A Call for Boycotting CTC

Note from the blogger: For those of you who have been working in the Twin Cities theater community for some time, you may know about the abuse scandal at Children’s Theatre Company that occurred in the 1980s. For those of you like me, you may have only learned about it shortly before or after the Laura Stearns Adams, a former child actor and coworker of mine at the Guthrie, sued the theater and the matter went to court. The theater was found negligent but not liable and overall the matter seems to have been concealed once more. Thankfully, that is not the case. While public media is by and large not discussing this, many of us in the theater community have discussed it over and over, especially with the recent death of John Clark Donahue. Now, Laura Stearns Adams has spoken out again on her Facebook page about her experiences. As someone who has recently started attending CTC, an advocate for survivors, and an abuse survivor myself, I knew this was not something I could stay silent about. I asked Laura’s permission to share her post, the entirety of which is below. Please read and share. I myself am joining the boycott and will no longer be attending CTC. Rather, I will speak out and advocate for Laura and other survivors. And for those of you looking for more information about the case and for resources about abuse, please visit this post written by Chris Peterson at OnStage Blog. #boycottCTC

A CALL FOR BOYCOTTING CTC:

I am a patient person. Some might say too patient. I am also a person who wants to see the best in people. I am not a pessimist. I want to believe that people are intrinsically good and I give the benefit of the doubt. That is, until proven otherwise. I now have all the proof I need to call for an all out boycott of The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis.

Here are some facts to help you understand why;

-In December of 2015, I filed a civil suit against CTC and Jason McLean for the sexual assault that happened to me in 1983 while I was a student there. I filed it because of the MN Child Victims Act which allowed for my case to be brought fourth in the civil court, not the criminal court.

-Seventeen people filed civil suits because of abuse they endured at CTC. Hundreds could have.

-In order for the truth to be revealed about what happened to the students at CTC back then, we needed to have the legal platform of a the civil court, otherwise we could be sued for slander.

-If I could have done this in a criminal court, I would have.

-Because years we’re going by with no resolution to any of the cases filed against the theater, I was required to go through all of the difficult hoops again. Some of those hoops include probing depositions and psychiatric evaluations. Trust me, they are not fun.

-We were not allowed to present evidence at trial that showed that McLean’s criminal activities extended beyond me. Victims of his that were abused after May of 1983 were not allowed to testify at my trial because the defense objected to it saying that McLean’s activities after my abuse was irrelevant and the judge ruled in their favor.

-I have been sexually assaulted four times in my life by four different men. My lawyers argued for me to not have to give testimony of the rapes that happened after McLean. The judge did not agree and I was required to describe every one of my sexual assaults at my trial.

-Kim Motes, the current Managing Director of CTC, was allowed to testify at my trial, giving testimony to how great they are today and how they only have an operating budget around $8m. My lawyers objected on the grounds that her testimony is irrelevant to what happened back in the 1980’s and would prejudice the jury. The judge overruled and allowed Motes to testify.

-Because the law requires that juries NOT be instructed about who has to foot the bill of what ever they deem fair as a judgment, they only need to worry about the number, they were not told that the Insurance companies who covered the theater at the time of the abuse are the ones who would be required to pay. Unless they already knew that, which most people don’t, there would be no way for them to know that this is an insurance liability issue.

-In January of this year, after a 13 day trial, CTC was found negligent for their part in my abuse as a student at CTC back in the early 1980’s

-I was awarded a judgment of $3.68m but because the jury did not find CTC liable, only negligent, the payment of that judgment would fall to Jason McLean, the man who raped me.

-I will likely never see a penny of that judgment because McLean was allowed to sell his properties, the Varsity Theater and The Loring Pasta Bar, to his business associates, and flea the country. He currently resides in Cabo San Lucas and can not be extradited because this is civil court not criminal court. His assets are safely out of the country.

-My lawyers have filed for a mis-trial, citing several reason in a court hearing on Friday, not the least of which is the fact that the judge allowed Motes to testify and that never should have been allowed, especially in light of the fact that he would not allow the two Jane Does that were assaulted after me to testify.

-On Friday, I sat in a courtroom and listened to CTC’s lawyers argue that I should have to pay $283,792.25 of CTC’s trial fees. This is called “taxation of cost” and is only allowed to be an option to the prevailing party in a trial. CTC was found guilty of negligence. I’m not sure how this is even allowable.

