The PIT Wants to Fill the Disgraced DSI Comedy Theater's Void. But Will It Just Replicate the Same Toxic Culture? | Arts Feature | Indy Week
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The PIT Wants to Fill the Disgraced DSI Comedy Theater's Void. But Will It Just Replicate the Same Toxic Culture? 

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The PIT's main-stage venue in New York is something of a shrine to Farahnakian. It's decorated with inspirational quotes, some of them attributed to him (e.g., "Follow your fear"). The "Wall of No Shame" features pictures and collages of Farahnakian and some big comedy names, including Tina Fey (with whom he worked at Second City). Hallways are decorated with paintings of Farahnakian. On the bar sits a pair of Chippewa motorcycle boots, a memento from his Second City days.

The Chapel Hill location doesn't yet have the same flair. On Monday evening, the space was still under construction. Farahnakian sat on the stage during an interview with the INDY, illuminated by stage lights.

"We're here first and foremost to save a building," he said. "Because if we didn't come here, this building would not be a community space."

He says someone had made an offer to rent and convert the former DSI digs to office space. After meeting with local comedians, Farahnakian says, he felt a responsibility to keep it as a public theater.

"Part of what happened here has caused us to pivot," he says of DSI's legacy. "We came here to be a comedy theater, and we will still be a comedy theater for whoever wants to do comedy. But we'll also be a theater for people who want to do poetry, for people who want to come up and do bluegrass or play a clarinet or do a TED talk or improvise Spanish telenovelas."

Farahnakian's first class at his new Franklin Street location was on October 14. Six local comedians and comedy teachers came. The second class was a week later, on October 21. This time, though, almost no one showed, and the class was canceled until further notice. During the intervening week, Cahen's and Filbin's Facebook posts had circulated in the Triangle's comedy community.

In early 2016, after the artistic director of iO West in California was fired over sexual harassment allegations, Kevin Laibson, then the PIT's artistic director, organized a committee to develop a formal policy on sexual misconduct.

"The committee was ideal, because we all wanted to be there and we all wanted to take on this huge task," says Kaitlin Fontana, a PIT performer and committee member.

The committee met a few times and discussed some proposals. The members wanted an official policy for what constituted sexual misconduct and how it should be handled by management. They thought previous disclosures had been handled inconsistently, without regard for the privacy of those reporting the behavior.

The committee asked to meet with PIT management, but, according to multiple people involved, Farahnakian evaded opportunities to do so.

The committee suggested a time for a meeting with Farahnakian. In an email obtained by the INDY, Katie Hutch, a human resources employee at the PIT, replied on Farahnakian's behalf: "While the committee is still trying to organize itself, we unfortunately do not have the resources to continue to rework our already very tight schedules to discuss issues which we are already addressing."

After that email, with no recourse to propose a policy, the committee dissolved. As far as anyone could tell, no changes were made to address its concerns.

Farahnakian says efforts outside of the email were made to schedule a meeting, but the committee was too disorganized. "We kept giving them times to meet, and they could never find a time where they could all meet," he says.

Laibson quit the PIT that April.

"It was death by a thousand papercuts," says Fontana. "Harassment was part and parcel of this culture. It's just that the PIT waited far too long to do anything about it."

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