The Rotch-Jones-Duff Home & Backyard Museum Patio in New Bedford, Mass.
As they are saying within the theatre, the present should go on. It’s a motto of perseverance and precedence, a signifier that it doesn’t matter what occurs, whether or not a prop breaks, your stockings tear, the set falls down, or your microphone cuts out, on the finish of the day a curtain should rise and a narrative should be instructed. However what occurs when this motto is taken too far? When the artwork turns into extra vital than the artists, when the manufacturing issues greater than the circumstances you domesticate, what recourse does anybody have?
Rhode Island’s Reverie Theatre Group is redefining professionalism onstage and behind the scenes by inserting emphasis on the general theatrical course of alongside efficiency. Its founders, inventive director Lauren Pothier, technical director Alexander Sprague, and government director Megan Ruggiero, got here collectively of their seek for therapeutic after exposing a tradition of hurt perpetuated by the inventive director at their former firm. They wished to create a spot to make theatre that felt secure, fulfilling, and uplifting, sans the same old exhaustion and exploitation that’s too usually thought-about simply part of the method. For the corporate’s inaugural season, which continues with a New Works Competition this weekend, Reverie plans to current a number of works exploring the theme of “Autonomy.” The street to this vacation spot was a protracted and sometimes painful one.
In spring of 2021, a member of Epic Theatre Firm in Cranston, R.I., reported that they’d been sexually assaulted by founding inventive director Kevin Broccoli. The theatre’s reporting insurance policies for sexual harassment, which had been written by Broccoli himself in 2017, instructed that incident studies ought to be directed to him. In his absence, studies might be made to the producer or basic supervisor, who had been then anticipated to tell the A.D. The coverage supplied no steering as to the process within the occasion that the accused was the inventive director.
Following the survivor’s disclosure, the corporate’s then government director, Megan Ruggiero, and basic supervisor, Lauren Pothier, carried out a month-long investigation into the accusations, which they in the end deemed credible. Medical data from a go to made to the survivor’s main care doctor proper after the alleged assault additional confirmed circumstances in keeping with sexual abuse, in line with the Boston Globe. However as a small nonprofit theatre firm with out a Human Sources division or a persistently convening board of administrators, Epic had no collective authority to successfully take away Broccoli from management.
When Pothier and Ruggiero met with Broccoli in June 2021, they outlined the allegations made towards him and the findings of their investigation, and requested that he step down from his place. Broccoli refused, telling them as a substitute that he would discover his personal alternative—a call which prompted the resignations of Pothier, Ruggiero, and affiliate inventive director Angelique Dina.
In a press release posted to Fb on June 23, Ruggiero elaborated on her and her colleagues’ choice to resign. “Although Kevin instructed us he can be remaining at Epic to simply accept duty, maintain himself accountable, and swiftly attempt to set up new management to hold on the corporate,” Ruggiero wrote, “we nonetheless felt uncomfortable remaining in our workers positions. For me, doing that will have made me really feel complicit in a means and as if I weren’t actually taking a stand for the survivor and probably others, which primarily based on our investigation, I consider do exist.”
In a press release launched to members of the Epic Theatre group the next morning, Broccoli wrote about his choice to remain on as inventive director, claiming that the workers resignations had been his thought. He additionally admitted to having “completely made errors…with regard to beginning inappropriate relationships with different individuals I had working relationships with, and, as an inventive director, I ought to have identified higher.” He continued, “Professionalism dictates that any interplay I’ve with somebody working with the corporate, even whereas consensual, includes that particular person having to navigate whether or not or not participating with me can be helpful indirectly and/or whether or not not participating with me will harm them indirectly.”
Although some had been persuaded by this half-apology, it wasn’t sufficient to include the injury. In mild of the allegations towards Broccoli, Johnston’s Marian J. Mohr Memorial Library suspended him from his job as a fiction specialist, the Artists’ Change venue on Rolfe Sq. severed Epic’s residency contract, and all firm productions had been frozen indefinitely.