CTC’s administration and board would have to sign off on this request for taxation of cost. They know they got off the hook by the jury not finding them liable, and now they are going after me. So, in a nutshell:

CTC was found negligent in the case against them, that proved that the institution placed children in harms way, and now they are going after me, the childhood sexual assault survivor who was harmed because of that negligence, to pay cash dollars out of my own pocket, for proving their own negligence.

It is the last straw for me. I know that these kinds of cases are very much in the hands of the lawyers. This is their arena. So I have sat patiently waiting to see how CTC’s current administration would chose to respond to all of this. What the survivors of CTC want is for them to own their part. To apologize. Not say how sorry they are for what happened to us and wish us well, but to publicly own the fact that their very existence as an institution today is because the well being and safety of the students was sacrificed for the INSTITUTION ITSELF! They would not EXIST if the kids hadn’t been silenced. If the right thing was done back in the 1980’s, when all of the shit hit the fan, the theater would have gone under. Instead, the board of directors and administration saved the theater and vilified the children who came forward at the time, saving the theater and their reputation, which never deserved to be saved. The BCA investigator who testified at my trial referred to the place as “a cesspool”. My lawyer says that in the 35+ years he has been doing this work, he has NEVER seen anything like what they have found through their investigation. They should have gone down. They didn’t. They survived. Those of us who were assaulted there still have nightmares. CTC needs to help those that were harmed, take a real stand, not deny their culpability and put “policies” in place, but take some damn initiative to make things better for children all over! Stop hiding from the past! They want to own their legacy of 50+ years, OWN ALL OF IT!!!

I have taken the high road through all of this, trying to give CTC a chance to do the right thing, not wanting to make things ugly because I believe healing happens in the light and we don’t need more discourse. But this personal attack on me is enough evidence for me to take a different kind of stand. I ask that you not buy tickets, send your kids to their classes, audition for their shows, accept jobs or support them in any way until they do the right thing by the survivors. If you work there, ask yourself if you want to work for an organization that would do this to the survivor of sexual assault who brought the truth to light. Other theatre companies, make a point of reaching out to employees of CTC and offer them work so they have other options around town. To the other theater owners, artistic directors and administrators, board of director members around town, call on CTC to do the right thing. Many of you are my friends. Do you think this is right? If you are okay with it, ask yourself if you would be okay with it if I were your daughter.

(above post by Laura Stearns Adams)

West Side Story and Latinx Artists

As I sat at my computer, doing anything but write up my review of Ordway’s production of West Side Story, I realized that I simply couldn’t write the review. I opted to focus on choreography as a way to discuss the layers of feelings I had about the production. But I couldn’t write. I had local actor Ricardo Vazquez’s words, who spoke about the show at a birthday part I attended last fall, of “This is not a show about Latinos that needs to be done anymore” ringing in my head.

This morning I came across a post from ALMA, the Alliance of Latinx Minnesota Artists, on Facebook in response to this article from the Star Tribune. Instead of writing my own post, I am instead sharing their words from their original post which can be found on their Facebook page. I hope that by sharing their post and their words that more people will be aware of the issues in place of this production and wider problems in our theater community.

‘We are the Alliance of Latinx MN Artists (ALMA). Below is our statement in response to the unfortunate words printed in the Star Tribune on April 6th, 2017 in regards to our local Latinx community of artists.

This letter is in response to the article To stage ‘West Side Story,’ Ordway Center decided to grow Latino talents by Rohan Preston published in the Star Tribune on Thursday, April 6, 2017. The article implies our local Latinx artist community is lacking the necessary ability to appear on the Ordway stage in a musical. Ordway Artistic Director James Rocco states, “There are not a whole lot of Latino musical theater artists in town…” More than one year ago our local Latinx community was promised a strong commitment by James Rocco and the Ordway to partner with Teatro del Pueblo to ensure our representation on stage. The only catch was we would need to be trained through weeks of workshops, classes, and seminars in order to be ready for the first round of standard auditions.

Suddenly, Latinx artists ranging in experience from professional union actors with over 30 years of credits to recent BFA graduates were asked to attend the workshops, but told by Teatro del Pueblo that the Ordway was accustomed to a certain standard of excellence. We were told our local Latinx community needed to prove its own value for the wonderful opportunity to play gang members in a 60-year-old musical written by two white men that ends with one of our people shooting the romantic lead and being placed in handcuffs.

