NEWPORT — Like the other women, Kathryn Coppa believed she had a role in a professional project.
She was promised payment, after all. And the man who offered her the role was an educator at Salve Regina University, and a prestigious figure in the Rhode Island theater industry.
Tom Gleadow has worked for Trinity Rep, The Gamm Theatre, Theatre by the Sea and The Wilbury Theatre Group.
Coppa and three other women allege that he used the guise of a professional project — a superhero movie — to film them bound and in the throes of struggle, or to trick them into filming those scenes themselves to give to him.
Another woman says she participated in a bound-and-gagged photo shoot about 30 years ago because she trusted Gleadow, and he told her it was for a “project.”
These women said they later discovered — slowly, through conversations with others, social media posts and independent research — that Gleadow had deceived them.
Some of the women said, when questioned by Newport police, that Gleadow had admitted that there was no movie, and he had kept their photos and videos for his personal use.
Multiple phone calls and emails to Gleadow were not returned. Nobody answered knocks at the door of a Providence address listed in court records as Gleadow’s. A note left under the doormat there also went unanswered.
The Daily News and The Providence Journal reached out to Trinity Rep, The Gamm Theatre, Theatre by the Sea and The Wilbury Theatre Group in further, unsuccessful attempts to reach Gleadow for this story.
Coppa, who graduated from Salve in 2019, was among a group of about seven women who went before Salve administrators on Aug. 11 and read aloud about 15 written statements, she said. Some were read on the behalf of others.
Salve contacted Newport police the following day, and terminated Gleadow’s employment a week later.
Then, on Aug. 31, a 2014 Salve graduate named Kat Witschen posted on Facebook that when she was 18, Gleadow deceived her into filming various bondage scenes.
Police conducted 28 interviews of students or former students who said they were asked by Gleadow “to perform [in] or create videos for a film project” for his friend, Eric Feeley, police said in a news release Thursday.
“It was discovered that ‘Eric Feeley’ was fictitious,” police said in the news release.
No criminal charges were brought against Gleadow, and police on Thursday announced a suspension of the case “pending any new developments or complaints.”
Five women, including Coppa, spoke about their experiences with Gleadow.
Grace Farrow is a sophomore at Salve. Laura Jedynasty is a Salve graduate. Sarah Pothier is a graduate of Rhode Island College and a former colleague of Gleadow’s. Jennifer Gillis is the owner of a dance studio in Lincoln; Gillis said her experience with Gleadow happened around 1990.
All of the women — save for Gillis, who said she could not remember — said that Gleadow had told them to stay silent about the project, and that “Eric” had come up in Gleadow’s pitches and requests.
All of the women spoke of trust in their teacher, mentor and friend.
These are their stories.
“Tom mentioned the superhero film to me, and I immediately didn’t think twice about it,” Coppa said on Sept. 10, during a Zoom meeting with several other women. “He was a mentor and a friend. And I completely trusted him.”
It was 2017 when she went to Gleadow’s house. Coppa, now 23, was a Salve student at the time; she was a theater major with an acting concentration.
She remembered asking him: could they film at the school? “For some reason he said we couldn’t go to the school, he didn’t have a key or something like that.”
When she got to his house, Gleadow gave her and another student their leotards to change into, Coppa said. And they filmed.
“It started out with — it was on a tripod camera — and it started out with running up the stairs, and then being tied up, hands behind the back, to a chair. I don’t remember which was which, but one of us was gagged and one of us was blindfolded,” Coppa said.
“He was the villain in the film and like, chloroformed us, and we passed out. And then struggled to be awake. And I remember him asking if he could put a prop bomb between my legs on the chair. And I gave him a look because I was like, ‘Between my legs?’ And he was like, could tell I was uncomfortable, and he was like ‘oh OK, OK. How about on the floor then?’ And I was like ‘OK yeah, on the floor.’ And we did that.”
“I quite honestly never felt super uncomfortable until he said, ’Don’t tell the other students, I don’t want them to be jealous,’” Coppa said.
But she eventually did talk to another student, and what she discovered further disturbed her.
“She showed me messages asking her to do the same thing, and asking for pictures of her in costume, in the tight leotard,” Coppa said. “He didn’t ask me for that. But that was a red flag for me. And then I kind of was like, ’Oh, I don’t think this is right.’ And it wasn’t until this past year, we all got to talking, and decided to go to the school and then go to the police.”
Farrow, 19, provided the written statement she gave to Salve and Newport police.
“Sharing this feels so vulnerable, humiliating, and personal but I am doing so in hopes that this narration of my experience helps you to understand what has been happening for years and needs to end,” Farrow wrote.
She met Gleadow in 2019, the beginning of her freshman year.
