We are members of the Community Council that formed to guide an accountability process for the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC). We had hoped to share a story about shift and resolution. Instead, we’re here to communicate that the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) executive leadership failed to engage in good faith with the process we were charged with guiding and which they had committed to participate in and abide by.
In recent years, survivors of sexual abuse perpetrated by CTC staff in the 70s and 80s courageously attempted to hold the theater and perpetrators legally accountable. CTC’s inhumane legal response to the survivors and prioritization of reputation over people broke community trust. Concerned artists and activists requested the creation of a Community Council. A council of representatives from the community and CTC staff met three times during July and August 2019 to define a structure for wider community engagement toward healing, reconciliation, and institutional and cultural transformation.
We agreed to organize a Community Forum in the fall of 2019 that would be led by the community with skilled facilitation and mental health support for participants — funded but not hosted by CTC. The purpose would be for the community to express concerns, ask questions, and offer input on how to repair trust and heal as we move forward. This event would be accessible to survivors of abuse, parents, artists, and youth and include theatre staff and board so that we could collectively reach binding agreements to hold the theatre accountable.
Then, on September 16th, 2019, CTC hosted a conversation at the theatre facilitated by Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN). It was not widely promoted and signage was minimal. Survivors were asked not to share about abuse they had experienced, and there was no mental health support present. When participants challenged CTC leadership or expressed grievances, they were told that the space was only for offering positive suggestions for the theatre. It was clear that this tightly controlled event did not meet the criteria agreed upon.
At the request from CTC leadership, two facilitators representing the Council presented a formal proposal to turn ideas into action. They tried to engage with CTC over the course of the past year, taking into account the realities of the legal process, the necessity to build relationships with survivors post-litigation, and the impact of world events. CTC delayed meetings, resisted engagement, and obfuscated communication. After six months of meeting with the facilitators, they responded to the proposal with a list of actions they had taken or intended to take on their own terms which they claimed fulfilled all of their commitments. Ultimately, it became clear that CTC no longer wanted to engage with the Council process or move forward with the Community Forum. Facilitators insisted that CTC reconvene the full Council to tell them directly. To date, this meeting has not happened.
CTC leadership’s stated reason for delaying and, ultimately, abandoning the Council process was to prioritize being “survivor informed and centered.” Survivor-centered work doesn’t preclude transparent community engagement. We intended to use community engagement to hold the theatre accountable to their commitments to survivors and to transforming the institution to prevent future harm. Though the theatre is no longer supporting our work, we are building intentional relationships with survivors and listening and learning how best to be in service. Please see these recent updates here and here from several survivors on the powerful work they have been doing.
As Jeff Anderson, the attorney who represented the 16 survivors, told the Star Tribune, “The story here is that there has been and remains a culture that did not hear, listen or know — or claim to know — that there was a grave and serious problem.” This culture of silence and denial — and not listening to the voices of the community — is precisely what the Community Council wanted to help transform by partnering with CTC leadership in the summer of 2019.
Transformative Justice activist Mia Mingus says: “True accountability is not only apologizing, understanding the impacts your actions have caused on yourself and others, [or] making amends or reparations to the harmed parties…true accountability is changing your behavior so that the harm, violence, abuse does not happen again.”
CTC leadership has invested more resources in a crisis management PR firm than in a community-led accountability process. The theater chose to employ the well-worn tactics that those in power typically use to control the narrative and escape responsibility. In the spirit of accountability and transparency, we feel it is our duty to tell you what happened.
This letter addresses the stark failure of CTC management. It is not meant to reflect on the many members of the CTC community who had no part in the abuse, cover up, or continued evasion of accountability. We believe in young people and our community and in our capacity to use theater to envision, challenge, and transform our world. We deserve leaders that are genuinely interested in listening to the voices of their community.
With this report, we bring to a close a process that we had hoped would produce a genuine model of transformation in the wake of great harm. We conclude that the hoped for changes to the culture, structure and practices of the Children’s Theatre Company will not be possible under current leadership.
As community members, we remain deeply ignited in purpose: we are committed to working alongside survivors towards healing and transformation.
In service to our community,
Members of the Community Council
Sandra Agustin, Shá Cage, Molly Glasgow, James Grace, H. Adam Harris, Ben Krywosz, Ricardo Levins Morales, Nora Montañez, Matthew Organisak Jenson, Caroline Palmer, Dr. SooJin Pate, Nell Pierce, Lindsey Samples, Emily Zimmer
Questions and thoughts can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org