Allegations of inappropriate conduct surface at Trumbull New Theatre
NILES — Trumbull New Theatre officials have dismissed a man involved with the community theater following allegations of inappropriate conduct with minors there.
The dismissal and the allegations were discussed at length during last week’s TNT board meeting during which board President Brett Bunker said the person had been dismissed for “violating our code of conduct.” He said he could say nothing further upon the advice of the board’s attorney.
About 40 people attended the meeting Monday with several speaking out about the handling of the situation by some board members.
“I worry about the safety of this theater,” said a 14-year-old girl whose family has filed incident reports with the police departments in Niles, where TNT is located, and in a separate Trumbull County jurisdiction where they live. The Niles report alleges inappropriate incidents on theater property. The other report alleges inappropriate contact with the teen through social media apps and a cellphone.
The 14-year-old, her mother and Bunker all spoke publicly during Monday’s meeting, indicating there is at least one other minor involved.
A civil sexually oriented offense protection order was issued Nov. 9 by Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Magistrate Patrick F. McCarthy with a full hearing on the matter scheduled for next month.
Because no formal charges have been filed against the man and because a hearing on the protection order has not yet taken place, the newspaper is not publishing his name.
The mother of the 14-year-old said alcohol was given to her daughter at the theater, not to drink on premises, but to drink later when her daughter communicated with the man via social media.
She said she dropped her daughter off for set construction sessions only to learn later that no one else was there except for the person named in the protection order.
“Things need to be put in place so this never happens again,” the mother said.
Those in attendance criticized board member Bunker and board Treasurer Lisa Bennett for talking to the accused before they talked to the parents of the girl in attendance, and they accused Bennett of helping the accused man find a lawyer.
Melanie Lucas, who was directing rehearsals for TNT’s current production of “A Christmas Carol” when the problems started to become public, said the board members never talked to her about the situation.
Liz Conrad, who directed “Young Frankenstein” at TNT in September, said, “The theater I’ve grown up with and loved should take care of its members and its actors before predators.”
Conrad’s daughter, Rachel, who was part of the “Young Frankenstein” cast, said she’s been going to TNT since she was 5 years old, when her father was cast in a show there, and she always loved it there.
“It hurts my heart if I had a daughter, I would not let her on this stage as it is now,” she said.
Paul Dahman, another “Young Frankenstein” cast member, said, “Leadership is not just a title or a position, it’s action. So get it together guys.”
The meeting started with a discussion by Shiloh Hart, a representative from Lights On: Community Theatre Protection Task Force. It was formed in conjunction with Compass Family and Community Services after several women shared stories on social media and with the newspaper in 2020 about sexual harassment and assault they experienced while working on productions at some area theaters. In many cases, they were minors when the incidents occurred.
Hart shared information about the resources available through Lights On, and representatives from a few other area theaters were in attendance. Some shared their policies.
Bunker expanded on his initial statement at the beginning of the meeting after more than a half hour of comments from the crowd.
“I’m in a situation I never thought I would have to deal with as president of TNT, and I will admit to mistakes I’ve made,” Bunker said. “I’m trying my best in the leadership position to not move the theater to sweep this under the rug but move to have protections in place, the things that we should have done years ago when I wasn’t on the board … I did what I did. The actions are in the past. I can’t change them now. All I can do is take steps forward and take this theater to a safe place. That’s my commitment to everyone here.”
Bennett did not respond to the comments from attendees.
One of the people who was least critical of TNT’s actions was the 14-year-old girl’s mother. She said multiple times that the family had no intention of taking legal action against the theater.
“We know this community theater is a good place for a lot of people,” the mother said. “One bad apple in the bunch doesn’t make everybody bad. (But) we do want a safe space. We do want the protocols. We want everything put in place that were not put in place.”