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Former Children's Theatre director John Clark Donahue dies; pleaded guilty to sexual abuse

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A Minnesota theater icon whose abuse of children devastated many lives died Friday at the age of 80. 

John Clark Donahue co-founded the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis. He was the theater's artistic director for two decades, starting in the mid-1960s. In 1984, Donahue resigned from the theater and pleaded guilty to sexually abusing three boys.

Erin Nanasi is one of several people who have sued the theater over the scandal. She said in the early 1980s, when she was a 15-year-old acting student, she was sexually abused by another instructor, Stephen Adamczak. 

Nanasi said Donahue fostered a cult-like atmosphere which allowed the abuse of children to continue under his watch. She said she remembers Donahue telling the students how privileged they were and that the theater was the only place they'd ever feel safe. 

"He was a monster. He hurt a lot of people — people who are still hurting today," said Nanasi. "He leaves behind so much damage and so much pain."

A statement from the Children's Theatre Company said Donahue's legacy as an artist is "overshadowed by what we now know of his acts of abuse and betrayals of trust." 

"We continue to stand first and foremost with Mr. Donahue's victims and in support of their efforts to find peace and healing," the statement said. 

After his arrest in 1984, Donahue resigned from the theater company and was sentenced to 10 months in the workhouse. After completing his sentence, he went on to work for various theaters in Minneapolis.

Nanasi said over the decades, plenty of people in the theater community were willing to "ignore the trauma (and) focus on the art."

"There were a lot of people who were complicit," she said. "People knew."