16. 8/10-From an Anonymous Former Student
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
I was a full time student & performer at the institution for about 8 years. Here is what I will say about Stage Right: The place has given me a lot of really great opportunities, experiences, and connections. Along with good training to a certain extent. I believe in the mission and truly believe in the organization. However I do not agree with their practices and the abuse that comes from the teachers and students alike. The biggest issue is that said behavior is normalized so no one speaks out. I remember witnessing and being told of horrific occurrences, and just shrugging it off because at the time I didn’t realize how bad it really was. That in itself should tell you something about the culture within the studio. Behaviors that could get people fired or expelled from an institution were shrugged off as “daily drama”, and it did happen daily. To give you the full “Stage Right experience” I have divided the information I would like to share into categories. Classroom Practices: As a professional actor and having taken classes from people currently in the industry/teachers at highly ranked BFA programs I can say the classroom (especially in the acting class) is supposed to be a safe space. At Stage Right the Artistic Director would claim that the classroom was a “safe space”. He would do exercises from different acting styles and honestly have no linear plan for the content throughout the year. Most oftenly we would start projects, start learning different practices and never finish them. The class seemed to be more of a space to get information then to learn. The Artistic Director would target students to speak about trauma or what they were going through in front of all of their peers. Then the students would gossip and sometimes bully the student for some of the things said. Nothing said in acting class stayed in acting class, it was probably brought up in the Library Show car that week. But we all know “what's said in the Library Show car stays in the Library Show car”. The Artistic Director from that class got the child's weakness and would use it to manipulate them or embarrass them in front of an entire cast of peers later on. I knew students (Some of my friends) who felt the need to lie in the acting class when “opening up” just so the Artistic Director had nothing to use against them. There were also multiple times when people were insulted or there was language used in classes that a teacher at any other institution would get in trouble for. Rehearsal/Show Etiquette: Speaking of language and the treatment of students when issues arose. There were multiple times when I was in a rehearsal for a show in the “professional season” and the Artistic Director would scream at students in front of adults and their peers for getting something wrong. Things were said along the lines of the following phrases: “You Idiot” “What the fuck is wrong with you” “How could you be so stupid” “Get your head out of your ass” “Dumbass” “Moron” “Ass Hat” and sometimes threatening language like “I am going to kill you” or “I am going to light myself on fire”. Kids who did things wrong or got into things they shouldn’t were made a spectacle. I remember one time I was in preteen summer camp and the Artistic Director stormed in through the doors during our music rehearsal. He then began to scream and point fingers “You, you, you with me now…” then pointed at a student in the back “take your fucking sunglasses off you’re inside.” Instead of quietly taking the children aside and talking about the issue professionally it just became another embarrassment for those involved, scared the hell out of all of the children present, and just gave the bullies more ammunition. All issues were handled in this very dramatic way. Maybe it was to keep us all afraid. But that has to make you think, do people really care about protecting children when they try to terrify them into obeying them? There were also several times when casting resulted in students being put in very uncomfortable situations and getting yelled at for it. For example when summer camp came around there were people who told the Artistic Director they couldn’t do camp because they were on vacation. The Artistic Director insisted they still do the camp (some of the students only being able to make it for tech week) and stick them in lead roles. Then when tech week came and the student(s) had to scramble to learn everything, not only was it emotional and stressful but the student(s) got berated when they didn’t know blocking or choreography. Even If they had just arrived back and it was their first day of rehearsal. There were also times during rehearsal processes when there would be intimate scenes of some nature that needed to be blocked. In the professional world an intimacy choreographer would come in and not only block the scene but talk to the actors about their comfortability and have them talk about consent with their scene partner. At Stage Right the Artistic Director would quickly block the scene and expect you to just do it right away in front of all of your peers. Most of them making such a big deal about it and sometimes even making fun of how it turned out in the rehearsal. It was unprofessional, didn’t feel like a safe environment, and sometimes uncomfortable for people involved. Things were not talked about especially when blocking a scene with the sensitive subject matter of rape being attached to it. It was quickly blocked in the lobby of the performance space and then forgotten about. These things have to change especially when working with young impressionable minors who just want to be valued in the eyes of their director. Who might be too nervous to speak up about what they are uncomfortable with or about triggering subject matter that was brushed over. College Auditions: To begin with Stage Rights' view of what the professional and college world wants/looks like is dated and wrong. Grades matter, picking material that represents you as an individual matters, picking material you like matters. In the Artistic Directors opinion grades don’t matter and you won't get in anywhere if you don't pick material he likes or thinks is good. Going back to the acting class I had been working on my monologue then performed it in class. The Artistic Director picked it apart and made me change the entire