My name is Emily. I’m the actress in the Chicago Reader article (http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/profiles-theatre-theater-abuse-investigation/Content?oid=22415861), 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.
I did not want the article to be a smear campaign. And I felt that my battle with Darrell Cox and Profiles Theater was won, so why would I add to the list of victims? Why should I take attention away from their plight? But I should have added to the list because while I fought my battle, there was still a battle to fight, and there shouldn’t have been. This article was no smear campaign. I can attest to many of these stories. I lived it with these men and women.
But here’s the thing. A tricky thing. I was so proud of the work that I did on that stage. I still am. And I feel uneasy, a bit ashamed, that I have this pride for performing on a stage that was used for predatory purposes. And that stills my voice a little bit. That makes me be quiet because I was compliant, wasn’t I? I mean, I was, a little bit. Even though I talked with these women, even though behind the scenes we would build each other up, give each other strength to walk away from this “family”, yes, that’s what we called each other, and strength to say – “No. This is not OK.” Still, I complied. Because I saw the wolf in sheep’s clothing. And yet, I used this wolf and this theatre to build my resume, to do good theatre – yes, we did good theatre because I thought, “I can handle this man. I’m aware of this man. My eyes are wide open.”
But there are other theatres. Other good theatres. Theatres who will not abuse your time or your talent or your body or your mind.
And we do not have to sacrifice, not like this, for our passion.
When I moved to Chicago, I was told Profiles Theater was THE BEST non-union theatre and the only way to be “seen” by them was to take the Advanced Scene Study Class. I vowed that I would take the class, and I would be seen, and I would work my ass off to get on their stage because their stage was a springboard to theatres such as Steppenwolf and The Goodman, and that was my dream, so I took the class. And I quickly realized how charming Darrell Cox was, how special he made you feel when he turned his gaze on you. Because he was so unaffected, right? (But really, so deeply affected and insecure – but you ignored those things because he was THE DARRELL COX.) And he didn’t give his attention to just anyone. He didn’t bother. So when he looked at you, spoke to you, you perked up a bit, you craved his respect, the thrill of the unattainable.
I’m pretty sure he fucked one of the other girls in the class in the wee hours of the morning in the dressing room while we, the students, were all partying at the theatre, drinking and dancing onstage, because I heard them through the thin walls grunting and moaning, but I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t sure I heard what I heard, but my ears are sharp, and my intuition like a knife. I was friendly with Darrell, but aware. Kept a bit of a personal distance. My first show with Profiles Theater was Graceland, where I stepped in for Somer Benson as she went on to another production. I was then cast as the understudy for Somer Benson, as Sharla, in Killer Joe.
It was inferred to me that Somer was jealous of me and despised me so I kept my distance. And it was inferred to her that I felt that same. Already, women were pitted against each other. Distance settled in. Distance that allowed abuse to be quieted. Little did I know (I would find out later), that the violence onstage was real as Darrell choked and ignored Somer’s safety word, that she was abused (because she was). Meanwhile, I was told by others in the company that she was protective of her role and would never allow me to play the role of Sharla in front of an audience. It annoyed me, angered me that she would be so intimidated by her understudy.
But really, she was protecting me. In my opinion, she was protecting me. Because if I’d been put on that stage, I wouldn’t have been prepared for what was to happen because no one taught me the fight choreography.
Darrell caught wind that I wasn’t comfortable performing and he belittled me, looked at me as though I were a disappointment and said something along the lines of, “What do you mean you wouldn’t be able to perform?” And I was incredulous. Of course I couldn’t. This show had so much violence. I needed rehearsals. And so then we had understudy rehearsals. We were taught the fight choreography. But had I not spoken up – I would have just slipped right in unprepared.
I was cast in their next show, Kid Sister. The relationship between Darrell and Allie was uncomfortable, the tension thick, and I just knew, knew, there was more simmering beneath the surface, that there were secrets here. Darrell would complain about Allie to me, once again pitting females against each other, complaining that she was the reason he was tense and angry because she wasn’t being “honest” on stage.
Honesty is a huge deal at Profiles.
One night, days before opening, I asked Joe Jahraus (the director) a question about my notes. Darrell was lurking, listening, and misconstrued my question. He thought I was placing blame on him and flew into a rage, screaming at me, telling me it was all my fault because I wasn’t giving him anything real to work with onstage, I wasn’t being honest. But the tirade didn’t end. I found myself sitting in a chair being abused for hours. I remember thinking, “Listen, breathe, rebuttal.” And so that is what I did. I would listen to his abuse, take a breath, and refute it. I threw his teachings in his face. I didn’t back down. I had no idea I possessed this much strength. And that is a beautiful thing to realize, to recognize one’s own power. But the abuse should have been stopped. Joe, the director, this was his job. But he sat idle, compliant.
I went to the bar down the street when we called a “break” and took a shot of vodka. Met a good friend there, a theatre friend, who said, “You’ve got some balls.” (To stand up to Darrell Cox – that’s a career-breaker.) In fact, during the abuse, I threatened to quit and Darrell said something like, “You would quit? After everything we’ve given you?” And I remember saying, “You didn’t give me anything. I earned it.” But that was their mentality, it seemed. We’ve given you art, theatre, and we can take it away, too.
Around 2 am Joe called me back to the theatre. I walked in and Darrell sat on the couch, arms slung out on the backs of the couch, cocky, so self-assured, with this arrogant look on his face like, “This is my theatre.” There was one lone chair in the center of the stage, presumably for me, while the rest of the company sat in the audience, watching. I sat down in the chair and said, “Round two? Bring it.” And he brought it. And I fought. And no one stopped it. And it wasn’t until I began to cry where he was like, “Oh, baby, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” And I won. (But did I? Really? Because it doesn’t seem like a win. Not any longer. Not as I write this.)
This was clear: Darrell got off on it, the power, the tears, and afterwards he took me in his arms and whispered apologies and called me, “Baby”, and said it had nothing to do with me, that he was pissed at Allie for messing up and he took it out on me.
After that altercation, certain friendships within the theatre dissolved, while others flourished. Somer, Allie, Claire – these women, each one stepping forward saying, “This wasn’t right.” Wasn’t it? All of us whispering to each other, sharing our stories, becoming closer and closer. At first there was hesitation and unease as we were conditioned to be quiet, to doubt ourselves, manipulated into silence. I could go on and on about a hand grazing my ass, barely, just barely, like a feather, so that I would question if it really happened. Or dancing in the middle of the night on the stage for fun, just for fun, and Darrell murmuring, “That’s sexy, Baby.” Or Darrell trying to mind-fuck me into breaking up with men I was seeing because he was jealous. All of us – his actresses – we were his. Tucked carefully away into boxes away from each other so that we wouldn’t speak, our stories wouldn’t come out, secrets wouldn’t surface. And he was good at it. But secrets have a way of coming out. And now, those boxes have blown wide open.
And I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t afraid of posting this, of throwing this out into the universe, or that I didn’t fear his wrath and disapproval because I do. Still, I want to please him. Still, part of me seeks his acceptance. This, folks, is honesty.
There has been some criticism within the Chicago theatre community on how long it took for people to speak up, but I spoke up, and what did that get me? Behavior did not change. Sometimes it takes time for change to be enacted. Sometimes it takes patience, and research, and a flawlessly constructed article to reach not just a handful of people, but millions.
I should have shared my story when called for comment. I should have publicly stood behind my friends and colleagues – Somer Benson, Claire Wellin, Corey Weinberg, Darcy McGill, Cheryl Graeff, Allie – this is truth – I hear you, I see you, and I stand behind you all.
*These are my interpretations, and my experience.*