More than a dozen former students at the Boston Children’s Theatre have accused longtime artistic director Burgess Clark of inappropriate behavior.
Clark, 58, a veteran theater educator and playwright, resigned last Tuesday, according to the program’s board of directors, which announced his departure and the accusations in an e-mail to his accusers Saturday.
The board said the accusations against Clark were raised in an anonymous e-mail sent Thursday, two days after he resigned.
“We are shocked to receive these reports and take these allegations very seriously. We have immediately taken appropriate steps in response to your email,” the board wrote in the e-mail obtained by the Globe.
Jim Solomon, president of the board of directors, said in a statement that the allegations against Clark were reported Saturday to law enforcement authorities.
“Burgess was liked by students, so [his resignation] was a surprise,” a spokesman for the board said.
The spokesman said Solomon contacted police in Beverly, where Clark lives and some of the theater’s programs take place. Carrie Kimball, a spokeswoman for the Essex district attorney’s office, said police reported the accusations to prosecutors.
Clark and a lawyer who has represented him in the past didn't respond Saturday to requests for comment from the Globe. It was unclear whether Clark has a lawyer currently. The board’s e-mail said Clark had been on medical leave since Sept. 15, but the spokesman declined to provide details.
The nonprofit youth theater organization was established in the 1950s and offers programming in Boston and Beverly.
The anonymous e-mail, titled “The Threat of Burgess Clark,” described what it said were the experiences of 17 former students who made a range of allegations against Clark, including three who said they were kissed or inappropriately touched by him during private lessons or at his second home in Walden, Vt. The alleged conduct occurred when most of the students were 14 to 18 years old.
The e-mail was signed, “The concerned students and parents of Boston Children’s Theatre.” Prosecutors in Vermont did not return messages left Saturday.
A former student who helped collect the allegations in the e-mail told the Globe on Saturday that the group acted because they believe Clark shouldn’t be permitted to work with children.
“He has damaged, traumatized and hurt many students of BCT, during the most vulnerable years of their lives, and we cannot allow this to happen to even one more student,” the e-mail said.
The former students alleged Clark’s acting classes included physical risk-taking exercises that sometimes culminated in students kissing or touching each other in sexually suggestive positions. Some students said Clark asked them about their sexual experiences or gave them massages during private lessons, the e-mail said.
The board spokesman said Solomon wasn’t aware of the allegations prior to receiving the anonymous e-mail. In his statement, Solomon said the board will cooperate with police.
“Because these allegations need to be investigated by law enforcement, and we do not want to compromise that investigation, we cannot comment further,” Solomon said in the statement.
Clark delivered his resignation letter to the theater’s executive director, Tobias Schine, the board spokesman said. Schine, who was not accused of misconduct, will stay in his role and has the board’s “full confidence,” the spokesman said.
Schine shares a home in Beverly with Clark and Clark’s partner, according to several people interviewed by the Globe. Schine didn’t respond to a message Saturday, and no one came to the door at their home.
In 2017, the troupe was the subject of controversy after Clark incorporated a brief nude scene in a production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” that he was directing.
Dale Wasserman’s 1963 stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel doesn’t call for nudity, but Clark included it in a scene in which a 21-year-old actor playing the main character, Randle McMurphy, dropped a towel from around his waist as an expression of defiance against dictatorial Nurse Ratched.
Toward the end of the “Cuckoo’s Nest” run, Clark told the Globe at the time, some board members demanded that he delete the scene. Clark refused and, angered by what he saw as an attempt at censorship, decided to quit, the Globe reported in 2017.
A deal was later reached in which Clark consented to be laid off but returned to his job. Several board members resigned during the episode.
Clark became artistic director of the youth theater group in October 2008 after a four-year stint as director of education and children’s programs at North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly.
In interviews with the Globe earlier this fall, five former students said Clark led an exclusive, invitation-only acting class for teenagers participating in the theater group’s Boston classes. The former students spoke to the Globe on the condition of anonymity.
The students said Clark told members of the acting class that they couldn’t disclose what happened during the sessions to people outside the room, including family and friends. They described an intense environment in which students were asked to share deeply personal stories; some left in tears.
Clark also led partner exercises in which participants were encouraged to take physical “risks” with each other, the former students said.
“When I started, it was ingrained in me that this was an honor to be in the class and that it was a safe place for everyone,” said one of the former students who spoke with the Globe. “I think what started as a normal acting class progressed into him asking us to do things that were more unsafe or more revealing.”
Four of the former students who spoke to the Globe said they have described their experiences to the Suffolk district attorney’s office and one spoke with police in Caledonia County in Vermont, where the town of Walden, the site of Clark’s second home, is located.
The Suffolk district attorney’s office didn’t respond Saturday to requests for comment.