The scandal divided members of the Rhode Island theatre group. Some expressed solidarity with the sufferer, whereas others remained loyal to Broccoli. A month later, Ruggiero posted an replace on Fb, wherein she known as out members of the group for permitting Broccoli to “management the narrative” and failing to consider the survivor’s expertise. Having reportedly “run the gamut” of controversy, dropping friendships, and going through intense public scrutiny throughout this time, Ruggiero remained adamant that looking for accountability was the one means ahead.
She wrote, “This abuser has spent one month doing nothing he claimed he would do. He has not acknowledged the reality. He has not apologized for inflicting any individual trauma and ache that may final a lifetime. He has not stepped down from his place at Epic and ‘put new management in place’ like he promised.”
In her assertion, Ruggiero referred to the @broccolifrauds Instagram account, the place the survivor shared particulars about their assault, and others from the Epic group described examples of Broccoli’s predatory conduct towards homosexual male firm members.
Finally the controversy died down: Epic Theatre Firm dissolved, and in September 2021, Johnston police acknowledged that they’d concluded their investigation and wouldn’t file expenses towards Broccoli. This story might have ended right here, in basic Aristotelian style: A person did despicable issues and an organization collapsed beneath him. However there could be catharsis, and even therapeutic, but to return.
With Reverie, the Present Can Go On
Ruggiero and Epic’s former technical director, Alexander Sprague, had already been exploring the concept of beginning their very own firm again in 2019, however the pandemic halted their plans. Across the similar time, Pothier was incomes a Grasp’s in Public Administration from Johnson and Wales College.
“Reverie got here from a gaggle of us speaking about eager to make theatre that isn’t poisonous, that doesn’t depart a foul style in your mouth, and a spot the place individuals are paid for his or her time,” Pothier instructed me over Zoom. “All of us got here from completely different backgrounds in theatre, and all of us have theatre horror tales.” She, Ruggiero, and different colleagues would frequently meet up at their favourite native teahouse and speak store. “It’s unlucky that [the Broccoli investigation] is what introduced us collectively actually shut, however it’s. We bonded over plenty of shared points.”
All through the course of their investigation, Pothier and Ruggiero unearthed a tradition of hurt that had deep roots. “After we began speaking,” Pothier stated, “individuals had been like, ‘Oh, I do know what that is about.’ It was an unsaid factor in our group that nobody actually got here ahead about till now. Some individuals had tried to make some noise, however it by no means caught on. We had been able the place we might do one thing. It was undoubtedly extra of a scenario the place individuals knew that this had been occurring to some extent.”
Ruggiero and Pothier’s findings not solely uncovered Broccoli as an abuser, but in addition revealed deep cracks in Epic’s facade, together with years of lackluster administration and mishandled firm funds.
“All workers members had been utterly volunteer at Epic,” Ruggiero stated. Broccoli would inform workers that Epic didn’t have the funds to pay everybody. Administrators and stage managers had been compensated, however with out a formal price range course of, it was troublesome to maintain monitor of funds.
“As his government director, he lastly gave me entry to the checking account,” Ruggiero stated. “And I began going again and investigating issues, and I used to be like, the place is that this cash going?”
For technical director Sprague, who additionally runs his personal manufacturing firm, working at Epic was “extra of a passion…a approach to construct my portfolio, which now was type of pointless, as a result of I simply pulled every thing out after the scandal.”
Working at Epic had been an enormous time dedication, with just about no promise of a paycheck. “In my time at Epic,” Sprague stated, “I consider I did 26 reveals in a yr and a half, one after the following. I did two seasons. And out of these two seasons, I made 100 bucks. There was all the time the promise of, ‘Oh, properly, when the Patreon hits this amount of cash monthly, then I’ll pay out.’ Finally I left as a result of I simply couldn’t steadiness Epic with my manufacturing firm.”
