From the mid-1960s through the late 1980s many children attended classes and performed or worked in shows at the Children's Theatre Company and School in Minneapolis. During this time, it was home to at least 30 perpetrators and pedophiles who assaulted hundreds of these children.
This happened within an institutional culture of intentional blurring of boundaries between adults and children. While working very late and unsupervised during rehearsals, being encouraged to attend adult social events, and seeing the rest of the world as not understanding, children were increasingly isolated from family and others who may have been protectors. This meant many children were vulnerable to emotional, verbal, physical and sexual abuse and the constant threat of retribution if they didn’t comply.
This history has left many wounded and struggling, sometimes without knowing exactly why. Some are coming to terms with their past while others are still searching for answers. Whatever the experience of children in the 60s, 70s and 80s with Children's Theatre Company and School each was deeply affected.
In 2015, 17 plaintiffs filed civil suits against CTC and/or their perpetrators. In February 2019, Laura Stearns was the only one of these cases to go to trial. The outcome was that Jason McLean was found liable for her harm and CTC was found negligent. All of the lawsuits were settled by October 2019.
During the mediation process, a list of collective requests was made by the plaintiffs to the Children's Theatre Company. One of those requests was for CTC to contribute to a "survivor's" fund which would provide support to the additional alumni harmed during the Donahue era. CTA Wellness was formed to administer those funds and advocate for these additional requests.
In 2015 and 2016, sixteen former students of The Children’s Theatre Company and School (CTC) of Minneapolis sued CTC regarding childhood sexual assaults they experienced while at CTC in the 1970s and 80s. Nine perpetrators were named in these lawsuits and over thirty perpetrators were identified as part of the investigations that followed. Additionally, over two hundred victims were revealed during the investigations.
In January 2019, one trial resulted from these lawsuits. CTC was found negligent and the perpetrator, Jason McLean, was found liable. In October of 2019, during the final mediation process with Children’s Theatre Company, plaintiffs requested that CTC donate $500,000 to support the mental wellbeing of the additional alumni survivors and CTC agreed.
Children’s Theater Alumni Wellness Fund, also known as CTA Wellness, was formed by a group of former plaintiffs in early 2020 to facilitate the distribution of the Fund.
Also during the litigation process, there was a list of reparations requests made by some of the plaintiffs to Children’s Theatre. Several important things on the list have been accomplished, and CTA Wellness continues to hold the Children’s Theatre Company accountable for fulfilling on that list.
Each plaintiff, and member of the larger CTC alumni community, has had unique experiences in this journey, before, during and after settlements were finalized. Healing from trauma is a highly personal process, feelings shift while moving through the stages of healing and understanding, and everyone is at a different place in their journey of healing. Honoring this truth is paramount.
To try and speak to what has transpired in one collective voice is not only impossible, it is potentially damaging. Therefore a format has been created that allows multiple voices to be heard. You can read the statements from individual community members here. If you would like to share your own experience, please visit CTC Stories here. For more information about CTA Wellness or this process, please write to email@example.com
CTA Wellness would like to thank the members of Standing With CTC Survivors, Theater Artist Leader Coalition (TALC), and the Artist Community Council for their support and commitment to accountability. They have had their own experiences with CTC separate from the plaintiff group. To read the latest update from the Artist Community Council, you can access their public letter here. These groups formed in the summer of 2019 to amplify the efforts of survivors, and address community concerns with CTC directly. CTA Wellness is committed to these ongoing relationships. With this continued community engagement the theatre will be held accountable to their commitments to survivors and to transforming the institution to prevent future harm.
Below you'll find a status update of what has been done and what is yet to be fulfilled on the reparations list.
CTA Wellness Board of Directors
WHAT HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED
Public Apology by Children’s Theatre Leadership. At the 11/1/19 press conference, CTC made a public apology to the survivors, former students and community. You can view it in its entirety here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILcxk-K7QqY).
The collective request from the plaintiffs was for CTC to support the creation of a Survivor’s Fund. Due to the complications with the effects of the Global Pandemic, funds were delayed. We have signed an agreement and received a first installment from CTC that honors their commitment to providing $500,000 as seed money for the fund. CTC is also committed to supporting future community efforts towards fundraising.
