Dead Writers Theater to Close in Wake of Harassment Allegations Dead Writers Theater to Close in Wake of Harassment Allegations
"It is a type of emotional abuse; it's all about power; it is disheartening, sickening, and everything the arts should not be." Dead Writers Theater to Close in Wake of Harassment Allegations

By Jason Epperson

When Megan DeLay decided to drop out of Dead Writers Theatre Collective’s 4-performance April fundraiser a week and a half before rehearsals began, she unknowingly set into motion a series of events that have threatened the viability of the organization. DeLay was cast in a more remunerative project, which put her in the difficult situation of dropping a show with the company that she has worked with at least a half-dozen times. It’s a situation that a lot of actors face, the pay is so little in this industry that you have to take what you can get. The fundraiser production of “Angel Street” (also titled “Gaslight”) would not be reviewed by critics or eligible for Jeff Awards.

To her surprise, DeLay was abruptly stripped of her “collective member” status with Dead Writers for leaving the show. She took to Facebook to voice her displeasure, saying in part “This theater company just cut me completely for choosing a better opportunity,” and imploring artists to look out for themselves.

“You really don’t want to go here Megan. I can easily smear you with many of the theatre producers and directors in this town.”

That’s a quote from a public Facebook comment on DeLay’s post by Dead Writers’ co-founder and artistic director Jim Schneider. DeLay was a Dead Writers favorite, which Schneider referenced in another comment — “she was given the majority of leads with Dead Writers where other companies would not give her a chance. I pick vehicles for her and this is how she repays me. Shame!”

It was the tipping point that unleashed the Chicago theater community on social media in what some might well consider a mob-mentality takedown Tuesday afternoon. The company’s Facebook rating dropped from 4.5 stars to 1.4 stars in just a matter of hours as industry professionals took to their page to make their displeasure with Schneider known. Screenshots of Schneider’s remarks went viral.

Schneider was forced to release a statement via the company’s Facebook page apologizing to the theater community, but not to DeLay. The entire Dead Writers Facebook page has since been deleted. Changes to the company’s website happened multiple times Tuesday night, and as of Wednesday morning, it has been shut down.

Dead Writers Theater Collective was founded by Schneider and his partner Bob Douglas in 2011 to showcase, well, writers that are dead. Ok, it’s a little more than that. The company focuses on writers who exemplify their period, honoring the integrity of their “words, worlds, and wisdom” through a “Masterpiece Theater” aesthetic. Oscar Wilde, Edith Wharton, Noel Coward, Jane Austen — you get the drift.

Originally from Houston, Schneider has been directing in Chicago since the mid-nineties — most notably several productions for Circle Theatre. Before a successful executive recruiting career in Chicago, Douglas was a model working out of New York City, landing some bit parts on soap operas and in commercials. He now serves as Managing Director for Dead Writers. The pair separately review theater, dance, and opera for performing arts website showbizchicago.com.

*****

Edward Fraim was cast in the 2015 production of David Hare’s “The Judas Kiss.” Like “Angel Street,” it was another 4-performance fundraiser production, or what the company calls a “chamber production” — fully staged short-term intimate shows. Nudity was required.

“The first time that we did the two scenes in the nude, [Schneider] invited board members to come and watch,” Fraim said. “We had a line of people sitting there who had no business being there. The opening scene had the female actor lying on her back with her legs facing downstage raised in the air, and the male actor bent over on his knees between her legs with nothing covering either of them. Everything was exposed. They let it go on for a while just watching the actors genitalia slapping against the each other.” Fraim said the staging was eventually changed, but “it felt like they did it on purpose just to get a free sex show.”

Fraim signed a contract rider agreeing to the nudity under the condition that no photos would be taken. “At the first costumed run in the space they brought in a camera, and without telling anyone or asking permission, took pictures during the entire show. They claimed not to have taken pictures of anyone nude. Seconds after that run of the show was over, the camera was quickly taken out of the house and disappeared.”

Fraim says the photos were taken personally by Schnieder and Douglas. They were uploaded to the file-sharing website Dropbox and shared with the entire company, including the press agent to use for marketing. “When I logged in, what did I find? Naked pictures of myself.” Fraim shared photos with PerformInk from the production showing his full body nude from behind. He was assured by the duo that photos showing his genitalia were deleted.

“When I logged in, what did I find? Naked pictures of myself.”

Tuesday’s incident between DeLay and Schneider, as problematic as it was, was just the tipping point that provoked many artists like Fraim to share their own stories of bullying and abuse at the hands of Schneider and Douglas.

At PerformInk, we are often made aware of complaints about theater companies by the artists that work for them. We are also are careful to understand that there are differing opinions and perspectives, and frankly, that people like to complain about their employers. That is to say, the decision to publish accounts of alleged inappropriate behavior is not taken lightly, and is heavily deliberated and fact-checked by the team.

We spoke with nearly 25 artists and stage managers who have worked with the company for this article. They shared dozens of stories of harassment, painting a damning picture of the culture at the Dead Writers Theater Collective. The charge to share these stories was lead by collective members themselves. Most of their words have been corroborated by each other directly and indirectly, or by emails that were provided to PerformInk. The following is a selection of their stories, mostly provided with the request of anonymity.

