary to ensure a safe workplace, free of harassment, for all employees.



TRULL AT DALLAS THEATER CENTER

 

Since Kevin Moriarty became Artistic Director in 2007, helping the transition of the long-running regional theater into its new home at the Dallas Performing Arts Center (now AT&T Performing Arts Center), DTC has also built relationships and collaborations with Southern Methodist University—there is always at least one SMU student in the resident acting company—and with Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. That institution sits in the Dallas Arts District along with ATTPAC’s Wyly Theatre and Winspear Opera House, City Performance Hall, the Meyerson Symphony, the Dallas Museum of Art, Nasher Sculpture Center and other museums and creative organizations.

Trull, an Arlington native, has been involved with Dallas Theater Center—which won the Regional Theatre Tony Award in 2017—since 2008, first as one of the original members of the Hal and Diane Brierley Resident Acting Ensemble, and subsequently becoming the theater's local casting director and literary manager. In 2013, he left the acting company and became the Director of New Play Development, a position that has made him an important player in the arena of new plays and musicals, as the Dallas Theater Center has partnered on new works with the Public Theater and Playwrights Horizons in New York, among other national theaters.

He has also served as a producer of several shows. His upcoming producing projects were to include DTC productions of Fade, Frankenstein, and the world premiere of Jonathan Norton's Penny Candy in 2018. He is working on a musical adaptation of Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea with local composer Shawn Magill (of the locally born musical On the Eve) and nationally known playwright Kate Hamill, whose adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was recently seen at WaterTower Theatre. Leagues had a private reading in October as part of DTC’s New Play Week.

In September, it was announced that Trull would be leaving the theater at the end of the 2017-18 season to "further his artistic work, both locally and nationally, as a playwright, actor, director and dramaturg," according to the press release from DTC two months ago.

Photo: Michael Hiller
Lee Trull

Trull's own plays in recent years include Wilde/Earnest at Kitchen Dog Theater, where he was a longtime company member; and Deferred Action, co-written with David Lozano for a DTC co-production with Cara Mía Theatre Company that premiered in 2016. Cara Mía recently toured that play to University of North Texas in Denton, SMU, Houston, and Los Angeles.

Trull has worked with Second Thought Theatre and Stage West. He was to direct Lucas Hnath's Hillary and Clinton for Second Thought in January; STT Artistic Director Alex Organ has informed TheaterJones that Trull will be replaced. He was also to direct Halley Feiffer's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City at Stage West in March. Executive Producer Dana Schultes tells TheaterJones he has been pulled from that project. (You can read the STT statement here.)

On Tuesday Kitchen Dog Theater released him from the company.

Trull also previously directed Booker T. Washington’s Skokos Learning Lab while a member of the Brierley Resident Acting Company, and like many stage actors in DFW, has worked as an actor in various films, commercials and training videos.



MESSAGING TO SMU STUDENTS

 

In the Dallas Theater Center and Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts partnership, DTC artistic staff members, including Trull, consult in semester auditions and casting for SMU BFA and MFA students. Select students are regularly cast in DTC productions.

In the spring of 2013 Katy Tye, an undergraduate student at SMU, began to receive Facebook messages from Trull. Then in his mid-30s, he was a member of the Brierley Company and the casting director at the time. The online conversation began after Tye posted a picture of herself on a beach doing a handstand. Trull messaged her saying, “Too many Miami photos for an old guy trying to work.”

The messages began as mundane chat, as Trull tried to get her to come to his show, maing comments like “I saturate the market,” and “I’m bored backstage" during a show at DTC.

Tye first met Trull after a performance of The Odd Couple at the Wyly in the spring of 2013. He asked her to stay after the show for drinks, even though she was under the legal drinking age at the time. He gave her a tour backstage. When a classmate involved with the production saw her there, Tye said, the classmate urged her to leave the building. “I was told repeatedly not to get drinks with Lee by classmates, so I never did no matter how many times he asked.”

At one point, Trull propositioned her for sex through Facebook Messenger, making jokes about their age difference. (She was 20 at the time.) Trull wrote, “You are very hot and I see that from far away.” Trull’s messages began to become more sexual in nature, Tye says, referring to her as a “woman who’s clearly never been fucked by an older man.” Trull then began to proposition a sexual encounter. “Older guys are more patient … Into pleasing than to being pleased … Slower. Deeper … Young boys fumble around. Don’t last long. … Older guys are more graceful. You should have a release with me sometime. In the summer when you’re hot and the rules don’t count.” (Tye shared Trull's messages with TheaterJones for this story.)

Tye, who is the co-founder of Prism Movement Theater, evaded the suggestions for sex and felt uncomfortable with what he was insinuating, considering he was the casting director at that time and closely involved in semester casting decisions. She did not report it to authority figures. “I didn’t tell anyone at SMU at the time. I wasn’t sure where to go. I was embarrassed.” She did, however, share these interactions with friends.

Another SMU undergraduate alumna, who requested anonymity, said that Trull sent her text messages late at night while she was a student. He allegedly asked her to go to bars with him on multiple occasions, but this woman felt uneasy. She never accepted his requests because other women had warned her about their experiences after they accepted an invitation to a bar with him.

