DANCING ON LANDMINES: The Continuing Saga of CTC
I saw a photograph the other day that sent me directly to the core of my trauma. An old theater production photo, shared on Facebook, of the man who raped me when I was a child. The person who shared the photo was doing so to celebrate the work of a different man, a designer. Yet there was Jason McLean, this monstrous man, this pedophile, who to this day hasn’t been held accountable for his actions, beautifully lit on an exquisite set. The contradiction of these two things existing in the same photograph sat heavy in my stomach.
As is often the case, I didn’t feel the full impact of it immediately. When my trauma gets triggered, there is a disconnect between my body and my brain, I can feel the tension in my body but I can’t feel the emotions that should accompany it. It’s like I’m emotionally decapitated.
This feeling of decapitation can last for days. It’s very uncomfortable. It’s as if I am frozen by my trauma and go on automatic pilot, moving through the motions of my day, watching it like it’s a movie and not my life. Thankfully I was able to land with a trusted friend and get to the core of it relatively quickly, the emotional epidural lifted and my feelings gushed out of me. The flow of that energy that connects the body to emotion was so powerful I felt like my head was going to explode.
Through the unfolding of this I have realized that part of the problem, why this impacted me so deeply, is because of something else I’ve been holding. I’ve been sitting in a self-imposed limbo, not sharing my narrative about some recent harm I experienced with CTC leadership, for the purpose of trying to prevent harm to people I care deeply about. The problem is, my own mental well-being is deeply affected by my silence. I can’t hold this anymore. To do so protects people who should not be protected and doesn’t allow me to fully tend to the wound.
Part of that tending includes speaking truth. As a student at CTC I learned many things, good and bad. One of the most powerful lessons was to ignore instincts. Silence of victims is paramount to the success of those that harm children, so we were skillfully groomed by predators to disregard the alarms going off inside of us and keep our mouths shut. Today, my healing process includes listening to my gut, asking for help and speaking the truth.
The following is a blog I started writing over two months ago and didn’t share publicly. I updated it recently and again didn’t send it. I share it with you now, anticipating that when I do press “send”, there will be another release for me. I need it. I have shared it with the people I needed to inform privately. Please feel free to share this blog post if you want, and do whatever feels right for you with this information regarding the CTC Administration and Board.
DANCING ON LANDMINES
I find myself at a fork in the road, making a decision about how I move forward. I’m choosing to be transparent now about what has recently happened with the Children’s Theater Company (CTC). I have chosen silence until now out of respect for the delicate process of healing that those who were wounded as children at CTC are engaged in. We are trying to move at the speed of trust, and it is a slow process. Certain things needed to be in place before talking about this publicly. I will not be silent any longer, because it also serves to protect CTC and cover up their actions that should be visible. If they are going to learn from any of what they've been through in the past few years, their actions and the impact of them shouldn’t stay behind closed doors.
It was little over a year ago that I made the decision to publicly lift my call for boycott of the theater, at the November 1st 2019 press conference announcing the final settlements of the 16 cases against CTC. This decision was hurtful to some, and for that I am truly sorry. I stated then that I felt it was worth the risk of being wrong in that decision, to take a leap of faith to work together so that “right actions would have the potential to manifest growth and transformation” for so many that had been harmed. I made a decision to move from a position of adversary into a conversation about reparation and healing with Kim Motes, Managing Director of CTC, and its Artistic Director, Peter Brosius.
I wanted to believe that systemic change was possible, because if it did happen it would be a beacon for other institutions that have caused harm, proof that it could happen. And to be completely honest, I was tired of the battle. I wanted to focus on what we might accomplish in the future for a change, and not on the harm of the past. I could have walked away, as many others did after the legal settlements, for their own mental health and self-preservation, because it was an emotionally brutal process. I have no judgement of those who chose to focus on self care. A part of me wishes I had done the same. But I chose to stay in conversation with CTC, attempting to create a public platform of healing for those who had been harmed.
At the press conference, Kim Motes publicly apologized to the survivors. She declared a new, more inviting stance, claiming they had changed and were now “trauma informed” and “survivor led,” educated in how to be present to the needs of trauma survivors and the impact of harm to the larger theater community. In response to one of our reparations requests, she announced that they would appoint sexual assault survivors to the Board of Directors, so they would have that perspective on their governing board.
