Over the past couple of months, we've seen a wave of victims of sexual misconduct come forward. Not only have they revealed who their perpetrators were, but also the terrible acts they used. It's been equally infuriating as it is heartbreaking.
While many of the claims have been within Hollywood and even Broadway circles, not much has been reported regarding community and college theatre. It would be naive to think various forms of sexual misconduct weren't occurring.
In fact, I know it is. Whether it's myself witnessing it firsthand or accounts I've heard from others, the amount of sexual abuse and misconduct in community and college theatres is right on par with every other industry out there. What makes matters worse is that there aren't unions to protect community theatre performers. And while colleges have staff set up to protect individuals from sexual abuse, we've seen from schools like Michigan State, that schools fail in this area as well.
In the last few weeks, I have spoken to almost a dozen people regarding claims they brought forward to me. With their permission, I am going to share with you their stories with the following series of articles.
I have changed the names of those involved. The reason for this is that the purpose of this piece isn't to drop names to feed salacious appetites but to expose the problem and offer solutions. Some of these incidents are also a part of legal proceedings which is the other reason why I have decided to change the names involved. However, I am leaving in the states these occurred in.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS DETAILS OF A SEXUAL NATURE, READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED
My name is "Julio". I am currently 29 years-old. From 2009-2011, I was sexually manipulated by a local community theatre director who promised me that if I went along with his sexual advances, he would not only give me roles in all of his shows but also help me build a career in the theatre. I should probably start from the very beginning.
In the Summer of 2009, I auditioned for an upcoming musical that I had been dying to be in. To call it a "bucket list" show would be an understatement. This was one of the shows that sparked my interest in theatre.
The show was directed by "Ryan". Ryan had been directing shows at this theatre for a while apparently, but this was my first interaction with him. My first audition went well and I was called back for one of the principal roles, not the dream role I was hoping for, but I was honestly just happy to be there.
I was cast in the role and rehearsals started in last June. During those weeks, I became friendly with "Ryan". He was down-to-earth, funny, communicative as a director. I became to think of him as more of a friend that authoritative figure like other directors I had worked with.
As we were nearing opening night, one of our tech weeks didn't get done till after midnight. I lived about an hour from the theatre and Ryan lived almost right next door, so he offered me and a couple of other cast members to crash at his place. We accepted and headed over to his apartment. It was small, and since it was me and two women, Ryan and I crashed in his room and the ladies took the living room. Ryan was on his bed and I was on the floor next to it. After a little while, Ryan sat up and began talking to me.
"Dude, this is silly. My bed it more than big enough, why don't you get off the floor and sleep on this side," he said.
Half asleep, and seeing it as a much comfortable option, I agreed and got into the other side of the king-sized bed. The bed was large enough that we were on either side of it and you'd never know the other person was there.
But a little while after that, just as I was about to fall asleep. I felt Ryan get closer to me. He put his arm around me as if to spoon me and I felt his crotch press up against my backside. He whispered in my ear,
"Is it okay if I do this?"
It's here that I should say that while I was fairly sure I was gay, I hadn't been with a man yet. Yet here was my director, someone I looked towards as a mentor, trying to seduce me in his bed with my fellow cast members in the next room. I really didn't know what to do. I was in a way, frozen.
"I guess..", I shyly replied.
We proceeded to kiss while he rubbed up against me, after a couple of minutes, I think he climaxed and he just kind of held me for a while before rolling over and going to sleep.
The next morning was awkward but after waking up, I hurriedly got out of there and went home. Later that day was the beginning of dress rehearsals. Before the rehearsal began, Ryan asked to see me in the hallway alone. I followed him.
"Last night got a little crazy, are you okay with everything?", he asked.
"Yeah", I replied.
"Good, cause I like you and I think this could be a fun little thing between us. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon and if you stick with me, I think you'll like working here."
