The bombshell article in the Chicago Reader by Aimee Levitt and Christopher Piatt, about serially abusive practices at Chicago’s Profiles Theatre, rightly zoomed around the theatre world from the moment it went online on Wednesday at approximately 5:30 pm eastern time. Profoundly troubling to virtually anyone who read it, this account of abuse masquerading as theatre will surely be one of the seminal articles to be read, shared and taught for years to come. It is a cautionary tale about how, under the guise of art and daring, unethical and perhaps even illegal acts can be sustained by those who choose to exploit both the ostensibly safe spaces of creative practice and the unending appeal of theatre for those just looking for a break, any break, seemingly no matter what the cost.
It is impossible to say much more than Levitt and Piatt have already done with their essential yearlong investigation. But there are a few items that have come to Arts Integrity’s attention.
“The Village Bike” withdrawn from Profiles
If one visits the website of Profiles Theatre right now, the company promises a production of Penelope Skinner’s The Village Bike beginning in late August. That production will not be happening, because the playwright has withdrawn the rights. Skinner provided a statement to Arts Integrity via her New York representative, Scott Chaloff at WME. It reads, in its entirety:
When the article in the Chicago Reader appeared, it was sent to me by a number of artists in the American theatre community and beyond it. Having read the article, alongside their emails, I feel it essential to withdraw the rights of my play ‘The Village Bike’ from that theatre. In light of the serious allegations made against the management, it would seem unwise for a production of this play – or indeed any play – to go on at that theatre until a full investigation has been made into their practices. I regret that it is not always possible from outside a community to hear the rumours of what goes on inside. Thank you to the brave actresses who came forward and to the writers of the article for raising awareness, and for giving the wider community an opportunity to take action.
Arts Integrity was advised that this would be Skinner’s only comment on Profiles Theatre.
It should be noted that in the wake of the revelations, the ad design for The Village Bike, shown above, which under other circumstances might be seen as merely provocative, seems to be further evidence of the pathology at work at Profiles.
Silence from the theatre
At approximately 5:50 pm eastern on Wednesday, Arts Integrity wrote to Larry Larsen, the senior vice prudent of Greentarget, the communications firm representing Profiles. The company had previously been represented by Cathy Taylor PR, a veteran Chicago press office, and it was Taylor who advised Arts Integrity to contact Greentarget. Taylor’s name was still on the Profiles site as the press contact for the theatre.
Asked for comment on the article and the situation at Profiles, Arts Integrity quickly received the following response from Larsen, about 20 minutes later:
I am representing the Profiles Theatre. As you noted, the article has just appeared. We are in the process of reading it. I will respond further once we have reviewed it.
There has been no further response from Greentarget, which is primarily a corporate communications firm. One of the specialties, according to their website is “Special Situation Communication: protecting reputation during the most critical times.” This seems to be doublespeak for what most people would call crisis management. In any event, Greentarget’s strategy to date has been silence.
Should people have realized sooner
In a follow up piece for the Reader, “A critic’s mea culpa, or How Chicago theater critics failed the women of Profiles Theatre,” critic Christopher Piatt publicly examined his own failure to recognize the pathology of Profiles through the kind of work they presented over 20 years, a brave statement on his part, and one that is equally important reading to the main story if the theatre community as a whole is to truly learn from these alleged practices. It should be noted that, in hindsight, beyond The Village Bike image shared earlier, Profiles was either insufficiently self-aware of the image they were telegraphing, or didn’t care, when one looks at some images still cycling on their website from past productions. (Arts Integrity is not reproducing the images, given the unethical circumstances under which they were created.)
The trolls come out to play
Remarkably, in an account that communicates emotional damage and the kind of practices that must be eliminated, there are always naysayers. LA Bitter Lemons, an outspoken Los Angeles theatre site which Arts Integrity’s director challenged over its pay for review strategy about a year ago, has posted a short piece by editor Colin Mitchell which seems, in essence, to “blame the victims” of Profiles for not speaking up sooner. Read it if you must, but given this manner of engaging with a serious problem at one theatre that, unfortunately, is likely happening at other theatres and in the arts at large, Arts Integrity believes Bitter Lemons has gone from bitter to vile, and will no longer give further consideration to writing that appears on the site again. If you do read the piece, be sure to share your comments with the author and, perhaps, the site’s advertisers.
Even before the Profiles situation was revealed, the Chicago theatre community had already begun to come together over abuses in non-Equity theatre through the Not In Our House campaign, which includes a code of conduct. This effort needs to be replicated in communities throughout the country, and Arts Integrity stands ready to support and participate in these initiatives – and to be a vehicle through which artists who feel they have no voice can find support and guidance when it’s needed.
