Editor's Note: TL;DR
Not really but this is a long article so if you don't have the time to sit down and fully take it in we recommend book marking it for when you've got a good chunk of time to digest everything in here.
On June 6th I sent a request for comment to a list of performing arts leaders in the Twin Cities concerning the #boycottCTC movement that was gaining traction on social media in light of a piece by Marianne Combs at MPR on May 28th highlighting that CTC was pursuing legal fees from sexual assualt victim Laura Stearns. The request for comment originally contained the following questions:
"Did you (or your organization) choose to speak up publicly (social media posts, email broadcast to community, public statement, etc) following the release of Marianne Combs report for MPR that CTC would be pursuing funds from Laura Stearns? If so what was the response*? If not, why not?
Additionally, on June 2nd P. Carl (founder of Howlround, faculty at Emerson, Steppenwolf Theatre, Playwrights’ Center) posted this facebook post in light of his perceived “lack of vocalization” by Twin Cities performing arts leadership around this issue. What are your thoughts on his post? Should the entire community be held accountable for the historic actions of one of our largest institutions?"
This was sent to the following organizations (whom we tagged in a social media post on the same day):
Guthrie Theater - Joe Haj
The Jungle Theater - Sarah Rasmussen
Penumbra Theatre Company - Sarah Bellamy
Stages Theatre Company - Sandy Boren-Barrett
Park Square Theatre - Flordelino Lagundino
Old Log Theatre - Greg & Marissa Frankenfield
Mixed Blood Theatre Company - Jack Rueler
HUGE Theater - Butch Roy
Commonweal Theatre Company - Hal Crop
The Duluth Playhouse - Christine Gradl Seitz
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre - Corrie Zoll
SteppingStone Theatre - Mark Hauck
MN Fringe Festival - Dawn Bentley
Minnesota Opera - Darby Lunceford
Pillsbury House Theatre - Faye Price
The Playwrights' Center - Jeremy Cohen
Frank Theatre - Wendy Knox
Ten Thousand Things - Marcela Lorca
Theater Latté Da - Peter Rothstein
History Theatre - Ron Peluso
The Follow Up
Following a conversations with Jeremy Cohen of the Playwrights' Center that weekend I followed up with all the theater companies and sent the following message:
"This past Saturday Jeremy Cohen from the Playwrights’ Center reached out and we spoke on the phone for about an hour. He had called to discuss my recent request for comments on the CTC boycott and P. Carl’s call for a Twin Cities Theatre boycott (in light of the silence by leaders on the recent MPR article about CTC recouping legal costs from sexual assault survivor Laura Stearns).
We talked about a variety of things around this and I wanted to follow up on my request for comment because of that conversation.
First, Jeremy spoke about the most salient aspect for why he hadn’t replied to my request yet. He said he “didn’t want to do any more harm”. I understand this and think it is a critical and important aspect for why there has been a lot of silence.
Just as importantly Jeremy wanted clarification from me on my intent with this request. And so I’m sharing here with you those points that it might shed some additional light on what he described as the “flare" that I sent up.
My intent with this request is to bring conversations that are happening behind closed doors and over phones and through text towards the forefront. Right now many in our community feel that the silence of our community leaders is reflective of the historical silence that contributed to many of these problems. That silence is deafening and for many it reinforces a feedback loop that has historical precedence of turning a deaf ear to the issues. And so I felt, as Playlist primarily represents smaller companies and independent artists, that it was the company’s responsibility to ask leaders in the community to break through that silence.
I understand (and Jeremy and I discussed this) that there are potential repercussions to speaking out, to saying anything. Some of those might be personal, some organizational, but ultimately it does mean saying something can come with a risk. Additionally, I understand that many of you can’t (or won’t) speak for your community or your organization, or that there are a myriad of channels that need to be gone through to make any kind of “official” statement. And so I ask that if you can’t speak on behalf of anyone then perhaps you can send something on behalf of yourself. And, more importantly than your thoughts on any boycotts, perhaps the best thing you can share is “how will you lead differently through this time of challenge in our community?”
