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Children's Theatre Company settles suits as victims' stories remain untold

Children's Theatre Company was sued for allowing some 20 perpetrators to prey on more than 100 victims during the 1970s and '80s.

Children's Theatre Company was sued for allowing some 20 perpetrators to prey on more than 100 victims during the 1970s and '80s. Zoe Prinds-Flash

Attorney Jeff Anderson announced Thursday that nine new settlements have been reached between the Children’s Theatre Company and former students who accused numerous employees of sexually abusing them while they were children and teens in the 1980s.

The agreements mark the conclusion of all lawsuits filed against CTC between 2013 and 2016, when Minnesota lifted the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse to pursue civil action against responsible parties. Claims filed by 16 CTC alumni during that window accused the institution and its board of turning a blind eye to 20 perpetrators and more than 100 abuse victims during the 1970s and ’80s, as detailed in a recent City Pages cover story.  

Local stage combat director Annie Enneking sued her immediate perpetrator but not the theater. Enneking won a $2.5 million summary judgement against former CTC actor and teacher Jason McLean in 2017 after he failed to participate in legal proceedings and fled to California, then Mexico.

Guthrie Theater wigmaster Laura Stearns took her case against McLean and CTC to trial this January, and won another $3.7 million judgement against McLean. A jury found the theater company had been negligent, but not liable to pay damages.

This summer CTC settled the cases of six men who were assaulted during the 1970s, as well as one woman whose rapes took place in the mid-1980s, after the highly publicized conviction of founding artistic director John Clark Donahue.

“I wish to acknowledge the deep and continuing pain that such trauma causes and our hope that these settlements will provide justice, healing, and reparations,” Children's Theatre Company managing director Kimberly Motes said Friday at a joint news conference attended by survivors Laura Stearns and Jina Penn-Tracy.

Motes apologized to the public on behalf of everyone at CTC, acknowledging that decades ago when the survivors were children, they were not believed, and their perpetrators never adequately punished.

“CTC today lives in the shadow of this legacy, yet we seek to overcome it every day,” said Motes, who also announced further plans to make amends and restore public trust in the institution.

Those include bringing survivors of sexual assault onto the theater's board of directors, seeding a survivors’ mental health fund with $500,000, and partnering with Stearns, Penn-Tracy, and other survivors in a truth and reconciliation process to unravel what really happened during CTC's first three decades.

While Motes was noticeably relieved and in high spirits, Stearns admitted it was difficult for her to feel happy with the settlements, acknowledging there are those within the alumni community who want to dismantle the theater brick by brick.

This summer, Stearns called for a boycott of the company after it applied to collect $300,000 in legal fees from her. On Friday, she announced the end of her boycott.

“[CTC] have embraced their legacy of harm and turned it into a legacy of advocacy,” Stearns said. “I wish it had been sooner. It is better late than never.”

She added: “I am hopeful that this process will not be in vain and that good things can happen, because there are people who are willing to do hard work, and I’m willing to do that with them. Even if it’s at risk of doing it wrong, I’m willing to make the wrong choice so the possibility of right actions can take place.”

Stearns also called for easing Minnesota’s statute of limitations so alumni who didn’t file lawsuits during the 2013 Child Victims Act would have another chance to do so, as well as eliminating taxation of legal costs against sexual assault plaintiffs.

Survivor Penn-Tracy said survivors were retraumatized during the legal process, though the theater never denied her claims of having been abused by Jason McLean, John Clark Donahue, and many other employees during her student years.

“Trust was not built between us, but I’m willing to strive toward that trust,” she said, describing her settlement as the beginning of a healing process that must include the full scope of the abuse—20 perpetrators and more than 100 victims—being added to CTC’s institutional memory.

McLean, who also owned and operated the Varsity Theater and Loring Pasta Bar in Minneapolis, has reportedly resurfaced in Oakland, California, to reclaim a restaurant he’d founded, Small Wonder. He fired the employees who’d been running it the two years while he allegedly hid in Mexico, and announced plans to reopen with new staff.

Local attorney Marshall Tanick, who has no connection with the CTC cases, says McLean’s return to the United States should make it easier to collect the millions he owes to Enneking and Stearns if the judgements are transferred to California, and McLean’s business and other real estate are foreclosed.

“It would not be hard to find where the bank accounts are because he owns that bar, he obviously has a checking account and pays sales taxes,” Tanick says. “If it’s put in some other name, a corporate name, it can be more difficult, but not impossible."