PICT Looks to the Future With Excitement After a Rough Year

New artistic leader Huffman sets plans in motion; Stanford discusses dismissal for the first time


PICT Classic Theatre has survived tumultuous times before, but this particular comeback wasn’t always a sure thing. 

The 25-year-old company is pushing the reset button with a new artistic leader and a focus on sustainability, thanks to a $60,000 grant from The Heinz Endowments, said board president Eileen Clancy

PICT’s new lease on life follows last year’s double-barrelled setbacks: the cancellation of a much-anticipated production of The Boys in the Band due to a financial shortfall, and the departure of artistic director Alan Stanford, who was accused of sexual misconduct. 

Stanford, in his first interview since he left PICT after nine-plus years as artistic and executive director, has denied any wrongdoing.

We may not see a full stage production from PICT before 2024, but artistic director and Monongahela native Elizabeth Elias Huffman – a Ringgold High School classmate of Joe Montana, she says proudly – is working toward that goal. She currently is the only official employee of PICT, and at that, she’s part-time. 

Elizabeth Elias Huffman

A theater artist with a history of reinvigorating the classics and revitalizing other companies, she has been onstage this spring in Pittsburgh Public Theater’s Steel Magnolias, which ended its run on Easter Sunday.

Hufffman’s public tenure as head of PICT followed the next day, with Discover, Connect and Shine, a meet-and-greet at the company’s most recent home, WQED Studio Theatre in Oakland. 

Huffman, who has moved back to Pittsburgh after many years making theater in New York, with The Beacon Project, on the West Coast and overseas, “wants to get to know the extraordinary talent living right here in the Burgh!”

On May 6, the day of the coronation of King Charles, PICT will hold a special donor event: high tea and a reading of the fictional play Charles III, performed by local actors and directed by Huffman. 

The multi-hyphenate theater-maker heard that PICT was ready to begin anew and was seeking an artistic director from her friend, Pittsburgh actor Ken Bolden. He was appearing in Endgame in May of last year, when PICT was facing a financial shortfall and an accusation against Stanford was being investigated.

Huffman contacted Clancy to say, “I would love to be considered.”

The new AD, who was welcomed back to Pittsburgh initially at Carnegie Stage, where she performed her searing solo show Not My Revolution in June of 2022, will continue her own Chain Reaction Theatre, a production company that represents “the international side of my world,” she said.

However, her thoughts for PICT are hyper local.

“During those many, many months of COVID, I  was really looking to where I live in the Mon Valley, which is a very, very underserved community and has no professional theater,” Huffman said. “And so I  always had it in my heart to bring professional theater to this area. I was planning to do that all along, but now I’m planning to do that with PICT.”


Huffman would speak of PICT only looking forward, not back.

Rumors began to spread publicly last year when a much-anticipated production of The Boys in the Band was canceled, the company announced, due to a lack of funds. At the same time, PICT was investigating a charge of sexual harassment made by an unidentified female against Stanford.

“These were two circumstances that happened at the same time, but were unrelated,” Clancy said. “The allegations came initially from one person, regarding inappropriate behavior on the part of Alan. That occurred, and at the same time we were just getting ready for Endgame, and we had to postpone Endgame. It was originally scheduled to be done in February, but because of COVID, it got pushed to May. And that didn’t give us enough time to sell tickets for Boys in the Band. We decided to postpone Boys in the Band because we didn’t have the money to pay the actors.”

Such occurrences are not without precedent. Just this month, the Tony-winning Alley Theatre of Houston canceled its production of The Odyssey, when it was already in previews, because sales and fund-raising “could not support the scope of the production.”

Clancy said PICT paid Equity actors according to contractual obligations and reimbursed ticket-buyers, and then faced an uncertain financial future. 

There also was an investigation made into the allegations against Stanford by a firm that specializes in employment law, working pro bono, through a PICT board member.

Stanford, speaking for the first time since he departed PICT, expressed disappointment mingled with surprise at the process. 

He also said he has never seen a written account of the charges made against him.

“I’m sad. People ask me why I’m not angry. I’m not angry, or bitter. I’m just sad,” Stanford said. “I’m sad for the accuser, and sad for PICT. I want only the best for PICT.”