The individuals I have reached out to about this piece are the leaders and mentors of this performing arts community. Right now this community is looking to their leaders for guidance. They are looking to you for how you as a leader plan to navigate these critical organizations while this situation plays out at CTC.
I encourage you to submit whatever you can to me to publish next week. It is important that our community hears from our leaders right now. Finally, Jeremy and I spoke about how to make compassion a core component of how we lead in the coming weeks and months, and starting there perhaps we can do no harm. I ask that you reflect on what that means for your organization and consider how it impacts what kind of response you can send.
Thanks for your time, I know our community is hoping for many of our leaders to contribute, not so that lines can be drawn, but so that a common place of ideas and thoughts can be viewed so that we might all work together to navigate these challenging times.
PS. If you have already submitted something, thank you. If in light of my update you’d like to alter or resubmit, please just let me know."
Following this second (modified) request, Jack Reuler of Mixed Blood called to say that my inquiry had done what I'd hoped: to spark dialogue and generate conversation amongst the collective leaders of our community. I reiterated my desire that those conversations needed to come more to the light as silence could be deafening for those of us who were not connected to these larger organizations (independent contractors, desigerns, actors, small theatre / perfromance companies, etc). We discussed elongating the timeline to allow for organizations to have conversations internally and externally. And so we settled on a mid July publishing date.
Below are the collective responses from the leaders, I have included the date this info was sent out or published by the organization or the date in which it was sent to Playlist. Some chose to speak on behalf of themselves, some on behalf of their organization, and amongst the responses a joint response was released on behalf of many of the organizations. Some chose to address my questions directly, others chose not to. As owner of Playlist I ask that you read all of these with an open mind. And I remind all of us to consider the complexity of all of this. No situation is ever as clear as it may seem at first glance. My request for comment by these leaders was never to put them in a position of a "gotcha" or "pick a side" but as I discussed with Jack and Jeremy to incite conversation and to bring that conversation one step closer to the public square. The only way out is through and that requires us all to discuss, listen, and then act as necessary.
In The Heart of the Beast (published in newsletter 6/14/19)
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) was asked to comment on Children’s Theatre Company(CTC)’s response to Laura Sterns’ lawsuit against CTC. For Laura Sterns and many others whose lives have been impacted for decades, a collective hesitation to comment on the part of the Twin Cities arts community signals the silence of complicity. And so this letter is written on behalf of HOBT’s staff leadership who agree that our peers and colleagues most affected by this trauma deserve a community response.
Institutions are never more important than individuals. An institution, no matter how long-standing, deeply resourced, or well loved, can never be more important than the people and communities impacted by it. If CTC intends to be an upstanding member of the Twin Cities theater community, the organization must put first and foremost the lived experience of Laura Sterns and the other survivors of childhood sexual abuse at CTC, and truly reconcile with the ongoing impacts of the harm their organization has caused. This must come before protecting the institution.
As an arts and culture community, we find ourselves in a transformative moment. We lost several long-standing institutions in recent years, and we see others at risk. The institutions that move forward will be those that find genuinely innovative and equitable ways to do the work. This is the time to refuse to continue patterns of silence, complicity, and compromise that put institutions above individuals.
Like so many Twin Cities arts organizations, HOBT finds ourselves in the midst of a difficult transformation. But within that difficulty, we also see a great opportunity. We have declared that the only way forward for HOBT is through building staffing structures, business model, and MayDay plan rooted in justice and equity. We don't claim to have the solutions, but we have deep agreement that our only path forward is in making this work our highest priority.
CTC has the same opportunity. The institution can attempt to fully reconcile with a history of child abuse and the institutional complacency and silence that have deepened damage rather than heal it. This will require authentic change at every level of the organization. We have yet to see this commitment from CTC. CTC's survival as an institution must not be set at a higher priority.