“I quickly found him funny, sarcastic, personable, and charismatic,” Farrow wrote. “I felt very grateful that I had found an extremely likable professor in my major and that we had such a good relationship.”
One day, Gleadow asked Farrow if she was interested in a role in a superhero film directed by a friend named Eric Feeley.
“I enthusiastically said yes because it sounded like a great opportunity to further my acting experience and hopefully open some networking doors,” Farrow wrote. “I also felt very flattered to be asked as I thought he chose me for my acting skills.”
On March 31, 2020, she said, Gleadow messaged her on Facebook; when she didn’t respond that day, he messaged her on Instagram. Then they spoke on the phone.
“He told me not to tell anyone from the department because they could be jealous and it might hurt their feelings. I later found out he said the same to many others,” Farrow wrote.
Gleadow told Farrow some scenes for the project could be shot at her house. Her mother filmed the scenes, she said.
“Stage directions included: slowly walking to the phone and being slowly knocked out by a device that releases gas, taking a full body shot of me on the floor barely awake then passing out, full-body and waist up shots of me bound, gagged, and struggling,” Farrow wrote.
She sent him the photos he requested of herself in leotards and heels, “so he could choose what he wanted me to wear in the scenes.”
The scenes were filmed on April 4. She sent him more than 50 photos and videos.
“These scenes were uncomfortable to film and watch because of their disturbing nature but I wholeheartedly believed that these were just scenes for a film. My feelings of uneasiness were short-lived due to texts saying, ‘Thanks for doing this. You’re the best’ and ‘You’re doing an incredible job.’ that brought me back to the mindset that I was just doing what a good actor does,” Farrow wrote.
She said Gleadow texted her on Aug. 5, and invited her to get ice cream.
“He discussed how we would film the next part in his basement at home and I would wear a blue or gold leotard he just got,” Farrow wrote in her statement. “I later found out that that gold leotard was not in fact new and had been worn over the years by other girls just like me. He jokingly recognized that he knew that sounded creepy filming in his basement but assured me it totally wasn’t.”
The next night, Farrow said, she FaceTimed her friend, Abigail Burchard, another Salve student who had once worked as Gleadow’s assistant.
“She said she needed to tell me something important and began to describe how Tom had asked a girl three years ago to come to his house and do a superhero photoshoot,” Farrow wrote. “That night all the pieces finally fell into place. We made some phone calls and quickly found out that so many scarily similar scenarios occurred between him and other girls. The superhero photos and videos were not a new request and we were tactfully chosen and manipulated.”
“After I read what he had Grace do I did not think that it was a real project because he told her that she was the only one asked,” Burchard said in an email. “[A]nd at that point we knew he had already asked other girls.”
Burchard, 21, wrote a statement for the school and the police to support her friends and aid the investigation. She said she was not asked to participate in Gleadow’s film.
“He made every student feel like they were special, like they were his closest friend and the favorite. In my head, I did not realize that this was not what a working relationship looks like,” Burchard wrote. “He manipulated everybody in the department into thinking all of those interactions were what we should strive for with our bosses outside of college. … What he was doing to all of us was grooming so that he could continue this disgusting behavior.”
Jedynasty, 25, graduated from Salve in 2017.
At various times from 2014 (the end of her freshman year) to 2018, Jedynasty filmed scenes for Gleadow. The superhero theme was consistent. At first she was told it was for a friend of Gleadow’s, a film professor at the University of Rhode Island. She was later given the name “Eric.”
In 2018, when she filmed at Gleadow’s home for the first time, Jedynasty said she wore a gold leotard and nude leggings, which Gleadow provided.
“The scene ended with myself tied to a chair and gagged with a rag in my mouth,” Jedynasty wrote in her police statement. “He then asked if he could place a toy bomb between my legs and I told him I can hold it between my knees[.]”
She wore the same outfit when she returned to his house months later, to reshoot those same scenes, because, Gleadow told her, “the last footage was either lost or damaged,” she wrote.
In 2016 and 2018, Gleadow acted in the scenes, too, Jedynasty recalled. He played the villain and would engage in “stage combat,” pretending to physically attack her.
“He would punch my face, he would kick me in the face … punch my stomach, kick me in the stomach,” she recalled. At one point, she was “hogtied” while he pretended to kick her.
She didn’t see the red flags “because I wasn’t looking for them,” Jedynasty said in a phone call. “He was my professor.”
She considered it an “amazing” opportunity to participate in a film project as a freshman, and she was promised payment. (Jedynasty wasn’t paid in 2014; she said she received $100 cash from Gleadow in 2018.)
Jedynasty worked with Gleadow this past summer on a Shakespeare showcase with Enter Stage Left Theater, the resident theater company for the Hopkinton Center for the Arts in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Gleadow directed her show.
