Women accuse former Rochester theater exec of sexual harassment

Published 8:26 am Friday, July 21, 2017

By Catharine Richert

MPR.org/90.1 FM

Rochester — It was the night he tried to put his hand up her skirt that Katie Hawley said Gregory Stavrou went too far.

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Hawley was a 19-year-old volunteer at the Rochester Civic Theatre in 2010 when Stavrou, the theater’s executive director, and his girlfriend invited Hawley and her male friend, another theater volunteer, to an upscale restaurant in downtown Rochester.

Over dinner, Hawley said Stavrou told her she reminded him of an old love with nice legs. “And then he wanted to see my legs, and started reaching his hand up my skirt.”

Disgusted, Hawley and her friend began to leave but then paused, worried Stavrou and his companion were too drunk to drive. Instead, they drove the pair to Stavrou’s home, where Hawley said Stavrou’s propositioning continued. As Hawley and her friend helped Stavrou inside, she said Stavrou suggested group sex.

“He tells his girlfriend, ‘Take them upstairs and seduce them,’” Hawley recounted in an interview last month. She said she kept the incident quiet for years because she didn’t want to jeopardize her place at the theater.

Stavrou left the theater this spring after nearly a decade as its executive director, citing health reasons.

His resignation, however, came shortly after six people, including Hawley, told the board they had been subjected to unwelcome sexual advances from Stavrou over the course of his time there.

One of those complaints came from someone who had already told the theater’s board about Stavrou’s unwanted sexual advances in 2008.

The complaints — some anonymous — surfaced only after an internal dispute about whether the theater’s latest production should have an intermission boiled over, angering many of the community volunteers the theater relies on to function.

As anger over the theater board’s oversight gained steam, MPR News interviewed these six people and one more who said they personally had been subjected to unwelcome sexual advances from Stavrou. All of them were adults at the time the encounters with Stavrou took place.

Stavrou, 60, has not responded to numerous attempts by MPR News over the past six weeks to reach him by email and telephone, and through friends and family members. His only available comments come from a 2011 email response to a complaint saying, “I believe in a transparent, candid, respect based work environment.”

During his nearly 10 years as executive director, Stavrou was praised by supporters and critics alike for lifting the theater’s visibility at a time when it was struggling financially. He was in charge in a period when the theater received a total of $1.3 million in government grants.

When he departed the theater, Stavrou declared his tenure a success.

“It’s been a good nearly a decade,” Stavrou told Rochester’s KROC radio in April. “I’ve gotten a lot of good work done. And I’m really looking forward to what new leadership will bring to the theater.”

But many theater volunteers MPR News interviewed said in that decade Stavrou became well-known for going too far with the theater’s female volunteers and staff.

Hawley said she noticed Stavrou’s advances toward women shortly after he started working for the theater in 2008. She was 17 at the time. She and others say Stavrou gave them alcohol at theater events though they were underage, and that he had a habit of touching female volunteers.

“There was a lot of close contact, face-rubbing, arm-grazing,” she said. “And it became a thing where people would just say, ‘Oh, that’s just Gregory.’”