During this past year, a survivor-led non-profit organization was created to hold and administer the fund which will provide resources for alumni in need of therapeutic support. This new Non-profit is called Children’s Theater Alumni Wellness Fund (CTAWF) or CTA Wellness as it has come to be known. Information and details of how survivors can apply for funds will be accessible soon on this website.
The Fund will launch in Spring 2021.
Training of CTC Staff in Child Abuse Prevention and Trauma-Informed Practices. The plaintiffs requested that CTC review their training processes with an eye toward the understanding that even if no child is being abused under their care, recognizing that 1 in 5 children are victims of sexual abuse, all staff should be able to recognize and assist children who are potentially reaching out for help. CTC partnered with RAINN to provide all CTC employees a training on March 5th, 2020, focused on sexual misconduct prevention, recognizing signs of trauma and understanding appropriate responses to children at risk. This is the start of a commitment to continue improving upon CTC’s safety strategies.
Resources in Show Programs: In the same way that staff training is being developed with the understanding that children performing or attending classes at CTC may be at risk in other areas of their lives, it was also requested that a point of contact for resources for potential victims be placed in CTC’s program. CTC began including an ad for RAINN’s resource hotline in programs starting in January 2020. CTC will work through its partnership with RAINN and MNCASA to find age appropriate language to help audience members find resources, should they need them.
Ongoing Staff Training
This topic will be updated when the Children's Theatre resumes live performances.
Board of Directors Training: Understanding that staff training is not complete without board training in these areas of concern, the request was made to provide specific training for board members. To this end, a few Board members attended the RAINN training in March and ongoing educational activities for the Board will be included in future work with MNCASA.
WHAT HAS YET TO BE COMPLETED
Board of Directors Survivor Recruitment: A request was made to include voices of sexual assault survivors on CTC’s Board of Direcrtors. As announced by Kim Motes at the 11/1/19 press conference, a recruitment goal of having two sexual assault survivors (preferably childhood survivors) and/or career specialists on the board of directors has been adopted by the Governance Committee of the Board. This goal has not been met. The makeup of the Board is critical to institutional awareness and understanding of harm. This reparation request sits as a high priority.
Opening the U of MN Archive. In 2013, an archive of materials from CTC was established with the University of Minnesota. At that time, a 75 year hold was placed on documents related to John Clarke Donahue’s years at the CTC; 1965 to 1986. Plaintiffs requested that this restriction be lifted and that all alumni members be given access to the archive without prior approval from CTC. As of yet no formal agreement has been signed and we will continue to press for them to honor this request.
Acknowledgement of History on the CTC Website
We have requested that CTC create a page on their website dedicated to the acknowledgement of the early years of the theater’s existence and the harms that occurred during that time. For trauma survivors, public acknowledgement of this history is crucial for the process of healing. Additionally, we want alumni-survivors to be able to find access to resources directly on CTC’s website. There was also a request to include an ongoing acknowledgement of the theater's history of abuse in their programs. We were not able to come to an agreement on this issue.
Community Support of CTC Alumni Healing. The plaintiffs also wished to have platforms to heal as a community and not just individually. What happened at CTC in the 70s and 80s was a community trauma. Some alumni may find it helpful to heal in community as well. CTC has agreed to help support these alumni driven efforts financially, and are willing to participate if requested, in whatever way would be supportive and useful. Plans include community based opportunities designed with support from qualified professionals trained in complex community trauma, and a survey of the alumni community to help us determine current needs.
Opportunities for Parents to be Involved. We believe that communication with parents is imperative to the safety of children. CTC has parental involvement policies in place, but we believe it’s important to further investigate how parents can be invited to be more actively involved in their children's participation in shows and their education at CTC.
Memorial Placement on the CTC campus: The request was made by plaintiffs that CTC not oppose future motions towards creating a survivors’ memorial on the larger campus of CTC, MIA and MCAD. While no plans are in process right now, CTC has committed to not objecting to such a project in the future. Both sides acknowledged that the content would be age-appropriate for CTC audience members.
The space formerly occupied by John Donahue’s office. This space was the location of much abuse and the intention is to find a way to permanently acknowledge the impact of this difficult past while creating a space for positive experiences and community healing. Discussions are underway and CTC is open to possibilities, but nothing concrete has been planned for this.