A theatre community just north of Dallas, TX was left reeling last week with the news that a local theatre had knowingly allowed a convicted sex offender to work on shows involving teenage and child performers.
According to the Dallas Morning News, the Greater Lewisville Community Theatre(GLCT) hired Kevin Clark Sutton in 2014 as a music director. During that time, Sutton was a registered sex offender in the state of Texas. Sutton was convicted in Virginia in 2010 of taking indecent liberties with children. He was also charged with production of child pornography, solicitation of a minor for child pornography and use of a computer to solicit a child but due to his plea deal, he would only be convicted of the liberties charge. He received a five-year suspended sentence and is required to register as a sex offender until 2025.
However, that didn’t stop board members at GLCT from hiring Sutton just four years after his conviction. He would go onto music direct shows such as Meet Me in St. Louis, The Will Rogers Follies and Memphis, all productions that involved children or teenagers. While some board members were fully aware that Sutton was a registered sex offender, the casts and parents of youth actors were never notified.
The only reason why this information was discovered was due to an inappropriate incident involving Sutton and a 13-year old girl. During rehearsals of Memphis, Sutton allegedly discussed his drinking problems to the young girl. According to the girl’s mother, Sutton told her daughter that he often blacked out and asked whether she’d done the same. From there, Sutton described which of the male cast members he’d most like to sleep with, and the 17-year-old girl he’d choose if he were straight, the women said.
Fellow cast members who witnessed the incident reported Sutton’s behavior to the director, Larry Borero, who sent him home. Because Sutton’s behavior did not sit well with Borero, he did a quick check of the sex offender registry, and sure enough, there was Sutton listed on it.
Sutton was then fired from the show, and another music director was brought in to finish the production. But the story doesn’t end there, in fact, it gets much worse.
Even though Sutton was fired from his position as resident music director, he was re-hired on a show-by-show basis depending on if his board member allies were directing a show. Because of this, Sutton was hired to music direct Meet Me in St. Louis and The Will Rogers Follies.
Director Eddie Floresca knew of Sutton’s firing and sex offender status but did not tell the cast.
He would later tell local news, “I hired him not knowing that all of this issue was a big deal with everybody.”
During rehearsals of Follies, Sutton allegedly emailed a 19-year old male cast member and asked him to send a topless photo. According to cast members, Sutton did this to see if the actor had the body to dance shirtless in a scene.
Sutton was fired again this past July.
Since then, the outrage and expected fallout at GLCT has begun. Parents and patrons are angry and confused as to how a theatre would knowingly employ a sex offender to work with children and then bring him back repeatedly even after he’s apparently harassed, young performers.
I’m asking myself the same questions.
As a result from the backlash, five board members have resigned from GLCT including Eddie Floresca who knew of Sutton’s status and did nothing as well as Chris Robinson who had originally recommended Sutton to GLCT. It’s important to note that including “board members at large,” GLCT’s board consists of nine people. That means the majority of board members has stepped down. Does that mean they all knew as well? Or does that mean the rest did not want to be associated with a group that would do such an irresponsible thing? I think both reasons reasonable to assume.
GLCT also released a statement regarding the situation:
Greetings to All Who Support GLCT,
The Greater Lewisville Community Theatre’s Board of Directors would like to take a moment to thank the many friends whose devotion to GLCT has sustained us for over 30 years. We could not have produced so many wonderful shows without the help of our patrons, our actors, our technical staff, our Board members and volunteers!
GLCT’s Board of Directors wishes to issue a statement regarding recent allegations expressed in social media. While not all remarks are completely accurate and others plainly false, we acknowledge that mistakes were made. Following these realizations, the Board took actions to remedy the situation and released an individual in question from further duties in the theatre.
While no laws were broken, we understand the concerns of many and we want to assure our community that we have taken steps to ensure the continued safety and comfort of all who enter our doors. Additionally, we have accepted the resignations of Board Members Chris Robinson and Eddie Floresca.
GLCT’s primary commitment will be making sure we provide a safe and comfortable environment for all of our performers, technicians, staff and volunteers. In addition to background checks for all production staff and Board members, GLCT is adopting “Not in Our House” which is a nationally recognized program started at the Chicago Theatre. This program was born of artists and administrators at all levels of the community – working together toward a cultural paradigm shift away from turning a blind eye to sexual harassment, discrimination, violence, intimidation and bullying in our theaters and a move towards mentoring, prevention and accountability.
If ever conditions are unsafe or uncomfortable, GLCT’s “Not in Our House” will have a process for a “response without reprisal”. GLCT hopes to create a much more enriching experience for everyone and to empower them never to allow any person to interfere with the love and joy of the theater.
GLCT’s Board of Directors will immediately finalize our “Not in Our House” program. A link will be posted on our Facebook page that will take you directly to our website. A notice will be posted in our lobby and dressing room with numbers to call if you feel the need to report something that has happened to you – or if you witness something inappropriate.
Lastly, we will have a banner in our playbills that shows our patrons that we are a firm supporter of this program and will fight for those who have been wronged so they can stand tall and proud without fear. Theater is designed to be fun, entertaining and educational. NO ONE should ever have to worry about being harassed or bothered in any form.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at any time.
Thank you very much.
The Board of Directors
Greater Lewisville Community Theatre
While it’s great to see that GLCT is taking a firm stance and will now implement best practices(which should be executed by an outside resource), there might be some more problems on the horizon for the group.
First of all, their statement that “While no laws were broken” might be inaccurate.
Sex offender laws vary from state to state. Sutton was convicted in Virginia but the state does allow sex offenders to move to different states as long as they notify both states and register in their new residence ten days before moving there. That means, upon moving to Texas, Sutton then fell under Texas sex offender laws.
While Texas doesn’t prohibit employers from hiring sex offenders, it does prohibit sex offenders who had a minor victim from living in or visiting a residence within 500 feet of a child safety zone. This includes schools, day care facilities, parks, playgrounds, youth centers, sports fields and cultural centers. According to Texas law, a community theatre which involves minors would certainly qualify as a child safety zone.
And while it’s unclear and unlikely that GLCT broke any laws, the actions of their former board members are obviously unethical at the highest level. At least one board member/director knowingly put his cast at risk by employing a sex offender and not telling them which resulted in one of them allegedly being harassed. If any of the former cast members who were harassed by Sutton wanted to take legal action against GLCT, they might have a strong case.
I have written on this topic many times, and I certainly understand that if most community theatres don’t implement background checks on employees and performers. But it’s because of that negligence that the offenders are able to slip into our mists and perform or work right alongside with you and your children.
While many theatre administrators have told me that background checks are implemented when there are shows with children and adults, I would ask why stop there? Shouldn’t they always be done? There are many ways to end up on the sex offender registry that don’t involve children. We need to do everything we can to protect our casts an crews. GLCT certainly needed to do more and it looks like they will. But it may be too late for that.
Often in these types of situations, I would call for the entire theatre to be shut down, but I won’t do that here. As long as there aren’t other issues to discover, GLCT has gone as far as to admit their mistakes and take action to ensure this never happens again. But on the other hand, if past performers and patrons feel that they can’t return to the theatre because of this, I wouldn’t blame them.