She said she got a text from Coppa on Aug. 10, while heading for a rehearsal. Coppa outlined the striking parallels among the stories. The pieces that had begun to fall into place.
“I literally almost threw up,” Jedynasty said.
Jedynasty said she was told that her contribution was for a URI film class. “Why does he need so many [reels of footage] of different girls doing the same thing?”
Gleadow was employed by URI at intermittent times in various positions from 2003 through 2020.
“Gleadow is no longer under contract with URI and the University has no plans to rehire him,” Linda Acciardo, director of communications and marketing at URI, said in an email. “University officials have no record of any complaints filed against Tom Gleadow … The University’s Department of Theatre learned of the allegations Wednesday, Sept. 2.”
Gillis believed she was only photographed years ago; there was no film.
“I met Tom in Pawtucket Community Players’ ‘Music Man’ in 1987,” Gillis said. She was 16 at the time. “I was in awe of him; he played Harold Hill and he was just amazing.”
She had a role in “Chicago” in 1990, and said she believed her experience with Gleadow happened shortly after that.
“He called me and asked me to meet him at Rhode Island College in the — some parking lot — and I asked my mom. She said, ’Sure, go, I trust him,’ so I went,” Gillis recalled. He requested that she bring a leotard.
“He brought me to a little closet to change. Put the leo on, And then I … ” Gillis paused to collect herself.
“He had me pose at a chair, like four or five different poses, then he put, he had me sit in the chair, he tied my arms behind my back, he blindfolded me, and put a gag in my mouth, took some pictures there. Then he laid the chair down on its side, from what I can remember … so I was like [pretends to struggle] and I had to kind of, act like I had tried to get out of it. He told me it was a project, that’s all I heard. And to me, I trusted him.”
Gillis asked Gleadow when the project would be completed.
He “never really gave me a straight answer and I let it go,” Gillis said. “And then, I let it sit all these years, and my husband [texted] me the other night saying, ’You’ve got to open Facebook. You’ve got to read this story.’ And it was all the same. And I just cannot believe this. I can’t.”
Pothier, 28, graduated from Rhode Island College in 2014.
“I know several other [RIC graduates] have the same story,” she said. “[It] happened to [some of] them while they were in school, [it] happened to me after I graduated.”
Rhode Island College provided the following statement: “Rhode Island College applauds all individuals who come forward and disclose their deeply personal and painful experiences. We take seriously all allegations of sexual misconduct. Rhode Island College is not currently aware of any allegations against Tom Gleadow during his time here, but can confirm that he was formerly employed as an adjunct faculty member. He has not taught here since 2017. Though not a graduate of our institution, he took classes intermittently between 1980 and 2007. We were not aware of any allegations against Mr. Gleadow until the story was reported in the news, and we have not received any complaints since the issue became public.”
Pothier said she never had Gleadow as a teacher, but “we all saw him in plays outside of school … he was a Rhode Island theater legend at the time.”
In 2016, Pothier said, she worked on a professional production with Gleadow: “1776,” a musical, with the now-defunct Ocean State Theatre Company.
“He reached out to me on one of our days off and told me about this opportunity for, like, a superhero film for his friend, his friend Eric,” Pothier explained. She noted Gleadow’s use of “light, fun, inviting language” in his requests to her.
Pothier sent Gleadow photos of herself in costume, as requested.
Then she went to Gleadow’s house with a male friend and cast member, Pothier said. They began with stage combat upstairs; her friend played the villain, and Pothier the superhero.
“And then he took us into the basement,” she said. “He tied my hands behind my back and gagged me and videotaped me trying to get out of that.”
She did not know she’d be bound and gagged until she got to his house, Pothier said.
“I did feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to come across as difficult to work with. … I wanted him to maybe cast me in something … which is super toxic, obviously … he was somebody I trusted … and [I thought] it was for a project, and it was a paid opportunity for me.”
“What I had been told … it was for a class that [Eric] was teaching,” Pothier said. She didn’t follow up, in part, because “I never thought that it would be like something that I would want anyway,” for an actor reel, or the like.
Gleadow told Pothier, like he told other women, not to tell anybody about the project, she said.
And she didn’t tell anyone, until very recently. Then she saw Kat Witschen’s Facebook post.
“All my suspicions kind of came true in that moment,” Pothier said.
“I found out I was so not alone,” she said. “Eric didn’t exist, and this happened to several of my friends.”
Pothier later recalled, in a phone call, a disturbing detail she didn’t mention previously.
Gleadow had asked her to redo a scene. Because, she said, he wanted to see her struggle more.
“And then we all had coffee at his table after,” Pothier recalled. Like colleagues, like friends.
[email protected] Follow Laura on Twitter @LauraDamonNDN
Brian Amaral contributed to this story.