Children's Theatre Company settles with six survivors

Protestors stand in front of the Children’s Theatre Company.
Teaching artist Andrew Wheeler and other protestors stand in front of the Children’s Theatre Company on Saturday, June 22, 2019.
Marianne Combs | MPR News

Updated: 2:50 p.m. | Posted: 9:15 a.m.

The Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis has settled six lawsuits with former students.

The students are all survivors of sexual abuse that occurred at the theater company in the 1970s.

The individuals were sexually abused by former artistic director John Clark Donahue and two former employees. Donahue died this past March.

In a statement, Children's Theatre Company said it has settled with the six survivors. It declined to say for how much.

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“A theatre’s purpose is to serve its community,” the theater company said in a statement to staff members. “Not only does the CTC of today and tomorrow have no place for abuse of any kind, we pledge to uphold the values of our community to the highest standard.”

In the statement, CTC said they are working on “a significant list of action items both for now and the future.”

Among the actions described in the statement were:

  • Acknowledging the abuse cases as part of their Adult Youth Engagement Policy training and reinforcing best practices for intervention and reporting suspected abuse and providing resources.

  • All current staff and volunteers will receive yearly child safety training “in historical context.”

  • Child actors and their parents will be made aware of past abuse cases and given resources on how to report suspected abuse.

  • A community council, which includes theater artist Shá Cage, and artist and community organizer Ricardo Levins Morales as well as CTC leadership, has begun discussions and will share “the outcomes and action steps that arise from these conversations.”

  • A community forum is scheduled at the Children's Theatre Company on Sept. 16 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. CTC leadership and board members will attend. They are asking people to RSVP via email.

  • A three-part speaker series with dates and details to come.

In the statement, the CTC also said that once the legal cases were settled, they would establish a “Survivor Fund.”

“Our vision for this fund is communal, survivor-centered, and restorative,” the statement said, adding they are asking for input from survivors and community members.

One of the survivors who received a settlement spoke to MPR on condition of anonymity. He said he's ready for closure.

"It's long coming - this has been a four year [process] - well a lifetime - but it's been almost four years dealing with this. And it's been hard - it's been very hard,” he said. “It’s a way to move forward and start a new chapter, I hope, and put a lot of this behind me. Some of it will never go away. It’s with me forever. But hopefully, the healing can begin now.”

The survivor added that he's also thinking of the other survivors whose cases are still unresolved.

"I support each and every one of them - I really hope they get the settlement, the results, the closure - everything that they're looking for. You know because there's a lot of healing to do - everybody has a lot of healing to do."

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

A total of 16 former students have filed suit against the Children's Theatre Company.

So far one of the suits has gone to trial in Hennepin County. A jury found the Children's Theatre generally negligent, but did not impose a financial penalty.

The next trial is expected to begin on Oct. 21.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.