THE COTERIE THEATRE ANNOUNCES
FINDINGS OF INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION
Investigation follows public allegations of sexual misconduct by former producing artistic director
An independent investigation has reached its conclusion following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct by Jeff Church, The Coterie Theatre’s former producing artistic director.
The investigation was conducted from December 2022 to March 2023 by an external human resources consulting firm at the request of The Coterie’s Board of Directors. That firm interviewed 35 witnesses, including victims of Church’s conduct, Coterie Board members and employees, and reviewed documents and other information.
Out of respect for the privacy of witnesses who asked to remain anonymous, The Coterie is not broadly releasing the report. However, in the interest of providing the public with as much information as possible, The Coterie believes it is important to share the findings of the investigation.
SCOPE OF THE INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION
The independent investigation was focused on:
1) Whether there was evidence of sexual misconduct by The Coterie’s former producing artistic director at the theatre or at Coterie-sponsored events;
2) Whether there was management or Board knowledge of acts of sexual misconduct by Church; and
3) Whether Church misused The Coterie’s Instagram account to engage in predatory sexual behavior toward actors, staff or those associated with The Coterie.
PROCESS OF THE INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION
The independent investigation was conducted by Fine Line HR Consulting. The firm established an email address where witnesses could contact the investigator with information within the scope of the investigation. Thirty-five individuals were interviewed, including some who previously came forward publicly, others who shared their experiences privately, current and former employees, actors and Board members.
Several individuals were contacted but declined to be interviewed. The Actors Equity Union also declined to share any complaints it may have received from actors.
Physical and electronic documents were reviewed, including Coterie records, the employee handbook, Board bylaws, and social media activity.
Two people with information critical to the investigation, former executive director Joette Pelster and producing artistic director Church, are both deceased. Pelster passed of natural causes in November 2022 before the allegations against Church were levied publicly. The Coterie Board was discussing scheduling an interview with Church when he died in December.
KEY FINDINGS OF THE INVESTIGATION
The investigation concluded that Church had, on multiple occasions, engaged in nonconsensual sexual acts against adults. These instances took place mostly at private social gatherings at Church’s homes.
The investigation found no evidence that any of the sexual misconduct alleged to have been instigated by Church happened at The Coterie Theatre or at Coterie-sponsored events.
The investigation revealed that Church used The Coterie’s Instagram account and had inappropriate private conversations with a consenting adult via that application. That Instagram interaction was viewed by at least one youth actor.
The investigation did not corroborate any claims of sexual assault against children.
The investigation found no evidence that past or current Coterie Board members knew of allegations of sexual misconduct. There was no corroboration that Pelster was aware of non-consensual sexual acts by Church against individuals associated with The Coterie.
The investigator talked to several witnesses who worked with Church, some for decades, who did not observe him engaging in inappropriate behavior. Nevertheless, the investigation found credible those witnesses who reported that Church forced himself on non-consenting adults.
“We have a tremendous amount of empathy for the victims of these heinous actions,” said Theresa Stoker, current Coterie Board President. “We want to thank all of those who came forward to share their very personal and painful stories. It took a great deal of courage. Their cooperation was vital in helping us gain a broader understanding, which will in turn help us maintain a positive and nurturing environment at The Coterie for generations to come.”
Continued Stoker, “We are deeply troubled by the allegations against Jeff Church. We are determined to foster an environment where creatives can do their best work to entertain and delight our young audiences. We believe we have the right leadership in place to achieve that.”
The Coterie Board recently named Jonathan Thomas as the theatre’s managing director and Heidi Van as interim producing artistic director.
"Heidi and I have worked in the arts community the majority of our careers. We take these allegations very seriously and strive every day to demonstrate a respectful, supportive environment for everyone who comes through the doors of The Coterie Theatre, “said Thomas. “To that end, we have added new measures to ensure we have open lines of communication between roles, races, genders and generations. In order for us to foster a transparent and collegial environment, it is imperative that everyone in our midst feels comfortable speaking up. We are also working with a Human Resources professional to review our policies in an ongoing effort to ensure that our policies exceed the requirements of the law and represent the gold standard in policies that contribute to a safe and secure environment.”
According to Van, employees have noted improvements in collaboration and communication under the theatre’s new leadership.
“We have been reminded over these past few months that The Coterie is more than just one or two people. It is a group of talented and tireless individuals working toward a common goal,” said Thomas. “I am committed to honoring them by focusing the culture of the organization so that each individual feels that their voice is important. We have the opportunity to lead change in our industry by lifting up every person at The Coterie at every level of our organization. It’s the good that will continue to emerge from a very tragic situation.”