VENICE — Legendary Broadway actor and Florida native Ben Vereen returned to his “roots” (no pun intended) to direct a production of “Hair” for the Venice Theatre in 2015. As the public is now learning, the Tony award winner also took the opportunity to sexually assault several 20-something female members of the cast.
“We have learned recently that during our 2015 production of ‘Hair,’ more than one female cast member was asked to join Mr. Vereen at his residence,” said the theatre’s executive director Murray Chase. “Some of those visits resulted in compromising situations for at least two of the actresses.”
Statements from the cast allege that the misconduct from the star—then aged 69—went far beyond that. According to the actresses, Vereen forced kisses on them, hugged them inappropriately and made degrading personal comments as a matter of course.
“During warmups … [Vereen] would meander through the group, totally ignoring the men, but groping and kissing on the women, ogling their bodies in a really obvious way,” actor Zach Wesson wrote on Facebook in response to a November post from fellow cast member Kaitlyn Terpstra exposing the misconduct.
Terpstra, then 22, was one of Vereen’s primary targets and—together with a 23-year-old actress identified only as “Kim”—was one of the two actresses Vereen lured to his home under the guise of professional help.
Vereen apparently gave both actresses the same speech to persuade them to disrobe in his hot tub.
“He gave this whole speech about how nudity was not inherently sexual,” Terpstra said. “He made me feel that if I wasn’t mature enough to understand that, I wasn’t mature enough to be in ‘Hair.’”
Kim concurred: “He basically told both of us, ‘Get over yourself. Nudity doesn’t have to be sexual.’ If we asked questions or hesitated, we were the ones making it weird.”
The actresses claim Vereen would regularly use the sexual themes of “Hair” to try to cast his excesses in an artistic light, even getting naked with the cast at one uncomfortable point.
Vereen also employed a technique the cast came to know as “the circle,” whereby he would sit cast members in the center of a circle and break them down with personal questions designed to leave them vulnerable and promote creative breakthroughs. He did the same to Terpstra and Kim in the hot tub.
“He was acting as my mentor, asking me about my parents, then that same night, he put me on his lap while I was crying, and I felt his erection,” Terpstra said. “He asked me, ‘Feel that?’ It was terrifying.”
Vereen went on to ask Terpstra, “Do you think I want to fuck you?” When she answered in the affirmative, he suggested she misunderstood his artistic approach and was behaving childishly.
Kim, for her part, performed oral sex on Vereen when prompted to do so in the hot tub, and even indulged in a short relationship with the director.
“I just think at the time, I didn’t feel like I had a choice,” she recalled. “I didn’t want to do it, but I was intimidated and scared.”
When confronted with the allegations, Vereen came clean.
“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,” the actor said.
Unable to face his comeuppance without at least a little qualification, Vereen went on: “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.”
Vereen vowed to be more aware of the consequences of his actions and to conduct himself better in the future.
Kim was unconvinced. “It’s nice, but I’m not sure I believe it. Those words aren’t going to take back everything he did.”
Some of the actresses stood up to Vereen at the time, and Terpstra in particular had a huge altercation backstage with the director near the end of the show’s run, which theatre management claims to have thought at the time was a one-off occurrence with nothing sinister informing it.
It appears that anyone who thought the recent rash of sexual assault scandals from celebrities would be limited to 2017 was mistaken.