A MARTINEZ, HOST:
William Ivey Long is a powerful costume designer on Broadway. He's won six Tony Awards and his work includes "Chicago," "Hairspray" and "Diana: The Musical," which is currently playing on Broadway. But as NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas reports, two men have accused Long of sexual abuse. And NPR has unearthed a 2002 lawsuit that contained other serious allegations of misconduct against Long. Just to note - we will be discussing in detail those accusations of sexual abuse. This conversation is not appropriate for all listeners.
ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hi, A. Well, the men, who are named Michael Martin and Court Watson, worked with Long outside of Broadway. They say Long abused them when they were college students working at a summer theater production in North Carolina called The Lost Colony. NPR's investigated their allegations, and I should note right at the top that Long vociferously denies all the accusations.
MARTINEZ: OK. What are Michael Martin's specific allegations?
TSIOULCAS: He alleges that in 1996, Long touched him inappropriately on about 10 occasions. Martin told me he felt like Long was testing him to see what he could get away with.
MICHAEL MARTIN: You're working on something, and then suddenly someone's behind you scratching your back. And eventually, he slid his hand down the back of my pants.
TSIOULCAS: So Martin first came forward publicly in 2018 in BuzzFeed News, but nothing really came of it back then.
MARTINEZ: OK. So what does Watson allege happened?
TSIOULCAS: Watson says that in 2002, Long had sex with him while Watson was drunk and really could not freely consent and while Long was his supervisor and poised to have huge influence over his burgeoning career. The evening started at a party down the street from Long's house, Watson says. Long promised to show him a book they'd been discussing.
COURT WATSON: Everybody had multiple cocktails, except for William. He suggested that we go back to his house and he would get me a copy of this book.
TSIOULCAS: Watson says at that point, Long gave him even more to drink.
WATSON: I was not in a capacity to think in a normal way. Shortly thereafter, with his pants open, he bodily walked me up the set of stairs right inside the front door up to his bedroom, and that's where what happened happened.
MARTINEZ: All right. Now, we are talking about incidents alleged to have happened about two decades ago. But did Martin or Watson take any steps back then?
TSIOULCAS: Well, A, both Martin and Watson say that at the time, they felt Long was so powerful that there was no point in even trying. For example, Martin went to his supervisor and asked for advice about taking legal action against Long but was dissuaded. He says he was told he would probably wind up destroying his own career, not Long's.
MARTIN: I just was like, I guess this is what a job is. The boss just gets to be, like, a total creep.
TSIOULCAS: So both Martin and Watson acknowledge they remained in touch with Long in ensuing years given Long's powerful role in the industry.
MARTINEZ: So why are the men coming forward now?
TSIOULCAS: Both Martin and Watson told me they feel like there wasn't much room in the LGBTQ community 20 years ago to talk about sexual coercion, but they're hoping the #MeToo movement has changed that. And according to them, toxic power dynamics are problematic in the LGBTQ community, too.
MARTINEZ: You also uncovered a lawsuit that contained other allegations against Long.
TSIOULCAS: That's right. The lawsuit was filed in 2002 against The Lost Colony's producers by a female employee named Beth Stewart. She did not name Long as a defendant, but she alleged that Long compelled a young man to have sex with another man at Long's direction while a board member of The Lost Colony watched. She also said Long forced oral sex on that same young man. And when Stewart went to her supervisors to complain about this and other alleged misconduct not involving Long, she said she was fired. The Lost Colony settled the case in 2003 before the court could weigh in. And through his lawyer, Long told NPR he didn't even know about the lawsuit until 17 years later when the show's producers launched an investigation. But Long left the show in 2020.
MARTINEZ: How has William Ivey Long responded to NPR?
TSIOULCAS: His lawyer sent us a statement and additional materials that ran 179 pages long, actually, in which he, quote, "categorically denies all the accusations" and then it included things like friendly letters that Watson and Martin had sent along in the years after the alleged incidents and copies of provocative social media posts from both men. And Long declined to speak to us directly.
MARTINEZ: Long is still a major figure on Broadway right now. His costumes are a big draw for the show "Diana: The Musical," right?
TSIOULCAS: Yes, although in the summer of 2020, some of the cast of "Diana" found out about Michael Martin's allegations and went to the show's producers. The show was clear it had no knowledge of any sexual misconduct by Long, but the allegations led to Long and the show mutually parting ways. "Diana: The Musical" is still using his costumes, though.
MARTINEZ: That's NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas. Anastasia, thank you very much.
TSIOULCAS: Thanks for having me.
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