You may have heard of the “Children’s Theater Company” in Minneapolis, known for about five years in the 1960s as “The Moppet Players.” It has long been a big deal, nationally known, and award winning. It has put on multi-generational plays friendly to children of various ages, but also, has long run a school for kids to learn to act. I have relatives who have done that program, and in fact, I think we are going to a performance of something sometime next month where a young grade-school age cousin will be in his second or third play (he usually does Shakespeare).
The theater was originally founded by John Clark Donahue. Donahue died a few years ago at age 80, but only after he admitted that he had sexually abused several boys during his tenure as director of the theater. He was sentenced to probation for three of those cases.
Stephen Adamczak, William Harren, and Sean McNellis, a technician, dance instructor, and actor working at the theater were all accused of inappropriate sexual contact of one kind or another with students at the school in the 1980s. The first two were acquitted, and I’m not sure what happened to the third. The acquittals were attended by the allegedly abused (mostly teen age girls) not being believed by the jury, or in some cases, changing their testimony. In some cases the accusations involved what appears to have been, if true, organized abused at the home of one of the accused.
Jason McClean was a key figure in the theater’s latter years, an actor and instructor. He had been accused in civil cases of sexual abuse and/or rape of female students.
This is where it gets interesting to me. I had a student at the time whom I got to know a little outside the context of school. He had glommed on to some of the political stuff going on having to do with creation/evolution and homeschooling, and in that context we interacted a fair amount on line, and a little off line. I found out that he was a close associate of some guy who owned a couple of restaurants, and my friend/student was actually the designer and builder of the interior of his restaurants (well known local establishments). He himself was a stealth owner of an Indian restaurant in South Minneapolis which is highly recommended (he is no longer involved in it).
Over time, he and I had a major falling out, which consisted of him writing some really nasty emails to me and my responding by ignoring his existence since then. The falling out was over this: I had written quite a bit in a short time in opposition to … wait for it … rape. He was not so against rape, and in fact, he was/is a major Mens’ Rights Activists. At just about that time, I think, the actions against McClean were coming up in the news, and it was only after my student/friend/enemy had gone his own way that I put two and two together: the restaurant owner my student had been hanging with and working for was the one and only Jason McClean. Had I known the whole story then, we might have had different conversations.
Anyway, McLean, after losing something close to 6 million dollars in civil suits over his sexual abuse of kids in the theater company, and probably exposed to some criminal liability, fled first to California then to Mexico. WE all assumed that we would never see him again.
But no. McLean has returned, to California. He had owned a restaurant there the whole time. He has returned, fired all the employees, and apparently intends to reopen the restaurant and run it himself. It is unlikely to be listed as “kid friendly” on Yelp.
Interesting things are expected over the next few days and weeks. The lawyer for the main accuser who has led the crusade to set things straight was seen dancing a jig in Saint Paul.
Decades of sexual abuse occurred with very little being done about it at a major institution set up to attract and involve large numbers of children. For decades. There were accusations and investigations but that did not stop the abuse. Probably for something like 40 years.
The institution continues today, and few speak of the rapes and abuse. It is said that the Children’s Theater Company has cleaned up its act. But the history of the institution is deeply marred. Photographs and other records of the many productions depict abusers and the abused in the act of acting in various plays. Trigger warnings sometimes accompany these old bits of documentation of what should be fun and fancy, but is in fact, a dark phase in the history of so many people.
The Children’s Theater has been sued majorly, and has been found negligent, but not liable, for the abuse.
I think there are a few key lessons here, probably three (you will add your own below).
1) Things — like institutions or regular events — that cluster children are targets. Expect sexual abuse or similar, in the absence of constant vigilance. It is not like it might or might not happen. Predators will arrive at that spot just as surely as lions will arrive at a herd of Impala on the Serengeti.
2) Everyone in Minnesota believes, and will easily convince most outsiders, that we are a nice state where everything is fine and there is nothing really wrong, like dens of abuse, or human trafficking, or financial crime. This is bullshit. Scratch the surface of a Minnesota institution and you’ll often find nefarious behavior somewhere. I have lived in the districts of two different Minneapolis City Council members, and both of them served time for corruption, and one was known to be a human trafficker (according to testimony of one of his slaves, though he was never actual charged for that). National reviews of integrity and corruption often find Minnesota lacking. A few years ago an entire city was found to have been staffed by totally corrupt people who were simply pocketing a regular percentage of the money that passed through the government. (I suspect that was the inspiration for the Sanford novel “Deadline.”)
3) It was not long ago that our society excused rape and abuse, a bit less time since we made these things a slap on the hand affair unless committed by certain people against certain other people (in which case proving that it happened was not a prerequisite to lynching). It isn’t just Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. It is a certain number of the (mostly) men with whom you leave your children for the afternoon. I mean, seriously, the men running the children’s theater, for decades.
4) You tell me what else below.