"It was real, because there was a psychopath onstage."
June 8, 2016 6:07 PM   Subscribe

At Profiles Theatre in Chicago the drama—and abuse—is real. For more than 20 years, actors and crew members stayed silent about mistreatment they suffered at the acclaimed storefront theater. Now they’re speaking up, hoping to protect workers in non-Equity theaters across the country.
posted by ao4047 (50 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
God, I hate guys like this. And there are so very many of them. And apparently every single play involves this douche being the star as he fucks/rapes/kills young women? EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:37 PM on June 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

And apparently every single play involves this douche being the star as he fucks/rapes/kills young women?

That was my reaction as I was reading the description of the plays and looking at the pictures of Cox in those roles. The whole thing reads like an extended version of one of Amy Schumer's darker sketches.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:45 PM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

So, like, I have literally lived within walking distance of that theater for almost two decades. And yet I've never been to a show there. I walk past every now and then and think "it's so dumb I've never seen a show there, I really should go sometime."

Right now I'm pretty glad I never did.
posted by dnash at 6:46 PM on June 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

This is an amazing piece of reporting that makes me want to burn the entire world down.

Fuck. that. guy. Fuck all the other guys like him. Which, if my early experience in high school theater club with little pubescent proto-version of this dude was anything to go by, are a dime a fucking dozen.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:51 PM on June 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

Oh man I really hope someone has enough evidence to charge this abusive asshat and his enabler asshat buddy. Shaming them out if the theater community would also be a good start.
posted by emjaybee at 7:00 PM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is being passed around on Facebook by a couple actor friends, many of whom I stage-managed. In one case I responded that this was probably going to sound like "well if *I* was there I'd have done something", but....

See, I pointed out, they hadn't seen me MAD. Stern, maybe (like when someone was late for the nth time); firm, sure ( like when I had to tell a director that FUCK no we were not going to fire a cap gun backstage just for the sound effect). Shouty, a couple times (like with The Tequila Incident, which actually was really funny and we all cracked up after 30 seconds of yelling at each other). But on two or three occasions in my stage manager career, I actually got MAD. GOOD and MAD.

And all of those occasions came about as the result of someone mistreating me or one of the other cast or crew - and on all of those occasions I dug in like a terrier until I Got Restitution, whether that meant a ten-minute monologue delivered to the producer of the show - a guy who is one of my best friends - about how the director is shitting on the crew and we are ready to walk and if you do not talk to that jerk about this we WILL walk and you will be screwed, or planning an emergency meeting with the cast and the union rep to come up with contingency plans for if we didn't get paid, to sitting down and writing a six-page letter to Equity about "you know about this producer not having worker's comp, here are all of the OTHER THINGS we had to stop him from doing during rehearsals" - a letter which has earned that guy a permanent spot on Equity's blacklist and which has made the guy someone to who I literally could have issued the threat that "you will never work in this town again".

THAT is what I am like when, as a stage manager, I am good 'n' mad. And THIS....THIS makes me good 'n' mad. Stage manager level good 'n' mad.

I still have nominal Equity membership. I may see if there is some way to act.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:09 PM on June 8, 2016 [39 favorites]

EmpressCallipygos: "It's a start - there's a petition to fire the fuckbeak."

Wait a minute. According to the article, "[t]here's also no outside board of directors to hold the theater accountable," which I didn't even realize was a possibility for a 501(c)3 non-profit (apparently, the IRS only suggests but does not require independent board members). Based on that, I infer that, for all intents and purposes, Profiles Theatre is Cox and Jahraus.

On the other hand, they're Equity now so that seems to be the most likely avenue for redress.
posted by mhum at 7:39 PM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

The thing about these dudes is that they are so predictable. Targeting really young girls, or girls whose careers they can hurt or help, separating them from others, flattery followed by abuse. None of this is new. But for some reason we just keep letting it happen in front of us. Of course their greatest weapon is fucking up their victim's heads so that they help hide it and keep it going and never ask for help.

I feel like we need a mandatory class for young people about spotting this stuff and running away from it/reporting it. We don't talk enough about what abuse looks like from the inside and how gaslighting works.
posted by emjaybee at 7:49 PM on June 8, 2016 [18 favorites]

Ohhhhh, if they're Equity...

See, what helped in my case was that I could point to specific codes in the union handbook the guy had violated. Get someone rules-lawyer-y to do up your letter of complaint and that'll help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:49 PM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

EmpressCallipygos: "Ohhhhh, if they're Equity..."

