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Michael Halberstam, accused of harassment, steps down as Writers Theatre leader

He had co-founded the company, based in Glencoe, and served as artistic director for more than 30 years.

Michael Halberstam of Writers Theatre.
Joe Mazza/brave lux

Michael Halberstam, who helped build Writers Theatre to artistic prominence in the Chicago area but also drew criticism for his conduct in the workplace, has stepped down as the theater’s artistic director.

A co-founder of the theater, he had held the position since its launch in 1992.

“Both Halberstam and Writers Theatre leadership agree that now is the time to look forward, to create pathways for new voices and stories, and to build for the next 30 years,” the company said in a statement.

Bobby Kennedy, Writers’ director of new work and dramaturgy, will serve as interim artistic director during a national search for a permanent replacement.

In his long run at the helm of Writers Theatre, Halberstam received widespread praise for his work, and in 2016 he was honored at Joseph Jefferson Awards for his “outstanding theatrical accomplishments and contributions to Chicagoland theater for the past 25 years.” That year the company moved to a new permanent home in downtown Glencoe, designed by Studio Gang Architects.

In 2017, Halberstam was accused of harassment by Tom Robson, who detailed several alleged incidents in a series of tweets. Robson said they occurred when he was 23 and assistant director of Writers’ 2003 production of “Crime & Punishment,” directed by Halberstam.

Halberstam cooperated with a subsequent investigation, and the theater’s Board of Trustees announced its conclusions several weeks later: that Halberstam “made inappropriate and insensitive comments in the workplace. [But] the investigation did not support a finding of other inappropriate sexual behavior.”

Halberstam agreed to participate in “compliance training and executive coaching sessions” and said, “I understand that statements and comments I have made have caused distress and discomfort for members of our theater community. I would like to unequivocally express my sincere and deep regret.”

In an unusual move, Writers Theatre acknowledged the complaints in its resignation announcement and added, “The timing of Halberstam’s departure signals Halberstam’s and Writers Theatre’s desire to preserve the goodwill of the theatre and to continue to ensure a respectful workplace for all.”

In his statement acccompanying the resignation announcement, Halberstam praised his collaborators and the theater’s audiences, donors, staff and board but did not address the issue of his conduct.