As for Broccoli’s management, Sprague continued, “He wasn’t there so much. He would pop in throughout tech rehearsals sometimes. There have been a number of instances he eviscerated each of us for over-designing one thing. He would disappear, present up, after which rip issues to shreds. We by no means actually felt supported by him. So for some time, it was simply Megan and I operating the tech course of and type of trucking alongside by that entire mess.”
To make issues worse, Broccoli “had a coverage of no conferences. Megan and I fought to get manufacturing conferences, two per present. He was by no means at any of them.”
“Different individuals in all probability had very completely different experiences than I did,” Ruggiero stated of working at Epic on the executive facet. “I by no means felt prefer it was oppressive. It simply wasn’t open. There was additionally a component at Epic that was identical to churning out work to make a revenue, simply fixed reveals. I felt like every present didn’t get its due diligence, as a result of our crew was so strapped that we had been simply going from one present to a different and by no means had time to breathe, or to course of the present, to completely take pleasure in what simply occurred.”
Ruggiero cited Broccoli’s “cult of persona,” which shaped across the wealth of alternatives he created for the group.
“Kevin ran an organization that did plenty of reveals and offered plenty of roles for individuals to be part of theatre in our group, myself included,” Pothier defined. “He was the person who gave me my first post-college function and actually took me in after faculty. He had this manner of amassing individuals and caring for them. I feel it was simply this magnetic factor that individuals had been drawn to him, by no fault of our personal.” That’s why, when the allegations arose, she stated, “Folks had been very cautious to go towards the one one who offered area for them.” And when the corporate collapsed, she stated, “I do know individuals had been upset that the one theatre area that they’d was now not there. That was a motive why they weren’t totally supportive of us.”
Added Ruggiero, “I feel that Kevin had completely different results on the entire people who find themselves now main Reverie, and typically we get triggered about sure issues. We’re all actually understanding about that and in a position to speak about it with one another. He type of used us all in numerous methods.”
It’s unlucky that it took insupportable circumstances to foster the conclusion that a greater means was potential.
“You shouldn’t must push individuals to the brink to make artwork,” Ruggiero stated plainly, sitting throughout from me at Windfall, R.I.’s Schasteâ, Reverie’s unofficial birthplace, again in August. “I strongly really feel it ought to be a satisfying, energizing, non secular expertise—no matter non secular means to you, it ought to all the time be uplifting. So many people at Reverie have been concerned in, not simply at Epic, experiences within the space that simply weren’t like that.”
Not Your Mom’s ‘Midsummer‘
One week over the summer season, I made my approach to New Bedford, Mass., the place the newly integrated Reverie Theatre Group was reducing its tooth on the world’s annual custom of Shakespeare in New Bedford with an under-the-stars manufacturing of A Midsummer Evening’s Dream staged on the grounds of the historic Rotch-Jones-Duff Home & Backyard Museum.
The Shakespeare in New Bedford custom was began by Korey Pimental, founder/co-artistic director of the Glass Horse Challenge and present Reverie board member, who has cerebral palsy. In an apt nod to Laura Wingfield and her hornless unicorn in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, the Glass Horse Challenge was devoted to creating inclusive, accessible theatre with disabled and nondisabled artists.
Whereas Reverie Theatre Group was forming, the Glass Horse Challenge was present process a interval of transition, as Pimental headed to graduate faculty. Having collaborated collectively earlier than, Ruggiero and the Glass Horse crew determined to mix the 2 firms beneath the Reverie title, beginning with Midsummer in New Bedford.
“I had a extremely prolonged dialog with Korey and the remaining workers members at Glass Horse about what they wished to do,” Ruggiero stated. “There was a time after we thought of staying beneath the Glass Horse title. That being stated, as a result of none of our management are disabled, we felt a bit of inauthentic having that title.”
They ultimately landed on Reverie—a reputation which, Ruggiero defined, captures the sense of whimsical daydreaming, impracticality, and surrealism their artists hope to attain by their work, whereas concurrently acknowledging the methods wherein artists, and particularly ladies, are sometimes instructed to “be extra sensible.”