Well, they've only been Equity since 2012 and it looks like most (all?) of the instances of abuse listed in the article happened before then, so they had limited jurisdiction over Profiles. The article lists two cases where an Equity actor brought an issue up with the union. In one case, they got restitution for a violation of union rules regarding excessive rehearsals without break. In the other, an Equity actor tried to call in what amounted to a harassment/intimidation incident but didn't find the union particularly responsive so she dropped it and moved on.
posted by mhum at 7:59 PM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I really want this guy to Never Work In This (or any other) Town Again.
posted by rtha at 8:13 PM on June 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

He didn't feel like he could insist that they stick to the fight choreography.
When she told him he was hurting her, he replied that she was too sensitive and wasn't doing the choreography correctly.

He'd use whichever argument gave him the most licence to hurt people.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:38 PM on June 8, 2016 [12 favorites]

Are there other cases of this sort of "performance" happening, outside of a theater?
posted by Baeria at 3:33 AM on June 9, 2016

Per Profiles Theatre's 2014 Form 990, Jahraus is the Board Treasurer and Cox is the President. Whether the other three board members listed there are real people or not is an open question.
posted by HeroZero at 5:03 AM on June 9, 2016

Is it really a minority of people who can just look at the face of a guy like this and instantly recognize that this person isn't to be trusted with anyone or anything whatsoever? Who shows up to this place, meets this cut-pupilled galoot, and thinks, "Yes, I'll work closely with this man?"

This doesn't absolve him or implicate his victims of anything at all, but for real, knowing nothing else, wouldn't you avoid this guy at a party?
posted by cmoj at 7:53 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh you have a magic abuser detector?
posted by bq at 8:17 AM on June 9, 2016 [12 favorites]

> but for real, knowing nothing else, wouldn't you avoid this guy at a party?

Maybe? But if I wanted to break into local theater and what I had to go on were glowing reviews of his theater and his work, and if he was charming and charismatic, and - did I mention wanting to break into local theater? I'm young and female and new to the scene.... What do you think?
posted by rtha at 8:22 AM on June 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

It takes experience to know to avoid people like this, especially if they are handsome, charismatic and creative. That's why they like young people.

Then there are people who've grown up with men like him and that's all they know, so it seems ok.
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:30 AM on June 9, 2016 [10 favorites]

And, yeah: Guys like this target the young and inexperienced. They know exactly what they're doing, and the ones who are good at it are really good at it - it's one of the ways they get away with it for years and years and years. You've almost certainly met a number of them.
posted by rtha at 8:39 AM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Most broken of broken stairs, one where where wasn't even anybody warning about it. He obviously got away with harming people for so long because he was being enabled and protected.

And oh fuck, he wasn't even paying people. How much money were these guys making?

The last person interviewed is heartbreaking, and shows another reason creeps like Cox survive so long. People normalize abuse in prestige fields, considering it a price to pay in order to be part of something special.
posted by happyroach at 8:46 AM on June 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Agreed, happyroach, the last few lines of the article are heart wrenching.

The whole thing is so well written. What a horrible story, one we see playing out again and again. This guy is a criminal.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:53 AM on June 9, 2016

This is disgusting. The part where the woman had read on a bathroom stall wall that she should avoid Profiles was really harrowing. That's how we're able to talk about it? Anonymously, through graffiti scribblings on walls?

Also, he does not look like a "cut-pupilled galloot" in his official headshot. I wish they had used his headshot in the article and not just shots from his plays, because (a) The difference is pretty stark and (b) I can hardly recognize him from his headshot, which probably looks like a slightly more airbrushed version of what he looks like actually walking around on the street, and as a woman I would much prefer that I knew what this guy actually looks like on the off chance that I were ever to run into him (some women who read this article certainly will run into him).

Would you avoid the guy from the headshot at a party? Abusers come in all shapes and sizes and it is not possible to detect them just by looking.
posted by sockermom at 9:04 AM on June 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

And bear in mind there's probably going to be three or four people at the party saying "Oh yeah, he's intense, but that's because he's brilliant! We all love working with him! You have GOT to talk with him!"

It's not just a missing step- it's an entire fucking missing stairway.
posted by happyroach at 9:18 AM on June 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

The phenomenon of the intense young dude actor who doesn't get called on his shit because he's on the edge, man and goes places other actors won't go because he is willing to suffer for his art and he treats himself the harshest of all is an old trope, going back at least to Brando, if not to John Wilkes Booth. Think of Edward Norton's character in Birdman.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:22 AM on June 9, 2016 [12 favorites]

I have up close and personal experience with a charismatic sociopath of just this type.