“Jim Schneider and Bob Douglas (the company’s co-founder and managing director) often and unnecessarily walked through the dressing room,” said one actor. “At one of the final performances of the show, Bob Douglas inappropriately groped and slapped my buttocks while I was only in underwear. I regretfully said nothing; I was fairly new to the city and feared backlash which would negatively impact my career.”

Schneider sent an email to a cast calling their performance “embarrassing” and not worth the money people are paying. “I don’t know what is going on but you are getting worse,” another email said. One email to cast and crew details a plan to fire a member of the production team by the end of the week, imploring them to keep it a secret.

“Jim often told actresses they needed to lose weight.”

“I witnessed him pressure another actress to lose weight. I witnessed him put her in a less flattering costume to punish her for not losing enough weight.”

In an email sent shortly after an actress accepted a role, Schneider wrote “I need you to take off some weight for this role. If you can begin a diet and exercise routine now you will have plenty of time to reach your goal. You will be corseted, but I wanted to address this with you now so you can get started. The life of an actress!”

“One of Jim’s favorite things to do was to pit the understudies against the main cast: publicly gushing about us while subtly tearing them down. It felt like I was less an understudy, and more a tool to remind my counterpart that he was replaceable.” Schneider indeed mentions an understudy performing the role better directly to an actor in an email forwarded to PerformInk.

“Jim repeatedly speaks to artists poorly, impatiently and in a demoralizing manner,” said a frequent Dead Writers vocal coach Kendra Kingsbury. “Throughout my years of working with Jim, I would witness him belittling actors and other crew members, talking poorly behind his artist’s, director’s or stage crew’s backs, and lose his temper when things didn’t go the way he wanted to or if an actor didn’t act the way he wanted them to. As I would leave rehearsals, I often wondered if the actors ever went home and just cried because of how they’d been spoken to and treated.”

“As I would leave rehearsals, I often wondered if the actors ever went home and just cried because of how they’d been spoken to and treated.”

“I was with them from the beginning,” says stage manager Kari Warfield. “I was witness to many subtle mental and emotional abuses as well as light to heavy sexual harassments,” she continued. “In my attempt to warn them of their transgressions and how their actions would create a wealth of complaints, I was silently cut from the collective.”

Stage Manager Matthew Bonaccorso has worked on nearly every production in the company’s 6-year history. He resigned his Collective Member status Tuesday, saying “the actions taken by Jim Schneider have crossed an egregious line and can no longer be ignored. For too long we have been the subject of their misogynistic, racist, and unprofessional acts, of their abhorrent abuses of power, and their threats. Dead Writers does not see actors as people; rather they view us as commodities to be cast aside when no longer of use.”

Collective member Courtney Jones is also resigning, saying “I’ve heard many horror stories and let it pass because I never really paid much attention. To post what he posted is inexcusable.” Another collective member who wished to remain anonymous is drafting a letter of resignation. Other artists have decided to drop future commitments to the company.

Several pointed to Douglas’s frequent mentions of his far-right politics, particularly his hatred of Muslims. Statements like “we ought to blow up the entire middle east and make it a parking lot – nothing good ever came from a Muslim” are alleged to be trotted out. A stroll through his public Facebook page tends to confirm these beliefs, including disparaging comments about transgender people and photos of January’s Women’s March and other protests, commenting that motorists should “mow them down.”

And among those that severed ties, many heard variations on the common refrain: “You’ll never work in this town again.”

A few did reach out to defend the company. “They are people that react emotionally,” one said, “but I’ve had generally good experiences, and I think this has become a mob mentality.” It was also mentioned by many that the company pays better than most small theater companies.

PerformInk reached out to Schneider and Douglas for comment. Schneider responded Wednesday morning, saying “In lieu of this firestorm, as the Founder of the company and AD, I have tended [sic] my resignation and we are closing down the company. I have apologized for my statement to Megan publically [sic] on Facebook. This matter should have been worked out between she and I and not in the court of public opinion.  She chose to make it all public before I had any chance to respond to her.”

“In lieu of this firestorm, as the Founder of the company and AD, I have tended [sic] my resignation and we are closing down the company.”

Schneider says DeLay was removed from the company for violating her agreement. “Megan signed a Contract as an actress in “Gaslight” and for being a Collective member, which stated that she would volunteer some of her time and participate in our Fundraisers.” He further explains that the nudity rider for “The Judas Kiss” allowed for nude photos to be taken.

“It is a type of emotional abuse; it’s all about power; it is disheartening, sickening, and everything the arts should not be.” — an anonymous Dead Writers volunteer

Abigail Trabue contributed to this article. 

Jason Epperson Publisher

Jason is a producer, manager, and designer with 17 years of experience in Chicago, New York, and in the touring market. In 2015, he founded Lotus Theatricals - the publisher of Performink, and an independent commercial producing company - with Abigail Trabue.

  • Jomo

    February 22, 2017 #1 Author

    That this happened so quickly is encouraging, but that this had gone on for so long is dispiriting…

    Reply

    • Verified

      March 16, 2017 #2 Author

      I was so glad that this article confirmed what i have always said about those two. Its very satisfying to read your excellent article. Thank you!!!

