I’m writing this to work out my thoughts and feelings regarding an uncomfortable situation. I’m not looking for comments here, although if anyone would like to text me or speak in person, I’m happy to do that. One of the difficult things about this situation, which I’ll explain the details of in a moment, is that much of the discussion is happening in online forums. That, in my opinion, is the worst place for the kind of discussion required to work through uncomfortable situations. The ideal solution for this situation would be a series of ongoing, sensitive, face to face discussions. But if these have been happening, I have not been privy to them. So I’m working things through on my own here.
I have been acting in plays at the Utah Children’s Theatre for some years now. Recently, the theatre management decided to cast an actor who has been previously convicted of sexual offenses with minors and had his name on a sex offender registry. I do not know the specifics of the current legal situation. From what I understand, the offenses occurred at least twenty years ago, there have been no further convictions, and possibly (this is where my knowledge is really at its limit) the man has since been able to have his name removed from the sex offender registry and have his legal record cleared/sealed/expunged/etc. These reasons, as far as I’m aware, allowed the theatre management to feel comfortable in their decision to cast this actor. I’m working through a multitude of thoughts and emotions right now, but one thing I can say with some measure of certainty is that they made the wrong decision.
I want to add a caveat here. I don’t know who will read this, but I believe it’s safe to assume at least a few people who have worked or attended shows at the Utah Children’s Theatre will. I want to make it clear at this point that I’m not throwing any blanket judgements on any person. The judgement here is about the decision of a business to hire a specific employee, not on the morality of any persons involved in that decision. I also reserve the right to change my mind at any point. The point of my writing this is to work through my thoughts and feelings wherever they take me. I’d also like to say here that I’m not in any way excusing poor decision making or bad behavior. I fully support those who feel hurt and betrayed by this and other decisions. My hope, not with this post but with the entire mess, is that this will be a conversation and learning opportunity from which we all emerge better people, not a war in which two sides are attacked and bloodied until one emerges a victor. Then again, I feel I’m less the chessmaster here and more the dog from Monopoly who found myself on the board. That is to say, I don’t feel entirely inconsequential, but I won’t be controlling at all how this plays out.
So, the theatre hired this man. Later, this decision along with the man’s past behavior came to light on social media. I feel guilty for judging this, and honestly I don’t really know what better avenue would have been available, but I can’t help but feel this was the wrong venue. What followed the post outing the theatre’s decision was truly awful. The comments that came were full of hurt, anger, attack, defense, vitriol, blame, and more. These comments came from people I like. From people I hold in high regard. I want to believe this happened because social media, for all its efforts to bring people together, tends to hide the humanity of the people on the other side of the comments. I want to believe the people who wrote awful things aren’t actually terrible people. I want to believe they felt attacked and responded in kind out of a sense of defense and self-preservation without realizing the post was made by a human. I know that doesn’t sound like much comfort, but what I mean to say is that I want to believe if this conversation had happened face to face there would have been more emphasis on compassion and understanding rather than defense and justification. I hope that conversation can still take place. These are my hopes for the future, but they don’t help much with where I find myself at this moment.
I’m doing my best to avoid specifics while writing this. It seems cowardly, but I’ll justify it by saying that I really don’t know the specifics. I’ve watched this unfold from the sidelines of the discussion, and for me to state anything as fact which I don’t know would only exacerbate the problem. Also, these things that I’m saying, the sequence of events I’m laying out, are in no way comprehensive. I’m really just trying to hit the big events and not mischaracterize them too much. So, after a series of Facebook posts and comments, a meeting was held with theatre management, the cast of the play in which the actor was cast (Which isn’t the play I’m in, I should mention. I wasn’t present at this meeting.), and parties who felt hurt and aggrieved by the decisions of the theatre. At that meeting, the following or a similar list of demands was presented to the theatre management.
- My first and only concern is for the safety of children at Utah Children’s Theater.
- UCT should have zero tolerance to child endangerment.
- Safety precautions need to be in place.
- I wish to keep our comments routed back to our common goal of children’s safety.
- The question is not about [the actor]. It’s about any felon convicted of a sexual crime not being employed or cast by UCT. It is not whether he is a recovered man, or a nice man. He once did a horrendous thing to two girls and was convicted. [The actor] is a convicted felon of a sex crime and we, parents, do not want a sex offender working with children.
- Immediately remove and replace [the actor] in the current production of “Busytown” and confirm he will not be contracted or hired in any position at UCT going forward.
- If a sex offender relapses we cannot let it happen to the children of UCT.
- There needs to be a zero sexual harassment/sexual crime standard at UCT.
- James has been notified of several allegations of sexual misconduct and has not acted. Since posting about [the actor] other women have privately shared their experiences with sexual harassment at UCT. This is a known ongoing issue at UCT.
- Commit to not hiring, contracting, or casting any known sex offenders in any position at UCT going forward.
- Parents expect full transparency regarding the safety of their children.
- In this instance, parents were not given the information necessary for them to make an informed decision about the safety of their children.
- Issue an apology informing: all employees, casts using the theater during his contract, and all parents of students and cast members, of [the actor’s] access to the theater and his prior conviction.