As for Profiles, there is distinct irony that the company has employed the tagline “Whatever the truth requires” in its marketing. The truth requires that Profiles be held to account now that they have been exposed for twisting the theatrical concept of truth to their own ends.
Update, June 10, 10:15 pm: Sometime in the past hour a statement from Darrell W. Cox, artistic director of Profiles Theatre, appeared on the company’s Facebook page. It begins:
On June 8, 2016, the Chicago Reader published an article entitled “At Profiles Theatre the drama—and abuse—is real.” For those who have not read it, I recommend you do so. The article’s overarching message of zero tolerance for workplace abuse is powerful and right.
Unfortunately, I am the villain in the Reader’s approximately 12,700-word article. The article chronicles much of my life since joining Profiles as recalled mainly through selective accounts of three women in my life. Most of the article dealt with people’s views of my work as an actor, director and artistic director of Profiles. But a portion of the article made allegations about my private conduct. Many people who read the article did not recognize the distinction and seemed to believe everything in the article without question.
Cox’s post goes on to express dismay over retribution that has been directed at him and the theatre since the article appeared, and states, “Joe Jahraus and I (Profiles artistic directors) have never and will never condone workplace abuse at Profiles Theatre….All of our actors are here of their own free will.”
Unfortunately, the article has made it impossible for me to respond further to the women’s statements in a way that would convince anyone who believes their statements are accurate. I must rely, instead, on those who were and are a part of my life and Profiles Theatre to know the facts.
The statement concludes by asking for a meeting with the leadership of Not In Our House.
It should be noted that the original Chicago Reader article sought Cox and Jahraus’s participation, which was declined. In addition, as noted above, Arts Integrity sought comment or an interview with the Profiles leadership which, after being told a response would be forthcoming, never came; it has now been more than 52 hours. It was not, and is not, impossible for Cox to respond. He has elected not to.
Update, June 10, 10:55 pm: In addition to the accounts in the article, and Darryl Cox’s Facebook reply, another actress who worked at Profiles, and who had previously declined to speak with the Chicago Reader, has come forward, writing, “I should have shared my story when called for comment.” Her full post can be read here.
Update, June 11, 6:00 pm: In the wake of his essay about the Profiles Theatre, referred to above, Colin Mitchell has been removed as editor of the website LA Bitter Lemons. The site’s publisher wrote that, “Colin Mitchell’s recent article within the Chicago theatrical community crossed from controversial into unacceptable.” Paul Birchall gives a fuller report of the situation wth Bitter Lemons at Stage Raw.
Update, June 12, 6:00 am: Last evening, Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune wrote on his Facebook page about the Profiles Theatre revelations. He began:
People have been calling for me to comment further on the allegations reported in The Reader. I felt it was important that I speak to the Reader’s reporter, Aimee Levitt, on the record, and I did. Not all of what I had to say ended up in the piece, which is neither unusual nor unreasonable. But I have been asked to say more and am now doing so, speaking only for myself. It took me a little time to re-read everything I had written about Profiles. It does not need liking; there has not been much to like these last 72 hours.
I found the allegations contained in the piece to be exceptionally distressing and painful.
The theater is a place of trust – actors need to trust each other to be able to make great art; audiences, critics included, must be able to trust that what they are seeing on stage is the work of professionals operating in a professional workplace. Those allegations would suggest I took too much on trust, to assume all the actors felt and/or were safe despite the lack of union representation, or some other workplace protections, in the room.
In addition to reflecting on his own writing in response to specific Profiles productions, Jones wrote:
Some of this, I think, has flowed from my longstanding obsession with viewing only the work as it is, in the moment. I’ve always seen that as a fundamental matter of fairness, as a self-corrective against bias. But these allegations serve as a reminder that context must always be considered, perhaps more than I have been willing to admit. Many of the numerous theaters that I have chosen to attend, and those choices have been mine, regularly operate with little or no protections, in a gray area between legitimate employment and an informal interest group with powerful leaders and an artistic product. The piece. for me, raises some questions about whether I should have been in those theaters at all, inviting the public to follow.
If Chicago theaters are to be viewed as professional, they need structures in place to protect their courageous artists who are asked, as part of this art, to give deeply of themselves. Not in Our House is, as most of you know, is working hard on this.
Update, June 15, 7:00 am: In a statement on their website and Facebook page posted late last evening, Profiles Theatre announced its immediate closure.