A performing arts education and audition coaching company is under fire today over claims that it has not paid its guest faculty members for summer workshops and masterclasses even though they had agreements over email regarding compensation.
The claims are coming against Broadway Break Thru and its founder David Petro. According to their website and press releases, the NYC and Chicago based company provides nationwide opportunities to young, aspiring artists through performing arts summer camps, pre-college programs, after school programs and weekend workshops.
College Break Thru is the newest program and features a 5-day intensive designed for incoming high school freshmen to seniors. Only 75 students are admitted to the program and provided unprecedented access to the world's top colleges and instructors, high caliber classes and exclusive auditions. At this year’s event, $500,000 in scholarships were awarded from donations from colleges. Colleges such as Carnegie Mellon, Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Emerson College, The Juilliard School, Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, and Point Park University participated in the event as well as a number of guest faculty who taught workshops during the week.
And this is where the issues seem to lie. In the last couple of days, multiple former guest faculty members have posted on social media that they haven’t been paid for last summer's event. Some of the guest faculty members and former Broadway Break Thru staff have said that they are owed $1,000 to $1,200 for their work and haven’t seen a dime.
The initial claim came from guest faculty member, Chryssie Whitehead, who stated posted on Facebook asking Broadway Break Thru,
“When will your Guest faculty from top musical theatre and acting schools, including myself representing AMDA get paid for our services we provided teaching masterclasses and mock auditions in June of 2018 in Chicago at your first year of “College Break Thru”, as well as reimbursements for travel?”
Ms. Whitehead, a performer who had appeared on Broadway in Chicago and the 2006 Revival of A Chorus Line, told OnStage Blog she had exchanged emails with Mr. Petro that outlined compensation for the event and even went as far as submitting a W-9 form to them.
Another guest faculty member stated the following on Facebook:
“All of the faculty were contracted to be paid and never were. This was 6 months ago and I have not seen a penny of the money promised, been reimbursed for travel expenses, or heard more than a peep from the head of the program.”
Even former staff members working directly for Broadway Break Thru, haven’t been paid for their time. According to one former staff member, whenever they’ve reached out for confirmation of when they are getting paid, they haven’t gotten a response.
“David[Petro] had told us we would each be getting $1,000 dollars for our work and when the program ended, he went silent,” one former staff member says. “I reached out to him multiple times about payment and he never got back to me. I was late on both rent and student loans as a result of having to take a week off of work for this program and now have nothing to show for it.”
The staff member, as well as others, were allegedly told that they would initially be paid on July 5th, but never were. Since then, former staff and guest faculty members, when they’ve received communication from the company, have been told reasons for non-payment that range from personal health issues to payroll company problems to losing all their funds as a result of online hacking.
To add insult to injury, Broadway Break Thru still had some of these guest faculty members listed on their website as returning guest faculty for the 2019 event even though they hadn’t paid them for the 2018 event. Ms. Whitehead was shocked to see that her image and name was being used to advertise this summer’s event without her permission. She posted on Facebook,
“How are you still advertising and collecting money for future business of [College Break Thru] in 2019, as well as using our universities names/logos without permission for events none of us have committed to with all of our bios and photos still attached?"
Another unpaid guest faculty member stated,
They have not paid me for teaching master classes last summer and [they're] using my name, bio, headshot and [College’s] logo promoting we are attending in 2019, which we most certainly are not. They are false advertising and not honoring their contracts.
In response to their claims on social media, Broadway Break Thru took down some of the photos, changed the heading to 2018 Faculty rather than 2019 Faculty and responded with a prepared statement,
“We appreciate your message as it was absolutely not our intention for you to not get compensated for your time, exceptional talent and contribution to College Break Thru. We want to connect offline and make this right. We will be in touch with you directly to address and resolve this issue quickly and amicably.”
However, when Mr. Petro and his financial adviser, identified as Bob Acchettu of Accelerated Growth Partners, contacted them, the news wasn’t at all positive. According to Ms. Whitehead, she was told that not only were they not going to be paid now, but that there wasn’t even a timetable set of when they could expect payment. Even more amazing, both Mr. Petro and Mr. Acchettu stated that the likelihood of payment would be based on the revenue earned at College Break Thru 2019 and that their social media posts could damage the potential success of that event.
All of this calls into a couple of questions.
The first is that if Broadway Break Thru is planning on using funds raised from College Break Thru 2019 to pay guest faculty members for College Break Thru 2018, how are the guest faculty from College Break Thru 2019 going to be paid? Or when? From College Break Thru 2020?
Secondly, it’s important to note that the tuition to the College event is between $2,295 and $2,595. I’m told from sources that 59 students attended the event last summer. So that’s approximately $135,700 raised from tuition alone, not to mention the $35 application/audition fee. Added to that are the fees for their private coaching sessions($65.00 – $306.00) and revenue from their merchandise which is sold on their website. So if the guest faculty members aren’t being paid $1,000-$1,200 for their work, where is the money going? According to the phone conversations with Petro and his financial adviser, that answer is unclear.
Sadly, for the guest faculty members who took a lot of time out of their schedules, paid for their own travel and were expecting to be paid for their time helping aspiring high school performers, there is no date of when they can expect compensation.
UPDATE: 12/14/18: David Petro has submitted the following statement regarding the accusations:
“This past week, it’s been shared in the public space that Broadway Break Thru (BBT) has not made full payments to our 2018 College Break Thru (CBT) instructors. I take pride in maintaining the utmost integrity in our organization’s business practices. All of BBT’s instructors have been notified when all stipends will be paid in full plus interest. In the spirit of transparency, I feel responsible to share the details and context on how we got here, and how we are ensuring it does not happen again.
Approximately two weeks after the CBT 2018 intensive, I had an emergency back surgery. An oversight was made in that payments did not go out due to a physical signature being required. Concurrently, my director of operations left due to his mom’s sudden death. The bottom line is that BBT’s CEO and the Director of Operations were unavailable and consequentially, regular business practices were interrupted. A member from my team kept the instructors updated, and as soon as I was able, I reached out to each and every instructor personally.
A focus of this week’s public messaging is our 2019 CBT programming and approach for marketing this initiative. Our 2019 website was launched during the 2018 CBT summer intensive to promote our upcoming year. We have addressed every concern that’s been raised to us directly. We take responsibility for this matter, but will not allow false narratives.
As a performing artist, educator, and business owner, it is incredibly hard to acknowledge this situation after more than 9 years of a spotless record. As many performers understand, our bodies are our livelihood. To date, I have had 23 medical procedures and 3 surgeries. Unfortunately, after a period of painful and debilitating forced medical leave, I came back to a business that was withered and a team of professionals and friends hurt by their missing payment.
Yet, as a result of these setbacks, I am excited to report that BBT has been revived as an even more mature and robust organization. We recently partnered with Accelerated Growth, a firm that works with entrepreneurial organizations to manage through these very types of business scenarios growing small businesses often face. We have put new people, systems, structures and policies in place to ensure this never happens again. There is a business management team built around contracts, payment structure, and internal policies to provide peace of mind to our instructors.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out with love, support and gratitude. We are touched to have you in our lives and excited to continue helping students reach their full potential with BBT.”
If anyone has any further information, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org