Common Traps for The Aspiring Artist, A Testimonial at Trap Door Theatre

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, told 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. 

This post is to share my experience, from the point of view of a woman of color, born and raised on the south side of Chicago, working at Trap Door Theatre. I have had the privilege of working at a variety of theaters in the Chicagoland area since graduating in 2017. The extra layer of education that comes with applying what you have learned in college is very helpful, but there is no rehearsal for the real world and its surprises. This is an outline of blatant neglect and unprofessionalism, the story of how a theatre company played a game with my trauma and forged an alliance with the person who violated my boundaries. The telling of how a theater company could not have your best interest at heart if it gets in the way of their power, ability to control you, and their egos. These events have taken place over the course of three years. 

I would hear about Trap Door rarely casting people of color, but I figured I had survived a predominantly white conservatory B.F.A theatre program, and a semester in Moscow, Russia. This would be an opportunity to grow in my artistry. After much contemplation, I learned that this is much bigger than myself.  I was very hurt by these circumstances, but what about future aspiring artists moving to Chicago, possibly fresh out of their collegiate career? 

I have been taught to journal my entire life, and after reflecting on my journal entries regarding Trap Door I realized something was very wrong. There has been a theme that Black women are strong and do not experience the same level of pain and trauma as other ethnicities- this is a common misconception black women face in most institutions. This is a warning to people of color, for what I am about to tell you can happen anywhere. 

From my experience, I learned that this company abused their power and my emotional tolerances. My dream with Trap Door turned out to be a nightmare, where I learned what I was willing to tolerate for my artistic passions. I have experienced deliberate gaslighting, assault, sabotage from my peers and leadership, accompanied by poor communication and malicious gossip.

Love bomb casting 

I auditioned three times before I was cast in a show at Trap Door. The first time I auditioned was for their generals. The second time was for a taped in-house audition for an international director in Poland. The last time I auditioned before getting cast in anything there, was August 2019, for a show called The White Plague, directed by Nicole Weisner, Trap Door’s Managing Director. It appeared that I was creating a good working relationship with this company. I was getting cast in shows and projects back-to-back. I was selected to work with the international guest director, and travel abroad to Poland to tour a show called The Water Hen

An audition invitation from a director in Hungary.
Minkens’ reply to the Artistic Director, accepting her role.

Within the first year, I was asked to be a company member by artistic director Beata Pilch.

Artistic Director Beata Pilch invites Robin Minkens to be a company member.

I thought this was too good to be true! I was very excited, and shared the news on social media. 

Top (L to R): Venice Averyheart, Miguel Long, Anna Klos. Bottom (L to R) Maryam Abdi and Robin Minkens.

I was overjoyed by the response I received from my peers and family members.

Backstage gossip curated by leadership

The first direct experience I had with Nicole Wiesner, Trap Door’s Managing Director, was when she called me while I was at work. She asked me if I could play an additional role in The White Plague, because someone dropped out of the show. She used the phrase “we need you.” It sounded like they could not find someone else to fill the role. I agreed and felt like she had faith in my willingness to participate and be a team player. I did not speak with her again until it was time for rehearsals to begin, with the exception of normal email communications leading up to rehearsals and the show. We were to begin rehearsals for this show in November of 2019. 

During the rehearsal process for The White Plague, Nicole would chronically volunteer personal information about individuals in the company before I got a chance to put a face to their name. Nicole, out of nowhere, shared personal information about Artistic Director Beata Pilch’s estranged family dynamics, and how that impacts Beata’s character. She made sure I was aware that Beata has never physically attended one of the shows Nicole had directed in the 17+ years Nicole has been a part of the company. Within the same conversation, she briefly talked about the international guest director I was soon to work with. She told me the story of a previous guest director, and how someone in the cast slept with that guest director. She moments later stated she is afraid for Emily Nichelson, a Trap Door company member, to work with certain directors. She said she was afraid that Emily would sleep with the director; similar to that previous female actor. I was curious if this was a warning, or why she was telling me this. 

