Trigger warning: Mention and description of sexual assault is included in this article.
Preston Lane, the playwright, director and co-founder of Triad Stage, is resigning from his position as producing artistic director, following an internal review of claims of sexual abuse.
Descriptions of sexual abuse by Lane were shared with two board members and an outside lawyer brought in to review the matter during a Zoom meeting this past summer, according to multiple sources with either direct or secondary knowledge, who spoke to Triad City Beat on condition of anonymity. Board Chair Deborah Hayes and board member Phil Barrineau, along with attorney Patti Ramseur, attended the meeting.
“The survivors’ stories were very detailed and graphic,” said one man who reported his experience to the board members, speaking to TCB on condition of anonymity. “The overarching theme was how [Lane] played his game with tequila and pornography videos. [Each of the accounts] were different in how far he got, and how it played out.”
Hayes, the board chair, said board members received notification from Lane on Nov. 9 that he is resigning from his position at Triad Stage, adding, “It is our standard practice to not discuss confidential personnel practices publicly.”
Lane responded through an attorney that he “denies any and all allegations of sexual abuse.”
The men whose experiences were shared with board members were all UNCG students at the time of the incidents, according to the person who spoke to TCB, adding that he didn’t want to specify the time period out of concern that if Lane were able to identify them it could have negative repercussions on their acting careers.
Lane previously taught acting and directing as an adjunct instructor at UNCG. Lane’s unrivaled stature as a director and playwright in the Triad made him an awe-inspiring figure, and getting to work with Triad Stage was considered a potentially career-making opportunity for students in the UNCG School of Theatre, alumni interviewed for this story told TCB.
Lane last worked at UNCG in December 2019, said Eden Bloss, the university’s senior director for external communications. Bloss confirmed that during a Zoom meeting in August, Bruce McClung, the dean of the School of Visual and Performing Arts, informed alumni “that Preston Lane is not working at UNCG this year, and that there are no current plans for him to hold a position here in the future.”
Lane has also taught at NC A&T University, UNC School of the Arts, Greensboro College, Southern Methodist University and the Professional Actors Workshop at the Dallas Theater Center, according to an official biography on the Triad Stage website.
“What seemed to be a common theme is Preston wanting to hang out,” the man who reported his experience to the board members told TCB. “So, he would get guys one on one. It was easy to do. Everyone was in awe of him. That’s a dream. Alcohol was the next step: tequila straight. Then it was this game: ‘Let’s work on monologues. Let’s work on breathing.’ He would address it so he was giving you a one-on-one study. It usually involved undressing. He would say, ‘Let’s strip down to your underwear. Let’s get naked.’ If there was any hesitancy, it’s, ‘Are you a homophobe? Are you a pussy? I’m not going to do anything.’
“A lot of the straight guys he would want to get them aroused,” the man added. “With straight guys, it wouldn’t work. He would bring in what he called ‘straight porn.’”
The man who spoke to TCB said he told Lane he was “done” before anything physical happened, and Lane responded by crying and apologizing. The man said Lane told him: “I’m sorry. I’m a sad old man.”
In hindsight, he said he came to view Lane’s display of contrition as a calculated act of self-preservation.
“When he was on the cusp of sexual intercourse or experiencing rejection, he breaks down and cries,” the man said. “When you see someone who is your hero and he’s breaking down, you think, He’s humanizing his predatory behavior.
“It was just a manipulation,” he continued. “Preston is a master manipulator. When he’s done with it, he’s done with it.”
Other students’ encounters with Lane went further, according to the man who spoke to TCB.
“The other track is these men were completely inebriated and passed out when Preston made it physical,” he said. The sex acts included oral sex and handjobs, according to the man. He said there were no reports of penetration during the encounters, at least by the four people who came forward to report their experiences to the board members.
Since founding Triad Stage with fellow Yale School of Drama alumnus Richard Whittington in 1999, the two men built the Greensboro theater company into a regional powerhouse. Lane’s artistic reputation has grown alongside the theater, for which he has written at least 20 adaptations and original plays. A native of Boone, much of Lane’s work centers on the experiences of outsiders and artists in the South. The fictional town of Hawboro that provides the setting for many of his plays has in a sense forged a literary identity for the North Carolina Piedmont region. Whittington stepped down as managing director in 2019, ceding business operations to Lane.
Lane was awarded a three-year playwrighting residency with the Sally and Don Lucas Artists Residency Program in California, allowing him to take three months out of each year to focus on his craft.
The intertwined rise of Triad Stage and its artistic director have also provided a point of pride for downtown Greensboro’s revitalization over the past two decades. Lane was the 2008 recipient of the Betty Cone Medal of the Arts, which “honors local artists who have achieved clear excellence in their discipline and/or have made extraordinary contributions to the community through their artistry or expertise.” In 2010, Lane and co-founder Whittington received Downtown Greensboro Inc.’s J. Edward Kitchen Leadership Award, and in 2013 they received the Adelaide F. Holderness/H. Michael Weaver Award from UNCG for distinguished public service.
Triad Stage expanded into Winston-Salem in 2013 and, with support from the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, began presenting plays at Hanesbrands Theatre.
A press release issued by Triad Stage on Monday evening quoted Hayes, the board chair, as saying that “planning for leadership succession is underway.”
The press release did not acknowledge the accounts of sexual abuse reported about Lane.
“We are looking forward to building on our rich artistic history as we continue to work toward the day when Triad Stage can return to live productions in a post-pandemic world,” Hayes said.
The man who spoke to TCB about reporting sexual abuse to the board members and another person who spoke on condition of anonymity said they are aware of six or seven people who have been abused by Lane.
The man told TCB that the harm caused by Lane and the fear that prevents survivors from coming forward is twofold.
“A lot of people are hurt; a lot of people will carry this for the rest of their life,” he said. “In the world of theater, where power is structured, this was unchecked power.
“It’s especially hard because in our society, men who are sexually assaulted are the butts of jokes,” he continued. “Straight men who are put in this situation, there’s no coming back. It could be humiliating. That’s a big factor for a lot of these guys. We all had friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual. These guys are terrified they’re going to be the butt of a joke. Society does not view men as sexual assault victims.”
The man said he was initially reluctant to speak publicly about his experience, but ultimately decided he needed to do it for the other men.
“I want to tell the other survivors, ‘It’s okay. You have a voice. It’s not your fault,’” he said. “I want to give them a voice. Sexual assault is disgusting and terrifying. I want to make sure these guys have a voice, and take a weight off their shoulders so they can move on.”