I’ve debated using my real name, or whether to share my story at all, because my experience at Stage Right has been overwhelmingly positive. But I want to share my view as a bystander.
Stage Right was my introduction to theatre. At age 13, I saw one of their student shows and wanted to be as cool as those kids onstage. Even as an antisocial wallflower, I made so many friends at Stage Right, and my confidence skyrocketed thanks to the classes and shows I performed in. I was a suicidal teenager who grew to be a suicidal adult. I don’t know where I would be today without Stage Right. Both the Education Coordinator and the Artistic Director have given me words that have kept me going all these years. Their family felt like my family. Stage Right was my go-to for everything from musical entertainment to career advice. I fulfilled graduation requirements working there. Stage Right was my safe space, and I know I’m not the only one who sees it that way.
The first instinct a person has when their safe space is attacked is to defend it. I can’t fault others for wanting to defend the place that saved us. If everyone who attended Stage Right received the same respect I was given, there would be no complaints. But that is not the case.
I was never a regular student. Concerned that too many extracurricular activities would affect my grades, I only participated in one Stage Right show per year, in the summer. Throughout the rest of the year, I watched their professional and student theatre from the audience. I attended no parties and did not participate in Sensations or Library Shows, though I sometimes viewed the performances. As a result, I received the rose-tinted view of an outsider while being involved just enough to be a familiar face.
Another notable point: I grew up in a household where yelling was common. An adult in an authority position yelling at a kid was normal behavior in my eyes. If someone was yelled at, I believed, that meant they did something wrong to deserve it. Was I ever yelled at excessively at Stage Right? I couldn’t tell you—I honestly don’t remember. Being yelled at by a large man is something I’ve grown accustomed to forgetting.
If you grew up with strict or abusive parents, you might have developed a “be quiet and suck it up” attitude as a survival method. It probably helped you become who you are today. That doesn’t mean it’s right to dismiss someone who comes forward about mistreatment by telling them to “suck it up and deal with it.” You didn’t deserve to learn that, and neither do they.
As a teenager, I did hear friends complain about Stage Right, but I dismissed it as either simple whining, exaggeration, bitterness over not receiving a coveted role, or other typical teen drama. I looked up to the Artistic Director with an abundance of admiration, as he reminded me of what I perceived as a kinder and more understanding version of my father. I revered Stage Right’s mission, and, with no plans of becoming a professional actor myself, assumed that the way things operated there was the standard in the theatre world.
After reading the stories on this site and the other, I’ve had trouble addressing my own guilt. Just by being silent, was I complicit in the mistreatment of my peers while I was a student? Of the students when I was a staff member? Is it naïve to claim I didn’t realize there was anything wrong going on, even when working in the office? In recent years, I’ve only just begun to realize how skewed the survival habits I picked up as a kid have made my perceptions of behavior as an adult.
But what about the current students who receive all the support, camaraderie, and opportunities at Stage Right that they don’t receive at home? The students who feel they are being ignored, or that they have been slandered? I’ve watched these teenagers grow from young kids to shining performers. How can I possibly help them? I am not an authority figure. I am yet another bystander.
So many other current and former members of the Stage Right family share this feeling. It’s the ripped-apart feeling Children of Eden’s Adam has during the song “World Without You.” Do you stand in support of the man who made you everything you are today? Or do you side with your loved one who was wrongly treated by the man you adore, even if it means losing his favor? All you really want is to stay in the beautiful place you love with all your heart.
For some, Stage Right was a place of distress. For others, like me, it was a garden. I don’t know how to repair the harm the studio has inflicted on people I love or mend the rifts between students. I just pray that someone will save our garden. It ought to be a place of peace, growth, and beauty.