      Reply

  • lcbernadine

    February 22, 2017 #3 Author

    People (rightly) called him out on his outrageous behavior and the thin non-apology apology he posted afterwards… I’m not sure why performink would say “it unleashed the Chicago theater community on social media in what some might well consider a mob-mentality takedown Tuesday afternoon.” As if activism and speaking up and speaking out is unjustified, or equivalent to “mob mentality”

    Reply

    • PerformInk

      February 22, 2017 #4 Author

      Thanks for your comment. There were, in fact, many in the community cautioning against a “mob mentality” yesterday. We tried to provide a balanced representation of the facts, as we always do, in order to present a fair and just case. The idea that some may consider this an instance of “mob mentality” in our view only lends credibility to the case that, in this instance, it was not. -Jason

      Reply

  • Javier

    February 22, 2017 #5 Author

    Good riddance. Such abuse does not belong in our community.

    Reply

  • Jess Hutchinson

    February 22, 2017 #6 Author

    I’m curious about the first line of this story. To borrow an observation from one of my favorite dramaturgs, it seems that the behavior of the company is what ultimately threatened its viability, not an actor’s post about mistreatment. It’s interesting that in a story about poor treatment of artists the lede blames the artist who spoke up.

    Reply

    • PerformInk

      February 22, 2017 #7 Author

      Hi Jess – in my view, the inciting incident does not imply fault, and I think the rest of the article makes that clear. -Jason

      Reply

      • Jess Hutchinson

        February 22, 2017 #8 Author

        Hi Jason – The rest of the article is super clear, and I appreciate the number of sources you’ve cited and the reporting done. It’s the language that says she set the series of events in motion that threatened the viability of the company that felt aggressive. Perhaps the “unknowingly” is mitigating and shows that she was a catalyst rather than a cause. On a first and second read, it struck me differently. I appreciate your clarification.

  • Jason

    February 22, 2017 #9 Author

    Why didn’t any of these people – like the vocal coach or the stage manager who worked with the collective for years EVER say anything until now? Or ever quit in protest after witnessing ONE such incident? If I saw something like that happen once, I would’t work there again – and I’d let everyone know why. It’s terrible what these actors went through – but at some point we have to take responsibility and stop being victims. What are we afraid of losing? A crap job at a crap theatre that pays pennies? And the people who continued to work there with knowledge of the kind of behavior that was happening are also complicit. Shame on Kendra Kingsbury and Matthew Bonaccorso who resigned on TUESDAY!

    Reply

    • Robert

      February 22, 2017 #10 Author

      Perhaps because they needed the work? I’m sorry, but I’ve put up with a lot of abuse because I didn’t have any options, other than not doing theater. Producers and ADs can ruin your career in a town if they choose, and some are sick enough to do it.

      Reply

      • Jason

        February 22, 2017 #11 Author

        They needed the work so they turned a blind eye to “belittling, demeaning behavior.” They put up, for 6 years, with an artistic director that “treated people like commodities.” If you truly care about how others are treated, you say something, you stand up when you see mistreatment. You don’t go back again and again. They may have needed the work – we all need the work. But they were willing to put their ethics on the back burner to earn it. And that’s the simple truth.

    • AJones

      February 22, 2017 #12 Author

      Ok well when you work for people that threaten to blackmail you , sometimes you make odd choices. This was the straw that broke the camels back. And don’t shame Matt and Kendra do whatever reason you have. There not to blame here. And seeing as how you don’t know them you can kindly back the blame off them. Besides every job you have you work with people you don’t agree with.

      Reply

      • Jason

        February 22, 2017 #13 Author

        Absolutely. I may not agree with the way my boss behaves sometimes. But if he or she was repeatedly “demeaning,” aggressive, “belittling” and harassing I would do something. And I hope you would too. People keep saying they were afraid of being BLACKMAILED! By who? These guys were running the PepperPot Playhouse – not Dreamworks or Warner Brothers. What? Will they ruin my name so I won’t get to be in a storefront production of “Orphans” Grow a pair. Stand up for your fellow artists. Stop being victims. Jim Schneider should have been taken down years ago.

    • Kari

      February 22, 2017 #14 Author

      People have quit. Numerous people, myself, a PSM for three of DTWC and four of Jim’s productions actors,and other artist have all quit over the years. I spoke with both Jim and Bob, confronting them on their treatment of actors, especially ones they knew were growing out of their small limelight. I battled them. I made so many members of the collective aware. But Jim and Bob ARE the board. They answer to NO ONE. There was no one for Matt or Kendra or myself or any of the other victims you want to blame. When the status quo is “don’t rock the boat and save your career” when it is always “no one wants to work with a difficult artist” Then the threats of “you’ll never work in this town again” are very real and heeded. It is through that threat and others’ silence for their own personal and very real reasons that DWTC continued to persist. When Matt and Kendra, two shining examples of artists in our community, exemplary in their fields, and have no danger of the abuses and exploits that happen to others step up WITH the victims, they are doing it RIGHT. Profiles last year started a moment where community could heal artists of these outrageous abuses. #notinourhouse became a shelter where we can finally speak. Those of us who have tried were not heard. Matt got us heard he is the protagonist in this story. Anyone who wants a safe and professional place to craft their art should applaud him and anyone who speaks out WHENEVER they speak out. Solidarity is welcomed at any turn.