I hope he gets what's coming to him. It's so hard most of the time to hold these guys accountable.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:25 AM on June 9, 2016

And oh fuck, he wasn't even paying people. How much money were these guys making?

Probably next to nothing. I'm a Chicago actor and the Profiles stages are very small, with audience arrangements maxing out at around (I'm guessing) forty seats. Even the most successful small theaters scrape by. Which is not to say that these Profiles criminals were not economically exploiting people among all the other ways they exploited people.
posted by HeroZero at 9:59 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

It isn't just small stages that don't pay their interns and even company members. Young people in the theatre are told that interns shouldn't be paid because the "exposure" is worth it. It's exploitation and it's rampant in the theatre scene. Why do you think so many people were willing to take that advanced scene analysis class in the hopes that the guest artist from the bigger theatre would see their work?
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:17 AM on June 9, 2016

HeroZero: "Whether the other three board members listed there are real people or not is an open question."

The other board members appear to be real, current (and in the case of Matthew Irvine, former) members of the Profiles ensemble and not fictitious like some of their previous "directors".
posted by mhum at 11:20 AM on June 9, 2016

OMG, "Wayne Karl" is even on the website (cached here)!

Wayne Karl (Artistic Associate/Technical Staff) has long been a fan and supporter of Profiles Theatre and its ensemble. A graduate from the University of Iowa, Wayne has designed or assisted with most technical aspects of the company's productions including sound design, lighting, set construction for such shows as Stray Dogs, Babylon Gardens, Eye of God, Paddywack and The Baby Dance. He also works as a graphic designer and has created many of the company's posters and artwork.

University of Iowa grad, nice.

There's also info on the website on how you too can sign up for the "advanced scene study" classes, ewww.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:27 AM on June 9, 2016

From Twitter: the rise of Bro Theatre
posted by nicebookrack at 11:39 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Further soul searching about this issue from the Reader, this time in the form of A Critic's Mea Culpa.

I am also a member of the Chicago theater community and my Facebook feed has been absolutely agonizing to read over the last 24 hours. But it's also been inspiring to see the growing collective commitment to bring these things to light, to improve our culture, and to protect each other.
posted by merriment at 12:27 PM on June 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

When multiple friends, who only have me and being in Chicago theater as a common element (at least according to Facebook relations), react to this article with "I was warned about Profiles", it's chilling to me, even as somebody who considers himself a pretty woke dude when it comes to such shitty, shitty things. (I was glad that I even had the metaphor of the "broken stair" to even get through reading the article last night or I might not have been able to wrap my ahead around it to finish.)

A friend who'd been warned described her feeling when walking past the place as like walking past "the witch house" when she lived and worked in the neighborhood; I hope this article means there's one less scary place
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:53 PM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


That's a horrifying (and I agree: well-researched article).

Small theaters run by people with a whole bunch of cultural capital can get away with terrible abuse of their artists.

Over a decade ago I worked on a show at a small, well-respected off-off-Broadway theater in NYC founded and run by someone who has deep connections to the film and theater industries. (He's married to a very famous actress who is worth $$$$).

The organization had a resident acting company of very (very!) young, inexperienced, and idealistic unpaid actors. These actors did grunt work (unpaid, did I mention that?) and competed for parts in mainstage productions.

I was on as a contract worker so had little real skin in the game, but I felt traumatized for about a year after mounting the production. The founder/director was an abusive bully who I became terrified of over the course of a few weeks. I watched him make a very young, sweet resident actress cry by undermining her confidence and insinuating that she was never going to be tough enough to make in it NY. In front of other people, I might add. When she walked off sobbing he made some comment along the lines of making actors cry is good for them.

I've seen other abuses as well in theaters I've worked in. The power imbalances in theater are so huge - everyone knows that if they say "enough!" and walk away there is a line of people waiting for the chance to put up with being exploited, if only a position opened up for them to have that option.

