Colgan ‘managed by fury and fear’

The Gate Theatre’s former artistic director, Michael Colgan, “managed by fury, threats and fear”, used profane language, belittled staff to the point of making them cry, eroded their confidence, and retaliated if confronted, according to allegations detailed in a review of his tenure at the theatre.

Michael Colgan.

The Gate Theatre’s former artistic director, Michael Colgan, “managed by fury, threats and fear”, used profane language, belittled staff to the point of making them cry, eroded their confidence, and retaliated if confronted, according to allegations detailed in a review of his tenure at the theatre.

Mr Colgan has denied bullying claims and allegations of inappropriate behaviour, which first arose in print and social media last year.

Gaye Cunningham, a Rights Commissioner, was appointed by the Gate to investigate the claims, and engaged with 65 individuals in the process of compiling her report.

She found that those working in the Gate were afraid of not getting further work if they reported inappropriate behaviours.

“Evidence of not getting work after any disagreement with Michael Colgan was reported by individuals among the acting, directing, and design professions,” the report stated.

“It was noted that such was his power and influence that many individuals believed their careers did suffer as a result of crossing Mr Colgan.”

The report detailed allegations that Mr Colgan would come in too close proximity to staff, would put his hand on their knees when typing, would ask personal questions, or make remarks about their appearance, and that he would tell inappropriate stories of a sexual nature, or make comments of a similar nature about actresses.

It was also alleged that he would ask inappropriate questions about marital status in interviews, and about applicants’ plans to have children.

It also detailed positive remarks about Mr Colgan; that he resurrected the fortunes of the theatre through unrelenting hard work, and that he could be kind and supportive when required.

Mr Colgan denied the allegations. The report outlined how he described himself as a tactile person who would throw his arms around creative people, not just women.

He denied shouting at staff or using profane language, but conceded he considered the workplace team as being “like a family” and that he “blurred the lines”. He said he is not “politically correct” but denied allegations of bullying or sexual harassment.

The report said: “Michael Colgan strongly rejected these allegations, particularly when made under cover of anonymity. He further stated that this is not a case of ‘tip of the iceberg’ where further hidden allegations may be made.”

The report also detailed how those interviewed felt the board of the Gate did not act to prevent bullying.

Ms Cunningham found there is a case to answer that Mr Colgan undermined the right to dignity at work, that there was an abuse of power that had a negative effect on some careers, and there was a case to answer in relation to inappropriate behaviour.

She further reported that the board were shocked at the allegations.

The report recommended the establishment of a process to engender trust between the Gate board, management and staff, and that procedures need to be put in place to handle dignity at work issues.

It recommended that HR issues need be regularly discussed at board meetings, that there should be a limit to an artistic director’s tenure, and that planned resignations from the board, due later this year, be brought forward.

Commenting on behalf of the board of the Gate Theatre, chairman Peter Crowley said the recommendations provide “a strong blueprint for making the Gate a safe and supportive work environment”.

“The board reiterates its unreserved apology to those who experienced the behaviours detailed in the review,” said Mr Crowley.

“In our statement three weeks ago, we acknowledged that the board had an onus to be more aware of the culture prevailing in the theatre over time and we stated our commitment to implement Ms Cunningham’s recommendations in full.” 


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