This is a testimonial piece by Chicago Theatre Community member Robin Minkens, who had a multi-year experience with Trap Door Theatre, a local storefront theatre. This is a personal experience, from a single perspective. These pieces by their nature, and per our mission, are subjective by intention. *Rescripted has not independently verified the details in this testimonial. The opinions in this piece belong solely to the author.* This is not reporting, but community support. Our aim as always is to amplify those who do not have a platform, and to empower the experience of the artist.
Editor’s Note: Robin came to me through Facebook at the end of April because she had seen my own testimonials on social media. Robin had recorded her experience in a draft, and was wondering if her experience had merit, and if it would be beneficial to share it with others. At that time, she did not know that I was an editor, or of the existence of Rescripted. When I had read the entirety of her story, I was appalled. What captured me about Robin’s testimonial is that it is a story many of us have lived through. Emerging into a professional theatre scene with abundant hopes and dreams, only to encounter prejudice, maltreatment, and gaslighting. The commonalities in this piece are harrowing to me, because they require us to accept that the way we have been working is not ethical. The experiences we have endured are not acceptable. This piece is a death by a thousand paper cuts. I encourage you to read it to the end. This is Part One, and you can access Part Two by clicking this link.
End of 2021: Revelations
October, 2021. At this time, Trap Door was to edit their website. They asked for pictures from projects and any reviews from shows that we would like to include on our profile for us to market ourselves. I was reluctant to submit my materials, considering everything I had experienced up to this point. However, I did eventually decide to submit them. I was so proud of what I had accomplished up to that point, even with the odds being stacked against me. I chose my favorite professional photos with reviews from the shows. I sent in my photos and reviews, and the only piece of my materials that made it to my profile on the website was my bio. I did not get a response to my email with my materials. Beata has yet to return from Poland, gone since 2019. This caused me to deeply inquire about communication practices at Trap Door.
Around this time, I also asked my peers in person many questions to get their perceptions on communication and culture within the company. On a few instances, I would go to ask Miguel, Michael, and others if there was anything wrong, and why I have not received a response back to my emails. They all shared a similar answer, saying that is “just the way things are,” “don’t mind them,” and that it was normal for me not to receive a response. I managed to learn a lot from my peers, but one thing that stood out to me the most is Keith Surney telling me that he had not auditioned for a show in years, and how he did not remember the last time he auditioned. At the time of my inquiry, he stated that company members do not have to audition for shows at Trap Door.
Simultaneously, I worked on a show titled The Little Mermaid Immersive Cocktail Experience. Company Manager of Trap Door, Michael Mejia, was working as a swing. Michael and I would grow to exchange more words in passing. I eventually found an opportunity to ask for advice on what has taken place so far at Trap Door. Michael was not surprised by what I shared. They even went on to say, “Why do they always do this to black women?” Michael stated it was about them ensuring control.
When I privately told Michael what had been going on, they found my story to be amusing, and nothing new. They gave me insight on the character of individuals of the company, in an unflattering and joking way, but I still gained insight on this situation. After this show closed, Michael and I attended a cabaret performance at Mercury Theatre. On the ride home, Michael made a joke about Nicole possibly wanting me to join as a third in her relationship with her fiancé, while we were in the midst of discussing my experience at Trap Door. Michael would also go on to tell me that I was a topic of conversation at a party, with Trap Door members present shortly after. I was not at this party, but Michael assured me they defended me. I do not think Michael defended me at all because they would not tell me exactly what was said. They only shared that I was being compared to others in the company, which further confirmed that I was being discussed without having the opportunity to stand up for myself.
During backstage encounters at The Little Mermaid Immersive Cocktail Experience, I would talk about my main source of transportation, which was Divvy Bikes, and public transportation. I was in the evening cast. I talked about my bike rides home after shows to everyone. There was an instance where Michael and I were alone after an evening show. I shared with them how I hope there will be bikes available at the nearby Divvy Bike station. Michael commented “Ooo, don’t get pushed into an alley and get raped.”