Asked if an intimacy coordinator might have eliminated any perceptions of impropriety, he answered, “It’s a very new thing, and we’ve never needed it. Like, when we did Romeo and Juliet, there was a lot of kissing. So I discussed it with the two actors. In fact, I took them out to dinner to discuss the fact that there would be a degree of intimacy,” he said. “We’ve done nudity, but only once, I think, in my time. That was with Don Juan Comes Back From the War. Each of the actors we discussed it with at the first rehearsal. When it happened, we cleared the rehearsal room – there was the stage manager, myself and the actors involved. None of them had any problems.”

He said in his rehearsals, for the decades he has been an actor-director, there is a “finger up” rule:  “Stick up your finger if you have a problem, and I listen to everybody, and I will try to make everybody as comfortable as possible,” Stanford said.

Stanford described the investigation and its aftermath::

“I was never given a source for the questions. I was never told. ‘Well, so-and-so said this, so-and-so said I was none of that.’ I was told subsequently that the investigators thought that of all the people they’d ever interviewed in such situations, nobody had ever been as honest and open as I was. I didn’t hide anything, even when it sounded like a negative against me. If it was true, I would say they didn’t find the accuser that credible.

“However,” he continued,”two board presidents called me in and offered me a letter that I would have to sign, reinstating me, with certain conditions, like, well, you have to take a course in behavioral discipline. And I said, ‘I don’t have a problem with that.’ We had courses that we took in diversity and all of those … that’s good management. The letter implied that I was not exonerated and therefore guilty. and i said no, I won’t sign it. I don’t mind taking courses, but they wanted my rehearsals to be supervised. … “You know, in 55 years, I never had a complaint. And, and so when they asked me to sign this, I just said no. I gave them an alternative, and they declined.”

Informed of this account, Clancy said via email, “While we do not agree with the statement attributed to Alan Stanford, it is PICT’s policy not to publicly discuss internal personnel matters.”

While his position at PICT was unraveling, Stanford, 73, became an American citizen. He also had been looking forward to a creative retirement in Pittsburgh. He owns a large home in Regent Square, where he housed out-of-town artists to save money for the company, and he relinquished part of his salary at times to help keep PICT going during its struggles.   

As the conversation began in a crowded Squirrel Hill coffee shop, Stanford was asked if the setting was OK – the discussion, after all, was going to be about accusations made against him.

“This is fine,” Stanford said. “I have nothing to hide.”

He spoke mostly of his track record and friends who have continued to support him. He has a son who lives in Australia, but Pittsburgh is his home now, he said, and he is hoping to someday be a theater-maker here, again.


In a March 2, 2023 press release, where PICT announced the hiring of Huffman to replace Stanford, Clancy wrote of the regrettable loss of Boys in the Band, and added, “Unfortunately, the cancellation announcement was followed byunfavorable and inaccurate media coverage.”

That was a dig at a Pittsburgh City Paper article titled “Pittsburgh theater company accused of canceling show over alleged ‘sexual misconduct.’ “

Clancy was most concerned about implicating the allegations against Stanford as the cause of the loss of that production. She stated unequivocally that these were separate and unrelated.

Stanford, meanwhile, praised the choice of Huffman as his replacement. ‘We met when I was on the West Coast, through a mutual friend,” he said. ‘I’ve been following her career, and when she moved back to Pittsburgh, I had hoped that she would come and direct, but I didn’t have any money. And as you may have noticed, for the last two years, I directed and pretty much designed everything to save money. Money,” he said, “has been the overriding factor of my nine and a half year tenure at PICT.”

Pittsburgh is the envy of many cities its size because of the foundation support and the legacy of patron generosity to the arts, but there also is a lot of art hungering for those dollars. 

PICT was at a crossroads after the pandemic and the loss of Stanford, the company’s chief fund-raiser.

“He was released, and then we had two people quit, and a third person, her contract was up at the end of June. And we couldn’t continue because we didn’t have the money,” said Clancy, who added that they had a part-time grant writer out of California “who just disappeared off of the face of the earth.” 

While awaiting word about a rescue grant from the Heinz Endowments, PICT moved out of offices at Rodef Shalom, across the street from WQED, at the end of August, and gave up one of two storage facilities for costumes, seating and other items.

Now, along with the of welcoming Huffman as the company leader, Clancy and fellow board members are moving forward purposefully.

The well-attended meet-and-greet and donor tea are mere first steps on the comeback trail.

