An actor has claimed she was fired from her starring role in a Broadway-bound musical because she was pregnant.
Cortney Wolfson, who played the titular role of Romy in Romy and Michelle: The Musical, made her allegations in an essay posted to Twitter in a bid to highlight mistreatment of mothers in the entertainment industry.
“When I first became pregnant, I wanted to be transparent when it came to my career. No hiding, no concealing, no shame,” she wrote. “‘It’s my right to choose to bring a child into this world and also have my job protected,’ I thought.
“That right was taken from me in 2018 when I was fired from my job … for being pregnant.”
Wolfson said she had planned her pregnancy around the musical’s timeline and was assured by director Kristin Hanggi that it would not be an issue if she was pregnant during show readings planned for the following spring.
After months of struggling to conceive and one early miscarriage, Wolfson finally became pregnant with a boy she would name Ziggy. She said she shared the news with her producer and was told in reference to the timeline: “I’m sure we can figure it out.”
But the next time Wolfson spoke to the director, her plans unraveled.
“The next interaction I had with Romy & Michelle was a phone call from my director alerting me that I would be replaced due to my pregnancy,” she wrote. “I was confused. Hadn’t I just been told this was a perfect time to be pregnant?”
When she approached the producer for an explanation, Wolfson said she was told he “simply couldn’t showcase the show to the maximum effect with [Cortney] in that condition.”
“My worst fear had just come true: my pregnancy was a ‘condition,’” she wrote. “The career-changing role I’d created was being taken from me, and my choice to pursue a family was the cause.”
Wolfson said she went into a “tailspin” fighting to change the creative team’s mind whilst trying to stay calm for the sake of her unborn child.
After Ziggy was born, Wolfson learned that the director was seeking a celebrity to replace her as Romy, leading her to believe that her pregnancy was a “scapegoat” for the real reason she was pushed out.
She said she stayed quiet about the ordeal for years because she feared what people might say if she caused a stir.
“I didn’t advocate for myself in 2018 because I didn’t know how,” she wrote. “I was worried what people would think, what my agents would think, what Broadway would think if I spoke out about what happened to me.”
She said she decided to finally share her story three years later to help other mothers in the industry who have had similar experiences.
“Three years have passed and I’m still embarrassed. I still wake up in the middle of the night to write this story over and over again in my mind,” she wrote.
“And so – I’d like to talk about mothers in this business. I’d like us to better know how to protect ourselves when our careers, our mental health, and our rights are in danger.
“I’d like us to not feel alone when this happens to us and my hope is that together, we can all make it a little tougher to fire a mother for being a mother.”
Wolfson’s tell-all came as Romy and Michele: The Musical prepares for its Broadway debut, directed by Hanggi and produced by Stephen Soucy and Barry Kemp.
Brittney Johnson will star in Wolfson’s original role of Romy, alongside Leana Rae Concepcion as Michele in the stage adaptation of the 1997 cult classic Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.
In her essay, Wolfson emphasised her ongoing love for the show and many of the people involved.
“Playing Romy is still one of my greatest honors as an actor, specifically because it’s a story created and directed by women about women supporting women. I wish nothing but the best for the show and those involved,” she wrote.
“I have a great deal of respect for the decisions that casting and creatives have to make to get it right, but what happened to me while I was pregnant was wrong.”
The musical’s producers refuted Wolfson’s claims in a statement to People: “We’ve always been supportive of Cortney and her desire to have a family. There were no definitive plans for a production of Romy and Michele to take place in 2018.
“The next time a reading for this production took place was in February 2020 in LA and Cortney was involved. It was also planned that Cortney would be involved in the reading that would take place in New York in March of 2020, which was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Most recently, a workshop for the production took place in New York where the casting was updated to bring more diversity to the production.
“We’ve always been appreciative of her involvement and wish her nothing but the best.”
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