Updated: Aug 21, 2021
Where do I begin? I’m a former student and employee of Stage Right. What I will be talking about is my time as a student. I was a past student for years. I made myself available for Stage Right in every way. I have numerous stories of psychological and emotional abuse at the hands of The Artistic Director(AD). To name a few……
1. In 2005, The AD got in my face and threatened me to not talk to another student a certain way. Never asked for my side of the story. Just heard from a third party (funny how recently everyone is promoting “two sides to every story”). That was when I experienced my first panic attack and did not perform for the remainder of the show (Aladdin). The next day before the show, The AD was giving notes. He gave the note to everyone that it’s very “unprofessional” to miss any entrance and glared at me. I was 11 years old.
2. During a summer camp I was on a work study scholarship. My mother couldn’t afford the price of two summer camps. So for a discounted price (or only having to pay for one), I had to do chores around the studio.
The assistant at the time would be very demanding and talk down to me everyday if I missed something or didn’t get something done right away. Over halfway into the camp I finally had enough and stood my ground and told her she could do it herself.
Not even 5 minutes later I was pulled into a hallway by The AD and was scream at for talking back to the assistant (again not trying to understand my side of the situation. Do you see a pattern?). The AD was in my face yelling and making me feel like I was less than nothing. I preceded to bawl my eyes out, hyperventilate, and apologize profusely. He then had me go up to his van to collect myself, because I had to do a library show. I was 16.
3. During a show my senior year I was cast in a lead role, sharing it with one or two other people. Our performance nights were selected for us. Of course the only night that my mother could come see me was a night that I wasn’t playing the lead role. For most, if not all my shows, my mother was the only person who would come out and support me. Like most of the students, it’s a complete joy to perform in front of your family and friends and show them the hard work you put into a role. You want them to see you and be proud.
So, I asked The AD over text message to be switch to the night that my mother could come see me. He told me no. As a normal teenager, I was frustrated and upset that I couldn’t have just one night. I told him that he could just take the role away from me and that I didn’t want to perform. What was the point?
The AD then calls me. He starts screaming and cursing at me and calling me ungrateful. He said that he has done everything for me, bending over backwards for me, and saying that I went to summer camps/classes for free. This made me furious. I stood up for myself, possibly because it was over the phone and not in person. I told him that was false. I’ve seen the bill statements that were sent by The Producer/Accountant at that time. My mother worked 3 to 4 jobs to pay for my classes at that company. I took checks and gave them to The Producer/Accountant.
From there, he went into a fit of rage. The AD starts telling me that I’m calling him and The Producer/Accountant liars, and that he will get The Producer/Accountant to show me all of the “unpaid” statements. He then starts telling me that I’m taking money away from him and his family and it is because of me that they were on food stamps.
This is where I broke down. He said all these nasty statements to me and made me really think that I was causing him and his family harm. As soon as he ended the phone call, I get an immediate call from his wife The Choreographer/Coordinator. She was trying to calm me down and was making sure I was okay. I was crying and asking if I was really that awful. The things he was saying to me were so messed up. She told me to not listen to him and that I would be okay.
I was so shaken by the ordeal, I had to leave my car at the studio and stay at a friends house. I wasn’t in any condition to drive. I was 18.
The AD knew my whole life story. He would ask personal questions about my home life. It made me really feel like he genuinely cared about me. I didn’t notice at first, but he would use information I gave him as a way to manipulate me. If I didn’t do something right or stepped out of line, he knew what to say and how to say it to break me. I barely had a relationship with my family. My mother and I had a very strained relationship while I was growing up. The AD knew all of this. He put a lot of thoughts and feelings into my head because he knew I idolize him. The AD is the closest thing to an actual father I’ve ever had. I would have done anything for him and his family. From being one of the only people to stay and strike a set, being in four to five library shows at a time, or needing someone to move multiple set pieces on any given show, I did it. I wanted The AD to be proud of me. It made me feel amazing when I get his praise or when he mention me to other people. Like a father being proud of his son.
If I ever disappointed him I would feel like complete garbage. The AD would let you know when he was disappointed or mad at you. Usually in front of your peers or other adults.
The AD gave me a nickname, “DB.” I took pride in that name. It made me feel special when anyone called me that name. With that being said, I would like everyone who used to use that name to please not address me using it. For quite sometime now, that nickname brings up poor memories as opposed to good ones.
After leaving the studio, I had a very hard time in a higher education. I went into college with a fear of letting professors down or disappointing them. I overthought every move I made, which hurt me in the long run. I kept my trauma from The AD suppressed. I unconsciously did things to move past everything and to put it all behind me. I stopped talking to high school friends and muted people on social media. I was done, until The AD reached out for me come back and do a show. I then went right back into the environment because I missed them.
Part of me still loves that family, The AD especially. That’s why I went back. Not everything at the company was horrible. I was given opportunities that other children would be lucky to have. I can make a separate post of all the good memories I have at the studio. I won’t though because I want to speak my truth. You can have a hundred great memories, but it just takes one to put a scar on you. It’s taken years of therapy for me to attempt to work through mine. What was done to me and what I’ve seen/heard him do to others is absolutely not okay. There is no excuse that could validate the way he treats others.
With that being said, I don’t want Stage Right to be dismantled. Theatre and the arts are great places for children to express themselves if it can be done in a safe way. For some people, Stage Right was and currently is that safe place for them. Although it isn’t for everyone, and that’s where we need to see change.
Anyone who reads this from the supporting side, I know this isn’t fair to you. However, it is also unfair what former students had to go through. Please understand that this isn’t centered on one instance, but rather many. People are finally standing up to voice their past traumas. Please recognize that there is a pattern in the behaviors displayed within this company. Please try to not diminish other people’s stories. If your experience with Stage Right was a pleasant one, then I am happy for you. However, please don’t try and make excuses for other people’s stories. That will not help anyone. I really hope some good will come from all of this. Please be kind.