I responded by looking them dead in the eyes, asking them, “Why would you say something like that?” They said “Oh, ha!”, giggled, and proceeded to the costume section. Michael and I did not have that type of friendship, and even if we did I do not think that is a funny joke to make to someone who identifies as a woman and has the hardware of a woman. Especially after revealing to Nicole my circumstances with Matty, it felt like another joke they were in on, done in poor taste.
2022: Going down the chain of command to gain understanding at Trap Door
After revealing what had been going on with Matty and Nicole to Company Manager Michael Mejia, they felt we should have a virtual meeting between me, Managing Director Nicole Weisner, and Artistic Director Beata Pilch. The meeting was set for a Sunday, in February 2022, at 10 A.M. Beata Pilch, the Artistic Director, has been in Poland since 2019, so there is really only so much that Beata can know, see and hear for herself from the last three years. Unfortunately, this meeting was filled with gaslighting. I could tell in the meeting that Beata only knew what Nicole and Michael had told her in the short time they had before the meeting.
This meeting consisted of me stating my concerns, and Beata and Nicole gaslighting me with no resolution involved. Michael had a lot of insight before, but nothing to say in front of them in this setting. The most detailed topic that I actually gained insight on was the three of them collectively supporting one another on the topic of The Water Hen Show that was postponed, and then canceled. They shared how other members of the company did not think it was fair, or were jealous that I was cast in this show. Michael, Nicole and Beata relayed all of this with smiles on their faces. The Company, they said, did not find it fair that I would get to tour abroad.
I was so shocked that this was their response, I did not get to share how that was out of my control. I thought that was a given. I auditioned and was cast. I should not receive hate, be treated differently, or be excluded. I did not cast myself on said project and they were not taking accountability for their artistic choices that placed me there. “So”, I then thought to myself, “how about all of the microaggressions I received from the individuals in the company?” The company did not see me as worthy for whatever reason.
After expressing my concerns about Matty to leadership, they collectively told me that they cannot discriminate. At the time of this meeting, Matty was still not a company member.
Another concern of mine was the structure of casting. I introduced the thought with ‘conspiracy of casting.’ As a company member, I had zero insight on what actually qualifies someone for a role. I had no idea on if people are cast based on talent, their natal chart, gossip, or favoritism. Before agreeing to be a company member of Trap Door Theatre, it was stated that company members have priority casting. I expressed my concerns, and their response was listing the shows I had participated in up to that point, as if I should only be grateful.
I realized that casting at Trap Door was not based on talent at that moment. This meeting was filled with dead air and in need of dialogue. All in all, I knew my concerns were not taken seriously here. I knew my best interests were not at play during this meeting. Michael only nodded when appropriate, and then called “time” when the hour was over. This left me feeling unconfident, and considering what was going on, unconfident to perform my best, if even given the opportunity.
Mid to End of 2022- Almost There
Trap Door began to send out newsletters requesting audition submissions for the entire season, for the first time in a long time. I was skeptical at this point, but my goal was to stay focused on my love for the theater. If it was time for me to part ways, I know I remained professional and forthcoming with communications within their culture and expectations.
I volunteered to participate in a virtual reading with a new guest director in 2022, of a play they were directing in 2023. Beata kicked off actor introductions – mind you, she still has not returned from Poland. I learned during the introductions for this reading that Matty had become a company member. I was not as surprised as I thought I would be, because I had asked Nicole about this more than a year prior. Nicole was also at this reading with the guest director, but never turned on the camera, or provided any commentary. Though her mute button unmuted once or twice. She logged off towards the end of the reading, not staying for the discussion of the script.
At this moment the email I received from the Artistic Director telling me the perks of being a part of this company felt like a lie, or something that only applied to certain people. I still had not been cast in any shows since Decomposed, and on Trap Door’s stage since The White Plague at the end of 2019, with its closing being in January of 2020. If I were a poor actor, that would mean confronting my training that I have a lot of faith in. It would invite me to question the working relationship that Trap Door has with professors from my B.F.A training program and the successful professional experiences I had being cast with Trap Door and other companies in the past. If there was something that I had done that went against compliance, I would have hoped that would have been brought to my attention, to either make improvements or dismiss myself.