Along with carrying on the Glass Horse mission of inclusivity, accessibility, and variety, Reverie is working to vary the facility dynamics at play within the theatre trade.
“One thing that’s actually vital is that each one of our core management positions, minus our technical director, are ladies,” Ruggiero stated. “We even have plenty of LGBT leaders. We’re actually making an attempt to empower directors who don’t usually get these alternatives, who are inclined to get missed, notably on this group, the place it’s virtually solely males who’re main firms.”
These practices had been put into motion in New Bedford, the place I witnessed one thing actually magical: a not-your-mother’s Midsummer that includes a female-presenting Lysander, and a Deaf, male-presenting Helena, together with an assortment of fairies and folk of varied genders.
This was all part of the imaginative and prescient of director Taylor Okay. Corbett, a resident Reverie artist and former Glass Horse co-artistic director.
“Personally, and I’m certain this can be a sentiment shared by fairly lots of people, I don’t suppose theatre is homosexual sufficient,” Corbett stated. “Now it’s a bit of completely different. Children are rising up with much more illustration. And I feel that’s because of individuals in my age group and a bit of older who didn’t have this rising up. So now it’s my job to make that occur. And Shakespeare is among the locations the place we will have that illustration.” Of the lovers in Midsummer, she stated, “They’re hormonal youngsters. Straight youngsters should not the one ones with hormones that go loopy and make them do silly issues.”
Offered with the added problem of staging an outside efficiency, the design crew at Reverie was in a position to amp up their flower-power visible aesthetic with the usage of psychedelic blacklight paint. It was rather less Useless Poets Society and a bit of extra countercultural rave. “We’re going by scorching glue like water,” Sprague joked.
“I feel it was a courageous choice on Taylor’s half,” Sprague stated, “understanding the clientele that usually go to a Shakespeare within the Park, however they’ve been going together with it. We haven’t had any complaints about it. No person’s been upset. We’ve been getting all optimistic suggestions, which isn’t what I anticipated.”
Having women-led management additional enriched the casting course of. “One of many issues that I had by no means skilled in a casting room earlier than was that no one introduced up anyone’s bodily look,” Ruggiero stated. “It was all in regards to the means and who we felt was finest for the function. In some respects, gender was a bit of bit eradicated from the equation. It was actually refreshing to have that have, the place individuals had been speaking extra in regards to the language that got here by within the auditions and understanding the intent of the monologues, it wasn’t about how the individuals seemed.”
Actress Jamie Roballo had by no means thought-about enjoying Lysander earlier than being solid in Reverie’s manufacturing.
“I initially auditioned for the function of Hermia,” Roballo stated, “however I used to be tremendous excited after I acquired solid as Lysander. As a queer performer, it means a lot to me to have the ability to inform a queer love story onstage. Lysander is a personality I’ve actually gotten to know and had the chance to make my very own, and it’s been such an exquisite expertise.”
Likewise, enjoying the lovelorn Helena had by no means crossed Adam Preston’s thoughts, not to mention touchdown the function in his first Shakespearean manufacturing as a Deaf actor. “I bear in mind being fascinated with Helena when finding out the play and pondering that she was simply the most effective, however I by no means would have dreamed that I might truly get supplied a possibility to play her as a male,” Preston stated.
Preston added that the Reverie crew had been “in all probability among the many first ones who’ve truly made me really feel seen as a disabled particular person in theatre.” Although there have been a number of communication hiccups throughout masked rehearsals, “I used to be in a position to speak to the Reverie leaders. They heard me and so they acted on it. It made me really feel very seen and heard and really appreciated.”
He added that the camaraderie between the solid and crew was unmatched. “This is among the very first reveals the place I’ve truly developed intimate relationships and friendships with different solid members,” Preston stated. “There have been many reveals I’ve been part of the place your colleagues are simply there to be castmates. It’s a really transactional type of relationship. You get together with them and you might be pleasant with them, however you don’t alternate numbers and make plans to hang around.” Preston stated that the members of Reverie have already made plans to return cheer on his kickball crew.
