Ben Vereen Accused of Sexual Assault During 2015 Florida Production of Hair

News   Ben Vereen Accused of Sexual Assault During 2015 Florida Production of Hair
 
Multiple women have come forward, alleging the Tony winner had sexually harassed them while directing a community theatre production.
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Ben Vereen Monica Simoes

A group of women have alleged that Ben Vereen repeatedly sexually harassed and assaulted them in 2015 while the Tony-winning actor directed a production of Hair at a Florida community theatre.

Four actors spoke to the New York Daily News with personal stories about Vereen’s misconduct during the Venice Theatre production, with allegations ranging from verbal harassment to pressuring the women into sexual relationships.

Two of the women, Kaitlyn Terpstra and one who wished to be identified only as Kim, recalled being asked to strip and join Vereen in his hot tub. “He gave this whole speech about how nudity was not inherently sexual,” Terpstra explains. “He made me feel that if I wasn’t mature enough to understand that, I wasn’t mature enough to be in Hair.

Once the women obliged, the misconduct would escalate, with Vereen ultimately asking Kim to perform oral sex. “I just think at the time, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I didn’t want to do it, but I was intimidated and scared. He was being very intense and angry…Now I understand it was a power play. It was so calculated,” she says.

That perceived power play manifested in the rehearsal room as well, according to the women and other members of the company. Vereen, who appeared in the original Broadway production of the musical, made various promises and painted “glorious pictures” of touring the production and receiving Actors’ Equity cards, according to Kim.

The alleged behavior detailed in the report also includes Vereen kissing actors, including Ariella Pizarro, who spoke to the Daily News, during music rehearsals, making sexual advances under the guise of private rehearsals, and verbally harassing Pizarro as the cast prepared for the musical’s Act I finale nude scene. The latter sparked an argument backstage, in which Vereen grabbed Pizarro’s arm, causing her to shout “don’t fucking touch me.”

The theatre maintains the altercation in the hallway was brought to Executive Director Murray Chase’s attention at the time, though it was treated as an isolated incident, and that the full extent of Vereen’s behavior was not brought to light until Terpstra took to Facebook in November to recount her experience. Venice Theatre then reached out to all members of the 32-person cast, ultimately speaking to 26.

Vereen addressed the allegations in a statement, saying, “I would like to apologize directly to the female cast members of the musical Hair for my inappropriate conduct when I directed the production in 2015.” He continued, “While it was my intention to create an environment that replicated the themes of that musical during the rehearsal process, I have since come to understand tat it is my conduct, not my intentions, which are relevant here.”

Read: 4 WOMEN SEEK LEGAL ACTION AGAINST SOULPEPPER ARTISTIC DIRECTOR ALBERT SCHULTZ FOLLOWING SEXUAL ASSAULT ALLEGATIONS

The allegations against Vereen become public in the same week that another director, Albert Schultz, resigned from his position as artistic director at Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre Company as four women file a civil suit against him and the theatre.

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