In a later one-on-one meeting I had with Beata, she confirmed that the culture of Trap Door does entail gossip, and how that is “normal.” I agree that people are entitled to their own opinions. However, I did not participate in bashing others, and I wondered if that was a point against me. The only compliance Trap Door presented when I was cast was during The White Plague. They copy and pasted the Not in Our House guidelines, and had us sign that particular document. They did not adhere to that document, not even on a basic level. I sat back and watched the seeds of gossip bloom. Watching individuals who had not auditioned be cast without an audition, but through gossip of a common indifference. Watching Matty be rewarded in spite of his behavior towards me. I wanted to know how I went from receiving this welcoming energy from the company to being treated like an outsider?
Wrapping up 2022
Considering the many times I worked with Michael Mejia, and given that they facilitated a meeting between myself and management, I thought it was okay to audition for the show Michael was directing called The Ugly One. I did not get cast in this show, however they did cast Matty in this show. I received this email:
Again, I am currently a company member, and I have worked with Michael on a number of projects up to this point. This email suggested that I was a new talent, and they would keep my headshot on file, as though they were meeting me for the first time. Before this audition, I also participated in a reading at their house, where they were deciding on the show they were to direct that season. I did go and see The Ugly One. After seeing the show, I hung out in the space. Matty and Michael were talking, and as I was leaving I took a moment to acknowledge Matty by saying “Good Job”. Matty responded by saying “Thank you”, in a surprised, slowed tone. I then said goodbye to Michael, and all.
More Power Plays
In September 2022, Nicole sent out emails to individuals that she wanted to cast in the next show that she was directing. I say individuals, because Michael Mejia shared that she only sent this notice to a select few when I asked them about it. I responded late, because I was listening to my intuition and was reluctant. I decided to audition because of what Michael told me. Nicole invited me out to audition during call backs after I confronted her on where I stand with her and the company. I shared my reluctance with her before the audition. I sent Nicole a text message asking where I stand. She did not respond to the text message, but she did send an email:
Nicole did not acknowledge my concern for my mental safety. I felt that even though I expressed my concern before things unfolded, I was not a priority, as she had previously stated.
I attended the audition. A few days later I received this email:
After receiving this email, I knew I should have trusted my mind in the first place. I assumed that this was not about power plays, and that was a mistake.
Later that week (Nov 2021) I had a private meeting with the artistic director Beata that I scheduled a month in advance. During this meeting, I asked about any advice that she could give so that I could have a better chance of being cast. I asked her if she thinks that I need more training and is that why I am not getting cast? Her response was to state how Trap Door has company members who have not been cast in years, and that is okay, and normal. She further stated that Trap Door has a “certain culture.” I think it is fine for Trap Door to have their niche and culture, but expectations should be set, so there is no room for confusion. The main representatives of the company invited me to be there. Why did you invite me in the first place? It felt like it was convenient for this company to cast more people of color than ever before, given the circumstances of the pandemic.
Beata asked me if I auditioned for Nicole’s show, as if that were a solution. She did not know that I had already received a response. I replied that I auditioned for Nicole’s show, was not cast, and shared the email exchange above. Beata gave a look to the sky, but no response, as she took a sip from her coffee mug. One of my closing questions of this meeting was asking Beata why Nicole had asked me if I did drugs, and “if so, what kind?” Beata shrugged her shoulders with a confused facial response, looking down – again no actual words. I felt like I was talking to someone who did not know what was going on with her own company. I left the virtual meeting realizing that I am just not on the same page with the Artistic Director, and that we do not share similar values. I knew that Nicole was basically running things for Beata. But after having a direct one-on-one with Beata, the woman who birthed this company, it was confirmed. I knew in my heart that I did not belong with Trap Door. I felt mishandled, and not seen.