      Reply

    • AJones

      February 22, 2017 #15 Author

      You know what, you’re right that they should’ve been taken down a long time ago. But they weren’t. And now Matt has come up just like everyone else because we realized we had a team. We realized we’re one we came together (maybe later ) but we did. But don’t Blame Kendra and damn sure don’t blame Matt because of when they came forward. They came forward, so did I and now we’re all one team.

      Reply

  • Tom Shea

    February 22, 2017 #16 Author

    Again, (mostly young) actors working from a place of fear. Fear of speaking up. Fear of backlash. Fear of blacklisting. Fear of physical intimidation. This is the paradigm that needs to change. No work is that vital to a career.

    Reply

  • Kyle

    February 22, 2017 #17 Author

    How shameful. Producers cannot hold the artists responsible for their bad management. OF COURSE an artist is going to accept a better paying job. That anyone slights an artist for working hard to put food on their plates, roofs over their heads, and provide for themselves and their families is deplorable, but especially so when it’s artists doing it to their peers. When you produce, and fail to pay a living wage, you need to understand that you’re not obligating your workers to your production. Low pay – or no pay – is a risk the producer is creating for themselves, and only the producer is to be held responsible for any consequence that comes from those choices. Our theatre culture must stop accepting victim blame for seeking to fulfill our basic needs.

    Reply

    • Cat

      February 22, 2017 #18 Author

      It is a job, regardless of wheather being paid, and she breached that contract. While he should not have fired her in such a public way, it was wrong for her to quit without his blessing and permission.

      Reply

      • Patrick

        February 22, 2017 #19 Author

        Actors are allowed to quit a job if they are offered more remunerative employment. It’s done all the time. It is explicitly stated in the Equity agreement and even non-union actors do it. I am a producer and I’m telling you, it happens all the time. And as a producer, I have no problem with it. Yes, even actors have bills to pay.

  • Mary

    February 22, 2017 #20 Author

    I have three words about chicago theater abuse and harassment which went on unchecked for a decade or more which makes this story look like puppychow: Tony & Tina’s Wedding.

    Reply

    • Brian

      February 23, 2017 #21 Author

      Can you please elaborate? I’m sure I’m not the only curious one!

      Reply

  • Matt

    February 22, 2017 #22 Author

    The only person who will never work in theater in this town again is Jim Schneider.

    Reply

  • Catey

    February 22, 2017 #24 Author

    “She choose to make it all public before I had a chance to respond.”
    Srsly dude? You threaten in a public forum to ruin someone’s career and then you bitch about how THEY made it public? Also: If someone threatened to blackball me? I’m gonna be inclined to try and “work it out” with them privately. Esp. not if they have a history of publicly degrading women.

    Reply

    • Catey

      February 22, 2017 #25 Author

      …edit: I’m not gonna be inclined…

      Reply

  • Doc

    February 23, 2017 #26 Author

    I find it interesting that she had no issues with the company worth broadcasting on social media till she lost her membership.

    Reply

  • Kari

    February 23, 2017 #27 Author

    Jason, it is easy to scream out like you are. Yes, they should have. But do you see where we are as a country. Some people can say and do outrageous things and still become powerful people DESPITE people saying things. And they did. I did. Others did. It takes the people who AREN’T affected to BELIEVE that the poisoning behavior exists and is a danger to others. This story isn’t new. It’s happening somewhere else we don’t know about yet. And we cannot scream how something should have happened. Something happened when it could. And it happened quickly and decisively.

    Reply

  • Kevin Heckman

    February 23, 2017 #28 Author

    The fact is, anyone who has worked in theatre for any length of time has witnessed questionable behavior. There are a lot of young artists competing for a comparatively small number of roles, and that creates an environment in which abusive behavior can flourish. Rather than blaming anyone who appears to be late in reacting to abuse, we should be working to educate and support safe spaces for theatre artists to speak up and change this culture.

    It’s also worth noting that as readers, we effectively witness multiple abusive events in the time it takes us to read the article. For the artists involved, it’s a questionable moment here, a distasteful incident there spread out over time. It’s a lot easier to come to accept an abusive situation when it happens over time.

    Reply

    • Carly Zien

      February 23, 2017 #29 Author

      Agreed. Check out http://www.guidetostageintimacy.com for first steps!

      Reply

    • H-EW

      February 24, 2017 #30 Author

      There is no “safe space” in professional art. That’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.

      If you need a safe space find a community college theater and stay there.

      Reply

      • JustSaying

        February 25, 2017 #31 Author

        There absolutely is safe space in art. What an outrageous statement.

        In order to produce that which feels unsafe you must work inside of a system of total safety. This is how all art works. Evoking a feeling or provoking thought from a safe place in which those ideas can be served.

        If you think there is no safe space in professional art then you aren’t doing it.

  • DavidXNovak

    February 23, 2017 #32 Author

    In this context it might be better to say “theater workers” than “theater artists.”