We hope this will be a watershed moment for our community, one where we wholeheartedly commit to creating a thriving, vibrant, diverse Twin Cities arts community that believes and supports survivors, centers the voices of people of color, and embodies in our community the just world our art imagines on the stage. We do not claim to speak from a moral high ground. We speak on behalf of an organization that has made mistakes in the past and will make mistakes in the future. What we learn from those mistakes and carry forward makes all the difference.
The HOBT Leadership Team
Steve Ackerman Site Director
Naomi Campion Education Manager
Claire Curran Communications Director
Linnea House Finance Manager
Corrie Zoll Executive Director
Pillsbury House + Theatre (6/17/19)
Recently, abuses committed by former Children's Theater Company staff re-entered public conversations as CTC filed for reimbursement of court costs from Laura Stearns, a plaintiff in the civil suit against CTC. Pillsbury House Theatre stands with Laura Stearns and all survivors of abuse, and believes strongly that survivors' voices should be at the forefront of these conversations. As our community moves towards healing, Pillsbury House Theatre resolves to continue to uplift and support the voices of survivors in our words and in our work, as well as to strengthen our commitment to protecting youth from abuse.
Fay Price and Noel Raymond
Pillsbury House + Theatre | Pillsbury United Communities
Personal Statement C. Micheal-jon Pease (6/16/19)
Thank you for the invitation to make a personal statement in support of Laura Stearns over the devastating abuse she and so many others suffered as students and young artists in our community 30 years ago. Many of your readers may know me as the Executive Director of Park Square Theatre. Park Square has joined its colleagues in making a board-endorsed statement from our institutions, but I am writing now as Michael-jon Pease, private citizen. My comments have not been endorsed by my colleagues, our board of directors or our three advisory boards. These words are mine alone.
I do not know Laura well, but I was inspired by her star turn in Prime Production's recent mounting of "Marjorie Prime" on Park Square's Boss Stage. As a fellow survivor of sexual abuse, I am in awe of her extraordinary courage and dauntless energy. She is a beacon for survivors of any age, but particularly those of us who have been carrying the pain of abuse from the 1980s, long before the solidarity of the current movement was dreamed of.
For context I will share publicly that at 18 I was brutalized and raped by three men to "teach me a lesson" for being queer. At 19 I was molested by the mother of a high school friend. At 20, I was stalked and preyed upon by a male professor who was also a member of clergy. I don't have the right to stand with Laura and other female victims because I have access to so much privilege as a white male in a well-established career. Her account of being preyed upon by someone who was supposed to be helping her become her best self, however, did bring back the visceral emotional and physical trauma of my own experiences. It is my personal experience that, while justice is critical, actual healing happens inside moment by moment over a lifetime through our own agency with the help of our support networks.
Laura is proving that abusers can not diminish us. We are whole. We have power.
It is my experience as a survivor, that makes me passionate about creating safe spaces for all of us in our professional settings.The work of theatre demands emotional availability and complete vulnerability from artists. This makes them even more susceptible to abuse.
If you are reading this and you have suffered abuse anywhere and you need to talk with a fellow survivor, please reach out to me at my personal email [email protected] If you have suffered at Park Square, either before or during my tenure, please reach out via my Park Square email so that we can begin our internal process to address what happened as a step toward your healing.
Huge change has been underway in our industry over the last decade, particularly with the #MeToo movement. Each survivor and ally who speaks out with love and true intention helps move all of our institutions forward and helps us all heal.
Ten Thousand Things (6/13/19)
The abuses that occurred in the early days of Children’s Theatre Company are a deeply painful chapter in the history of our community. We are in conversation with artists and artistic leaders in our community, recognizing that this is an issue that impacts us all. We believe strongly in listening to those who are most directly impacted and are choosing to communicate in person about the complexities of the current moment. Like our colleagues, we are eager to participate in constructive ways to heal and to ensure abuse has no place in our Twin Cities theater community.
