OnStage Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Being in theatre is all about trust and safety. An actor, you have to trust your cast mates, your stage managers and most of all, your director. The theatre should also be a safe space, where education and exploration into character and scene study should happen in an honest and open fashion. Most theatre personnel and creatives know this and respect it.
But every now and then someone uses their position to exploit the vulnerability and naivety of young performers, using their positions of power to entice and prey.
Last month I wrote a feature about a sex abuse scandal in Minnesota. Tonight, I'm writing about one that's happened in my own backyard.
Today, news broke that a theatre teacher with a youth theatre company, in Newtown, CT, was arrested on charges of sex abuse involving minors.
According to the Newtown Bee, "Police said that after learning that they held a warrant for his arrest, Matthew A. Madden, 22, of Manhattan turned himself over to police at the police station on the afternoon of March 17 and was charged with two counts of second-degree sexual assault, three counts of risk of injury or impairing the morals of a minor, and three counts on enticing a minor by computer contact."
The investigation began in November after a student told Newtown High School Resource Officer Liam Seabrook that Madden had contacted her through social media and engaged in an inappropriate conversation, according to a news release. The girl told the officer that the conversation made her very uncomfortable, police said.
Madden, a teacher/coach at Sabrina’s Encore Productions, allegedly used his position with the theatre group to not only prey upon this latest victim, but several others as well.
During the probe, several more victims were identified dating back to 2011. Police said they learned Madden had a pattern of contacting young women on social media and persuading them to meet with him in secret.
Madden would then try to have sex with those girls and make them promise not to tell anyone, police said. On several occasions, the juveniles did have “consensual” sex acts with him, according to the release.
With Mr. Madden's alleged sexual abuse history involving students at Sabrina Encore Productions, as the case progresses, questions will be raised to the theatre company as well.
Were there warning signs? What kind of background check was performed upon hiring Mr. Madden? Were previous complaints ignored?
But that's in the future, let's get through today. Let me first extend my deepest thoughts and prayers to all the victims and their families. I hope justice is as swift and painless as possible for them. I also hope this doesn't dissuade them from continuing to pursue their love of the theatre which can be a place of healing and love.
I will be following up on this case. If anyone wants to provide any information, anonymously or otherwise, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: (3/20/2016) I'm now getting conflicting reports on Mr. Madden's role with the company. While press releases are stating that he served as a teacher/coach with the company, I'm being told by sources that he was a student with the company who was asked to assist with only one production.
UPDATE: (3/23/2016) It has been confirmed that the press releases had Mr. Madden's age wrong. He is in fact 22 not 25.