    Reply

  • Kari

    February 23, 2017 #33 Author

    It is for these reasons that one generally doesn’t expect it to happen to them if they are witnesses. The outrage and loss of power hit when it’s you. And when it is a member that makes turning an eye impossible, a firestorm commences. She was loyal, trustworthy, and at their disposal. Her record should have superceded this one inconvientience. I am sure she knew of others before her, and like every single person involved in every single production of theirs, had her personal and real reasons to keep status quo. She probably felt she had given enough to get this one pass. She probably had. But actor = disposible. They knew they would find a replacement for her. Why not? They had for six years. She spoke out. She stood up for herself THE FIRST moment it happened to her. And I am proud of her as I am theager community who stood with her. The same community who has begged forgiveness from each other for turning an eye in whatever way they may have. And we are all more empowered and aware. I’ll say it a million times, I don’t care. Megan has her power. And I am proud of her.

    Reply

  • Kari

    February 23, 2017 #34 Author

    Also, please excuse my typing errors. Phones.

    Reply

  • Alan Adel

    February 23, 2017 #35 Author

    Hahahaha! What an @££hole!! I think he’s just smeared himself with all the producers and directors in town!

    Reply

  • Carly Zien

    February 23, 2017 #36 Author

    Jason, stories like this are why a collective of actresses and teachers in New York are banding together to unionize sexual harassment protection in the theater.

    So far, we have this website:

    http://www.guidetostageintimacy.com

    I hope you’ll take a look. Feel free to get in touch if you want to be a part of the conversation.

    Thanks for your work on this piece!

    Reply

  • H-EW

    February 23, 2017 #37 Author

    I also know Jim & Bob pretty well as my agency did work for a few of their shows. While I admittedly was not on set for many rehearsals, these kinds of allegations are shocking. I have never found either of them to be anything less that professional even in settings as stressful as theater can be. They were great clients to work with.

    Most of the “allegations” from the actors just sound like thin-skinned whining from starry-eyed snowflakes. Jim told you that you need to lose weight and that offends you as an actress? Yeah that’s part of the job. It’s a performance, and you’re essentially an athlete. You want to be an actress, athlete, performer, then get used to it. You went home and cried because your performance sucked and you were called out on it? This isn’t the high school play.

    Reply

    • Sam Bevers

      February 24, 2017 #38 Author

      Wouldn’t you agree Jim did this to himself? Had he not commented on her Facebook, this wouldn’t have blown up. She didn’t cry. She was offered more money and left. Capitalism, right? It was Jim who threw the hissy fit.

      Reply

      • H-EW

        February 24, 2017 #39 Author

        If Megan was contractually obligated to the performance and she broke that contract, yes it was not appropriate for Jim to have a public spat on Facebook. He should have sued her ass for breach of contract, and damages for lost revenue for pulling out of a performance a week before show.

      • PerformInk

        February 24, 2017 #40 Author

        To make sure there is no confusion of information, the show H-EW references was in fact, a fundraiser production with four performances slated for the first weekend of April. DeLay stepped away from the production before rehearsals had officially begun. – Abigail Trabue

    • Kari

      February 24, 2017 #41 Author

      I will fully agree, Jim and Bob have done some wonderfully kind things for many people. I beat witness to that as well.

      This isn’t a liberal/conservative issue.
      This isn’t just about Bob’s politics, though aggressive and regressive by nature.

      There is truthful and very real proof of these allegations which remain allegations unless there is a court of law involved.

      Megan cancelling has been allegated makes her in professional. So, then is it unprofessional for Jim and Bob to cancel a production for which she and other artists passed up jobs that would have paid them in that time period instead. For a company they believed in. Tit for tat? Maybe. Is that just the way it works? Maybe. It is trust lost on both sides. Did Megan bad mouth the company then? No?

      Did she now? No. But she did call them out on a regular behavior of theirs. Dismissing people from the collective because their, the two of them or one of them (as they protect and support each other undeniably) had their feelings hurt.
      Now both of them find it more than okay to blast her or other’s who would share their stories online. In public.
      We’re it ever presented to this board they have, and the board allowed to make the decision, maybe it would have some clout.
      This board was a facade. They answered to no one until now, where they have been made to answer to every person they used to play dollhouse. Exquisitely, mind you. They have an amazing eye for classic plays. They have an amazing eye for talent.

      But they have a cruel streak. And it rears itself behind closed doors. Much like the people in the plays they produce. This isn’t a game. It’s young would-be professionals’ lives they very really attempted or threatened to destroy.
      And they were allowed to persist because they do have a very professional and kind and warm public, in person lifestyle.
      But they did say and do these things. They aren’t just whiney actors upset they didn’t get what they wanted or have hurt feelings.
      They cast a young woman, knowing her body type was against all their aesthetics. Why? It’s alleged because her family had money and would donate. They body shamed her to the very moment the show closed. Why? Why would they cast someone and try to change them when there are 50 other young women in Chicago who can fill thathe role? Ask them, if you have such a close relationship with them. Ask them to explain themselves. If they cannot, if they can only spew hate and disappointment that people would rise up against then, then that is also them. If they put out a statement tomorrow saying all of it was true. Would you believe them or the hope you have for them in your compassionate heart?