This degree of consolation and respect appears to vindicate the emphasis Reverie’s management locations on the type of working atmosphere they create. As Taylor Okay. Corbett instructed me, “Being very conscious that that is one thing that has occurred, not simply within the grand echelons of Hollywood and Broadway, but in addition on the degree of those fringe theatre teams—abuses of energy can occur wherever, and I feel that’s one thing that we didn’t totally understand. We understand it now. We’re conscious that it needs to be a group and a collaboration. We’re all working collectively to make this, and nobody could make one thing actually stunning in the event that they don’t really feel secure. We would like individuals to really feel secure. And that’s from the get-go in my rehearsal room.”
Although the manufacturing didn’t have an intimacy coordinator—they plan to deliver one on for his or her subsequent present—the stage supervisor would do a check-in firstly of every rehearsal. Mentioned Roballo, “She would ask not simply the way you had been feeling bodily, as a result of clearly we had been nonetheless making an attempt to take care of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in addition how we had been feeling mentally, how ready we felt, and if there was something that we wanted to really feel 100% within the area and comfy in ourselves.”
When it got here to struggle calls and intimacy staging, the solid had “one-on-one conversations with Taylor and Megan about what we felt snug with, if we had any boundaries,” stated Roballo. “Every little thing that got here up, we might then verify in with one another as actors: ‘Is that this okay? Are you snug with me touching your arm or your hair? Is it okay if I kiss you on this scene?’ We had been truly given the chance to say no. Simply understanding that you’ve got that means to make use of your voice and say, ‘ what? I’m not snug,’ makes you’re feeling snug.”
After every thing that occurred at Epic, having a spot to really feel secure means a terrific deal to individuals. “I cried after we signed the paperwork to include,” Sprague confessed. “I even have our nonprofit letter held on the wall.”
One other vital piece of Reverie’s collaborative course of is giving suggestions, each anonymously and as a discussion board.
“None of us are good leaders,” Ruggiero stated. “One thing crucial in theatre is to acknowledge which you could nonetheless study. Our management crew has been doing this for a really very long time, in various capacities, however we’re additionally studying and I’d love for the individuals who labored with us to have the ability to really feel snug saying the place we will enhance.”
One key tenet in setting Reverie up for achievement: do much less, rejoice extra.
“At Epic, we had one present a month,” Ruggiero stated. “With Reverie, we’re simply beginning out with Shakespeare in New Bedford, after which three different packages: two mainstage reveals after which one New Works weekend. I feel that that’s snug, permits some respiratory room, and permits individuals to divide and conquer a bit of bit.” Even when Reverie had been in a monetary place to provide a jam-packed season, Ruggiero says she would by no means let that occur.
Subsequent on the calendar is Reverie’s Dream Makers: New Works Competition, slated for Nov. 27 and 28 at Kingston’s Courthouse Middle for the Arts, adopted by Frank Wedekind’s The Awakening of Spring in February and Lysistrata in April.
Together with a pared-down calendar, the corporate is being conscientious about its funding. The Shakespeare in New Bedford program is funded by a sequence of state and native grants, in addition to help from the Rotch-Jones-Duff Home & Backyard Museum. Going ahead, Reverie plans to fundraise and apply for grants so that each one the artists concerned with their productions can be compensated pretty.
For the parents in Rhode Island and elsewhere who’re reckoning with the consequences of trauma within the theatre, let Reverie be a case examine, not in the best way to be good, however the best way to start the therapeutic course of. The COVID pandemic has compelled us to see the bounds of our trade’s expectations of endurance. Now we have misplaced and we have now suffered, however whether or not we’ve discovered something stays to be seen. For now, the present can go on, and that’s one thing to rejoice.
Alexandra Pierson (she/her) is affiliate editor of American Theatre. email@example.com
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