HUGE Theater (6/10/19)
I did personally post about the boycott and articles - as did many of our leadership team, Board and staff - I made mine a clear call for a joining the boycott and made it public and shareable, which I normally don't do - and I would say the response has been (as responses to social media almost always are) positive and in agreement, some amount of sharing the info and really good discussion and sharing of the information. While that seems small, I think more awareness can only be good (see below, last section)
The theater itself hasn't posted a statement about the CTC or had anything to withdraw - the theater has never sponsored or sent support to the CTC so I don't know that it feels like we have any power to withdraw anything there - similarly, as our art form has little overlap and feels like it's on a different tier than the CTC, it's not like we've ever had a professional connection to sever.
I would prefer to mobilize people, which I think is best done by people - which is why I have joined in calls to boycott from my personal platforms more topics than this one
It feels similar to the posts I made about Acme and Louis CK - HUGE Theater has never purchased a ticket to ACME and doesn't have business with them to take elsewhere, Butch Roy the person can make it clear that I'm not going to be giving them any dollars - and people joining the boycott has proven to be the thing that has gotten a response.
To the Facebook post calling out institutions - I just think he's just off the mark in some ways.
I had no idea he had posted anything prior to you sending me the link.
I bet he's never seen my Facebook posts, so it's hard to gauge how vocal anyone has been, especially on Facebook - so that's one issue.
As for the leadership of CTC still being in place because theaters don't speak up, it's not like we hire and fire one another - so saying that other theaters not speaking out is why he knew the leadership there isn't going to change...that's just plain old incorrect. Sorry, that's just over simplified and incorrect.
I agree that CTC leadership really went wrong, and then really doubled down wrong and has show a lot of tone deafness as well - they should seriously look at who should be out and who should remain but you'd have a hard time convincing me that an outcry among theater leaders is the reason they're still place or that it would be the thing that unseated them - I think people that they answer to need to speak out in the manner that they will feel compelled to answer.
I wish the question was "what are you doing to combat abuse and keep people safe?" because the honest answer to that is "A lot" from a lot of people.
But the question here seems to be "what are you doing to combat abuse at CTC?" and the answer is "I'm sorry, I have no power or ability to clean their house"
As to the general sense that that've never really suffered or accounted for what happened there - I would have to agree with that but I haven't the first clue how I would make it right, if anything could ever come close - the person that should pay won't be forced to and justice just has not been done there.
CTC could use their considerable reach to raise funds and awareness FOR the victims, make the terrible lessons learned central to their history instead of the dark chapter, to make sure it never happens again by being vocal teachers and champions - they could choose to use these lessons that came at a terrible cost wisely instead of trying to just move on and leave it behind, which does worse than no good, it continues to do harm.
Jungle Theater 6/26/19
The Jungle Theater is committed to listening to and supporting survivors of abuse. We are honored to be a part of Minnesota’s artistic community and will continue to work with our colleagues to learn and heal with compassion and utmost concern for people's well-being.
Mystery Cafe 6/21/19
A Statement from The Mystery Cafe re: the boycott of CTC
Recently, a number of theater companies in our community have been asked to issue a statement regarding the boycott of CTC. Some have responded, others have remained silent. Silence is what is at the heart of the boycott. Silence and complicity are what allowed the abuses at CTC to happen.
Laura Stearns, who has called for the boycott, has courageously taken on an unenviable role; she has become a representative for the survivors of sexual abuse who are seeking accountability from the institution that allowed their victimization. She’s is brave and she is strong, which is something we have known for a very long time.
Laura was a part of the Mystery Cafe from its very beginning. She was married to its founder, Lee Adams. She was in the very first show in 1989. She, Lee, their sons, her brother - they’ve all had roles in the Mystery Cafe . So much of what we are as a company is thanks, in large part, to Laura’s involvement, a fact which cannot be ignored.
CTC cannot ignore its history either. Their company was born out of a culture of abuse and neglect. Those victims, who as children deserved protection, advocacy and safety, call out to this institution; a call that continues to be unheard. To take the attitude that “the past is past” is to suggest that things are different without doing the work to change. “It’ll never happen again” doesn’t address the damage done.