      Because that last statement was me for 4ish years. I saw the good. I saw a lot of wrong and hoped in my heart it was just the biz and they had grounds. I was as enabling to abuse as your raving compliments and refusal to believe the victims. We are no better if we don’t believe and investigate the truth.

      Actors, especially non-equity actors, are a teeming sea of possibility. And there are more of them struggling for those first steps. Jim and Bob had it well within their power to only create. As does every company.
      #notinourhouse seems to be a movement to stop those who think the abuse is necessary. Mental, phisical, and emotional abuses has no place in any industry. That’s not how to make America great. Victim shaming will not make it great. It will keep in power abusive people, narcissistic people who seek to destroy people who don’t play their game.

      Reply

      • H-EW

        February 24, 2017 #42 Author

        Kari, you and I worked together on The Vortex and Tea with Edie and Fitz. I was there for most of the dress rehearsals and previews- even behind closed doors. At no point were Jim or Bob (was recovering from surgery at the time) any less than professional.

        Now things may have changed since then. And sexual harassment, well if Bob grabbed someone’s ass that’s a serious issue. But as far as emotional abuse, the examples cited come off as nothing more than “wahhh Jim is a big old meanie”. I hate to be the one to bring up “trophy generation” but this looks exactly like that.

        When you choose to be a professional actor, you have to give up all conceived notions of racism, sexism whatever-ism because the profession will always be racist, sexist, whatever-ist by definition. You are chosen based on a combination of your ability to physically and emotionally portray a defined character. You have to learn to accept the harshest of criticism from your director, your peers, critics, and most of all an audience that doesn’t give a damn about your feelings.

        Now what Jim said in a public arena was inappropriate and the “you’ll never work again in this town” is cringey. If she breached a contract he should have dragged her name through the mud via plaintiff. More or less, it seems as though Dead Writers was playing at a level where the available talent for hire wasn’t ready for the demands of this level of performance.

  • Sam Bevers

    February 24, 2017 #43 Author

    I’m sure she was excited for the role initially, but you can’t really fault someone for accepting a job that offers more money. Everyone has rent to pay, right? Union contracts actually allow for this. It’s called more remunerative employment (MRE) and is setup specifically to allow someone to accept a job that pays more because at the end of the day, money is what makes this world go ’round. Whether you believe or not is irrelevant and misses the point entirely. Jim clearly is unhinged just from what he wrote, in public, on the interest, for God and everyone else to see. It was alarming. You can defend these men all you want, but take a gander at Bob’s facebook where he specifically “liked” a comment someone wrote using the “N” word to describe black people. Is that someone with a good heart? It’s still there. Right now. It’s not set to private. I post a screen shot but we don’t have the option. The article in question is a CNN link about burnings at a protest site. You an find the post by searching his page for “SNOWFLAKES! WHY HAVE YOU DONE THIS — YOU WILL MELT!” Which is what he wrote on the post. I also have screen shots, if you think I’m making this up.

    All that aside, you seem like someone who doesn’t really understand how professional theatre works but ignorance is no excuse to be so mean.

    Reply

    • DavidXNovak

      February 24, 2017 #44 Author

      It never struck me as a remotely professional company, Sam.

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  • Kari

    February 24, 2017 #45 Author

    I will open by stating that i worked with nothing but amazing actors and artists of every degree in Tea. You are no exception.

    Tea was not nearly as bad as the subsequent productions. The worst were ones I did not work on. Dismissing others because you don’t see it? Fine. I’ll assume you are one of the generation that raised these so-called trophy hunters, you should know how they got that way. Perhaps your skin is thick. Perhaps you get empowered by “tough love”. In some cases this “strive for perfection” was harassment. In some cases it was abuse. In some cases it was extortion. All of these cases were real and unprofessional.

    I have not doubted the good.

    I am speaking up against the bad and the ugly. It is not weakness to want the same protections an equity house brings. It is not weakness to want the same leniency to cancel a part as other memebers of the same production. It is calling for fairness, which would be more possible if they had a board that held them accountable. They didn’t. They had us. And when some of us tried, we were pushed out, not listened to. Because they for very really reals went out of their way to be utterly cruel to some. Not for that actor’s lack of hard work or ability. I will not speak for Jim on why he would mentally torture actors to get out of them a performance they desired. To me it became clear that it was because Jim had it played out as he would perform it, and anything different than that was less-than and made him frustrated and angry.
    Where you say they need no participation trophies, I say he needed not throw abusive tantrums on the cases where he was not getting his very particular way.
    HE does have an amazing aesthetic. He had a great vision for a very niche part of theatre to offer Chicago. But he had power which he abused. And he did so publicly for once, and it was enough for all the people he had wronged, hurt, harmed, abused to speak in a voice loud enough to silence the worst of his. You can defend him and his style all you like. That age is ending. For the better. Because art needs compassion, not capitalism. Heart, not harm. Support, not suppression. Creation, not distruction.
    I am glad you had a wonderful experience with them. I had some, too. As did others. Some had nightmares that made them hate something they had passion for. I ache for them more than I am willing to bathe in my own fortune.
    I’m okay with that. I’m okay with letting you have your experience, too. There is enough world for both of us. I will continue to protect people from mindsets like yours.
    #notinourhouse

    Reply

    • H-EW

      February 24, 2017 #46 Author

      You mention his aesthetic. Since you worked with Jim/DWTC for longer than I did, then you even better than I likely know his dedication and passion to his specific brand of theater aesthetic. That level of passion by default comes with a requirement to respect the art- at every level. I am by no means a high-level creative but I have worked on the periphery of it enough (in both music and film) to know that the demands are extreme and the weak go home in tears. It’s the nature of any alluring market flooded with wanna-be talent and scarce with money at every level except for the very top. If you can’t handle it, there is always the community college jazz band, theater department, or student film.