Present 2023: New Perspective
As I am preparing for my exit from Trap Door, I decide to go and see as many shows there as possible and even mingle after the shows. I wanted to get the full experience of Trap Door from a new perspective. If it were not for Manuela, who played the Queen in Princess Ivona, I would not have stayed that evening. She is honestly the most beautiful soul I met at Trap Door, and she doesn’t know of the events in this piece. After Princess Ivona, I had a fun time conversing with people I never got the chance to meet or hear any gossip about. Felt like I was in the eye of a storm.
Towards the end of the night, while I was waiting for my Lyft, I witnessed Lovejoy causing a scene to make a spectacle of one of the faithful patrons who has been generous with donations for the company. After the patron left the theater, Lovejoy grabbed a screwdriver, exclaiming how Trap Door does not need the patrons’ donations. Ze unscrewed the patrons’ golden plaque from the wall – the only donor to have a plaque in the space besides who the company receives grants from – as Nicole watched joyfully along with the other company members. Meanwhile, Nicole was discussing people’s sex lives yet again in front of the company and patrons, beer in hand. Lovejoy would go on to propose other extreme actions ze wanted to play out, with Nicole giving the yay or nay on ze’s proposals. Seeing this, I felt secure in realizing that this company culture is not good for who I am, what I stand for, and where I see myself in the future.
Was I being seen?
Beata, still in Poland, later sent the audition notices for a new show titled Pragmatist for the next season. I replied asking if my taped audition for the previous show was viewed. I did not get a response. My question arose because when you send Vimeo links, you can see when an audition was viewed, and it was not. They even asked for me to re-send A Vimeo link because the one I sent was not working, but at that moment the video had one view. After I sent the link a second time, there remained only that one view. My previous audition for Princess Ivona accrued ten views. I was told that there may have been a technical error. At this point I have pointed out a pattern of the lack of communication and confusing structure of casting. A few days after this exchange, the cast list went out for the show on Facebook. This pattern of misguided communication, or a complete lack of communication around auditions had continued into 2023.
I have been working on this blog post since March, and through writing it, I experienced a level of healing I never thought would come. I considered not sharing this information. On 04/25/2023, I received this email. I checked the website and my profile had been removed as well, without warning.
It’s signed “Please let us know if you have any questions. Thank you! Michael Mejia.”
This email states that I am being released because I hadn’t been cast in the previous season. Beata, shared with me that some members there haven’t been cast in years, and how that is normal at Trap Door. I also know for a fact that some members had left the state altogether, and haven’t been in Chicago in years.
As I stated above, two weeks before I received this email, Beata asked me to audition for The Pragmatist. I questioned if my prior audition was viewed and received no response to my questions. Two weeks later, I received an email that they released me from the company as their response. It feels like they were tired of coming up with excuses for why they asked me to be a company member in the first place, while simultaneously not advocating for me to be cast in shows. Things did not add up. When did I all of a sudden become “not a good fit”? Maybe they were expecting me to give up.
Leadership at Trap Door cultivated a chaotic environment for me, attempting, it felt, to break me and make a spectacle of my trauma. I know that leadership did not want to try to understand or hear me. I know that this company had their own prejudices that had nothing to do with me. I am grateful to have survived. I found a deeper love for myself.
My goal is to let others know that they are not alone, if they are experiencing unwarranted adversity at any organization. It is not worth the confusion, the pain, or the time, when you are supposed to be following your heart. Wanting to be creative of any magnitude and share what you have inside is so vulnerable. For me it was very scary to share this information because you hear of artists being blacklisted for speaking out, and that is the last thing that I want for myself. I am sure this happens to artists all the time, and unfortunately, either they realize it when it’s too late, or never realize it at all. The main theme and what I learned in this experience, is to stand up for yourself immediately and gain the level of clarity you need, so you can decide what your next steps are and prioritize your artistic growth. Speaking out can encourage others to live in their truth.
This is a four part testimonial authored by Robin Minkens about her experience with Trap Door Theatre. This is Part Four. Click here to read Part Three.
*We had thought this was evident from our initial editor’s note, but community feedback made it clear further clarification was needed. After some consultation, we have added this clause. Thank you for calling us in.
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Photo Credit: Robin Minks in Decomposed, episode five, at Trap Door.