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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Crime/Public Safety

Director of Spokane Children’s Theater resigns, new leadership doesn’t address allegations

The Spokane Children’s Theater is shown Saturday at 2727 N. Madelia St. in northeast Spokane.  (Garrett Cabeza / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Children’s Theater is shown Saturday at 2727 N. Madelia St. in northeast Spokane. (Garrett Cabeza / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

The director of Spokane Children’s Theater resigned Tuesday following allegations of ignored concerns about predatory behavior by an employee now accused of raping a teen girl in the theater parking lot, discrimination against a transgender actress and a toxic work environment.

In a Facebook post Tuesday morning, the theater announced that Doug Beschta had resigned from his role as managing director. The theater also posted a new anti-discrimination policy and code of conduct for employees.

It’s the first time the theater has made a public statement following the allegations that were published in late February.

Former music director at the theater, Kristen Nauditt, said the delayed response to the allegations and impersonal statement were “disheartening” but that the conversations the allegations have sparked in the Spokane theater community are invaluable.

Ignored concerns, discrimination, a toxic environment

Issues began early in Beschta’s tenure, when several people involved with the theater said he didn’t listen to their concerns, often becoming aggressive when challenged.

Galen Myers, a former lighting technician at the theater, is awaiting trial in Spokane for allegedly raping a young actress in the theater parking lot in 2019. He has also been convicted of possessing child pornography and assaulting a young girl in Idaho.

Parents, former directors, and a former board president, said they all had concerns about Myers behaving inappropriately toward actresses for years before his arrest but were ignored by Beschta and the board of directors.

Other concerns involved discrimination and a hostile work environment.

Aidra Spurlock, a teen actor, lodged a Washington State Human Rights Commission complaint against the theater after she said Beschta refused to respect her pronouns and new name when she came out as transgender.

Two former directors, Jennifer Miles and Nauditt, worked with the theater on individual shows and said Beschta shoved them in front of children at one rehearsal. They said the actions exemplified the toxic and controlling environment that Beschta and the board of directors created.

Shortly after the allegations surfaced, a petition circulated demanding that Beschta and the board of directors resign. It garnered more than 1,300 signatures.

Theater’s response

The theater and Beschta did not respond to the allegations until Tuesday when it was announced that Tanya Brownlee, the president of the theater’s board of directors, resigned to take on the role of interim managing director. Elyse Sokoloff is the new president of the board of directors, the post said.

“During this transition, the Board will reassess SCT’s staffing roles and structure and establish new leadership for the organization,” Sokoloff wrote in a statement sent to The Spokesman-Review.

Both Sokoloff’s statement and the theater’s Facebook post did not acknowledge the allegations against Beschta and the theater’s board of directors. Sokoloff declined to answer any questions.

Beschta did not return multiple requests for comment Tuesday and has not made a public statement on the allegations. He did, however, recently change his Facebook biography to read “there’s always 3 sides to every story.”

The theater also posted a list of policies and procedures to its Facebook page Tuesday that include an anti-harassment policy and conduct standards that employees and volunteers will have to sign.

“I think it was a little disheartening that there was no acknowledgment until two weeks later,” Nauditt said, of the theater’s response.

She said she is conflicted over the theater’s plans for the future and wishes there had been more sincerity in the statement.

Nauditt has worked with Brownlee in the past and said she believes the new interim managing director has “the best interest of kids at heart.”

“I think that it’s at least a step in the right direction, towards making an improvement,” Nauditt said.

Former board president and longtime director at the theater, Donna Didier, was more critical about Tuesday’s announcement. Didier said the theater should suspend the current season and begin the search for a new director.

Didier said Brownlee and other current board members didn’t listen to the concerns from parents and staff.

“In order for that theater to get back in the public’s good graces, they need to bring in somebody brand new, somebody qualified … she’s too close to the situation and those board members, too,” Didier said of Brownlee’s appointment.

Spurlock, who settled her complaint to the Human Rights Commission directly with the theater last year, said in a text message that Beschta’s resignation is a good step in the right direction and “gives me hope the theater will change for the better.”

Sparking conversation

Sharing her experience publicly was nerve-wracking, Nauditt said, but the response has been largely positive.

“Me coming forward wasn’t necessarily about me, it was about opening the discussion,” Nauditt said. “For me, the positive thing is that other theaters have looked into what they’re doing and have come up with new policies and changes.”

Stage Left Theater, another local non-profit, posted an open letter to the board of Spokane Children’s Theater in early March, standing in solidarity with victims who came forward, according to the letter posted on their Facebook page.

The theater questioned Beschta’s continued role at the theater and offered to support Spokane Children’s Theater after Beschta was removed from his position and pending a full investigation into the allegations.

Stage Left also indicated they would reassess their current safety policies and implement a new minor safety policy.

When she heard of the allegations of misconduct at Spokane Children’s Theater, Josephine Keefe said she and her co-workers at Spokane Ensemble Theater were “immediately in support of and standing with those who came forward.”

The theater, where Keefe is the executive director, posted on social media encouraging the community to come together and change the culture of “complicit silence” when abuse and discrimination occurs.

The post led to more people sharing their stories of abuse or discrimination, Keefe said.

Those stories “amplified for me the complicit silence that Spokane Children’s Theater allowed to normalize over time,” Keefe said. “And that isn’t to say that any other theater in our community is exempt from that, I think this is an opportunity for all of us to examine how we handle abuse allegations when they occur.”

After watching other theaters go through allegations of impropriety, Keefe said Spokane Ensemble Theater, which was founded in 2021, made it a point to have a human resources department, a rarity in non-profit theater, in hopes of creating a system for reporting issues that may arise.

“We wanted to create that space for people to address those concerns,” Keefe said.

Keefe “applauded” Spokane Children’s Theatre’s actions Tuesday and said the theater community is there to support them as they evaluate how to proceed.

“The community is in support of their growth and change and evolution into this next chapter,” Keefe said.

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