      If the most serious allegation of emotional abuse includes firing incompetent production staff and sending out a group email after lousy performances, then I don’t find that damning at all. And the stuff about the understudies is hardly noteworthy. Employees complaining that their boss seems to like other employees better, that’s just not news, much less emotional abuse.

      I run a small creative agency serving the midsize market. It’s extremely difficult and sometimes it seems almost everything is stacked against you yet you still try to produce the best work possible when you know it’d be much easier to just churn out schlock. I feel like this is what Dead Writers tried to be- they don’t have the deep pockets of a Steppenwolfe or a Goodman but still seek to produce theater on or above that level. If you understand that, and want to participate and collaborate with that, don’t expect it to be easy going and all fun and games.

      Again, it is my opinion that his style of direction is not “bad” or “ugly” in the context of these alleged incidents of emotional abuse. It just doesn’t fit with the level of talent that an independent theater collective can attract.

      Reply

  • JoAnn Formanek

    February 24, 2017 #47 Author

    Bottom line, the actress broke her contract agreement. When you sign a contract, your are committed.

    Reply

  • Kari

    February 24, 2017 #48 Author

    The same goes for the Vortex as far as the caliber of the people I worked with. Many of the complaints and allegations come from rehearsal. And it is beyond dealing with who he is as a director. If it were just that, there would be only grumbling amoungst actors in a small space on the social media realm. And as actors they are both more vulnerable and afraid to speak out. But when it came to the bottom dollar, they mis-used their power with every level of staff. Maybe not all, and maybe not at the same time. But they knew their behavior was toxic, and they knew they had a chance of sealing their fate in a community that looks to protect all the artists involved. It is ultimately sad on so many levels. It hurts to have seen it as much as it hurts that someone so driven and talented could be consumed by his own power. Jim was the heart of DWTC. His exuberance and joy and so many kindnesses made it easy to take the hits. I was one that could. But I am also one that will give people their own agency and believe them when they say it was too much. And some endured more than I could have if I were acting vs stage managing. It breaks my heart they succumbed to their power in a corrupt way even in the slightest because I did adore their vision and the level of talent that filled DWTC. But they have, for as far back in my experience as The Vortex.

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  • JoAnn Formanek

    February 24, 2017 #49 Author

    I have known Bob and Jim for years. They are very professional. Jim is an excellent director and wanted the actors and actresses to do their best. Dead Writers Theatre Collective did great shows. I know as I went to every one of them, sometimes twice. The plays were great.
    I work in a business where contracts are important. A contractual agreement was signed. It should have been honored.

    Reply

  • JoAnn Formanek

    February 24, 2017 #50 Author

    I was not being mean. Megan is a great actress. She has done many performances for Dead Writers Theatre Collective and had many leading roles. I work in a business where contracts are important. If you sign a contract, you should live up to your obligation. She obviously had a good relationship with Dead Writers or she would not have been in their shows for the past 4 years. I was one of the sponsors of several shows that Megan was in. FYI, I have a degree in Theatre, taught school for two years before moving to Chicago and my students won first place in state in duet acting and other awards. I was also the first woman in Chicago to win the area toastmaster’s humorous speech contest. I am well acquainted with Chicago Theatre.
    I

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  • JoAnn Formanek

    February 24, 2017 #51 Author

    I am very confused by what you have written. I know Jim and Bob very well and they are not people who abuse others. Yes, Jim had a vision and wanted to help his actors shine. Dead Writers got excellent reviews. Acting can be stressful and yes, it can also be fun. Jim wanted everyone to do their best not only for the show but for the individual actors themselves to be proud of what they have done.

    Reply

    • H-EW

      February 24, 2017 #52 Author

      Professional theater is not the workplace for a social justice hashtag crusade. Casting is by definition racist, sexist, body-shaming, whatever.

      If I am casting for the role of Zelda Fitzgerald I am starting with only good-looking petite white women. Asking someone to lose (or gain) weight to fit into character is perfectly acceptable for a director. Christian Bale lost 60 pounds for The Mechanic and then buffed back up to play Batman. To call that “sexism” or “body shaming” is asinine to the point where I question if you even know what words mean.

