In the wake of Jeff Loeffelholz’s suicide after a grueling rehearsal with Chicago‘s director Walter Bobbie and musical director Leslie Stifelman, many people involved in the theater industry have shared their stories.
So far, we’ve heard from a past Roxie Hart, who was demoralized and demeaned by Stifelman; a former Chicago stage manager who was sent packing for no reason other than “Barry [Weissler] wanted a change;” a member of the backstage crew of Chicago who witnessed Loeffelholz’s state of mind before and after that devastating rehearsal with Stifelman and Bobbie; as well as journeyman actor Robert DuSold, whose tales of abuse were truly harrowing.
All these individuals have given details about the abuses they’ve encountered on the creative side of the world of theater. However, the abuse doesn’t just extend to the stage.
“If the Weisslers are still running their operation the way they did in the 90’s, it makes perfect sense that their mean-spirited cruelty would trickle all the way down to the Ambassador Theater.”
Specifically, the creative show folk aren’t the only ones who get abused; a former office employee of Fran and Barry Weissler – the producers of Chicago currently limping along at the Ambassador Theater – reached out to the blog with their own tales of abuse and bullying at the hands of the Weisslers.
“I worked in a management capacity for the Weisslers over 20 years ago,” the source said, wishing to stay anonymous. “On my very first day, Barry Weissler caused a frightening scene only a few feet from my desk when he brandished an empty coffee pot from the kitchen and shouted menacingly at the entire office, demanding to know who put the empty pot back on the burner.”
Weissler was screaming at young people in their twenties, including the source. “Nobody fessed up. Who would?” they said. “He was acting like a maniac. So much for day one!”
“We’ve all experienced it. Today, it was your turn”
The source stayed on for their limited engagement of a few months and learned a lot about the Weisslers. “Fran Weissler put a bow on my experience, mirroring her husband’s first day madness by belittling and insulting me on my very last day,” they said. “It was a Sunday matinee. I’d be going to unemployment the next morning. I’ll be sparse on details because frankly I’m afraid of those people and what they might do to me for telling my story, even over 20 years later.”
At this matinee, there was an incident onstage during a performance and the show had to be stopped briefly, the source said, but wouldn’t share more details for fear of being identified. However, Fran Weissler was apparently informed because she came to the theater (the source never saw Barry).
“Mind you, in my capacity with the show, I literally had about as much to do with what happened on the stage as the basement lounge bartender,” the source said. “But I was a senior manager, and despite having done a stellar job for them, Fran suddenly felt the need to berate me outside the stage door in front of several cast members and fans.”
The source continued: “’What kind of manager are you!’ was just one of her insults. She brought me to tears — after she left, I avoided giving her the satisfaction of seeing that. I went to the stage manager’s office which, like many shows, can be a respite for some from the craziness. The stage manager was a Weissler veteran and all he said was, ‘We’ve all experienced it. Today, it was your turn.’ It sure was!”
“The Weisslers Will Never Change”
The source echoed the old adage that “a fish stinks from the head down,” adding that “if the Weisslers are still running their operation the way they did in the 90’s, it makes perfect sense that their mean-spirited cruelty would trickle all the way down to the Ambassador Theater.”
“I went to the stage manager’s office which, like many shows, can be a respite for some from the craziness. The stage manager was a Weissler veteran and all he said was, ‘We’ve all experienced it. Today, it was your turn.’ It sure was!”
“I know about Broadway dreams and his came true,” the source said, referring to Loeffelholz. “To a guy like Jeff Loeffelholz, and so many others in theatre, making it that far is a lifetime achievement that they realize will end someday. Like me, he undoubtedly came to realize that he valued his job much more than the job valued him, and he was victimized by it.”
“His suicide may have been due to many things, but having his dream destroyed in what, according to all accounts, was a drawn out and humiliating process, was obviously the straw that broke the camel’s back,” the source said. “The Weisslers will never change, but Walter Bobbie and Leslie Stifelman (neither of whom I know) might do the world some good by stopping and remembering their own Broadway dreams. And how lucky they are to have achieved them.”
“And how they have now devolved as dreamers, artists, and human beings.”
[Editor’s Note: After a lifetime spent as a journalist, magazine editor, and even university adjunct professor, not once in my career have I encountered the types of abuse detailed here and in other Justice for Jeff blogs by managers. I’m amazed that this type of behavior is tolerated by those who are berated as well as those who manage the beraters. I should also add that not once in my entire career did I ever have a union to “protect” me as ever single one of these people telling their stories allegedly had.
I encourage more people to come forward to tell tales of abuse before it’s too late. No job is worth any amount of abuse.]