As a former parent at State Right, I feel the need to explain the cycle of abuse that takes place there so those who may be wondering, why didn’t those children leave or why didn’t their parents pull them out or do something about it, can fully understand. You start as a new family coming in the doors and you are greeted warmly and treated like gold. You are welcomed into the family, “Stage Right Nation” with open arms.
You are immediately presented with lots of opportunities for your children and you think this is great! And so it begins. Slowly all of your children’s time and your time is spent doing things at or for Stage Right. It gets to the point that your children have no time for their old friends or activities but that’s okay because they have all these new friends in a “safe space.” You also have lots of new friends you are spending all of your time with. Your entire life and social circle revolves around Stage Right. However if your child wants to do something outside of “the family’ like go to a school dance, do their high school show, cheer, do competitive dance, play sports, perform with any other theater company etc. they are shamed by the Artistic Director and told how stupid it is and what a waste of time it is. If the child persists and does said activity, they are punished by not begin given roles, not being cast, being treated differently by the artistic directer and School Coordinator aka (withholding praise and yes even love as many view them as parental figures). If the infraction is viewed as large enough, say performing with another group or taking classes or camp, elsewhere, the student is also bullied by the students, their ‘friends,’ through a variety of tactics including exclusion from activities, and shunning.
These punishments were not solely doled out to the students for what they may have done to displease the Artistic Director or his family but also if a parent did something they didn’t like, then that parent’s child received the punishment. The last thing a parent wants to do is cause harm for their child so they learn to toe the line.
The past several years the peer part of the punishment aka bullying, was led by the teenage daughter of the Artistic Director and his wife (who is also the School Coordinator for the non-profit organization). She and her crew, the current version is self titled “The Four Bitches,” would ruin your child’s social standing and make their life miserable for whatever they felt was displeasing to them. They would make sure the other students fell in line, if they didn’t they knew they would just have a giant target painted on their backs as well.
Over the years many parents have complained about this bullying to the Artistic Director which would result sometimes in his child being yelled at but never punished, never removed from classes or shows, instead she was rewarded with lead and supporting roles in most productions. Eventually parents started brining the bullying of this student to the board of directors, yet they too turned a blind eye, and did not remove her from classes or productions. The Artistic Director would also scream at students, including use of profanity, on a regular basis. This would take place in front of classmates and cast members. He would also convince students in the teen acting class to open up in that “safe space” and be vulnerable. Unfortunately that was no safe space and what was learned about the student was then used against them.
The bullying and abuse was not only suffered by the students but staff as well. My child as well as others have told me stories of how, particularly in Masters Class, if a staff member gave a positive opinion on a student’s performance that the Artistic Director did not agree with, they were screamed at and demeaned in front of all of the students in the class. Why didn’t the students leave? First because abuse and bullying had been normalized for these children. The longer you were there and the younger you were when it began, the more normalized it was. Second, by now their entire social circle completely consisted of Stage Right students and they knew if they left they would loose all of their friends and be completely alone. How did they know this? They watched it happen over and over again to those who left. As a parents why did we not rip our children out of there? Because much of the abuse suffered by the children was not reported to us. They were afraid. They knew if they told us we would remove them and they would loose their friends. They knew if they told us, we would confront the Artistic Director and they would be punished for it in some way.
In leaving Stage Right, I would have to say, I have learned of many things experience by my child and others. I think one of the most horrific was learning of the existence of pornographic photos of the Artistic Director, his wife and a former student turned staff member that were posted on the internet that had been seen by students reportedly for years. When I asked my now adult child if they had seen said photos I was told yes these pornographic photos had been shown to them many years ago when they were a student by another student. Why don’t people talk about it when they leave or why are so many now speaking but choosing anonymity? Because the Artistic Director chooses to use words as their weapons and character assassination is his method of choice used to neutralize anyone who goes against “the family.” We all have witnessed this over and over again with adults and children, reputations ruined. Many of these young people are starting or into their professional careers and they do not want to risk being black balled or have the Artistic Director contact their current employer and make up lies to get them in trouble. Parents also fear speaking freely as they do not want to say or do anything that will cause the Artistic Director or his family to go after their child. I will never discount the good this organization and these people have done for so very many. There is a lot of good. But the good can NOT discount the bad, the abuse, the damage suffered to CHILDREN! WE MUST PROTECT THE CHILDREN! ONE CHILD ABUSED IS TOO MANY! The things that have taken place at Stage Right would not be tolerated in a public school setting, why is it okay at a publicly owned non-profit organization that teaches children? My hope is that the appropriate leadership and faculty changes that need to be made are made, including the removal of all those who conducted the abuse as well as those who tried to hide it or turned a blind eye to it. I pray the organization remains and is able to restructure and heal and that NO CHILD will ever pass through those doors again and leave worse off than before they came.