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Children's Theatre finds it unwise to go after rape victim after all

After criticism rained down from the heavens, Children's Theatre Company's managing director Kim Motes and artistic director Peter Brosius abruptly reversed course.

After criticism rained down from the heavens, Children's Theatre Company's managing director Kim Motes and artistic director Peter Brosius abruptly reversed course. Vimeo

It seemed like a good idea in theory. If you erased any sense of humanity from the equation.

Laura Stearns Adams was among 17 women who sued Minneapolis' Children's Theatre company over sexual assault cases dating back to the 1980s. A jury ruled that her accused predator, former actor and teacher Jason McLean, owed her $3.68 million in damages.

While the theater itself was found “negligent,” it was allowed to skate financially.

Still, 17 cases meant 17 enormous crates of lawyer bills for the struggling nonprofit. When you're under siege and hemorrhaging money, there's a tendency to slip into delusion. At some point during internal discussions, someone got the bright idea to go after Stearns Adams for the $295,000 in lawyer bills she had delivered unto the theater.

Technically, they may have had a case. “Negligent” doesn't quite equate to aiding and abetting.

But no one seemed to recognize that going after a rape victim would produce the stench of the contemptible. Or that the theater would be assaulting Stearns Adams anew, since McLean has skipped to Mexico, and is unlikely to ever pay his $3.68 million debt. Or that when faced with 17 cases, your only real move is to confess your sins, beg for forgiveness, and hope the theater can rise once more.

None of this can be washed away by winning on technicality. Especially if survival means still convincing parents to leave their daughters to your tutelage.

So teachers resigned. Boycotts ensued. Protests were planned. And rage came pummeling down from the heavens.

“Cue John Lennon's 'How do you Sleep?'” wrote reader Jeff Cawhorn after City Pages' original story last week.

“People are looking back at how poorly this was handled in 1984 by the former administration of The Children's Theatre Company,” added Brian Bakerman. “They wonder if it is possible for an arts organization to handle a situation with less pragmatism, sensitivity or concern for the victims of sexual assault. Well, it looks like the current administration is sure going to give it a go!”

The theater swiftly became Public Enemy No. 1. Consider it a learning experience.

On Friday, managing director Kim Motes and artistic director Peter Brosius issued an apology by video. “Last week, we failed in our commitment to be empathetic and respectful in our handling of our legal obligations," Brosius said. “...under no circumstances will we seek to recover any costs from you."

The apology seemed genuine, though the theater insisted it never wanted Stearns Adams to pay its court costs, which it clearly did.

That left Stearns Adams rather unmoved.

“I don't know if CTC truly understands the depth of harm they have caused to me,” she wrote on Facebook.

So a few dozen protesters were out in front of the theater on Saturday, letting leaders know redemption would require more than a video. They vowed to return every week until that stench had cleared.