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Boston theater director was accused of misconduct in Colorado

Burgess Clark, the former artistic director of the Boston Children’s Theatre, directing the cast of “Of Mice and Men” at the Boston Children’s Theare in 2014.
Burgess Clark, the former artistic director of the Boston Children’s Theatre, directing the cast of “Of Mice and Men” at the Boston Children’s Theare in 2014.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

Burgess Clark, the former artistic director of the Boston Children’s Theatre who has been accused of inappropriate behavior by more than a dozen former students, was reprimanded in 2004 by leaders of a youth arts camp in Colorado after several faculty members complained about his conduct.

June Lindenmayer, then the executive director of the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School & Camp in Steamboat Springs, said Tuesday that the allegations against Clark and his partner were investigated by the organization, which found no evidence of criminal behavior and did not report the matter to law enforcement.

Still, Lindenmayer was concerned when five camp faculty sent her a letter describing a variety of issues about Clark. Among other things, they said he appeared to induce emotional breakdowns among his acting students and then offered them “untrained psychological counseling.”

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And, she said in an interview, she witnessed students exiting the cabin shared by Clark and his partner, Daniel Blake, in violation of a camp policy that prohibited adults from hosting campers in their living quarters.

The men were reprimanded, Lindenmayer said, monitors were assigned to chaperone their classes and rehearsals, and neither was invited to return to the camp, where they worked mostly with students ages 16 to 19 years old.

Clark was the camp’s theater director, and Blake was a voice coach who specialized in musical theater, she said. Both men said students visited their cabin to rehearse and be mentored, according to Lindenmayer, who described Clark and Blake as being popular among campers.

“The only thing we could say is, ‘Stop the behavior,’ ” said Lindenmayer, who was the camp’s executive director for 11 years. “The behavior was monitored, and that was the end of it.”

Clark and Blake didn’t respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

Clark resigned from the Boston Children’s Theatre on Oct. 29. Two days later, an anonymous e-mail was sent to the group’s board of directors describing what it said were the experiences of 17 former students. Three claimed that Clark kissed or inappropriately touched them during private lessons or at his second home in Walden, Vt.

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In a statement Tuesday, James Solomon, the board’s interim president, said the organization’s leaders had no knowledge of the Colorado complaints and, after learning of them from the Globe, the group cut ties with Blake. Solomon described him as “a vendor” who provided voice coaching to students in the program. One board member resigned Tuesday, the statement said.

The theater group was established in 1951 and offers programs in Boston and Beverly. The Essex district attorney’s office and Beverly police have said they are investigating. Four former students told the Globe earlier this fall that they approached the Suffolk district attorney’s office about Clark. No charges have been filed.

The accusations against Clark by former students have drawn a range of reactions among parents with children enrolled at Boston Children’s Theatre.

“I have never known Burgess to be anything but 100 percent professional,” said Shannon Lane, whose son has attended programs there for nearly three years. She said she was unsure what to make of the allegations.

“Everything that I see, smell, and hear is that this is a tremendous organization led by tremendous people. I have no reason to pull my kid,” Lane said.

Another mother said she was reeling and her son wants to quit.

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“He doesn’t want to go back at all,” said the woman, who asked not to be named because she was discussing her son, who is in middle school. “He feels a complete loss of trust.”

The Colorado complaints against Clark and Blake were spelled out in a letter from Aug. 1, 2004, that was signed by five faculty members. The Globe obtained a copy of the letter and the camp’s response to faculty members.

The camp faculty wrote that they had witnessed students passing in and out of the cabin shared by Clark and Blake and the men giving students back massages.

The letter said that Clark appeared, in at least three instances witnessed by a faculty member, to have induced “severe emotional breakdowns” during an advanced acting class, and then seemed to offer “untrained psychological counseling” to the distraught students. And a faculty member reported witnessing Clark verbally intimidating students during a rehearsal of “Grease.”

The faculty members wrote that they didn’t suspect students were being physically abused, but were worried about the “students’ inherent vulnerability and unequal power dynamic” and were reporting their concerns as required by their employment contracts and Colorado law.

“The questionable behavior described above makes us uncomfortable working with Burgess and Daniel in a professional educational context; and most importantly, we want to ensure the well being of our students,” the letter said.

Karolynn Lestrud, then president of the Friends of Perry-Mansfield, responded to the faculty members in a letter saying the organization had not received complaints about Clark or Blake from students or parents. Clark worked at the camp for about three summers.

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Her letter didn’t explain how the camp’s leaders addressed the faculty’s concerns with Clark and Blake, but noted that Clark had taken a position at North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly. Lindenmayer said she didn’t contact North Shore Music Theatre about Clark after he left, and, in hindsight, regrets it.

Lestrud’s letter said the camp planned to revise its staff handbook and expand its training and orientation sessions in response to the faculty members’ concerns. She didn’t respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

Boston Children’s Theatre faced controversy in 2017 after Clark incorporated a brief nude scene in a production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” that he was directing.

And earlier this year, a former Boston Children’s Theatre employee was arrested in New York and charged with attempting to solicit a minor for sex after he allegedly approached an undercover officer online.

Pianist Justin Brown, 26, worked on two shows with the theater group in the summer of 2015: “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Assassins.” He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is free on bail.

Reached Tuesday, Brown said he is in therapy.

“I feel really bad about what I did. I know that I made mistakes,” he said.

Solomon said Boston Children’s Theatre ran a criminal background check on Brown when he was hired and found no problems.

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Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. Zoe Greenberg can be reached at zoe.greenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @zoegberg.