What is the proper punishment for #MeToo-era infractions? Demonstrators have been calling for Amar Ramasar’s removal from the cast because of his role in a photo-sharing scandal at City Ballet.
By Julia Jacobs
A half-hour before the start of “West Side Story,” two dozen protesters outside the Broadway Theater inched closer to the production’s turf.
Blocked by parked cars from their usual spot in the street, they instead occupied the sidewalk alongside ticket holders, many of whom looked quizzically at the demonstrators’ signs and fliers.
“Hey hey, ho ho, Ramasar has got to go,” they chanted, as they have on several other nights outside the show, referring to Amar Ramasar, a “West Side Story” cast member who was fired, and then reinstated, at New York City Ballet after sending sexually explicit photos of his girlfriend to another dancer.
The protesters object to his casting in the show, in which he is playing Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks street gang, a high-profile role that involves a lot of strutting across the stage with an air of machismo, and, at times, lust. Mr. Ramasar’s critics assert that his inclusion in the cast is inappropriate given his previous behavior.
But the show has made it clear that Mr. Ramasar is staying.
“There is zero consideration being given to his potentially being terminated from this workplace,” it said in a statement last week.
In the run-up to the show’s opening on Thursday, the protesters have proven to be a mild but persistent irritant for the production, a reinterpretation of the classic musical with a modern flair.
This cast is populated largely by young people of color. The director, Ivo van Hove, is known for his experimental work. Mini dresses have replaced full skirts. Smartphones are whipped out to record police abuses.
And the #MeToo-era demonstrations outside are also similarly and strikingly of the moment, as they reflect the continuing debate over what sort of careers should be left to the men accused of sexual misconduct.
Should they be allowed to flourish in new roles? Is there a waiting period during which they must remain in the shadows? Since #MeToo prompted a cultural reckoning, men like Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari have begun to re-establish their professional lives, while other public figures accused of more severe acts have seen their prospects buried — likely for good.
The potential for disagreement is evident in the Ramasar case, where two women who were subjects of explicit photographs that Mr. Ramasar either sent or received are on opposing sides. One has been at the front lines holding a sign. The other has come out to defend Mr. Ramasar.
“It’s shocking to me that these protests are still happening,” said Alexa Maxwell, Mr. Ramasar’s girlfriend. She recently came out publicly as the City Ballet dancer in photographs that Mr. Ramasar sent to a male company member. Declaring herself “not a victim,” she asked for the protesters to stand down.
On the other side is Alexandra Waterbury, a former student of the School of American Ballet, who accused Chase Finlay, a City Ballet dancer at the time who had been her boyfriend, in 2018, of sharing explicit photos of her with Mr. Ramasar and others without her consent.
In a lawsuit, Ms. Waterbury accused Mr. Ramasar of sending Mr. Finlay photos of a different dancer, whom Ms. Maxwell identified as herself. Mr. Finlay resigned from the company; Mr. Ramasar and another dancer were fired, but an arbitrator later ruled that their dismissals were too harsh a punishment.
One person who followed the case closely was Paige Levy, a senior at LaGuardia High School in Manhattan, who stands outside the theater some nights, protesting Mr. Ramasar’s inclusion in the musical. As an aspiring actress at a performing arts school, she had twice seen “Carousel,” Mr. Ramasar’s Broadway debut in 2018. After the scandal, she had assumed he wouldn’t be appearing again on a Broadway stage any time soon.
“Imagine my surprise when I saw he was being cast in a principal role in a high-profile Broadway show,” Ms. Levy said.
In January, a month into previews for “West Side Story,” Ms. Levy began to use social media to draw others to the theater to protest Mr. Ramasar’s casting. The message spread further through an online petition.
As the protests progressed, Mr. Ramasar met with cast members twice so they could air any grievances they might have had.
Then, last week, he pinned a letter to the call board in the theater, where the production posts official notices for company members.
“It breaks my heart that a terrible mistake I made two years ago has caused a situation that is distracting from the work you are all doing here with such selflessness,” Mr. Ramasar’s letter said. “I want you to know that my past is not my present.”
After the letter was posted, Mr. Ramasar met again with a small group of company members — including dancers, crew members and orchestra members — to address any remaining questions, said Mr. Ramasar’s lawyer, Lance J. Gotko.
Mr. Ramasar has enjoyed unwavering support from the production’s management, which last week said that the incident involving Mr. Ramasar occurred at a different workplace and had been “fully adjudicated.” The production noted in a statement that it does not, as a practice, terminate an employee without cause.
And Mr. Ramasar, it said, was performing the role of Bernardo “brilliantly” and would continue to do so “for the entire unabated length of his agreement.”
Given the protests, a spokesman for the show, Rick Miramontez, said that the production has hired a cybersecurity firm to meet with actors who were concerned for their own safety and to prevent any online harassment.
Ms. Levy said she and others planned to continue demonstrating to educate ticket holders, many of whom are unaware of the dispute.
Last Thursday, as protesters chanted, a middle-aged man en route to the show said he did not know what the demonstration was about. One of the protesters told him that a cast member had “sexually assaulted” someone, an overstatement of the sort that Ms. Maxwell said led her to decide to publicly defend Mr. Ramasar. Mr. Gotko, Mr. Ramasar’s lawyer, complained that the protesters were “tossing off words and phrases like they have no meaning whatsoever.”
Ms. Maxwell, 25, sees Mr. Ramasar’s situation as an issue that the two of them must deal with as a couple — not something for the public to hash out. She said that after Mr. Ramasar expressed his regret over the situation, she had forgiven him, and she sees no reason for him to lose a Broadway role over it.
Ms. Waterbury, 22, sees the situation differently and said she plans to be there on opening night to once again join the protesters. Mr. Ramasar may not have committed the worst kind of sexual misconduct imaginable, she said, but that doesn’t mean Broadway producers should offer him a flashy new role.
“Yes, sharing photos can be viewed as a lesser offense than holding someone down behind a dumpster,” she said. “It’s a different magnitude, but at the same time, my body was violated.”
(While Mr. Ramasar received explicit photos of Ms. Waterbury, who is a student at Columbia University, he did not disseminate them, his lawyer said.)
So far the protests do not appear to have a substantial impact on the show’s box office. The revival, with Scott Rudin as lead producer, has been selling well.
According to figures released Tuesday by the Broadway League, it grossed a healthy $1.5 million during the week that ended Feb. 16; the average ticket price was $110.
Asked about the protests on CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday, Mr. Rudin explained his position bluntly.
“I think what he did was really stupid,” Mr. Rudin said of Mr. Ramasar. “Am I supposed to replace him in the show? I’m not going to do that.”
“Yes, actually,” Ms. Waterbury said in a separate interview, “that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do.”