Over 40 former students, performers, and organizers from Minnsky Theatre and ExperTease Fitness have come together to address the way the two businesses are been run by their owner, Jac Fatale (Alina Muellerleile).
Concerns include management of finances and labor, as well as general staff safety. The group, EXploited Stories, have been sharing their experiences via Facebook, and many have signed a published open letter outlining their grievances and propsed remedies.
“We, the undersigned, entered the doors of Minnsky Theater and ExperTease Fitness because we believed in the vision set forth by Jac Fatale: to have creative safe space for marginalized communities and for survivors of abuse,” the document states. “As a result of Jac’s actions and decisions, these spaces became dangerous for us.”
The theater hosts film screenings, burlesque nights, and theater productions, while the fitness center offers classes in things like aerial arts, burlesque, and pole dancing. Resolutions outlined in the document call for an increase in financial transparency within the business, better pay and working conditions, and a safer space for the people that make up the community.
City Pages spoke with Fatale last November about the financial difficulties the theater and fitness facility faced. At the time, Fatale had launched a $250,000 GoFundMe campaign to keep things open and to give the business time to restructure its debt after taking out a merchant cash advance that came with high fees and interest rates.
"Our company is worth about a million dollars,” Fatale told us last winter. "[The debt] is not much money in the long run, but when you have something that is taking 25 percent of your cash flow, you can't get out from underneath it.”
The company has faced other difficulties as well, such as moving ExperTease Fitness from Near North to northeast Minneapolis in 2016, and there have been unexpected costs getting the building where Minnsky Theatre is located up to city code.
"People were scared to come into the studio,” Fatale said.
Despite financial struggles, both businesses have managed to stay afloat via private donors and crowdfunding campaigns.
EXploited is calling for greater transparency with how those funds will be raised and spent in the future. They believe that Minnsky and ExperTease are acting more like nonprofit organizations than for-profit businesses, which they are.
When artist Tony Larkin first joined the ExperTeasers vaudeville troupe, he assumed that the company was a nonprofit. He was soon concerned with their spending habits.
“We were going to Target every other day buying cartloads of crap craft stuff,” he recalls. “We’d hit Michaels for red ribbon, and walk out with 50 things. We'd pay more on stuff than paying for people.”
According to Larkin, there were three major financial catastrophes during his 13 months with the business (between late-April 2017 to mid-May 2018). Each time there was a crisis, he says, the company would be bailed out by a big donor. After the first crisis and major donation, he assumed everything would be okay. But Larkin noticed that after each bailout, the cycle of wasteful spending would repeat.
“Twelve weeks later, it was the exact same story,” he says. “Meanwhile, the entire time, I'm watching Jac spend money excessively and freely.”
After watching this pattern several times and receiving requests to ask a wealthy family member for money, Larkin quit working with the organization.
The EXploited group is also criticizing the low pay offered to artists.
One artist, who performs under the name Chickadee, began as a student at ExperTease Fitness in 2015, and worked for Fatale doing admin beginning in the summer of 2017 up until April of 2018. (She asked that we not out her legal name for professional reasons.) During that time, she worked more than 60 hours a week, was paid as a contractor without benefits, and had to be at work at specific times.
“I spent a year hardly ever seeing my family,” she says, adding that her spouse was giving free labor. “I made much less than $9.50 an hour.”
Eventually, Chickadee approached Fatale and said she couldn't work for the admin team unless she got a raise.
“There was a period where she hadn't paid anybody in several weeks,” she says.
Chickadee left soon after.
Performance artist Raven Obscura (who also asked that we not use her legal name because she’s not out at her day job) says that another problem is that people are paid for performances, but not rehearsals.
“At times we were pressured to take no pay at all,” she says. “[Fatale] would present it as a choice, but it really wasn't. She knew how to spin it so you would feel sorry for her.”
Obscura notes that performers pay for their own costumes. This isn’t uncommon in burlesque, but generally costumes can be used for multiple gigs at other venues. With the Wicked Wenches, the troupe Obscura was a part of, the characters were tailored for each production.
Kat Hunter, who was an unpaid technical manager at the theater for three months, has raised concerns about tech worker safety at Minnsky. A member of the stagehands’ union IATSE, Hunter witnessed a number of incidents.
“Some things I refused to do, or I talked them into doing it in a way I felt safe doing,” says Hunter.
In one case, there was a piece of aluminum scaffolding that had been seriously bent due to misuse.
“That misuse was perpetuated and encouraged by the organization,” Hunter says. “Every time I was near that particular piece of equipment, I was terrified.”
Eventually, the scaffolding was disassembled, but Hunter says equipment was often used by people not properly trained to use it.
While Fatale has declined an interview with City Pages, she did release a statement.
"In regard to the recent allegations against our organization, we as a team are not only stunned, but deeply saddened,” the release states. “At the time of this statement, we have received no direct communication from the leaders of this group except to inform us of the open letter they intended to release. We also received no individual requests for formal meetings pertaining to the issues laid out by their collective prior to the release of their public open letter. We welcome the opportunity to sit down with these individuals in a private setting to attempt a reconciliation.”