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Discrimination, ignored concerns about sex offender and aggressive behavior created unsafe environment at Spokane Children’s theater, former employees say

UPDATED: Sun., Feb. 27, 2022

Spokane Children’s Theater leadership allowed a lighting technician to continue participating in productions with kids for more than a year after multiple people associated with the theater raised concerns about his inappropriate behavior, according to multiple sources who worked for the theater or served on its board. Galen Myers is awaiting trial in Spokane for allegedly raping a young actress in the theater parking lot.

The ignored concerns about Myers, now a convicted sex offender for different incidents, are just one of many problems at the theater that led to an unsafe environment, said a former board president of the theater and two adults who led productions there.

The concerns center around Managing Director Doug Beschta, who they say brushed off their concerns, discriminated against cast members and engaged in other unprofessional behavior.

Beschta has been the managing director at the theater since 2017, according to his LinkedIn profile. Prior to that, he worked at the Christian Youth Theater for two years in the early 2000s. He has a background in IT and graduated from Central Washington University in 1984 with a degree in computer science. He did not return multiple requests for comment related to this story.

Issues began early in Beschta’s tenure, when several people involved with the theater say he didn’t listen to their concerns, often becoming aggressive when challenged. Two employees say Beschta shoved them in front of young children. More recently, a young actress made a complaint to the Washington Human Rights Commission after she says Beschta refused to respect her pronouns and gender identity.

Concerning behavior brushed off

In fall 2018, Jennifer Miles was set to direct her first theater production, “Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf.”

As she started preparing for the show, another woman who directed there warned Miles about a lighting technician Beschta liked to hire, Myers.

“He makes people uncomfortable and we’ve had a lot of complaints about him,” Miles recalls being told.

Miles found someone else to light her show and told Beschta she wouldn’t be hiring Myers.

She and Beschta argued over the decision, Miles said.

“That was a complete steamroll situation,” Miles said.

Myers ended up volunteering to hand out programs and do other odd jobs around the theater during the production. Miles, however, would often find him bothering her lighting technician.

“I would chase him out of the lighting booth and told him over and over that, ‘This is not your job, I did not hire you for this show,’ ” Miles said.

Miles wanted Myers removed from the production, but Beschta put his foot down, she said.

“Doug (Beschta) just said, ‘He’s not working for you, so you don’t get to make the call,’ ” Miles said.

Miles also had problems with Myers hanging out backstage near young actresses.

“I just felt like I was chasing him away from young girls and teenage girls,” Miles said.

Many of the women at the theater complained directly to board members and Beschta about Myers, Miles said.

One of those people was Renee Butcher, whose 14-year-old daughter had acted in a prior show.

Butcher would often stay and watch rehearsals but that quickly turned into watching out for her daughter and other young actresses, she said.

During rehearsals, Myers would bother young girls, flipping up curtains to dressing rooms while they were changing or pulling their hair, among other things, Butcher said.

“I feel like I had to be backstage, watching or standing by the curtains,” Butcher said. “I told him several times, ‘You need to go away, away from the girls.’ ”

Myers seemed obsessed with Butcher’s daughter’s curly hair and would try to touch it, she said.

“I’m like, ‘Can you please not touch my daughter?’ ” Butcher said. “Sometimes I would have to get in between him and my daughter.”

She complained to Beschta, who dismissed her concerns with statements like, “Oh well, that’s just how he is,’ or ‘He likes to joke around,’ ” Butcher said.

“I was very angry,” Butcher said. “I felt like not only did my daughter feel like she was being violated, but I felt like I was being violated because what I had to say didn’t matter.”

Butcher felt unsafe letting her daughter audition at the theater and they haven’t been back since, she said.

In 2019, Beschta and theater leadership were made aware of a report by a 13-year-old girl that Myers, whom she met at the theater, had assaulted her, said Donna Didier, then president of the Spokane Children’s Theater Board of Directors.

Didier, another board member and Beschta met with Myers shortly after they learned of the accusation.

Beschta decided they would speak with Myers before deciding whether to terminate him, Didier said.

Myers denied the allegation, Didier said.

Beschta then said the theater would continue to hire Myers to light shows but that he would be restricted to the lighting booth and could only come to the theater when he was needed, Didier said.

Didier said she would have preferred to stop hiring Myers for future productions, but Beschta overruled her.

“Doug (Beschta), he kind of felt that the girl was kind of a needy person and could have easily made this up,” Didier said. “He kind of always sided with the males.”

