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58. 8/14 From a Former Parent and Volunteer

For anyone looking to normalize an adult screaming at children (because he’s a passionate artist who only shamed chuckleheads who screwed up, not MY kids who knew their lines or their besties who never actually felt threatened)…. for those who accept the label “passionate artist” to explain what any outsider would see as unprofessional outbursts…. for those who ask "If the environment was so abusive, why did you stay?" .... for those who defend THIS toxic environment because its so much better than some OTHER even more toxic environment you know… if any of this fits you, then you just might be part of the problem… and may be even a victim.

Even if it may be that you didn’t do the bullying or the manipulating or the spying or the favoritism or the shunning or the threatening, it may not be an easy thing to face the role you played in sustaining, excusing, and benefiting from a toxic environment. It sure was for me. I stuck around years longer than I should have, because my kid was steadily progressing in earning lead roles. One day when my kid happened to be the target of a tirade, many well-meaning and supportive people comforted me, saying, "Your kid just got in the way of you know whos tech week stress." or “Your kid was sooo brave to take it… this is good preparation for a pro career.”

At the time, I didn’t question the assumption that preparing for a career in the professional theatre means standing there and accepting it when, during a rehearsal with 50 people present, the “passionate artist” scolds a tiny preteen girl for not being “ballsy enough” in a dance solo, or berates a teen boy for delivering a line “like a pussy.” (This was years ago. Does the passionate artist still talk to children this way? For anyone who doesn’t notice the misogyny, I don’t mean simply mentioning the body parts, I mean the idea that balls=good, pussy=bad.)

I wish I had spoken up. And because I didn’t, I feel that I failed you, SR student, a rising artist who like every kid is already facing the ordinary stresses of adolescence and keeping your grades up, while also pushing yourself to sing and dance with professionals, while also being bullied because you told someone you thought you could trust you were nervous about having your first kiss with your secret crush during acting class while you know who is not only watching but judging and commenting on your technique (eww!)… and on top of that you’re overwhelmed by unpaid “student leader” responsibilities that in a real professional setting would be carried out by trained adults.

Your peers who’ve already been screamed at many times praise you for putting up with it and riding it out. Not like all those other loser kids who quit…. every single one of whom, youve been told by you know who, turned out to be jealous/immature/not serious/ungrateful/a liar….take your pick. So because of the benefits… the many, substantial, and sincere benefits you gain from the group… you decide to show everyone how strong you are. Please sir, I want some more.

I applaud the tact and restraint that Leo, Matthew and Leena have shown here, but I’m dismayed by the personal attacks that have popped up in some of the other survivors stories. I’m likewise dismayed by the denial and victim-blaming that has popped up on the supporters website, but everyone at SR should applaud the big risks that the previous stage manager and one of the artistic director's child took when they adopted a very different tone in their messages, taking substantial steps towards accepting accountability and building bridges.

Though I may sound bitter here, I am also grateful for the many, many good things that come from Stage Right. I’ve read all the stories on the supporters website, and the benefits these kids describe are real. But before I could recommend SR for anyone’s kids today, I’d want to see major changes. I do think those changes are possible, but a lot depends on the personal choices of one man who has been confronted with similar concerns before, who has done soul-searching before, who has made apologies and efforts to change before, who has continued to attract supporters who have good reasons to believe in him and the mission of Stage Right, and who has continued to be a loving and supportive presence in the lives of many hurting, grateful young people, while at the same time (according to what I see in these survivor stories) still seems to have some ground to cover in regards to tone, fairness (whether perceived or genuine), and respecting boundaries of various kinds (some kids are clearly traumatized by raised voices, swearing/insults, age-inappropriate sexual content, and elbow-grabs, even if many others feel these are no big deal).

In order to demonstrate a willingness to work on tone, fairness, and boundaries, could the AD bring in some guest professional directors? All students would benefit from preparing a resume and auditioning for a stranger who doesn’t know in advance whose parents have time to volunteer or money to donate or which kids are friends with which staff member’s relatives or who’s a senior and feels entitled to a lead role. All kids in the show would benefit from working under the guest director, as opposed the handful of kids triple-cast in roles where they interact briefly with a guest actor from New York. Without having the pressure of directing the entire show, the Artistic Director could not only spend more time during rehearsals mentoring students, but could also model professionalism and humility by demonstrating how an actor should TAKE direction.

Are the SR kids learning about intimacy coaching and the assumption that those in power should expect to notify and gain explicit consent from those under their power before proceeding with any sensitive content? (Reading about the “I hate you” acting class exercise, quickly blocking a sexual assault scene in a crowded hallway, and comments from current students dismissing claims of abuse because the victims didn’t leave, I wonder whether the SR culture today reflects how the entertainment industry has evolved as part of the #metoo movement.)

To answer a serious question.… why don't abused people just leave abusive relationships? Don’t listen to MY answer... read this from a nonprofit website devoted to helping survivors of abuse,

People who have never been abused often wonder why a person wouldn’t just leave an abusive relationship. They don’t understand that leaving can be more complicated than it seems.

Leaving is often the most dangerous time for a victim of abuse, because abuse is about power and control. When a victim leaves, they are taking control and threatening the abusive partner’s power, which could cause the abusive partner to retaliate in very destructive ways.

Aside from this danger, there are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships. Here are just a few of the common ones:

- Fear: A person may be afraid of what will happen if they decide to leave the relationship.

- Believing Abuse is Normal: A person may not know what a healthy relationship looks like, perhaps from growing up in an environment where abuse was common, and they may not recognize that their relationship is unhealthy.

- Fear of Being Outed: If someone is in an LGBTQ relationship and has not yet come out to everyone, their partner may threaten to reveal this secret.

- Embarrassment or Shame: It’s often difficult for someone to admit that they’ve been abused. They may feel they’ve done something wrong by becoming involved with an abusive partner. They may also worry that their friends and family will judge them.

- Low Self-Esteem: When an abusive partner constantly puts someone down and blames them for the abuse, it can be easy for the victim to believe those statements and think that the abuse is their fault.

- Love: So often, the victim feels love for their abusive partner. They may have children with them and want to maintain their family. Abusive people can often be charming, especially at the beginning of a relationship, and the victim may hope that their partner will go back to being that person. They may only want the violence to stop, not for the relationship to end entirely.

(skipping a few that arent that relevant)

- Lack of Money/Resources: Financial abuse is common, and a victim may be financially dependent on their abusive partner. Without money, access to resources or even a place to go, it can seem impossible for them to leave the relationship. This feeling of helplessness can be especially strong if the person lives with their abusive partner.

- Disability: When someone is physically dependent on their abusive partner, they can feel that their well-being is connected to the relationship. This dependency could heavily influence their decision to stay in an abusive relationship.

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