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Celebration Theatre fires artistic director Michael A. Shepperd

Michael A. Shepperd Celebration Theatre

Michael A. Shepherd, the Celebration Theatre’s artistic director, was fired last week by the board after an internal investigation found accusations of misconduct to be credible. Photo: The Colony Theatre.

Celebration Theatre, which bills itself as Los Angeles area’s only LGBTQ community theater, has fired its artistic director, Michael A. Shepperd, after an internal investigation found accusations of misconduct to be credible.

The allegations against Shepperd, 58, 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 a statement released Tuesday, the Celebration Theatre’s board of directors announced that Shepperd, a prominent figure in L.A.’s theater community, had been terminated.

“Michael A. Shepperd’s decades-long contributions to Celebration Theatre and the Los Angeles theatre community are significant. We value and respect his artistry both as a director and as an actor,” the statement said.

“However, based on the findings and recommendations of an independent investigation initiated April 14th by our Board of Directors, prompted by allegations of a pattern of misconduct raised by Andrew Diego in his April 14th Facebook post, Celebration Theatre terminated Shepperd’s role as Artistic Director on May 24th.

“The final investigative report was delivered to the Board of Directors May 22nd and included other credible accounts of misconduct, as determined by the independent counsel. His termination was effective immediately,” the statement said.

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Michael A. Shepperd responds

Shepperd, who had an artistic director in the theater from 2008 to 2011 and from 2013 to the present, denied the accusations through a statement from his attorney to the Los Angeles Times.

The statement also 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,” the statement from Shepperd’s lawyer, Jordan Susman, said.

In an interview with the Times, Shepperd called the Celebration Theatre 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.

9 people come forward

But in interviews with the Times, nine people who worked with Shepperd painted a different portrait of the artistic director, and two men accused Shepperd of sexual misconduct in incidents spanning 13 years.

The men also allege Celebration Theatre mishandled complaints about Shepperd’s behavior and ultimately chose to keep him in his leadership position until last week, when the theater fired him.

Shortly after Diego posted his allegations on social media in April, Celebration Theatre hired Susannah Howard from the law firm O’Melveny & Myers to conduct an investigation, the theater said.

The theater also posted an artist survey on its website to allow anyone involved with Celebration productions to comment anonymously.

Celebration Theatre was founded in 1982 by gay rights pioneer and co-founder of the Mattachine Society, Chuck Rowland, when he leased a storefront in Silver lake to start a community theatre dedicated to producing gay-themed material.

The Celebration Theatre stages their performances at the Lex Theatre, located at the intersection of Lexington Ave and McCadden Place, about a block from the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

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Additional policies, procedures

In the investigator’s final report Howard recommended that the theater “implement additional policies and procedures to enhance artist safety, increase accountability, and clarify standards of conduct,” the theater said.

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

In a statement to the publication, he said the theatre will develop “a broader code of ethics to ensure that all who engage with our mission adhere to our standards of behavior and embrace our commitment to a safe, secure, and respectful environment, with an inclusive focus on the intersectional communities we serve.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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