Boston Children's Theatre Parents React To Allegations Against Former Artistic Director

The Boston Children's Theatre board of directors hosted a town-hall style meeting for parents Sunday night to address allegations of inappropriate behavior against the theater's now-former executive artistic director, Burgess Clark.

“Tonight we had a productive meeting with the families of BCT,” said Jim Solomon, interim president of the board, while reading a statement out loud at the conclusion of the meeting. It was held at the Calderwood Pavilion and was closed to media.

Clark on Sunday did not respond to calls and a voicemail for comment.

“We fully support and are cooperating with law enforcement in their investigation. We're also running our own internal investigation," Solomon said. "We look forward to restoring the trust of the community in BCT.”

Because the meeting was closed to the media, it's unclear how many families attended the private town hall. Four parents who spoke to WBUR as they left the meeting said they felt the allegations against Clark were overblown.

“They're not going through the proper channels. This should just be going through the police and the investigators. And BCT has in place a way for children to say if they're uncomfortable with things ... the way that they're doing it seems very 1600s Salem to me. It sounds like a witch hunt," said Marci Johnson, whose 15-year-old daughter takes classes at BCT.

Solomon said last week that the theater forwarded to authorities an anonymous email from former students alleging the inappropriate behavior. The Essex district attorney's office is now investigating the allegations against Clark, which were forwarded by the Beverly police. Clark lives in Beverly and some of BCT's programming takes place there.

Clark resigned from his position two days before Solomon received the anonymous email in late October. He has not been charged with a crime.

The Boston Globe on Nov. 2 reported that, according to the program’s board of directors, more than a dozen former students of the Boston Children's Theatre have made allegations of sexual impropriety against Clark. WBUR has not independently confirmed the allegations reported in the Globe.

The theater is also conducting an internal investigation, led by the law firm Jackson Lewis. A third-party specialist, Jetta Bernier, has also been brought on to review and potentially revise the organization's current policies and procedures related to screening, hiring and training staff, according to an earlier BCT statement. Bernier is the executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children or MassKids, the nation’s oldest private statewide child advocacy organization.

One of the oldest children's theaters in the country, the BCT has served more than 1 million children since its inception in 1951 through classes, workshops, summer programs, field trips and live performances. The storied theater company has had only five artistic directors in its history as an independent company. Clark, who was the fifth, took over as executive artistic director on Oct. 1, 2008.

Shannon Lane, whose 15-year-old son takes classes at BCT, said parents are committed to keeping the organization afloat and sustainable.

"I think we all walked out of there with a really clear plan on how to move forward," Lane said. "I think everybody is very supportive of the organization. Everybody is very passionate and committed to the organization. The children obviously love it. It's changed all of their lives. It's a home away from home. It's their second family."

She said much of the meeting also focused on raising money for the program, continuing to put on shows and the commitment that sustaining BCT would require from parents.

Similar to others, Lane said she neither believes nor disbelieves the allegations, as nothing has been proven yet.

“Everything I know about the organization is completely professional,” Lane said. “They treat these children as adults, as professionals, and expect them to behave as such. They hold them to a very high standard.”

This article was originally published on November 11, 2019.


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Cristela Guerra Reporter
Cristela Guerra is an arts and culture reporter for WBUR.



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