As CTC tries to reconcile its history of abuse and negligence and move forward, there needs to be an acceptance of culpability and recognition of those who were victimized and continue to suffer. In particular, the role of silence and complicity must be acknowledged. As a community, we, too, have a responsibility, not to look away from injustice, but to stand up for the vulnerable and the marginalized.
To that point, The Mystery Cafe would like to publicly stand in solidarity with Laura and her fellow survivors of sexual assault. We acknowledge your experience, and lend whatever platform we may have to echo your call for justice.
Joint Statement 6/28/19
Over the last several weeks, the Twin Cities performing arts community has been working together to discern the role we can play to heal our community. We are coming together now to state our support for survivors of sexual abuse in our industry.
As performing artists and theater makers — storytellers, at heart — we are keenly aware of the need to face injustice and injury, whether it is a crisis happening in our midst or a thread woven into our history. The horrific events that transpired with students at Children’s Theatre Company over 35 years ago prompted a community-wide vigilance to protect children. We recognize that these wounds and loss of trust within our community continue to run deep. An atmosphere of openness, accountability, listening, and restoration will be required to begin a process of public and private healing.
While not representing the entirety of the performing arts community, we the undersigned commit to working together to further this process; supporting survivors, ensuring their voices remain at the forefront of the conversation, and deepening our resolve to protect all artists, especially youth, from exploitation, coercion, and abuse.
Brave New Workshop: Jewnni Lilledahl, John Sweeney, Caleb McEwan
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres: Michael Brindisi
Commonweal Theatre: Hal Cropp
Frank Theatre: Wendy Knox
Girl Friday Productions: Kirby Bennett
History Theatre: Ron Peluso
Minnesota Fringe: Dawn Bentley
Minnesota Opera: Ryan Taylor
Mixed Blood Theatre: Jack Reuler
Old Log Theatre: Greg & Marissa Frankenfield
Park Square Theatre: Flordelino Lagundino
Pillsbury House Theatre: Fay Price and Noël Raymond
Stages Theatre Co.: Sandy Boren-Barrett
SteppingStone Theatre for Yourth: Mark Ferraro-Hauck
Theatre Latté Da: Peter Rothstein
Children's Theatre Compnay 7/1/19
For 35 years, CTC has lived in a state of deep regret over what happened in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. We have done everything we possibly could to change our culture into one that protects and respects children, while embracing the joy and impact of theatre. Since that time, child safety has been our highest priority and we work every day to ensure that what happened back then never happens again.
But all of the abuse of the past, and the toll it has taken on survivors, has come to the forefront since cases were filed against CTC by survivors who had the strength to come forward in December 2015. We continue to work with these survivors to resolve their legal cases in order for them to have the resources for healing and justice.
We would like to reiterate our profound apology, both professional and personal, for what happened 35 years ago. It goes against everything we stand for today. And we want to reaffirm our commitment to never letting it happen again, our desire — sometimes imperfectly manifest — to respect and stand with survivors, and our resolve to listen, learn and continually do better in the future.
We want to join with the artistic community to honor survivors by listening more, learning more, and respecting them more. We are committed to finding ways to engage in true transformative justice, meaning that we find innovative ways to transform despair, anger and pain into a higher form of justice, engagement, and eventually, trust. Over the summer, we plan to unveil a series of conversations and activities to honor survivors, and we look forward to sharing these with our community.
Guthrie Theater 7/1/19
Laura Stearns is a longtime staff member at the Guthrie. Several years ago, when she shared with members of our senior management team that she would be coming forward publicly about her experience at Children’s Theatre Company, we supported her in this choice. We believe Laura. We believe that she and other children who were connected to CTC in the 1970s and 80s were sexually abused by CTC staff. We understand that those abused want to have the truth revealed and to have those responsible held accountable.