And thus began a year of sporadic sexual encounters with Ryan. He would typically start texting me around auditions. He would text me things like "If I'm happy, you're happy" and "Keep being my favorite and I'll keep you on stage".
Over the course of the year and two shows, Ryan and I had six sexual encounters during the audition period.
During this time, I didn't really know who I was or what I was doing. I wanted to perform with this theatre group so badly and I felt like if I continued with these encounters, that I would be keeping myself in good graces.
At the beginning of 2011, I started dating another man from school. Auditions for another show were coming up and, predictably, Ryan started texting me asking me to come over.
This time, I declined. He texted me again a couple of days later, I declined again. He texted me a third time, this time typing "Are you sure you want this role?" and later on with "I'm starting to doubt your desire to be in the show." I ignored his texts.
The next night, he called me, which he rarely did.
"You know, I don't think I like your attitude right now," he said. "You used to be so up for anything and now, I don't know. I just don't think you want to be here anymore. Maybe I need to have a chat with [PRODUCER'S NAME] about your future here."
I didn't say a word. I hung up the phone, blocked his number and never spoke to him again.
Julio came forward with his story only after learning that Ryan was doing the same thing with two other young men this past year, offering roles and favor in return for sex.
One of the young men told another director at the theatre to which the director replied in regards to being Ryan's plaything, "You should be so lucky. You'll get any role you want now."
After speaking to Julio and the young man, I sent their statements, pictures of the text messages and other emails between Ryan and these men to the Board of Directors of the theatre. After a week of silence, I finally received an email that Ryan had been removed the choreographer of an upcoming show and will not be allowed to work at that theatre again. However the director that said "You should be so lucky" is still slated to direct a production there later this spring.
Ryan was also set to direct another production at another local theatre. I sent the same packet of info to that theatre's President and am told that they are "looking into it".
This type of sexual manipulation is common in the entertainment industry but especially horrific in community ranks because this is all over what is basically volunteer work or a hobby. Yet, we see too often people doing whatever they can to stay in the good graces of local theatres because they are sometimes the best or only option for community theatres in that area.
According to Dr. Gregory Jantz,
"A person who would attempt to use a superior position to obtain sexual favors from a subordinate could be described as a sexual manipulator. People like this are sexually aggressive; usually their objective is their own sexual gratification. They have no concern for the best interests of the other person, and tend to be driven by their own fantasies and need for sexual control as they manipulate and take advantage of a fearful or confused partner. Power, prestige, and sexual prowess are their weapons. Their victims are many.
For a sexual manipulator, pursuit can be lengthy. Each encounter that produces a small concession on the part of the person under their control fuels their desire and escalates their behavior. They may begin pursuit with overly personal comments about attire or appearance. These seemingly innocuous comments may be followed by increasingly specific, sexual references. These may begin with sexual jokes or comments used to gauge the other person's reactions. As the manipulator’s behavior gradually becomes more sexually overt, the sensibility of the target may be calloused. Each excuse for misbehavior deadens the shock of the next act.
Through all of this behavior, the typical manipulator is smart and eloquent enough to deflect any initial resistance or objection to their overtures. Often, they will create explanations and excuses for their conduct, projecting the blame for any misunderstanding onto their target. The more off-guard they can make the target, and the more confused their target becomes, the better the atmosphere for the sexual manipulation. Exploiting naiveté, inexperience, uncertainty, and confusion is their game. Such responses can actually excite the sexual manipulator. Since most of us are not completely comfortable dealing with the sexual advances of others, sexual manipulators have a built-in advantage which they use to achieve their selfish goals.
Sexual manipulators sometimes exist where you least expect them. If you observe any of these patterns in one of your relationships, it’s important to create immediate distance between yourself and the manipulative individual."
In addition to this, I would also add that if you're starting to see this behavior, report it to the heads of the theatre. It's also never a bad idea to go to law enforcement either. While you might not think it's a crime, it very well could be and you should give the police a chance to sort that out.