way I was doing it. I walked into my first ever college audition trying it the way he suggested. The head of the college program stopped me and said “What are you doing? People don’t act like that anymore. People want grounded intimate performances. You are over acting.” I then did it the way I rehearsed before I let him get into my head about it and she said it was miles away from what I had just done and so much better. My point is as an organization Stage Right calls themselves a studio that helps kids get into top programs. However they don’t even know what the industry is like now, and within the past two-three years those students who got into all of the top programs worked with people outside of Stage Right on their material. Sometimes students actively avoided Stage Right classes their senior year because of how mentally damaging Master Class and Acting Class was to their confidence and security in their sense of self. Your senior year is incredibly difficult in general, especially in this industry. Criticism and help are needed along the way in some capacity. However there are better, healthier ways to give criticism than screaming insulting foul language at students in front of their peers. Mental & Physical Health: Let's talk about the students' well being in regards to how much they are involved in Stage Right. So much is expected out of the students and it is all for free by the way. Rarely ever do they get paid and the “class credit” some earn in doing such things is forgotten about. The Artistic Director wants students to be involved in everything. Sensations, Acting, Workshop, Private Voice, Masters, Professional Shows, Student Company Shows, Library shows, Princess events and sometimes more. It is hours upon hours of commitment, and you get punished if you drop some of the things or decide to do some things elsewhere. Punishments range from what type of solos or roles you get to how you are treated by the faculty and your friends there or should I say your family. To put it plain and simple, so many students are overworked to the point of exhaustion and physical illness. Everyone was always so sick, so low energy and very emotionally drained. It was always just slap a smile on and suck it up. The show must go on. Grades don’t matter, let's pull you out of school for 12 library shows. Hey can you learn this library show tonight and miss school tomorrow then perform in this sensations show in the middle of rehearsal tonight? When did anyone ever have time to breathe or take care of themselves? I remember after finishing the run of a Student Company show I had to go right to the rehearsal of the next Professional show that night. I remember students telling the Artistic Director they weren't doing the next show because they were so run down, and him casting them anyways and guilting or manipulating them into doing it. This is an institution for children that claim to care about the well being of children. How many times do I need to state that? Meanwhile they are running children into the ground so they can make money. Using them for what they love and exhausting their creativity. Bullying: This is a huge issue within the Stage Right community. Rarely any of it is ever reported and if it is and the Artistic Director deems it bad enough he “takes care of it”. By that I mean he scolds and screams at the child. I’ve talked a lot about the manipulation and cruel things done by the faculty. The only thing I will say here is shame on you for letting this culture go on for so long. People get bullied every day at Stage Right. People listening in on other people's private voice lessons, people recording vulnerable conversations about trauma and sharing them, people following other students in their cars, people posting things directed at certain students to make fun, and spreading rumors galore. For the past few years the person at the center of this drama was the Artistic Director's daughter. Not to say she wasn’t involved in a ton of drama as a preteen because she was. However the past few years have been the worst. In her own words “I can ruin your life” “My friends and I can ruin your life” and they can. It’s because they are given this power and every time they bully someone or do something illegal like getting a younger kid to record a conversation in secret they aren’t punished. They decide who they don’t like for whatever reason and everyone else wants to survive so desperately that no one likes the person. The person gets shoved out and their character gets tainted and rumors are spread to anyone who will listen. I’ve seen it happen so many times. Another interesting thing in regards to the Artistic Directors daughter is that she singles out boys (sometimes even the professional actors that are hired) as they walk through the door and harrasses them. They are claimed as hers and any girl who talks to or trys to become friends with the boy gets bullied. There are a number of boys who have expressed that they are severely uncomfortable by this behavior and some have even left Stage Right. If I were to write more about the behavior and bullying that goes on I’d have to write a book. But it is the same premise: the daughter wants control and if someone isn’t good enough for her, does something she doesn’t like, or disobeys her she destroys them. I have witnessed her calling her closest friends her slaves and laughing about it. This just isn’t a safe environment. I hope you will read what I said and have open eyes. It is so disappointing to see a place you loved so much be so flawed. It is so heartbreaking to be put through so much trauma and still have love for a place. However, that is how an abusive relationship works. I will never discredit the amount of good they have done and what they have done for me. But I also won't discredit how many times I have cried over the place, how many times I feared going into class because of the bullying, how I sought for the Artistic Directors approval so much I would do anything he said including fighting with and defending his treatment of students & other faculty to my real family. I was a young impressionable 9 year old when I first arrived and it is so sad that I thought the way we were treated was just life and I had to suck it up. I am so let down by my “family” at the studio and disappointed that these people that the Founding Family portray themselves to be is so far from the truth.