“We don’t anticipate being on the stage until 2024,” Clancy cautioned. “We have to raise the money so that we can move forward. We’ll probably do additional readings and there might be some other events, but right now, those are the only two that we’re thinking of,” as well as participating in the big Burrito Restaurant Group’s benefit dinner series.


Clancy said the generosity and support of foundations, patrons and volunteer members of the board of directors are the reasons that PICT is still here.

Its loss would have been immeasurable. As of October of 2020, with Paul and Stanford as its only artistic leaders, PICT had produced 11 world premieres, nine U.S. premieres, 46 Pittsburgh premieres and four festivals.

“The last thing anybody wanted was for PICT to disband and not be able to move forward,” Clancy said. “I mean, we have our challenges, that’s for sure, but we’ve been working through them, and we’re optimistic.”

Huffman is hitting the ground running, while setting her sights on a PICT future where she can help to “build a conduit” through theater, to communities beyond Downtown and in Oakland. She said “the evidence is there,” citing audiences who left their comfort zones to come to Carnegie Stage and see her in Not My Revolution and travel Downtown for Steel Magnolias.

Elizabeth Elias Huffman as Clairee in Steel Magnolias, left (Michael Henninger photo) and in the solo show Not My Revolution, right (Heather Mull Photography).

As an example, she said she has talked with Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks leader Jennifer Tober about collaborating on projects in communities such as Huffman’s hometown. 

That’s where the new PICT artistic leader got her start, as a 6-year-old at Roosevelt Elementary School. She wanted to be cast in the lead of a production of The Ugly Duckling, but instead, she was cast as Hans Christian Anderson – the storyteller.

“And all I’ve ever wanted, ever since, was to be a storyteller,” Huffman said. ‘In middle school, in high school, in college, that’s all I ever wanted to do.”

Huffman is an obvious choice to run a company grounded in old and new classics. For example, she headed the Classic Theater Lab, “a venerable company” in Los Angeles for nearly a decade before leaving to start her own international company. At The Beacon Project for five years, the company was dedicated to staging rarely produced classics and new plays with heightened language and poetry.

Her next project is PICT’s recovery and outreach into new territory.

“It has been a real love of mine and a real desire to reach into this area that is untapped financially, where there are people that would be happy to support the arts and support PICT, in order for me to be able to do that.”



  • 1996: Founded as Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre by Andrew Paul and Stephanie Riso, PICT was launched as a home for classic works after the closing of the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival. 
  • 1997: PICT debuts with The Constant Couple in the Antonian Theater on the campus of Carlow University. 
  • 1997-2012: Paul establishes a respected professional company that produces notable works and relationships with top-notch artists. The company takes up residence in the University of Pittsburgh’s Stephen Foster Memorial theaters. 
  • 2002: Beginning in 2002 with Martin Giles, PICT actors are regularly among the Post-Gazette Performers of the Year.
  • FEBRUARY 2013: Paul is ousted by the board while running the company after his move to Las Vegas. Alan Stanford, an English-Irish actor-director who had a long association with the Gate Theatre of Dublin and who worked with PICT under Paul’s leadership, is hired as PICT’s artistic director. 
  • 2015: PICT introduces its “Downtown Series,” presenting two productions at the Peirce Studio in the Trust Arts Education Building.
  • 2016: Pitt wants the full-time use of its theaters, and PICT is on the move again, to the Union Project in Highland Park.
  • 2019: PICT establishes itself in a new home, WQED’s Fred Rogers Studio.
  • 2020: During the pandemic shutdown, Stanford institutes online seminars and audio plays, working with a troupe of PICT regulars.
  • OCTOBER 2021: To open its 25th season, PICT presents its first live, in-person performance after the COVID shutdown, Shakespeare’s As You Like It, with a cast of 16 performers (below, image by Keith A. Traux).
  • MAY 2022: PICT stages a well-received run of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, with a large-cast production of The Boys in the Band due in June. On May 18, it is announced that the latter will be canceled due to a financial shortfall. 
  • JULY 2022: Following rumors of sexual misconduct, since denied by Stanford, PICT’s board announces that it has voted to remove him as artistic and executive director. No acting artistic director is named.
  • MARCH 2023: PICT announces return with Elizabeth Elias Huffman as artistic director.

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