Another board member at the time, Kyle McFarlane, wasn’t at the meeting but recalled concerns about Myers in 2018 or 2019. People didn’t want to work with Myers, but there weren’t any specific concerns he knew of, McFarlane said, when asked about the incident.

“In hindsight, you can see a lot of concerning things, but in the moment I didn’t see all the red flags that maybe I should have,” McFarlane said.

Less than a year later, in December 2019, Myers asked a 14-year-old actress to help him carry a box out to his car, according to court documents.

The girl told police Myers pushed her into the backseat of his car and raped her, according to court documents.

Shortly after, Myers drove to Coeur d’Alene where he was arrested by officers who were investigating him for inappropriately touching a 12-year-old girl at Skate Plaza.

Officers searched Myers’ phone after the arrest and found numerous graphic photos of young girls, according to court documents. In April 2020, he pleaded guilty to two felony charges related to the photos and the Idaho assault, according to court documents. He is serving a four-year prison sentence for the crimes.

After Myers’ recent arraignment on the rape charge was reported, Beschta said in an email to The Spokesman-Review that the girl’s family asked that the theater “not discuss this matter.”

Beschta then shared a Sept. 29 letter he said was sent to everyone participating in shows in which Myers was involved.

The letter alerted families to Myers’ recent guilty plea in the Idaho case and the two allegations of assault against actresses at the theater. The letter said all adults at the theater were required to submit background checks, but Myers had no criminal history and therefore wasn’t flagged.

The letter, signed by the board of directors and Beschta, encouraged any other victims to report what happened to them to law enforcement or theater leadership they felt comfortable contacting.

Miles said she and many families she knew from the theater did not receive a copy of the letter, despite Beschta’s claim it was sent to participants in shows with which Myers was associated .

Beschta and the theater’s board of directors did not return multiple requests for comment.

Casting discrimination

Theater is broadly considered an open, accepting and safe place, but one young woman found the Spokane Children’s Theater to be the opposite.

In 2019, Aidra Spurlock, then 23, looked around the Spokane Children’s Theater, saw another transgender person who was out and felt safe to come out herself.

“It made me feel encouraged like I could come out,” Spurlock said of her fellow castmate. “I felt like I could come out, like I could be safe.”

During a cast meeting the last week of rehearsals, Spurlock came out as a transgender woman.

Minutes later, Beschta approached her and said she shouldn’t have made the announcement, Spurlock said.

“I felt, I guess, a little angry and confused,” Spurlock said. “I had no idea why I was being singled out like that.”

A few months later, Spurlock decided to audition for another role at the theater in a play Didier was directing.

Didier cast Spurlock in a male role, after confirming with the actress she was comfortable playing the opposite gender.

After Didier cast Spurlock, Beschta told Didier that Spurlock could not be part of the show because she came out as transgender and the theater was not a place for people like that, Didier told the human rights commission.

Didier pushed back. The next day, Spurlock was asked to a meeting with Beschta and Didier, both Didier and Spurlock confirmed.

“During it, Doug told me that I can’t … basically, I can’t use my preferred name and preferred pronouns backstage or anywhere in the theater if I wanted to be in the show,” Spurlock said. “He insinuated that he was protecting the children of the theater from me by disallowing me from using my preferred name and preferred pronouns.”

Didier said Beschta also told Spurlock she couldn’t dress feminine or refer to herself as a woman.

At the meeting, Beschta said, “I’m sorry but, no matter how I look at you or how I think about you, I just see a young man,” Spurlock recalled.

Spurlock agreed to go by male pronouns and her prior name because she really wanted to be in the show, she said.

“I felt like I had just lost one of the places I felt comfortable in,” Spurlock said of the meeting.

Spurlock said she continued to be harassed. Beschta complained to Didier multiple times about Spurlock’s appearance. Once when Spurlock wore a pink jacket and another time when she had her nails painted, Didier and other witnesses said.

Didier said she didn’t agree with Beschta’s actions and resigned as president of the board after the show in part because of how he treated Spurlock. Didier continued to do other work on individual productions with the theater.

Spurlock said she felt “like I was keeping myself a secret,” during the show.

At previous shows, Beschta had made comments about actors’ sexuality and gender during casting, Miles and Didier said.

One performer in Miles’ show was gender fluid, meaning they don’t fit in a set gender spectrum, instead presenting in a variety of ways throughout rehearsals, Miles said.

“He made comments to me almost every night about how she looked, how she was presenting,” Miles said.

“Theater is a very inclusive group. People expect to be safe in a theater setting.”