A few of the former plaintiffs and I have spent much of the past year working with Kim and Peter, addressing a list of reparations that was presented to them. It has been an emotional roller coaster, a mixed bag of successes and frustrations. We knew going in that it wouldn’t be easy, that it was a risk, but we were committed to try, and we have been able to accomplish some very important things on the reparations list. The Survivors Fund has been established with seed money from CTC in spite of COVID19 and the financial crisis. And we have started a new Non-profit called CTA Wellness to hold and administer the fund. We have done this work with the support of advisors in the CTC alumni community, professionals in complex trauma care, and a few committed groups in the Twin Cities who have buoyed us up; Standing With CTC Survivors, the Theater Artist Leader Coalition, and the Artist Community Council. These exquisite humans have inspired me and kept me afloat. There are no words sufficient to describe my gratitude for how they have all shown up for us.
Before I address the recent harms, I do want to acknowledge the willingness of Kim and Peter to stay in the reparations conversation with the former plaintiffs, even in the face of an unprecedented global financial crisis. They chose to stay in conversations when it could have fallen off their list of priorities, and they agreed to stay true to their commitment to support the establishment of the Survivors Fund. I am grateful for that. I will provide a link at the bottom of this post to the full update of the work we have accomplished and what is yet to be done.
Kim and Peter have listened as we have tried to lay a foundation of honesty, and move toward trust with them after years of being on opposite sides of the table. They have told us that they care about our well being and desire to do the right thing. They have said the right things, to me anyway; I can’t speak for how they have shown up for others. Then I found out what was happening behind closed doors.
On October 1st 2020, I found out that the lawyer from Dorsey and Whitney, who lead the defense for CTC in the cases against them, the one who set the tone for their legal defense, the one who insisted that I go through every single one of the extremely re-traumatizing foundational steps of the litigation process a second time (because their stalling tactics had dragged out the process over years), which threw me into a suicidal depression, the one who filed the motion for Taxation of Cost against me in May of 2019, that person, was appointed to the Board of Directors at CTC this past July. Kim, Peter and the Board not only didn’t honor our request for representation, they put someone who is quite possibly the polar opposite of what we asked for on their Board.
Her name is Teresa Bevilacqua, and seeing this woman’s name on the list of Board members on the CTC website hit me like a punch in the gut. I was stunned and felt like an idiot. My body felt like it was back in the courtroom. Everything painful from the litigation process came rushing back to the surface. I sobbed on the phone with a dear friend, trying to make sense of why they would do such a thing. It felt like a hostile maneuver, and I questioned my decision to work with them. She told me I wasn’t wrong to have looked for the best in people, to believe that change is possible. I saw the truth in this, but in that moment my willingness to attempt to teach them, to be vulnerable with people who would do something so harmful felt like a failing, not a strength, and my efforts to help guide them to best practices a fool’s errand.
In addition to this egregious offense with the Board, Kim and Peter haven’t been forthcoming with information regarding the status of or the reasons for the existence of the 75 years lock down of the CTC archive at the University of Minnesota. We asked them dozens of times since November 2019 for information about what exactly is in it, why it was locked, and requested it be opened. Every time we asked they said they didn’t know anything about the restriction and promised to look into it. The archive is a confusing issue, even the story of how it came to exist changes depending on who is telling it, and I don’t have enough information to give you more than a few pieces of this puzzle. I’m sure more will be revealed in time.
Around the same time we found out about Teresa being appointed to the Board, we acquired a copy of the signed agreement between CTC and the University of Minnesota which stated the terms of the 75 years lock down, and when it was signed. It went into effect in December of 2013, seven months after the MN Child Victims Act was made law, and it was signed by Peter Brosius himself.
We sat with this information about Teresa and the archive for many days, trying to decide how we wanted to respond, each of us having our own set of feelings about these developments and wanting to respect each other's needs. When we finally confronted Kim and Peter about Teresa in a Zoom meeting, they appeared horrified. They said they didn’t realize that appointing her would be harmful to us. “This is what institutional harm looks like,” we replied. If indeed they didn’t track that the decision would have a harmful impact, their insensitivity after all the work we have done with them is disturbing and alarming. All of the time we have spent trying to educate, the emotional labor and the cost of that, and our requests to enlist Board members who could speak to abuse issues, were met with words that sounded good and actions that didn’t match.