      Reply

  • lcbernadine

    February 24, 2017 #53 Author

    Re H-EW’s comment that “When you choose to be a professional actor, you have to give up all conceived notions of racism, sexism whatever-ism because the profession will always be racist, sexist, whatever-ist by definition.. . you have to learn to accept the harshest of criticism from your director…”
    -NO. Can we not have higher standards, work towards something that is far better than that? Sexist audition notices no longer allowed to slip by. Racist perspectives no longer tolerated. And directors who feel that being allowed to be as abusive as “required” no longer privileged in that way, and less and less likely to find themselves with a platform. That is what #notinourhouse and numerous other efforts toward workplace protections are all about. Theatre is also a workplace.

    Reply

    • H-EW

      February 24, 2017 #54 Author

      Professional theater is not the workplace for a social justice hashtag crusade. Casting is by definition racist, sexist, body-shaming, whatever.
      If I am casting for the role of Zelda Fitzgerald I am starting with only good-looking petite white women. Asking someone to lose (or gain) weight to fit into character is perfectly acceptable for a director. Christian Bale lost 60 pounds for The Mechanic and then buffed back up to play Batman. To call that “sexism” or “body shaming” is asinine to the point where I question if you even know what words mean.

      Reply

  • JoAnn Formanek

    February 24, 2017 #55 Author

    When you sign a contract , you make a commitment. Megan signed the contract. No one forced her to do that.

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  • JoAnn Formanek

    February 24, 2017 #56 Author

    You are very insightful. You are right. Bob and Jim wanted to do excellent productions. They did not have a lot of money but paid the actors and actresses and did their best to raise money. They produced , in my opinion, high quality productions. They picked excellent actors and actresses. I went to all of the shows and they were all,in my opinion, excellent.

    Reply

  • Kari

    February 24, 2017 #57 Author

    Lest it be forgotten, this is an issue because of his reaction to her calling foul publicly. He reacted terribly. The issue sprung from his reaction, not that she was cut from the collective because of a breach of contract.

    Reply

    • DavidXNovak

      February 24, 2017 #58 Author

      Threatening to smear someone is never becoming.

      Reply

  • DavidXNovak

    February 24, 2017 #59 Author

    If you employ people, from time to time someone will “quit” without giving the proper “advance notice”. It goes with the territory. You suck it up. You react professionally.

    Publicly threatening to “smear” somebody and impede their ability to find work is bad behavior of a different order. Smear jobs and malicious retaliation are condoned by certain circles in Washington, DC, even as various kinds of sexual assault appear to be, but why shouldn’t Chicago theater hold itself to a higher standard? So manifold “leaks” have sprung, with allegations of abuse and patterns of unsavory practices hitherto unreported.

    Even if this company had produced work of high artistic merit, would buttocks grabbing, bullying, and threats be justified?

    Reply

  • adam

    March 2, 2017 #60 Author

    Dudes sound like jerks. What did they pay? Like 50 dollars a run? I mean c’mon. If your paying a livable wage, then we can talk about ‘handling’ abuse. But there is no way the pay they were giving their actors’ was enough to be so horrible. Plus, what do they get out of it? Gripping theatre? I doubt it. This crap makes me sick. It’s like everyone is a character on ‘girls’ or something-so self involved. Theatre should be a collaboration, and should foster chemistry and togetherness-that’s when the magic happens on stage. Not because people are scared.

    Reply

    • JoAnn Formanek

      March 3, 2017 #61 Author

      Obviously, you do not know Jim and Bob. They are not jerks. They are very nice, professionals. They paid their actors and actresses more than what you said. They also produced quality theater productions. I know because I saw everyone of them. They also got excellent reviews. They did collaborations and took their work seriously.

      Reply

      • Kari

        March 6, 2017 #62 Author

        They were not always jerks. You are right. But they also, like many of us, have two personas, and the one to those that took their money was not as becoming as to those that gave them money. And it isn’t consistent on the jerk side, but it was prevalent and bad enough to be addressed. Multiple times. It finally came to a head with the people they employed, depended on to fill out a production company. How one treats their work force directly affects the longevity of the company. They too often took for granted the extent their work force would accept the “old school normative” abuse. The world is changing. People will not accept any sort of abuse as necessary to succeed in the world. They have a chance to learn and adapt to being consummate businessmen and also be professional, compassionate, and grateful employers. They received as many underwhelming reviews as they did outstanding ones. Their aesthetic and eye for classical theatre is not in question, and will never be. Their attitudes and actions toward their employees is and will ever remain so, should they be brave enough to adapt and return.

      • Verified

        March 16, 2017 #63 Author

        Jerks in my book as ive known them too. Ive seen exactly the use of the people they employ and their disposal.. trying to be little “Addison Dewitts” in their reviews.. i breathe a sigh of relief that the curtain has been pulled back………….thank god.

  • JoAnn Formanek

    March 16, 2017 #64 Author

    Kari,
    Did you witness abuse? I never ever saw any abuse. If you are an actor or actress feedback is important. I know that Jim wanted to help each actor and actress do the very best they can do. Making suggestions to me is not abuse. I don’t understand this talk about abuse. I was a theater major, started a speech and theater program as a high school teacher and am proud my students won first place in duet acting. This was many years ago. As a coach or director, you make suggestions to people to help them do better. I observed Jim as a director and never saw anything but excellent suggestions that were made. I am confused. It appears to me that some people cannot take pointers that will make them better actresses and actors.

    Reply

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