McFarlane said that there were conversations about discrimination on the board, but most board members sided with Beschta.

Beschta always had an explanation, like he wasn’t trying to discriminate, he just didn’t want to deal with parents complaining, McFarlane said.

McFarlane tried to push back but was ignored, he said.

“I think most of the people on the board that time were people that Doug (Beschta) had recruited and sided with Doug (Beschta),” McFarlane said. “I realized I was being isolated more and more on the board to the point where my contributions weren’t necessary, they weren’t getting anywhere.”

After the incident and other issues at the theater, McFarlane decided it was time to step away in early 2020.

“It’s important to keep the drama on the stage and I think unfortunately over time it started to creep backstage,” McFarlane said. “I think that deep down Doug thinks that what he’s doing is best for the theater.”

McFarlane said he “deep down” wants the theater to be successful.

Spurlock blames both the theater board for allowing Beschta’s actions and Beschta himself.

Spurlock filed a complaint with the Washington Human Rights Commission in March 2020 in hopes of preventing other actors from going through what she went through.

“I wanted to try putting a stop to what was going on,” Spurlock said. “It made my blood boil thinking about someone younger than me having to go through all that.”

In documents from the Human Rights Commission, Beschta said he spoke to Spurlock about “the appropriateness of talking about sexuality with children present” and shared that there had been concerns during the prior show.

When asked what was agreed upon at the meeting with Spurlock and Didier, Beschta wrote: “We agreed that any topic on sexuality would not be discussed around children. We also agreed that she had auditioned for a male role, had been cast as a male and that she would be playing a male role.”

Spurlock and Didier disagreed with Beschta’s characterization of the meeting.

Beschta and current members of the board of directors did not return multiple requests for comment on the issue.

Spurlock decided to settle her complaint with the theater in March . Spurlock received $8,000 and an official apology letter from the theater.

The theater also was required to add an equal opportunity statement on their website and other places, including audition forms, as well as create an internal reporting structure so the board of directors can handle discrimination complaints if the executive director doesn’t address them, according to documents from the commission.

Now, more than a year after the settlement, Spurlock feels she made a mistake in accepting the agreement and that she was too generous.

“It makes me really sad that Doug (Beschta) considers someone who is transgender to be a bigger risk at a children’s theater than someone who is a pedophile,” Spurlock said, after learning of Myers’ arrest.

‘Off-putting and aggressive’ leadership

Multiple former employees, including Miles, said Beschta ran the theater with little input from anyone else, including board members or the people he hired to direct, choreograph and score the shows.

During the production of “The Happy Elf” in 2017, Kristen Nauditt, the music director, said Beschta shoved her and Miles in front of a group of young actors.

Nauditt was hesitant to work with the theater after a bad first experience in 2017 while working on the production team.

“In general, the theater made me feel weird, and especially Doug Beschta’s attitude,” Nauditt said.

Beschta would make “off-color” jokes and was in general “off-putting,” she said.

Initially, Nauditt declined to direct music for the show, but Beschta offered her more compensation and she finally agreed, Nauditt recalled.

After the show opened, Nauditt and Miles were standing on stage leading a group, including children, in warm-ups when Beschta came up from behind and shoved both women, they said.

Beschta then “half-dragged” the women around the corner to a practice room, Miles said.

“It was the first time that his aggression got physical toward us,” Miles said.

Miles, Nauditt and Beschta had butted heads throughout the show, largely, Miles and Nauditt said, because Beschta didn’t allow them to do their jobs and instead micromanaged them.

After the incident, Nauditt wrote a letter to the theater’s board detailing the altercation.

“He’s my boss, he touched me unwelcomely,” Nauditt said. “If this guy will so candidly put his hands on an adult in front of children, what is happening behind the scenes?”

Miles also complained to the board.

“We felt like Doug wasn’t a safe person for our cast after that display,” Miles said.

Nauditt and Miles said the board blew off their concerns and instead tried to get the group to “hug it out.”

When asked about the incident, McFarlane agreed that the board could have handled it better.

“There’s a bit of a conflict when you’re doing that because Doug (Beschta) is the manager of the theater, he’s a member of the board,” McFarlane said. “Not that it was ignored, but I don’t necessarily think that it was handled as well as it could have been.”

Nauditt and Miles have not worked with the theater since that show and say they don’t believe it’s a safe place for children.

“I feel like Doug is a lawsuit waiting to happen,” Miles said. “I do not consider children safe under his care, not because I think he will directly harm them, but I think he’s impulsive and I think he’s angry.”

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