(No, I don't miss working in that field at all anymore).
posted by stagewhisper at 2:46 PM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

stagewhisper, maybe you could give the Chicago Reader article writers your name to pass along if/when someone decides to write about missing stair theaters in NYC.
posted by nicebookrack at 3:30 PM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know exactly what theatre you mean, stagewhisper.
posted by lauranesson at 3:57 PM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Since January 2015, more than 500 actors, crew members, playwrights, and other theater professionals and activists from around the country (including Neil LaBute) have signed the statement on harassment
Talk about closing the barn doors after the horses escaped.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:33 PM on June 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

The playwright who wrote the show Profiles was planning on putting up this summer ("The Village Bike", because of course it's something with that as a title ) has withdrawn her permission.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:14 PM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mod note: A few comments deleted; let's not reopen the pointless thing about identifying psychopaths on sight.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:31 PM on June 10, 2016

Darrell Cox responds on Facebook. TL;DR "the lurkers will support me in email, ex-girlfriends be crazy, we totally condemn abuse that never happened because everyone was here of their own free will." I don't think Not in Our House will be super-eager to have a face-to-face sitdown with you, Darrell.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:11 PM on June 10, 2016

"My name is Emily. I’m the actress in the Chicago Reader article, the article that exposes the professional and sexual abuse, and predatory nature of Profiles Theater, who threatened to leave a production (Kid Sister). I originally declined comment when the journalist approached me, but had I known that the article would be such a thoughtful, eloquent display of journalism, I would have opened my voice. Now I am."
posted by nicebookrack at 9:51 AM on June 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

A local neighborhood blog reports the story. Includes a picture of the theater showing that protesters covered the front doors with copies of the newspaper with the article, and some links to other reactions.

I have to say - I would hate to see the theater company have to end over this. I would like to think somehow they could kick out the two guys who seem to be the heart of the problem and continue without them. Partly because I hate to think of what may happen to those spaces if they close. I said early in this thread that I haven't been to their shows, but my understanding is that one of the two spaces they use in that building is a former prohibition era speakeasy. I would hate to see it turned into some tacky store - although that block, I would say, is not yet attractive enough to the mega chain stores to attract any of them. Yet.

Also, the neighborhood is already losing another theater just a couple blocks south, Strawdog Theatre, that's getting kicked out because their building's being mostly torn down and replaced with a new apartment complex. They're moving somewhere else (I haven't heard where), but good storefront theater is a great thing to have in this neighborhood. It would suck to lose both of them.
posted by dnash at 4:35 PM on June 11, 2016

No way, Profiles is done. It's basically a Cox & Jahraus production anyway. Kill it, salt it, burn the bones. Give the theater space to Strawdog or another small company.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:56 PM on June 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

More evidence per nicebookrack's last comment: Chicago is not wanting for theatre companies. It certainly is wanting for theatre spaces. Burn some sage smudges and repurpose those multiple Profiles stages, and you could see a significant change in the Chicago itinerant theatre market.
posted by HeroZero at 7:40 PM on June 11, 2016

(To be clear: I'm just advocating keeping the Profiles spaces as theater venues. Either a new company or a revamped Profiles company. Although, yeah, it's probably true that their name is too tarnished to survive.)

(Oh, and to add... I'm a theater graduate of Northwestern who's been out of the scene for ages but still has interest, so, like, if there's something I could do to help.......)
posted by dnash at 8:20 PM on June 11, 2016

Late to the thread but in case anyone's wondering, the link to his headshot is broken so it looks like he's at least been removed from that site.
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:55 AM on June 14, 2016

Profiles Theater has closed, effective immediately. Announced on their Facebook page last night.
posted by dnash at 5:13 AM on June 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

posted by nicebookrack at 5:29 AM on June 15, 2016

I just read the Critic's Mea Culpa. Any critic who can sit in a 40-seat house and think the real violence they're watching onstage is just expertly-executed stage combat is a fool, and should turn in their credentials immediately on their way put the door. The critic is nominally admitting to having been duped, when he should really be apologizing for complicity (I get that he's doing that in a larger sense, but wrt to the violence, dude was duped either because he wanted to enjoy the violence without thinking about it or because he's insufficiently familiar with stage craft and is not qualified to assess what's going on onstage).

I can't add anything about Darrell Cox that hasn't already been said. I've met a lot of shit-heels in theater who would love to do what he did if they could, except they lack the charisma. So they just become angry, passive-aggressive assholes instead. It's one of the main reasons I only do a show every two years or so, and only with my small cadre of friends whom I trust.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 9:08 AM on June 18, 2016

1. Make sure that everyone working in your theatre understands that you have a zero tolerance policy for abuse.
2. When people come to you with stories of abuse, complaints that someone is making them uncomfortable, complaints that someone is not respecting their boundaries, LISTEN TO THEM and BELIEVE THEM.
3. Pay close attention to the behavior of the people you have on staff.
4. Stop hiring “geniuses.”
5. Stop perpetuating the mythology that anything should be tolerated because “the show must go on.”
posted by Blasdelb at 8:48 AM on July 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

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