When I confronted Peter about his signature on the archive agreement with the U of M, he knew immediately what I was talking about. “I was surprised to see my signature on there. I don’t remember signing it,” he said, for the first time admitting his participation in locking down its contents. He started to go on about the establishment of the archive, saying how important he thinks it is, when I interrupted him. “Wait a minute, Peter,” I said, “you were throwing things in dumpsters behind the theater, people in the neighborhood pulled the things out that you were throwing away.” I have heard this piece of information from a few different people so I feel confident in sharing it here; in 2009 someone at the theater saw that things were being thrown away, and they informed people that they believed might find value in what was being thrown out, and the tossed items were retrieved.
Peter ignored my attempt to bring this element of the story to the conversation and started talking about the value of preserving the history of the theater. At this point I let it go, knowing there was no point in arguing with someone who was trying to take credit for “preserving the history” when all I’ve seen him do since his arrival 20+ years ago is bury it. If the history was so important to Peter to preserve, why lock down the archive for 75 years, long after anyone who would find personal value in it is dead? Why do they make absolutely no mention of the horrific history of child abuse on their website, and resist the conversation every time we bring it up? Why was there no mention of what happened to the children in the 60s, 70s and 80s at the big 50th anniversary celebration in 2015? No moment of silence for the children who were harmed. These are not the actions of someone who values history, they are the actions of someone who wants to hide it.
In the end they apologized to us and did the right thing, Teresa is no longer on the Board. They have agreed, verbally anyway, to remove the 75 year restriction on the archive so alumni can have access to it. The Board Chair himself apologized, told me he admired my "strength and eloquence.” They listened to our pain, seemed to understand and appeared to show remorse. But the harm is done, the impact of their actions can’t be erased.
Two parts of me have been drawn fully to the surface throughout these years of breaking silence, I call them my Warrior and my Diplomat. My Warrior wants to fight, to grab something heavy and start smashing. It takes a lot to piss off my warrior side. My Diplomat calls for pause, to gather information. She doesn’t like conflict, wants to calm the waters, believes that an answer is there if you look long and hard enough. They are both valuable parts of me, and I slide in and out of them depending on the moment. My desire is to allow them to exist equally, to “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” But do I continue to be in conversations with CTC, attempting to let my anger dance alongside my optimism, and ignore that I’m dancing on landmines?
In a recent conversation with a trusted mentor, I was talking through this dilemma with him. He listened as I described my internal battle of these two important aspects of myself and how I am trying to find balance with them. He got quiet, and then asked me a question that really made me pause. “I hear what the Warrior and the Diplomat say. What does the Healer in you say?”
I had been feeling like my brain was spinning up until he asked that question. When he did, everything slowed down, my mind got quiet, I felt a solid calm in my belly. I sat with that feeling for a bit, trying to listen hard to what my body was saying to me. “The first thing that comes to me is that I need to take care of myself,” I said. I don’t like this answer because it taps into a false belief I have that self-care is self-ish. I am much better at finding ways to be useful to others. But I know this is truth that has come to the surface, partly because it’s uncomfortable.
I believe Kim and Peter used my generosity of spirit to their advantage. I allowed it. That’s on me. Maybe there was some level of genuine care on their part, but for me their actions have made it impossible for me to continue working directly with them. It would require vulnerability on my part that I’m no longer willing to provide. It’s like riding a bike while wearing a long skirt, hoping it doesn’t get caught in the chain, and when it does, which is inevitable, it sends you flying over the handlebar. I will do what I can from a distance. I will let others stand close to them to finish the work of reparations. And I really hope the theater community let’s them know how they feel about these recent actions and hold them accountable for who they say they are. Their actions need to match their words or it's just performative, not true change.
Is it possible for them to change? Is the glimmer of awareness and empathy that I’ve seen over this past year in my dealings with them enough to uproot and dismantle the systemic core structure of that institution, that was established decades ago to take advantage of people and disregard their wellbeing? I honestly don’t know.
Do I believe that working with them was worth the risk? Actually, yes. I’m proud of what we were able to get done regardless of the harmful impact of their actions. I will not grow as a person if I don’t try and stretch myself beyond my current boundaries and abilities, allow myself to be uncomfortable. And I’ve learned a lot about myself through this. Every time I am confronted with something that causes me to have to listen closely to my gut is an opportunity to get closer to my own truth.
I now have clarity about what I need to do, and that is get out of the way and let others take on the emotional lifting. Take that fork in the road. I will focus on taking care of myself and putting my energies into things that feel good, and work with people who love and support me and have my best interest truly at heart. I’m not much good to anyone if I’m flying over the handlebar.
To access the CTA Wellness Update Letter and see the status of the reparations list, click here
To access the update of the experience of the artist Community Council, click here
For more background on what happened at CTC, click here