In the end, this “commitment to growth” by the Ordway yielded only two local Latinx artists cast, while more than 10 additional roles were filled with out of town actors, clearly stating through action that the Ordway was embarrassed of our local Latinx talent. This was supported by Rohan Preston’s unverified assertion, “There’s a wealth of musical theater artists among African-Americans in the Twin Cities, and to a lesser degree, Asian-Americans. But Latinos? Not so much.”

We are the Latinx actors, directors, producers, dancers, singers, playwrights, educators, and theater artists that seem to be non-existent in the eyes of Mr. Preston, The Ordway Center and, unfortunately, even Teatro del Pueblo.

We are professional artists. We are not in need of charity, workshops or instructions on the fundamentals, but rather regular and consistent opportunities. It is a fact that our presence on stage is not as visible as in other major theater towns, though not due to the lack of talent or unwillingness, but because opportunities to play roles are infrequent and inconsistent. We will not tolerate organizations who feel they have the right to label an entire community as unworthy to be represented on stage.

While we are pleased that the Ordway is helping new actors learn how to become professionals, we are not all new at this. Just because the Ordway and Teatro del Pueblo, for very different reasons, do not see us work, it does not mean that we are all amateurs in need of fundamental skill development. This community of Latinx theater artists ranges from members of Actors Equity to more recent graduates of excellent conservatories and training programs including our own University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA.

We would also like to speak about the Ordway’s partnership with Teatro del Pueblo. The onus of finding local talent was solely placed on Teatro-a smaller less-resourced organization. This assumes that only Latinx organizations can know Latinx talent and if they are unable to provide a roster, then it is Teatro’s fault and not the Ordway’s. In addition, no one organization such as Teatro del Pueblo represents the Latinx community nor should any individual such as Al Justiniano ever feel the right to speak for an entire community of people.

The Ordway has a track record of contentious relationships with local communities of color. The 2013 production of Miss Saigon drew widespread condemnation from members of the Asian American community and eventually elicited an apology from then President and CEO Patricia Mitchell: “I want to acknowledge and apologize for the hurt that presenting this work has caused.” The Ordway’s ethics have been called into question more recently by organizations such as Mu Performing Arts (this was covered by Marianne Combs in her article Smaller, diverse groups swim against arts-funding tide.) If the Ordway is truly trying to reach our communities, it is time to listen to us about how these issues can be addressed and eliminated.

We wish the cast of West Side Story a successful run. Moving forward, we hope the Ordway, Teatro del Pueblo, and Star Tribune recognize and embrace the incredible wealth of talent of our Twin Cities Latinx community. We also hope James Rocco, Al Justiniano, and Rohan Preston continue to discuss this article with us because the only way to true community empowerment is by working together through conflict and disagreement. We invite all of you to join us in a panel discussion on Monday June 5th to expand on this letter (more details to follow). We look forward to the opportunity to develop real partnerships, exhibit our talents, bring authenticity to the stage, and help institutions like the Ordway be proud to showcase local talent in order to combat the larger issue of systematic exclusion.

In this together,

The Alliance of Latinx MN Artists (ALMA)
AllianceofmnLatinxartists@gmail.com

#RULooking?’

Sensory Friendly Performance for the Lion King

A great interest of mine in theater is accessibility, so I was extremely excited to hear about a new opportunity at Hennepin Theatre Trust  with the tour of The Lion King that will be playing there starting July 5th. On July 30th at 2pm, a sensory-friendly performance will be offered, geared towards patrons with sensory, social, and learning disabilities, particularly those on the autism spectrum, and their friends and family. Minneapolis is only the fifth city to provide such a performance for the tour (including New York, Boston, Houston, and Pittsburgh) and it’s the first time such a show has come on a Broadway tour in Minnesota.

