Along with an announcement for the 2018-2019 season, the city’s only dedicated LGBTQ theater company, Iron Crow Theatre, on Friday released new initiatives for “improvement and increased community engagement”–a response to allegations made by a former cast member of sexual harassment and an abusive working atmosphere.
Eddie Van Osterom, a former actor and volunteer with the group, alleged in the spring that Iron Crow CEO and artistic director Sean Elias groped him, spread rumors about his sex life with other cast members and created an abusive and unprofessional working environment for the cast.
Iron Crow conducted an internal investigation, with the help of a legal consultant, and concluded the claims were unfounded, and continued to back Elias.
In some of his first remarks since the allegations and controversy, Elias said in a statement Friday: “I am heartbroken to learn that anyone would recount their time at Iron Crow Theatre as anything less than the positive experience I’ve always intended it to be, or that anyone could feel uncomfortable or unsafe. We at Iron Crow Theatre all strongly believe in treating everyone professionally and respectfully, and we remain committed to being better and doing better as we begin a new season.”
Among the new initiatives, Iron Crow has pledged to undergo safe space training with Shawna Potter, of Hollaback! Baltimore, and expand its board of directors with an eye toward diversity. Previously, the group had also announced formation of the Community Advisory Board to “ensure that artists are able to continue telling these stories in a safe, professional, and transparent environment.”
“We hope this leads to a more proactive approach against gender-based violence when it happens,” Potter said in a statement. “They will not be part of our Official Safer Space Program as of yet, but they will receive the same quality and content of trainings we’ve shared with other venues around Baltimore.”
The board of directors has added Natka Bianchini, an associate professor of theatre at Loyola University and local director whose credits include a production of “Cloud 9” at Iron Crow, to serve as a community liaison, a role that will see her hold community outreach sessions ahead of the upcoming season.
“I am committed to helping this theatre improve and grow,” said Bianchini in a statement. “An integral part of that will be listening to and responding to the Baltimore theatre community. As a theatre scholar and practitioner, I feel I am uniquely positioned to do just that.”
Iron Crow has been dogged by criticism over its handling of the allegations, with many in the local theater world prodding them for more accountability. A community dialogue that was scheduled to be facilitated by Restorative Response Baltimore, a local conflict resolution group, was abruptly cancelled in June when moderators felt their process was no longer appropriate.
Nick Horan, a former actor and marketing director with Iron Crow who has become a chief critic of the company in the wake of the allegations, had previously told Baltimore Fishbowl he wanted to see a new company developed to tell queer stories.
“I think there’s a need in this city,” he said in June, “and I don’t think Iron Crow can fulfill it anymore based on these last three months.”
Van Osterom also pledged to continue telling his story.
“I’m not going to let them move on, and I’m not planning on letting them move on,” he had said.
In announcing the new initiatives, Iron Crow wrote that with queer spaces beginning to disappear in Baltimore and across the country, the company would “play a vital role in celebrating and elevating the diversity of our city.”
The upcoming season includes productions of “The Laramie Project” (Sept. 14-23), a show that had previously been cancelled in the spring; “The Rocky Horror Show” (Dec. 14-16); “The Mystery of Love & Sex” (Jan. 25-Feb. 3); and “A New Brain” (May 31-June 9). The theme of the season is “The Season of Becoming: Exploring the Many Ways We Become Who We Are.”
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