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Artists tell Children's Theater to alter stance toward abuse survivors

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CTC's managing director Kim Motes and artistic director Peter Brosius
CTC's managing director Kim Motes and artistic director Peter Brosius
Screen capture via Vimeo

Dozens of current and former teaching artists and others who have worked at Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis are demanding that theater management publicly acknowledge the organization's past role in "perpetuating a culture of sexual exploitation."

The demand is one of several made in a document they're calling a "statement of solidarity and call to action."

Sixteen former students have filed lawsuits against Children's Theatre, alleging they were sexually abused as children. So far, only one of those suits has gone to trial.

But in many of its public statements, CTC management made assertions that did not sit well with its staff, specifically that the theater had to fight these lawsuits in order to protect the good work of its employees.

The statement, made public Monday evening, calls on the theater's administration to acknowledge not only its past shortcomings but also the present harm caused by its failure to meaningfully redress the harms of the past.

It calls on the theater to create a fund administered by an independent party to compensate all survivors, whether or not those survivors are part of the current batch of lawsuits.

It says the theater needs to treat abuse survivors humanely and compassionately in legal proceedings, regardless of any legal advice or financial considerations.

Linking the Children's Theatre of today to the sins of its past takes the controversy into an area that management has been reluctant to enter. The document explicitly acknowledges that "all of us who work at CTC have profited from an organizational culture of silence around sexual abuse, and that complicity in this silence is a form of ongoing violence."

"We can no longer distance ourselves from CTC's history without meaningful collective action toward justice," it says. It notes that theater management has acknowledged the history of abuse and instituted safety practices, but it asserts that by failing to do more about its past, the theater is doing fresh harm in the present.

In addition to the other demands, the statement calls on the theater to "host a community town hall with attendance of CTC's leadership and all members of the Board of Directors." It also urges that management "pledge to answer community members' questions and concerns and to remain in communication and consultation with the community going forward."

The statement stops short of calling for the resignations of any members of the management staff. But it does hint that the theater itself might face an uncertain future: "A theater's purpose is to serve its community. If CTC does not align with our community's values, it no longer serves its purpose."

In response, management issued its own statement Tuesday afternoon. It said, in part:

"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 today, but we clearly have not recognized how much pain remains, unresolved, for survivors, the artistic community and the community-at-large. And we know we have not done enough. We want to do, and will do, more."

The statement went on to say that over the summer, management plans to begin a series of "conversations and collaborations with the community with justice in mind." But it did not respond directly to requests for a survivor fund.

Also Tuesday, Children's Theatre spokesperson Melissa Ferlaak reported that CTC would donate $17,000 to Empower Survivors, a Stillwater-based nonprofit that serves survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

The amount represents the equivalent of proceeds from a sold-out performance of the musical "Matilda," which recently closed. Children's Theatre had promised to donate the proceeds of its June 16 performance to nonprofits that help survivors, but is donating a greater amount because the show did not sell out that day.

Artistic Director Peter Brosius had pledged the donation in a web video apologizing to Laura Stearns, who had sued the theater for abuse she suffered while a student. After a jury found the theater negligent but not liable, CTC took steps to recover court costs. That action prompted Stearns' supporters to call for a boycott of the theater. In the apology video, Brosius insisted that the theater never intended to seek the funds from Stearns herself.