Trull pressured these women, sources say, through messages to meet with him alone to talk about casting opportunities or their future careers.

A source at Dallas Theater Center, who requested anonymity, tells TheaterJones, "[He] somehow makes the young women he does harass believe that no one will like them if they say anything ... [he] gives himself way more importance."

Another SMU alumna, Claire Carson, recounted what happened when she accepted Trull’s invitation. Carson said, “He asked me out for drinks to talk about my goals as a theater artist in this town. We met up in a dark, empty bar. Lee ordered for me. The bartender didn't check my ID and wouldn't look me in the eyes.”

“We did not talk about my goals as a theater artist,” she said. “In fact I didn't talk much at all. Instead I listened to him go on about how monogamy ‘isn't real’ and ‘cheating gets a bad rap,’ and how he'd happily cheat on his fiancée. He continued on about how all the young men in the SMU theatre department were ‘useless,’ but the women were worth investing in. I was asked if I had a boyfriend. I was not asked about my goals, my ambition, or my art.

“He sat too close to me,” she continued. “He put his arm around me. He kept offering me more wine. After I'd made it clear (with body language and constant changes of subject) that this wasn't going anywhere, I offered to split the bill. He declined and paid it all, and we went our separate ways. Why would a middle-aged man reach out to a newly 21-year-old college student to start a friendship? It didn't make sense and it still doesn't. Why would the conversation turn to sex?”



MORE BAD BEHAVIOR

 

This behavior was not exclusive to SMU students.

Kelsey Milbourn had never met Trull when she began to receive text messages from him in 2009, when she was a 19-year-old freshman at Texas Christian University.

“I was warned by another friend about Lee, but he started texting me about casting me in a show. And I thought, ‘Oh,, my god, of course! He’s the casting director at DTC, who would say no to that?’”

But the messages were not about a specific show. In fact, Milbourn found it difficult to get any concrete information about a production of any kind. “I kept asking him about an audition time and when the show was, and he just kept asking me to ‘come over.’ The plays he talked about were in no one’s theater season, so it wasn’t really even a real audition. He told me to come to a coffee shop and other places and asked if I was ‘down for a cuddle.’”

The messages then turned into Trull sending messages of a sexual nature to Millbourn. She said that Trull sent her a lewd photo during the exchanges.

Millbourn stopped replying to his messages, she says, and years later, Milbourn said a DTC staff member told her that he had seen Trull take phone numbers from headshots—photographs of actors used for audition purposes—for personal use. Milbourn believes this is how Trull received her contact information. Actor’s Equity Association states that personal information on headshots are “provided in confidence and is to solely be used for casting purposes (e.g. setting up callbacks, providing audition material, making offers of employment).”

Since this incident, Millbourn says she has been cautious about working on projects when Trull is involved. “I was cast in A Christmas Carol last year but turned it down because I knew that he would be a part of the project; he’s everywhere at that theatre. I turned down $700 a week because of him.”

She agreed to work as fight choreographer on Miller, Mississippi at DTC only after she knew that Trull would not be present during her two hours of work. “In a roundabout way, I asked who would be present at the rehearsal, wanting to know if Lee would be there. I didn’t want to ask the production team directly, so I asked specifically who would be present when I was at the rehearsal.”

Another actress Trull allegedly pursued is Kayla Carlyle, now based in LA. “When I would go see shows at DTC, he would usually come up behind me and comment on how I looked or send me a message after about my appearance,” she said.

“The last time was while I was in town doing Bonnie and Clyde [at WaterTower Theatre in October 2014] and I went with my cast to see The Rocky Horror Show [at Dallas Theater Center]. Naturally, we dressed up for the show. During the after-party, he repeatedly commented on my appearance and why I ‘had to do that to him’ and that he's ‘going to explode.’ When I would post a picture of myself to my personal social media accounts he would send me messages about his thoughts on the photo...always sexual.”

Trull continuously asked who she was dating at the time, sent messages to Carlyle about what he would do if he was single, and told Carlyle that he “stalked” her sister’s and friends’ social media pages.

Carlyle said she had a physical altercation with Trull, at a bar with castmates and others from DTC. Eventually, Carlyle and Trull were next to each other in a crowded bar. “Lee ordered another drink, while I finished the drink I had been nursing all night,” Carlyle said. “I remember at one point him caressing my lower back and then touching/rubbing my thigh. I awkwardly laughed and said ‘hey,’ and crossed my legs away from him, putting my own hand on my leg.

“He encouraged me to keep drinking, but I declined. We left the bar and Lee walked me to my car. When we got to my car, he tried to kiss me. I told him I didn't see him that way, which he knew, and that I was kind of seeing someone. He said, ‘but I thought you were drunk?’ I laughed and said ‘No.’

“He then proceeded to ask who I was seeing and why I was interested in this guy. He kept prying about the other guy and ‘what I saw in him’ and how that guy just ‘plays women.’ Eventually, we called it a night. He hugged me closely and put his face on my neck attempting to kiss it. I said, ‘okay’ and leaned back [away from him], then he tried to kiss me again and I, again, said I wasn't interested and I left.”

