By: Wyatt Wagoner
I grew up in love with musical theatre. I was in love with the way actors moved and the way they took words on a page and created something heart wrenching and beautiful. I wanted to act one day. I dreamed of being on a broadway stage. I wanted the anticipation of being in the wings, before stepping onstage and becoming someone completely new.
And although I always knew Broadway wasn’t all fun and games, I never could have imagined the truth of what has been going on in the wings.
Scott Rudin has been a producer since 1984, when his first film with Scott Rudin Productions, Mrs. Soffel, was released. He has gathered 148 film and broadway credits since he joined the entertainment industry, meaning he has created a significant impact on the industry as a whole. But he has not made a positive impact anyone he has ever worked with.
On April 7, 2021, Hollywood Reporter came out with an article titled, “‘Everyone Just Knows He’s an Absolute Monster’: Scott Rudin’s Ex-Staffers Speak Out on Abusive Behavior”. This article is filled to the brim with stories of abuse and misconduct in the office of Scott Rudin productions. There are multiple stories of Scott Rudin throwing items at his employees in fits of rage, causing panic attacks, leaving workers with severe mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, and creating what some of his employees called a “cult-like atmosphere”.
The moment many of his employees realized Rudin was abusing his power was when he attempted to destroy the career of one of his former assistants. Multiple sources reported to the Hollywood Reporter that when a former employee resigned from her position at Scott Rudin Productions to work for Harvey Weinstein, Rudin emailed Weinstein saying the assistant had stolen from him and Weinstein should not allow her to work for him. One of the assistant’s colleagues said, “It literally changed everyone who was there at the time’s interest in having anything to do with him ever again. All of the employees realized that this is what we had to look forward to, after slaving away, being attacked so much, being maligned in really bizarre ways. There was a casual disregard for human rights”.
Scott Rudin continuously used his power to get his way in the Broadway and film industry. The most recent example of this was when he evicted the musical Beetlejuice from its Broadway home at the Wintergarden theatre in order for his own production, a revival of The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. It was utterly obvious that this was an abuse of power on Rudin’s part, because Beetlejuice was breaking box office records. So not only did Rudin put hundreds of people who were employed by the show out of work, but made the Shubert organization, which owns a large chunk of New York’s theatres, give up one of the best earning shows they had had in a while.
But his abuse was not just manipulating the system to get what he wants, it was also physical abuse of his employees. A non-comprehensive list of these actions includes pushing an employee out of a moving car, smashing a computer monitor on an employee’s hand, and throwing phones at his assistants so often that they memorized the length of his phone cord so that they could be at a safe distance.
Some of his abuse was undeniably ableist, racist, and sexist. He was reported to have used the r-slur against a theater assistant who later completely abandoned the industry. Caroline Rugo, who was an executive coordinator at Scott Rudin productions for many years, was fired because she would not let go of her required disability accommodations for her type 1 diabetes, which took nothing more than 30 minutes a day of her work away from Rudin. This wasn’t the only time he fired an assistant for being disabled, he was also reported to fire one of his assistants for their blindness. He’s been said to have made incredibly rude comments about female actors who he felt had slighted him, such as Whoopi Goldberg. According to Hollywood Reporter, “…he lambasted her because she wanted to play a part in To Kill a Mockingbird instead of another Rudin-produced project, the film adaptation of Aleshea Harris’ acclaimed play Is God Is. He called her an idiot, said she’d never work again in anything important and wished her luck on The View”. He was also reported to have made racist comments about Barack Obama when he was president.
While many people are still afraid to speak out about Rudin’s abuse, others are unexpectedly outspoken. These include hundreds of Broadway actors, who are calling on larger Broadway actors to speak out against Rudin’s behavior.
One of the first people who did this was Karen Olivo, who, before the pandemic, was starring as Satine in Moulin Rouge! on Broadway. She recently announced that they will not be returning to the show once it opens again in protest of the abuse that has been happening in the industry. She went on Instagram live saying, “Building a better industry is more important than putting money in my pockets”. She also asked her fellow actors, “Those of you who say you’re scared, what are you afraid of? Shouldn’t you be more afraid of not saying something and more people getting hurt?”
Moulin Rouge’s instagram page posted the producer’s response to this, saying, “Moulin Rouge! The Musical is forever indebted to @karenolivo76’s artistry, passion, and craft in creating the role of Satine on stage. We applaud Karen’s advocacy work to create a safe, diverse, and equitable theater industry for all”. This post’s comment section was flooded with people asking the producers of Moulin Rouge! to speak out on why Olivo actually left, and make an action plan to make their show a safer space.
As well as Karen Olivo, Brandon Uranowitz, who is most well known for his role in the 2016 revival of Falsettos, is speaking up about Scott Rudin’s abuse. He has been actively posting on his instagram story. One of his first posts said, “Maybe collectively telling Scott Rudin to f*** off is a vital, necessary part of building the kind of equitable community we’ve been blueprinting for a whole damn year”. Uranowitz also called on Sutton Foster and Hugh Jackman to speak out against Rudin’s abuse, since they were directly being benefited by Rudin’s power, which he has accumulated through his monstrous behavior. Since then they have both made statements on the subject, neither of which took any accountability.
Sutton Foster’s statement was done via instagram live, where she said “It’s an unbelievably unfortunate situation and the only positive outcome is the one that happened”. Many people were angry with this because it takes blame away from Rudin and places it on what she calls an “unfortunate situation”. Many people also feel as though she shamed those who were more outspoken about the situation, saying, “I apologize if it seemed like I wasn’t actively trumpeting my feelings but I felt like with the noise I couldn’t get a clear mind”. There was a lot of backlash related to these words, because other people who spoke out were not, “trumpeting their feelings,” they were calling for justice and accountability, which cannot be done quietly.
Hugh Jackman’s statement was equally as upsetting. The main giveaway that Jackman truly doesn’t understand the high stakes of this situation was when he said, “The most important voice we needed to hear from was Scott Rudin”. This is, for one thing, untrue, and also takes away power from his victims and puts Rudin back on the pedestal the community is trying so desperately to knock him down from.
Now in all of this, some justice has been served. Scott Rudin announced on Saturday, April 17, that he would be “stepping back” from all his Broadway productions. Then on Tuesday, April 20, he announced he would be doing the same with his film projects. While this was a step in the right direction, many people active in the movement pointed out that his “stepping back” meant nothing, due to Scott Rudin Productions still being active. But we still seem to be heading in the right direction, because on Saturday April 24, Rudin resigned from the Broadway League. This is huge, because the Broadway League controls almost every aspect of the industry. They are the trade association of Broadway with over 700 members, and Rudin should have never been on it in the first place, because it gives him one more outlet to abuse his power.
While we are going in the right direction, there are still members of the movement pushing for a safer, more equitable Broadway. The sad thing is that I always thought Broadway was safe and equitable. I thought abuses of power were rare and that the industry was loving and provided hope to those who are oppressed in the outside world. But the truth is Broadway is just as corrupt as every other industry, and without change, Broadway can never be what a lot of us hoped it was: an outlet for change in the larger world.
But maybe one day we can find that hope again, and maybe one day we can create a safe space for everyone, not just those who benefit the higher powers.