By Abigail Trabue
On Friday, The Pitch published an article by Liz Cook that has been long in the making, carefully analyzing accusations from dozens of former Metropolitan Ensemble Theater (MET) artists and staffers on years of abusive behavior at the hands of Karen and Bob Paisley. The artists who lead the charge to pull back the curtain on the MET’s many issues originally approached us about a year ago with many of the same details, knowing that we’re a Chicago publication that has only recently entered the Kansas City market, and have written about many significant abusive people in the Windy City. We’ve followed the story as much as we could, being a small team of two who can only spend a few months a year in Kansas City, but were ultimately unable to write about it for a variety of factors – primarily the legal implications that follow such an article as The Pitch was able to put together.
It may not be obvious to some, but first amendment protections aren’t enough for journalists who can’t even afford legal representation. And with the MET, we frankly knew what we were facing. In fact, the Paisleys threatened The Pitch with legal action the moment they got wind of Liz Cook’s piece.
So this is an apology to those artists we didn’t have the ability to protect. We’re sorry. We get a lot of messages like the ones we did about the MET. From Chicago artists and Kansas City artists. And it kills us when we have to pass. We’re often only able to publish an exposé of this kind when an artist has already come out publicly. As we did with Writers Theatre and Dead Writers Theatre in Chicago (the similarities in name are a coincidence). With the MET, we were at a place where we needed another shoe to drop and were perhaps unsure of our footing in the community.
The performing arts media environment is strange. Very few industries of this relatively small size have so many outlets covering them. When was the last time you saw an article about the new manager at a restaurant? The media truly holds much less power than the artist. When Tom Robson, a theater historian and associate professor at Millikin University, posted to social media about his prior harassment at the hands of Writers Theatre’s artistic director, many people assumed we launched a comprehensive investigation into the matter, when we spoke to artist after artist about their experiences. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We didn’t need to. The bravery of one person caused many artists to come forward. To reach out to us. Such was the case with the MET. Nicole Marie Green, Jake Walker, Logan Black, and the others urged each other to come forward, making The Pitch article possible.
So our point is this — dear Kansas City artists and staffers on the front line — don’t be afraid. You have the power. Social media has become the great equalizer. You don’t need us. We’re thrilled to help when we can — but you don’t need to wait a year for an article to be written. Open your Facebook account. Compose a tweet. You have the power to pull back the curtain on abuse. We and other outlets will be here to amplify your voice. The article about Profiles Theatre’s decades of abuse by the Chicago Reader that gained national attention was also over a year in the making. It was nearly quashed for the same legal reasons, and the Reader was owned at the time by the Sun-Times, a major newspaper with a slew of lawyers. When you make your experience public, you give journalists cover to write about it with fewer legal implications.
In a very short amount of time, a small revolution has begun in theaters across the country. Artists are becoming less afraid to walk out of an abusive rehearsal, and theaters should be taking notice. This is a collaborative art form, and people in power can not be allowed to hold your jobs and future work over your head.
The MET does not belong to Karen and Bob Paisley. It’s a non-profit — a public trust ran by a board of directors who need to take control and take action. Their eyes are now opened to the fact that so few of you will continue working at their theater, and hopefully, that fact alone will spur change. Change that will be required if PerformInk is to cover MET shows again, as we’ve avoided for the past year. We have no interest in being involved in the support of abuse. The MET’s attempt to silence a reporter by digging up her own experiences with abuse means that change needs to be all the greater.
So don’t keep quiet if a certain director body shames someone within your earshot, or shows up to rehearsal inebriated on a regular basis. You and your fellow artists are being abused. Don’t stand for it. We realize resistance is an act made a whole lot easier by privilege, and even still, it’s very hard to make those choices – ones that may result in a negative reaction from other members of this insular community – but resistance works. And it’s required if you see something happening to someone who powerless to help themselves. Theaters need you. Directors need you. The eras of the casting couch, the abusive auteur, unsafe working conditions, and the sexualized theater environment are over. Rise up.
Abigail Trabue Managing Editor
Abigail is the managing editor of both PerformInk Chicago and Kansas City. She is also the founder of the RV Miles Network and travels full-time with her husband and kids producing three weekly podcasts and a travel blog - RVMiles.com. Abigail holds a degree in Musical Theater from Columbia College Chicago and has worked as an actor/director for 15 years. She is married to PerformInk publisher Jason Epperson and has three amazing boys. You can find her on Twitter @AbigailTrabue