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At Renaissance Festival, women recount years of harassment

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Buildings at the Renaissance Festival in Shakopee.
With the entertainment director of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival facing criminal sexual misconduct charges, dozens of women who worked there allege the festival managers did little to protect them.
Drew Geraets | Creative Commons via Flickr 2010

Updated: 1:15 p.m. | Posted: 4 a.m. 

The annual Renaissance Festival's fanciful world of jousters, jesters and jokesters is well underway.

But its longtime entertainment director is not attending. 

Carr Hagerman, who made a brief court appearance Thursday morning, is facing criminal sexual misconduct charges alleging he raped a freelance photographer on festival grounds in Shakopee last year. His next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 11.

Carr Hagerman, Renaissance Festival employee charged in sex crime.
Carr Hagerman, the entertainment director for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, faces two counts of criminal sexual conduct in Scott County District Court. The charges allege Hagerman raped a freelance photographer in 2017.
Scott County Sheriff's Office

Hagerman, 60, who worked for the festival for four decades, has denied the charges.

Those charges and a lawsuit initiated by two female former employees led eight other women to come forward to MPR News to recount what they said were years of abuse and harassment when they worked at the festival, now in its 47th year.

Some also allege the festival's management did too little to help.

"From the top down, they don't believe women," said Megan Culverhouse, who worked at the festival for a decade. Several of those years she worked as a member of the security team.

Hagerman's attorney, Piper Kenney Wold, declined to make her client available for comment.

"The incredible allegations and rumors against Mr. Carr continue to evolve," she wrote in an email to MPR News. "What hasn't changed is Mr. Carr's consistent denial of wrongdoing of any kind.  Importantly, our investigation supports him."  

Woman: Jokes about 'casting couch' 

The festival, owned by Mid-America Festivals, is known for immersing patrons in a bawdy and fantastic world, a mix between Jolly Olde England and a fairytale land. While there's plenty to entertain the kids, there's also lots geared for the adults.    

Waitresses are called wenches, and alcohol is a core feature of the day. Events include daily pub crawls, as well as "the Bawdy Beer Show," "Much Ado About Mead" and "Wild for Whiskey." 

Besides working as entertainment director, Hagerman also appeared as the Ratcatcher, a filthy street performer who hurled insults at passers-by. At any given time, he oversaw up to 500 performers.   

Linda Clayton-Behr described her first encounter with Hagerman at a cast party in 2003, when she was still new to the festival and playing the part of a fairy. She said he ran his hand up the inside of her thigh and made a joke about his "casting couch."  

"I froze," she said. "I didn't know what to do. And you know, when he put his hand on my thigh, he told me, 'I can't believe you let me do that' — so now it's my fault. And I've done something bad and something wrong."  

Clayton-Behr said Hagerman preyed on vulnerable women, persuading some of them to pose nude for him because they believed he had control over their performance contracts.

She's also part of the lawsuit that charges the Minnesota Renaissance Festival knowingly fostered a hostile work environment. 

  In the criminal case, Hagerman is charged with assaulting a young woman on festival grounds toward the end of its 2017 run. She was working as a freelance photographer. She said Hagerman showed her to an upper storage room where she could get a good vantage point for her photos, then beat and raped her until she lost consciousness.  

When performer T. Lake, who agreed to be identified only by her last name and first initial, read an article detailing the rape charges — which outlined how Hagerman called the victim a "whore" and other vulgar names — she said she was immediately reminded of a phone conversation with Hagerman years earlier. She had called to tell him her act would not be returning to the Renaissance Festival. She said he exploded, using those very same words.

According to her account, he said: "You don't know who I am and you don't know the reach I have."  

"He told me I'd never work in this town again ... he told me, 'You're lucky this is happening on the phone and not in person,' and I believed him and was actually afraid. I found myself thinking, 'This guy actually knows where I live.'"

T. Lake said her husband suggested she report Hagerman's behavior.  

A sign for the Renaissance Festival.
Last summer, a group of women formed the Sisterhood of the Pink Garter, their own network of allies who watch out for each other at the festival.
Laura McCallum | MPR News

"And my response was, 'Report this to whom?' He was not the official entertainment director in terms of being the person who ultimately did the business of signing the contract, but he had oversight of all of the entertainment," she said. "He was, to our understanding, very much in the back pocket of the owner and the powers that be. So it was very clear that wouldn't go anywhere."

Allegations are 'disheartening'

Others said Hagerman was far from the only problem at the festival.

Culverhouse and another woman who worked in security said management put pressure on their team to not call the police unless absolutely necessary, for fear that it might result in having the festival's campground license revoked. They said the festival's decade-long security director, Bob Kinsman, cared more about protecting the company than about the well-being of staff and customers.

    "Minimizing exposure and liability was the guiding principle behind which he ran the entire department," said Culverhouse. "So sometimes things would happen, and they wouldn't necessarily make it into the dispatch log."  

  Kinsman, a retired Air Force police officer, resigned from the Renaissance Festival in June, citing health problems. He flatly denies the accusations against him and upper management.    

"It's very disheartening, these allegations because I worked very hard to protect everyone out there, and I thought I did a really good job of it," he said. "And you know, it was a part-time job, for fun. And to accuse me of covering up for the Renaissance Festival is ridiculous."  

  Kinsman said all incidents were properly logged, and any criminal behavior was immediately reported to the police.

 

Network formed to promote safety

  Many women didn't feel the presence of Renaissance Festival security staff was enough to keep them safe. Last summer, a group of women formed the Sisterhood of the Pink Garter, their own network of allies who watch out for each other. Some of them are shopkeepers who will gladly offer up a safe space for a woman fleeing a harasser. Others are street performers who can warn colleagues about trouble headed their way.

  Their closed Facebook group has more than 150 members. Performer Theresa Meis is one of its organizers. She said the combination of an immersive experience, costumes and alcohol often leads customers and colleagues to believe they have permission to behave in a way that, well, hasn't been appropriate for centuries.  

"We want to make sure that we can get through the day, having a great time with our audience, because we obviously all love what we do out there or we wouldn't keep doing it, while at the same time maintaining our personal boundaries and our personal bodily sanctity," she said.  

  Meis said one person, in particular, appeared unnerved by the creation of the Sisterhood of the Pink Garter — Carr Hagerman. She said he made comments about the dangers of gossip, insisted on meeting with the heads of the group and attended a meeting that was intended for women only.  

Meis said his presence had a chilling effect. The women weren't comfortable speaking out against him, for fear of not being invited back the next year.   

"So the people you're supposed to report to about problems are the same ones who can decide whether or not you're going to get another contract," she explained.

Representatives of management said no one who complained ever suffered such retaliation.  

  Minnesota Renaissance Festival's director of business and legal affairs, Bo Beller, said that before the recent rape accusation, management was unaware of any problems with Hagerman aside from an angry outburst in 2011. That resulted in his taking anger management classes. Beller said management has promptly addressed all concerns brought to its attention.

    When asked if it was possible that Hagerman was obstructing communication between the contracted staff and management, festival lawyer Sheila Engelmeier pointed to the harassment and discrimination policy that all employees agree to. 

Via email, Engelmeier stated the policy makes clear that contractors should report any concern to anyone in management — which includes four people besides Hagerman.