The wide range of sentiments regarding what CTC, and our greater theater community, should or shouldn’t do as they attempt to reconcile the past with the present has created painful divisions, and has prompted requests for formal statements in response to an ever-changing list of questions. We don’t believe commenting on these sensitive matters in this way is useful in moving us forward as an arts community. After many discussions, including a meeting with Laura, about what could be a useful next step in a healing process, the Guthrie has decided to convene a professionally facilitated community conversation. Details on this public forum will be shared on the Guthrie website as they are available.
The Playwrights' Center (7/1/19)
In the wake of a series of events surrounding Children’s Theatre Company, the Playwrights’ Center has spent the past few weeks with many playwrights, our staff and our board members to articulate a public response – not only in relation to this particular situation, but also as a renewed commitment to how we as an organization continue living into our value of prioritizing individual artist care in the theater community.
With over 250 astounding theater companies, and countless brilliant theater artists, the Twin Cities theater community is filled with exceptional artistic talent and vision. The Playwrights’ Center, an artistservice organization, supports thousands of playwrights each year, in addition to partnering with over 150 universities and producing theaters, locally, nationally and internationally. We have had the great privilege of working within this community for the past 48 years.
But, currently, our community is at a crossroads.
The recent events related to Children’s Theater Company – and the pursuant media coverage – have continued to expose long-open wounds caused by this past abuse. Despite the passage of time, for many survivors, the legacy of abuse of course doesn’t disappear. As true colleagues, collaborators and citizens of this community, those wounds cannot and will not remain invisible to us at the Center.
This moment has given the Playwrights’ Center and many other Twin Cities’ theaters an opportunity to critically reflect on our own practices and policies for our relationships with artists, staff and our many partners. For, as brilliant as the work is in this community, we cannot afford to prioritize exceptional artistry over the health and well-being of our artists themselves. Where great art is made, great artists must be treated in equal measure with investment in their care. Where great art is made, we must equally value compassion and humility. Where great art is made, we must demonstrate transparency and artist-empowerment.
Here at the Playwrights’ Center, we will continue to work as an active resource and partner in this process of healing. We will remain diligent to centering survivors and their stories in this process. We will continue to examine and refine our own practices for protecting the very playwrights (and their collaborators) we exist to serve.
The Playwrights’ Center endeavors to be a safe space for all. Without a commitment to all, true inclusion cannot exist.
- We commit to working with survivors and Twin Cities theater leadership in the coming months to devise a clear and actionable plan for moving forward, with a goal of articulating how theaters strategize, commit and implement ideas for more comprehensive artist care and safety practices.
- We commit to actively participating in the upcoming public community conversations, taking the resulting critical learning and using it towards a building of best practices for prioritizing artist care in our community. We believe that euphemism and a lack of transparency often enable a dangerously fertile ground for injustice, and it is our expressed desire to work with the survivors, artists and theaters in the Twin Cities to shift this paradigm.
- Above all, we remain committed to our steadfast practice of engaging with artists, universities and theater partners who practice just, humane and non-abusive behavior.
As a community, we have the opportunity – right here, right now – to work towards a future where no person feels silenced, and no artist is made unsafe. In collaboration with our theater colleagues and artistic collaborators, we commit to building towards a more equitable, safe and humane community for generations of theater artists to come.
The following organizations did not respond to our request for a comment:
The Ordway (declined to comment)
The work does not stop here. In fact it really only begins. Many of these companies are having ongoing internal dialogues about how to make changes in their organizations in light of all of this. If you want to make a difference get involved where you can. For some that may be participating in a protest or boycott, for others it may be writing letters, for some it may be getting onto a board or in a position of power where you can help steer the decision making process, and for others it may be something more personal or even artistic. Regardless of how you participate I encourage you to continue to ask questions and to ask our leaders to keep talking - to speak up, and out, about what they are doing and how they are leading.
Editor's note: edited on 7/14/19 to reflect that The Playwrights' Center published a response on July 1st, 2019. That response has been added in its entiretly to this article.