Accommodations in this performance includes:

  • house lights left at a low level
  • designated quiet spaces and activity areas, as well as standing and movement accessibility throughout the theater
  • lower sound levels (especially for loud and sudden/startling sounds)
  • trained volunteers and professionals on hand
  • sensory objects including fidgets, earplugs, and noise-cancelling earmuffs available

Theater should be accessible to everyone and I love that “traditional” presentations of theater are being adapted and changed to be more open and accepting to audiences who are neurodivergent. Sitting in a dark room, in small spaces with loud noises is not everyone’s ideal way to watch a show and offering different ways to experience theater – especially for children – is a wonderful way to broaden a patron’s experiences and introduced them to theater, broaden a theater’s audience base, and broaden the experience of other patrons to a larger community in the theater. If you or someone you know are interested in seeing this performance, tickets can be purchased at HTT’s page for the performance, which also includes more information about the services offered. Hopefully we’ll see more performances like these, both here in the Twin Cities and nation-wide!

Audience Development

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Source: heidibphoto.blogspot.com

When I said I wanted to write about audience development, a co-worker replied, “What do you mean when you say that?” As an emerging dramaturg, I’ve come to understand it as providing additional resources and opportunities for theater audiences, from play guides to post-show discussions to behind the scenes workshops and/or panel discussions with experts about the content of a show.

I’m deeply invested in using audience development as a way to facilitate social change, through opening up theater to broader audiences and supporting shows that ask thought-provoking questions. The Wallace Foundation describes in terms of expanding the audience base in terms of age and ethnicity. By allowing new audiences to see shows, fears about the death of theater can be negated and it supports the principle values the Wallace Foundation puts in place: namely, that art is crucial “as individuals…to experience beauty and insight, to help us make sense of our lives, and to envision not what is but what could be. As communities…to forge social bonds, strengthen our economies, and deepen our understanding of each other.” Audiences come to shows with their own perspectives, wanting to be entertained but also to see how the characters onstage can relate to their own experiences, and to also learn something about themselves and the world around them. This is easy when audiences see something they can relate to or enjoy. But how do we get audiences to connect to shows that portray experiences different from their own or are difficult to enjoy?

Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa! lies outside the experiences of the usual American audience. The history of apartheid South Africa is dense and complex on its own and may be hard for audiences to get a grasp on even through Fugard’s powerful play. As a dramaturg for the production at Park Square, I provided photographs and quotes related to the themes of the show to inspire the cast and turned this a lobby display. Audiences could look at these collages before and after the show and draw connections between what they were seeing onstage and what these outside sources stated on the issues. On opening night, many audience members stopped by to look at them. I chatted with one couple in particular who shared with me their experiences of visiting Africa. By the end of the show run, the marketing staff told me that the display had been popular throughout the performances and stirred conversation.

The Amish Project in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio is a show that deals with an issue well-known to audiences but is not easy to deal with. Part of the Singular Voices/Plural Perspective Series, the post-show discussions after each performance allowed audiences to respond and work through what they had seen with the creator, Jessica Dickey. During one such discussion, an audience member told Dickey how it evoked the Civil Rights Movement for him. Moved by this compliment, Dickey thanked him and told him how much it touched her that he saw that correlation.

These sorts of interactions not only allow audiences to talk about the show to creators themselves but also can influence how artists see their own work. By creating dialogue and two-way communication, collaboration between artists and audience members can help “forge social bonds…and deepen our understanding of communities” that are a powerful part of what art can do.

The trouble with audience development is that it often gets lumped into the market and financial part of theater, where it starts to sound an awful lot like people trying to sell something. I work in a box office, and I know all too well how ticket sales make or break a fiscal year, but audience development in my experience has always extended beyond something that is quantitative and into something more qualitative. When audience development isn’t given a clear definition, the goals can easily become focused on entirely different goals and begin to care more about filling seats rather than working more constructively. It begins to revolve around the idea that there is only one kind of theater that counts and works to include audience development focused on social change – especially in terms of reaching out to diversity – only twice a year.

There is also a lack of clarity at to who should be creating these opportunities. Does it fall to audience services departments, if such a department exists in theaters? Should people on the creative team take initiative if others haven’t? In a perfect world, a balance would be found between productions and the theaters they are presented in to create a position that focus on these tasks. But as of now it falls to independent self-starters who create these opportunities for themselves.

I recently saw Theatre Latte Da’s Lullaby at the Ritz Theater and was moved beyond words. Never before had a show personally affected me quite the way this one did. Flabbergasted, I continued to think about it for the next few weeks until, bottled up with my response, I emailed the theater to tell them how grateful I was for producing the show. Perhaps through remembering what it feels like to be an audience member ourselves, we can better define audience development, work towards better serving both patrons and productions, and building stronger relationships with our community.