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Suit adds new claim of 1980s sex abuse at Mpls. children's theater

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Children's Theatre
The Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis.
Jeff Jones | MPR News

During her time at Children's Theatre Company, Erin Nanasi remembers being in a dark, intimate fourth-floor theater as then-director John Clark Donahue sat on a prop department throne, acting students around his feet.

"He looked very much like some sort of god," Nanasi recalled, "and we would be in a circle around him and he would tell us how special we were."

Now 49, Nanasi is the sole plaintiff in the latest lawsuit alleging sexual abuse at the Children's Theatre Company in the late 1970s and 1980s. She says former sound technician, designer and instructor Stephen Adamczak attempted to rape her in his car one night as he gave her a ride after rehearsal. She was 15 at the time and said she knew of at least two other minors he was having sex with.

She alleges the Children's Theatre Company was negligent and allowed the abuse to continue. Her suit brings the total number of claims to eight filed on behalf of several survivors alleging sexual abuse, according to Jeff Anderson and Associates, the law firm representing survivors.

Women and men have been coming forward since December to file lawsuits. They've named instructors and other staff members in abuse claims under the Minnesota Child Victims Act, which allows sexual abuse survivors to file claims against abusers and institutions past the statute of limitations.

Donahue was arrested in 1984 on charges of sexually abusing children. He resigned and pleaded guilty. Adamczak was also charged at the time for sexually abusing two minor girls, according to Nanasi's complaint. Adamczak was acquitted.

One of those women, Jeanette Simmonds, has filed a separate lawsuit. She testified about Adamczak back in the 1980s, but "felt pressured to deny the abuse when giving her testimony," according to Nanasi's suit.

"When you're told over and over and over again that this is the only place you're safe, you start to believe what was happening to you is OK because they say it is," Nanasi said in an interview.

Adamczak is now deceased. 

In a statement Tuesday, the Children's Theatre Company said, "We continue to support the efforts of those who have been victims of sexual abuse to have the truth known and to see justice served. Those goals are shared by the Theatre and — we believe — by every member of our community who understands and supports our mission."

Previous statements from the company have said the theater was not negligent and that the theatre now enforces rules to make sure students are safe. 

There will be more claims coming forward against the theater company before the Child Victims Act window closes in May, said Anderson, who's known for bringing lawsuits against clergy over sexual abuse.