By Kristen Froebel
“The above the fold picture of Laura Stearns looking at Kim Motes with a mixture of disdain and sympathy was a study of contradictions. And this, alongside the title of the story, “CTC tragedy’s final act” tickles me. What a premature victory lap! Almost as filled with irony as the triumphalist 50th-anniversary celebration three years ago that willfully tried to disappear this “tragedy”.
Ah, but tragedies don’t behave, they tend to be messy and have a large cast of characters. There is no doubt in my mind that the story of the abuse allowed at the Children’s Theater in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s by our MN NICE community is an ongoing tale. The unwillingness of this community to hold the complexity of the story is evident in the title on the front page of this morning’s Star Tribune.
There is no final act to this story, far from it. These particular lawsuits are settled, a process that is rife with disappointment and incomplete justice, paltry settlements, and forced gestures of reparation. However, you may be assured the reveal of the many components of this story, juicy, juicy details, are still behind the curtain so to speak… this story is not over, though the hubris associated with tragedies is still very much in evidence.
When will this community be willing to hold the responsibility of witness to the complexity of the harm done to children at the Children’s Theater?
I look forward to the future examination of this not to be believed history by academicians studying the cult and grooming of an entire community, to filmmakers telling the story, and journalists detailing out the shared complicity of the educational, business, funding, artistic, and psychological communities in the Twin Cities that allowed an already convicted serial predator, John Clark Donahue, to start a theater for children and then stood by over three decades and watched him construct a culture that attracted and grew predators who were given free rein to rape children. Our community has many silent witnesses who have yet to come forward to tell their part. It is much easier to call it a tragedy and move on. I hope they speak up, those who hold memories and care enough to own their piece of the silencing; the psychologists who treated children in distress, the educators who were confided in by their students, the board members who made grave errors in protecting the institution over the children being hurt.
This story, the story of the Children’s Theater Company and School is not a feel-good story, it doesn’t have a conclusive end, there is no rousing chorus and bow to thunderous applause.
Right now, we are still a community being asked to examine our shared tragic history and hold it, bear witness to the legacy of harm, to take responsibility, to care for and recognize the pain that is deeply felt and abides. I don’t feel we can claim that children will be safe in this community until we collectively bear the responsibility to know what happened. And we don’t.
The abuse at CTC was not just sexual abuse and it didn’t just happen in the building; it was the horror of an entire culture abiding the distress of children in order to make art that supposedly celebrated children. Gross. I still shudder at the memories of my own encounter with this hypocrisy as a child. The harm I sustained around the communal silence was far greater than the sexual abuse I suffered from the Production Manager who had his way with multiple young teens. Sexual abuse is easy to condemn, much harder is condemning and holding responsible an entire community that stood by and allowed the abuse, and yet claimed not to know. In my estimation, that is the greater harm. It is harder to understand the psychology of how people protect themselves from not knowing what they are seeing, and how firmly that fiction can grip them, then to say you condemn sexual abuse of children, heck, that’s low-hanging fruit.
I look forward to the story continuing to be told and studied and am quite sure that it will. The sacrifices made by the litigant/survivors to bring this story to light are real. It was brutal. I am in admiration of Laura Stearns and Jina Penn-Tracy, Jeanette Simmonds and Annie Enneking and Melissa Benneke in being public with their advocacy and of the other litigants for their tenacity, and props to the wonderful journalists who continue to work on the story. The amazing Kay Miller started the story and Elizabeth Larson and Marianne Combs continue it brilliantly. I look forward to other stories already in motion.
The work of www.standingwithctcsurvivors.com is the amazing culture-changing gauntlet thrown into the mix, the unexpected surprise that gave us all so much hope. There is much more to be revealed and the need to understand what happened at the Children’s Theater Company and School and how this community responded do not go away with these settlements. But oh lordy am I glad this part of telling the story is over! Thanks to my people for getting me through it. We did it for love and for children, past, present and future.“