- Conduct background checks on all current and future employees and cast.
- Provide a dedicated child advocate for all future productions, including rehearsals.
- Training from Safe Harbor Crisis Center or similar for all levels of staff on appropriate work relationships especially involving children.
For the record, I agree with all of these points. The one area where I might push back is on the statement that the theatre should notify parents and castmates of the prior actions of the actor. The reason I might push back on this is because I don’t know the specifics of the legal situation regarding this man’s criminal record. If his name has been removed from a sex offender registry and his criminal record has been expunged, then an argument could be made that it isn’t legally or ethically correct to reveal this man’s past crimes. That said, I want to restate my earlier position that the decision to hire this man was wrong. I don’t want to go into my reasoning for taking that position here, but I will also reiterate that if anyone would like to discuss this in a more personal setting, I am happy to do it. Instead of dissecting what makes this decision a bad one, I want to move on to what to me is a more serious issue.
Many of my dear friends are hurt right now. They feel betrayed, confused, devalued. They question whether this was one bad decision or a symptom of a larger issue at the theatre. A few have decided that they won’t continue to work with the Utah Children’s Theatre. Some have decided they will continue to participate. I’m sure all have thoughts and opinions on what everyone else should do as well. I find myself in the uncomfortable position of not knowing the right thing to do. To some, the issue is simple. You’re either on the side of the victims or the perpetrators.
One more caveat, please don’t assume anything I’m saying applies to you specifically. These are my feelings. They are not meant to represent hard, cold facts or specific things people have said to me. These are my feelings about a big, messy, complicated situation which all people involved have to work through and make their own decisions about. This is me working through it and trying to come to some kind of decision.
So, victims or perpetrators? But who is who? It’s almost a truism that all people believe themselves to be right. I think we can safely assume that the theatre management did not believe they were endangering their cast or employees when they made their casting decision. Likewise, the people calling for change at the theatre don’t see themselves as busybodies imposing their will on others through coercion or manipulation. The problem with breaking a situation like this into black and white is that the offense isn’t so cut and dry in the minds of everyone involved. This isn’t to suggest there aren’t rights or wrongs involved. But also remember, we’re not discussing the morality of the sexual offense from two decades ago. We all know and agree that that was wrong. The man went to jail. There is no question as to the immorality of his offense.
The questions now are about the theatre. And the major question is not even about whether they were right to hire the actor. At least, for me it’s not. Like I said before, I’m not interested in dissecting that decision here. The big question for me is if the Utah Children’s Theatre is an institution worth supporting and one that I can comfortably attach my name to. To answer that, I have to ask myself, was the choice to hire this man just one poor decision or is it indicative of larger problems within the organization? I’m feeling right now, based on conversations with people close to me and my own experiences, that it’s the latter. And if that’s the case, then it leads to another question entirely. Are the problems within the theatre insurmountable? And do the people at the theatre want to solve them?
Beyond those questions, I wonder how I do the most good. If I’m just a metal dog in the middle of a chessboard, how do I affect the game at all? At this point, the safest thing for me to assume is that nothing is going to change within the Utah Children’s Theatre organization. I don’t mean to suggest that as a foregone conclusion or even the most likely thing. For my own decision making though, it seems best to me to assume that everything will stay the same and ask myself what I should do if that’s the case. One argument is that by walking away it makes a statement that I won’t support bad behavior. The other side of that coin is the assumption that if I do stay, I’m proclaiming my support for said behavior. Then there’s the argument that while walking away makes a nice statement, it’s also leaving people I know and care about in a bad situation whereas if I stay, perhaps I can offer some buffer or protection from any bad behavior I happen to witness. Remember, what we all want here is a safe place for children. Is it justifiable for me to abandon any person I care about to face a potentially harmful situation alone? Of course, this is all assuming that I’m not part of the problem myself. And again this is all based on the larger assumption that problems at the theatre are systemic and/or deliberate.
Since my thoughts are here now, I will take this moment to say, I don’t believe the problems are deliberate. That is to say, I don’t think the management at the theatre is trying to create an atmosphere where girls and women feel undervalued and unsafe. I think it far more likely that those are issues systemic to our entire society and as such have wormed their way into most if not all of our institutions. The tragedy here, what I think is causing so much pain, is that we all hoped the Utah Children’s Theatre was better. We want it to be better. It should be better. But it’s still an institution run by people in our messed up society that values a man’s opinion as worth more than a woman’s and is generally more concerned with a man’s reputation than a woman’s safety and/or emotional wellbeing. Again, if you want to dispute that point of view, I am open to conversations, but I am not taking comments here.
I suppose at the current state of my muddling through all these thoughts and emotions, I find myself able to make one definitive statement, and I’ll end on that:
I want the Utah Children’s Theatre to be the place we all hoped it would and see that it can be. I want it to be better. Not because it’s a bad place. Because it can be an amazing place. It can be a place we’re all proud to belong. If the people in power want that too, then I’m here to stay. If not, then I’ll have a whole other set of questions to ask myself.