“I have never tried to become closer to Lee in hopes of advancing my career,” Carlyle said. “I have, however, allowed him to get away with inappropriate behavior in fear of that resistance affecting my career and reputation."



Photo: Courtesy Dallas Theater Center
Lee Trull

DTC AND BOOKER T.

 

Trull's behavior allegedly extended to Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, which partners with Dallas Theater Center. Select students are chosen to participate in advanced-level acting classes at the Skokos Learning Lab, and are taught by DTC Teaching Artists, usually with a member of the Brierley Acting Company as head teacher. DTC considers the program an internship for Booker T.’s theater cluster students; students shadow DTC actors, and participate in formal instruction. Skokos students are given access to DTC rehearsals and may see productions free of charge. Trull was a lead teacher of the program while he was a member of the Brierley company.

A former Skokos student of Trull’s told TheaterJones that after graduation she began to receive messages from Trull, complimenting her after she posted new pictures on social media.

She said that Trull, on a visit he made to New York City, where she was living as a freshman in college, invited her for a drink, which she accepted. The conversation offered little information on career opportunities and contained flirtatious overtones. Even though she was under drinking age, Trull bought drinks with her under the guise of discussing her future career, she says.

She said that after meeting him in his hotel bar, he began to urge her to move their conversation up to his room. At that time, she said she began to feel afraid of what could happen, and left the bar abruptly while he was out of the room. He continued to message her after that night.

Several women told TheaterJones, on the condition of anonymity, that when they were cast in their first show directed by Trull, they were warned about his behavior by others who had worked with him. One SMU student, speaking anonymously, was cast in a show he directed that was not at DTC. She soon began to receive warnings and specific rules for how to deal with Trull.

“An alum from my school called and told me that if he asked to go out to a bar after rehearsal, that I shouldn’t go,” this woman said. “She told me I should never be in a room with him alone. She said that he had messaged her inappropriate things and tried to make some advances towards her outside of the rehearsal room. She said I shouldn’t feel an obligation to say or do anything for him in order to maintain my career here, that he didn’t have as much power as he thinks he does.”



AN OPEN SECRET

 

These experiences are a cross-section of the stories that have proliferated in the Dallas theater community for years. Trull's inappropriate behavior toward women was known as an “open secret.” Several women told TheaterJones that they feared speaking out because Trull is connected with numerous theaters in the area.

Sources at the Dallas Theater Center have told us that in 2010 and 2016, the theater held “sensitivity training” for its staff. On Nov. 21, 2017, there was a brief meeting to review “workplace harassment prevention policies and procedures.” A source said that it was unclear whether these were a result from allegations against Trull.

In September 2017, the Dallas Theater Center announced that Lee would be leaving the Dallas Theater Center at the end of the 2017-18 season.

"Lee has been among my most valued colleagues, collaborators and friends since his arrival at DTC ten years ago,” Kevin Moriarty said in that statement. “A founding member of the Diane and Hal Brierley Resident Acting Company, he has served in nearly every imaginable role at DTC in the past decade, including as a leading actor in many productions, casting director, producer, director, dramaturg and playwright. I can’t imagine my artistic tenure at DTC without Lee’s immense contributions. He’s been an integral part of DTC’s many successes and we are already looking for opportunities to continue his artistic relationship with DTC in future years."

We contacted Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty on Monday, Dec. 4. He confirmed that there was an investigation, and told us that Managing Director Jeffrey Woodward would contact us later in the day with a statement. At 6:55 p.m. on Monday, Woodward called to deliver the statement that DTC released on Dec. 5, at the top of this story, and declined to take further questions.

TheaterJones reached out for comments from various companies that Trull has worked with. Tina Parker, Co-Artistic Director of Kitchen Dog Theater; Alex Organ, Artistic Director of Second Thought Theatre; Dana Schultes, Executive Producer of Stage West; and David Lozano, Executive Artistic Director of Cara Mía Theatre, have each told us that they have never had a complaint filed about Trull at their theaters.

Trull did not respond to requests for comment by TheaterJones.

 

 

LASTING REPERCUSSIONS

 

The first woman in this report said that Trull has created a hostile environment for artists.

“While the theater is a place to expose and explore all elements of our humanity, and that can lead to difficult, personal, vulnerable conversations and interactions... there should still be a mutual checking in; a mutual respect for triggers and individual comfort boundaries,” she said. “This basic human respect was never shown to me; I was perpetually reminded of my lower status and powerlessness. In this sacred space, this theatrical ‘church,’ I had never been made to feel as unsafe as I did the several times I was cornered by Trull.”

 

 

» If you have stories to tell us about Trull, or others misbehaving in the DFW theater community, email Allison Hibbs at allisonhibbs86@gmail.com; Katy Lemieux at kathryn.lemieux@gmail.com; or Mark Lowry at marklowry@theaterjones.comThanks For Reading





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Lee Trull Accused of Misconduct
The Dallas Theater Center's Director of New Play Development, accused of inappropriate behavior, has been fired.
by Shelby-Allison Hibbs, Katy Lemieux and Mark Lowry

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