UPDATED: Actor Abuse in Chicago’s Profiles Theatre

profile theatre actor abuseThe house lights are up on Profiles Theatre.  Way up.  In a recent in-depth expose, Chicago Reader informs its audience about the actor abuse that has taken place there for over 20 years:

In her review, [Sun-Times critic Hedy] Weiss noted the bruises on the actors’ arms. “At one point, a female cast member is being brutally choked, then forced to give a makeshift blow job,” wrote the Chicago theater blogger the Fourth Walsh. “It’s vicious and real!”

The reason Killer Joe felt so vicious and so real was because it was. All of it: the choking, the bruises, the deep-throating of a chicken leg, the body slam into the refrigerator, [Darrell] Cox’s groping of Wellin through her dress as Joe attempts to seduce Dottie, Cox’s semierection at the beginning of Act II after Joe succeeds. “It was real,” says Darcy McGill, the costume designer, “because there was a psychopath onstage.”

Killer Joe was no fly-by-night production: it was well-received by the critics, had a long run, and won 3 Jeff awards including best non-Equity production, best director, and best actor in a principal role.  The latter award went to Darrell Cox, the actor Darcy McGill refers to as a “psychopath.”  He is also the present Co-Artistic Director of the theater.

The Profiles Theatre website displays an ad for an advanced scene study intensive under the instruction of the Cox.  The ad features Cox as he appeared in Killer Joe:

killer joe profiles theatre actor abuse darrell cox

The Chicago Reader article has had impact.  An Internet petition is circulating to have Cox’s Jeff Award revoked.  The awards committee has responded with a statement:

The Jeff Awards Committee has read the Chicago Reader’s article about Profiles Theater. We are supporters of the “Not In Our House” movement, and the new Non-Equity Theatres Code of Conduct Guidelines concerning treatment of actors, now closely following the long standing Equity (AEA) rules. The Jeff Awards Executive Committee will address the change.org “Petition To Revoke Darrell Cox’s Non-Equity Jeff Award for Profile’s “Killer Joe”” and advise the community.

profiles theatre abuse actors petitionAnother petition demands that the theater’s board end its relationship with Cox and Co-Artistic Director Joe Jahraus.

Finally, the #NotInOurHouse Chicago Theater Community expressed their concerns in an open letter which reads, in part:

We as members of the Chicago theatre Community are committed to a safe theatre community and we are angry and deeply saddened about the conduct described in the Reader. As we work towards building a better way in Chicago, we anticipate that those around you will need your support as we absorb the information presented to us. Let this give us hope and strength that light was shed on an existing problem, and that we can face the challenges that are brought to us, together, as a cohesive unit. We no longer have to hide in the shadows amid stories and rumors, but rather build solutions together to ensure that this does not happen in our community again.

profiles theatre logo actor abuseIn Los Angeles, the 99-Seat Plan is often framed in terms of monetary compensation.  There are other aspects of the plan, however, particularly those ensuring a safe environment for actors.  Union involvement in a production, as a means to address grievances, is a significant reason why L.A. actors are fighting so hard to keep Actors’ Equity involved in intimate theater.  The systematic abuse of actors without such involvement is now on display in Chicago.

Updated June 9, 2016:  A long-time theater critic in Chicago, Christopher Piatt, weighs in.  TL;DR: “I should have known better”:

But again, the evidence was hidden in plain sight, and we the watchdogs never noticed. Instead, we cheered on the roughhousing, lionized the torn-T-shirted brutalism, and rubber-stamped the neonoir atmosphere in the spirit of encouraging some idealized kind of Chicago storefront edginess. It’s a total drag to be part of this ugly, stupid cultural legacy.

Updated June 10, 2016:  The Los Angeles theater community is appalled by an insensitive editorial on the Bitter Lemons’ website.

Updated June 14, 2016:  The Profile Theatre closes for good according to its website:

A Message from Profiles Theatre:

We are sad to announce that Profiles Theatre is closing its doors after 28 years and 81 productions. The closure is effective immediately.

We want to thank all of the artists who have worked with us during the past three decades. We are very proud of the many successes we have achieved together. We care about all of you tremendously and wish you only the very best.

We also want to thank our patrons. We will be forever grateful to you for your devoted and enthusiastic support of our work.

We hope this decision will further the healing process within our community. May Chicago theatre thrive and its future be bright.

About Tracey Paleo

Tracey Paleo is Associate Editor at FootLights Magazine. She's also the Founder and Chief Editor of the arts and culture site, Gia On The Move, where she often reviews live performance events.

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