A wave of current and former artists from the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis are demanding that the organization create a fund for sexual-assault victims and acknowledge its historical role in “perpetuating a culture of sexual exploitation.”
An open letter, made public Monday night, outlined what they’d like theater management to do as a form of reparations for past sexual abuse scandals involving minors. The five requests range from hosting a community town hall to rethinking the theater group’s legal strategy so it prioritizes “compassionate and humane treatment of survivors” — regardless of financial considerations.
“We can no longer distance ourselves from CTC’s history without meaningful collective action toward justice,” the letter reads. Though authors say the theater has instituted new safety practices, they accuse it of failing to do enough to right those wrongs.
Seventeen plaintiffs have filed suit against CTC and its instructors since 2015, saying sexual abuse was widespread in the 1970s and ’80s. So far, only one — Laura Stearns — has gone to trial.
In February, a Minneapolis jury returned a $3.68 million verdict against former teacher Jason McLean. Stearns accused him of raping her in the 1980s. The jury found that CTC had been negligent but wasn’t liable for damages.
Since then, the theater sparked further controversy by seeking to recover nearly $300,000 in court costs from the case. It withdrew those efforts after a backlash.
The letter also called on the theater’s leaders to create an independently run fund to compensate all survivors, whether or not they are involved with current legal proceedings.
“A theater’s purpose is to serve its community,” says the document, which was signed by dozens of people. “If CTC does not align with our community’s values, it no longer serves its purpose.”
Late Monday night, Stearns posted the letter on Facebook with the caption: “I’m sobbing with gratitude.”
In response to the letter, Children’s Theatre management released a statement pledging to support survivors by “listening more” and to begin a series of community conversations this summer with “justice in mind.”
“For 35 years, CTC has lived in a state of deep regret over what happened in the 1970s and early 1980s,” the statement reads, in part. “We have done everything we possibly could to change our culture into one that protects and respects children today, but we clearly have not recognized how much pain remains, unresolved, for survivors, the artistic community and the community-at-large. And we know we have not done enough. We want to do, and will do, more.”
CTC spokeswoman Melissa Ferlaak said Tuesday night that the organization is committed to donating $17,000 to Empower Survivors, a Stillwater-based nonprofit serving childhood sexual abuse survivors. The amount comes from proceeds from the June 16 performance of “Matilda the Musical,” Ferlaak said. Though the show failed to sell out, the theater donated the equivalent of what it would have made with a full audience.