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L.A.’s biggest LGBTQ theater fires artistic director Michael A. Shepperd after sexual misconduct allegations

Michael A. Shepperd photographed shortly after he became the artistic director at the Celebration Theater in 2008.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Celebration Theatre, the city’s largest LGBTQ theater, said Tuesday that it has terminated its artistic director, Michael A. Shepperd, after an internal investigation found accusations of misconduct to be credible.

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.”

“During our cast warm-ups pre-show, many would often take to the stage to stretch, vocalize, etc.,” Diego wrote in his Facebook post. “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.”

These small Southern California theaters have made a specialty of producing big musicals in tiny spaces. The Chance Theater in Anaheim is presenting “Ragtime” and Celebration in West Hollywood has “The Producers.” Our reviews.

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In an interview with The Times, Diego also accused Shepperd of groping backstage during performances and making a graphic sexual proposition. “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, who had served as artistic director or co-artistic director of the theater from 2008 to 2011 and again from 2013 to the present, denied the accusations and in a statement criticized the investigation as “a secret report that Celebration Theatre has refused to share with Michael or even provide details thereof.”

“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 an interview with The Times, Shepperd called Celebration a “queer safe space” where flirtation and bawdy innuendo were common, and he said any behavior of a sexual nature between him and Diego was consensual.

Shortly after Diego posted his allegations, Celebration Theatre hired Susannah Howard from the law firm O’Melveny & Myers to conduct an investigation. The theater also posted an artist survey on its website to allow anyone involved with Celebration productions to comment anonymously.

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.”

Celebration Executive Director Chris Maikish declined to comment further on the investigation or Shepperd’s termination.

Follow latimes.com/arts for more reporting on this story.

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