Children of the 80s, be prepared, because this story will ruin Uncle Phillip from Webster for you. And your eyes may be giving you the truth if you read his hat as, “sexual enforcer.”
In 2015, Tony winner Ben Vereen directed a community theater production of Hair (he was in the original Broadway production) at the Venice Theater in Venice, FL, and several of the female cast members say that he took the show’s theme of free love to horrific and illegal levels of NO. Now it makes sense as to why The Leading Player from Pippin supported Bill Cosby and wondered, “Aren’t there more important things to talk about in this world?” I bet ole’ Ben is wishing we’d go back to talking about Cosby instead of him.
Several women from that production of Hair in Florida told their stories to Chris Peterson of the theater blog OnStage and he put them in touch with reporters at The New York Daily News. The women all say that Ben, who is 71 now, was mean, gross, manipulative and used the nudity in Hair to prey on them. Four female cast members say that Ben repeatedly kissed them on the mouth without asking and made degrading comments about their bodies in rehearsals.
Two female cast members, who were both in their early-20s then, say that Ben invited them to his rental place in Florida for what he said was a rehearsal. They say that Ben got them to get naked by saying that the nudity in the show isn’t about sex and they needed to drop their preconceived notions. They got into the hot tub with Ben and one alleged that he pressed his penis on her leg. She also claims that Ben tried to gaslight her when he asked her if she thought he was trying to have sex with her. She said yes, to which he said, “Well, I don’t, and that’s unfortunate.”
One woman says Ben asked her to give him oral sex in a hot tub and she did it, because she felt like she had no other choice and believes he took advantage of her.
“I just felt powerless because I thought I really needed his help and guidance. And when he said nudity doesn’t have to be sexual, I was like, ‘OK, maybe this isn’t even sexual.’ Now I understand it was a power play. It was so calculated. It was like we were putty in his hands.”
Kaitlyn Terpstra, one of Ben’s accusers, says she was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement during her rehearsals. She also says Ben continued to manipulate the cast by saying that he was planning to take their little production on the road and they’d all get their Equity cards.
The Venice Theater says they first heard about Ben’s alleged acts of gross terror on the cast when Katilyn posted about it on Facebook in November. They are in the middle of talking to every cast member who was in that production of Hair.
There’s a lot more in the NYDN’s piece that I didn’t cover, so you can jump over there if you want the details.
Ben gave the NYDN a statement, saying that he’s not going to make excuses and is sorry.
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. 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 that it is my conduct, not my intentions, which are relevant here. So I am not going to make any excuses because the only thing that matters here is acknowledging and apologizing for the effects of my conduct on the lives of these women. Going forward, my having come to terms with my past conduct will inform all my future interactions not only with women, but with all individuals. I hope these women will find it in their hearts to accept my sincere apology and forgive me.
Is Ben really trying to blame his actions on ART and is saying that he was just trying to create the mood of Hair during rehearsals? This bitch. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Hair and I remember the nudity, but I don’t remember a scene where a woman gives the director a blow job in a hot tub. If there was a scene like that, Mel Gibson would direct a new film version of Hair every single year.
And when the floodgates of sexual abuse allegations opened, I didn’t think it would bring an allegation about how Mayor Ben from Zoobilee Zoo was the Harvey Weinstein of a community theater in Southern Florida, but here we are.