Acclaimed LA LGBTQ Theater Company Dismisses Artistic Director After Claims of Sexual Misconduct

Sunday May 30, 2021

Michael A. Shepperd, the artistic director of L.A.'s Celebration Theatre, was fired last Tuesday after allegations of sexual misconduct, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"The allegations against Shepperd, an award-winning actor-director and a champion of diversity and equity in L.A.'s theater scene, surfaced in an April 14 Facebook post by Andrew Diego, an actor who had appeared alongside Shepperd in a 2019 production of 'The Producers.'"

In his F.B. post, Diego wrote: "During our cast warm-ups pre-show, many would often take to the stage to stretch, vocalize, etc.,... It wasn't uncommon for Mr. Shepperd to put his hands around my waist from behind, or loom over me and breathe onto my neck while touching my torso."

Diego told the Times in an interview that Shepperd had groped him backstage and propositioned him for sex. "I think there needs to be space created to have an open and ongoing conversation among queer theater executives about this theme of how we use sexuality amongst each other in our work and our work spaces," Diego told The Times, "and how we end up in ways big and small bringing repulsive behavior into our spaces."

Shepperd had served as artistic or co-artistic director of the theater for two tenures (2008-2011 and 2013-2021). He denied the accusations in a statement, criticizing its secret nature that the Celebration Theatre refused to share or provide details.

"Michael categorically denies any and all allegations of misconduct and laments the absence of due process that led to Celebration Theatre's decision," read the statement from Shepperd's lawyer, Jordan Susman.

In his Facebook post, Diego said Shepperd would grab him around the waist from behind during warm-ups, breathe down his neck and loom over him, and proposition him for sex.

"Once he mentioned that when the show ended and we didn't have to be 'professional' anymore, he definitely wanted to f**k me," Diego wrote on Facebook.  

Diego also alleged that Shepperd had told him he used to masturbate to a gang rape scene from "The Accused."

The theater company hired Susannah Howard from the law firm O'Melveny & Myers to investigate in April. The theater also posted an artist survey on its website to allow anyone involved with Celebration productions to comment anonymously, the Times reported.

The investigator's final report "included other credible accounts of misconduct," Celebration wrote in a statement, adding that Howard recommended that the theater "implement additional policies and procedures to enhance artist safety, increase accountability, and clarify standards of conduct."

In a related L.A. Times report Michael Taylor Gray, another Celebration Theatre employee, made similar accusations against Shepperd.

A casting assistant and company member, Gray recalled feeling guilt-ridden and confused by the experience, which also triggered his experience as a survivor of childhood sex abuse.

"You're caught up in this swirl of so many thoughts and emotions, and there is no possible way you can think clearly," Gray told the L.A. Times. 

"It's all very blurry and easy to get caught in that thinking of, 'I'm wrong, too,' and to start blaming yourself," Gray said.

Shepperd told the Times the sex with Gray was consensual and that the pair had sex on several occasions and maintained a close friendship afterward.

"Gray confirmed this but said he had remained on good terms to maintain their professional relationship, and that the conduct fitted a pattern of abusive behavior," reported the Daily Mail.