During a rehearsal break for The White Plague, she opened discussions on the marital problems of someone who would later direct at Trap Door in 2022. It was an open discussion, as everyone chimed in. These prerequisite comments on people’s character and misfortunes were discouraging, but I figured they had nothing to do with me, I was there to work. Nicole would later share information about some of her early days as an actor, that included heavy drugs, alcohol, an accidental suicide she witnessed, and anger. It was clear that she felt her career should have progressed further by the way she described some of her relationships, and I sympathized with that. Considering that I was a new actor, who is a woman of color, that would be a nightmare in my eyes. 

Michael Mejia, Company Manager, revealed at a later time during a phone call, that Nicole felt that Beata Pilch (Artistic Director), “stole her career…”, and, I later thought, maybe that is why she shared what she did about the Artistic Director not seeing her shows before. What she initially shared about herself, to me personally, made me think she was maybe eccentric, but cool to me (no judgements on my end). I suppose the initial red flag was how fast she initiated personal communications with sensitive information, about others without them being there. They deserve to know if their personal business is being shared with people. Also, like most fresh actors, I overlooked the lingering signs of toxicity because I was happy to be working.

Top: Michael Mejia, Robin Minkens. Bottom: Emily Nichelsen, Venice Averyheart

Myself and Venice Averyheart were the two black women cast in The White Plague. From my knowledge, we are the two first black women that Trap Door invited to be on their roster of principal actors. During a break in rehearsal, Venice and I are conversing; Nicole openly asks how old we were in front of everyone. “How old are you guys?”. We were not speaking on age or anything age-related to trigger the question. I tell my age at the time, not thinking anything of it, and after, Venice states that she would rather not share her age. Nicole said, “thank you” and then “it’s okay, you do not have to share” to Venice. An awkward pause came after because she said nothing else, not even a follow-up comment or question. The energy after that felt like there was this unspoken rule at play that I was not in on. After rehearsal, Venice and I were walking to the blueline train stop, where she told me her actual age, and then said to me, “You don’t know yourself”. I did not know what that meant, but I felt like it was tied to the age question Nicole asked earlier. I moved on. 

After the end of another rehearsal for The White Plague, Nicole pulled me to the side, and asked questions about my background, and what my future goals would look like. At the end of the conversation she stated, “I don’t have to worry about you getting a big head, do I?” One might think that is a compliment. I replied “No”, to her question, and she said “But your presence…,”  with a straight face. After she made that comment, I remained silent, because confusion took over. Was she judging me based on my outer appearance? I did not say anything further except my goodbyes, and went home. 

In later rehearsals, Nicole openly asked me, “How do you know how to use a liquid U?” in the middle of rehearsal. I did not respond because I thought this was a joke. She asked again, “How do you know how to use a liquid U?”. She looked out at the room towards the others. I was stunned. My body could not find a joke, let alone a response. A Liquid U is something that is taught in most theater training programs, that has some form of period styles or classical training. My training information is on my resume. Trap Door has a working relationship with a few of my professors from my B.F.A training program. We continued on with the scene we were working on, but she did not give direction on if she wanted me to keep the Liquid U, or not, which I felt defeated the purpose of her asking that question. 

While The White Plague was in production, we would participate in a pre-show make-up application. I overheard a hushed conversation that grew louder between David Lovejoy (ze/zir) and Dennis Bisto. The louder words I heard, coming from Lovejoy’s mouth: “Do you see this skin? I have Aryan blood running through these veins!” ze said proudly. Bistos eyes searched around frantically to know who was watching, and patted his hands in a downward motion in the air, for Lovejoy to lower zis voice. Did I know what an Aryan was? No. I looked it up though. It may or may not be helpful to know what an Aryan is, or what it symbolizes. I think this is worth mentioning because we are speaking on the character of trusted individuals of this theater company and the outward expression on some of their core beliefs. Maybe what ze said was a joke. But I am not sure to this day, after doing my own research.

After a show, during the opening weekend of The White Plague, I was standing in a circle with patrons and the music director for the show, talking near the concessions area of the theater. We were talking about the show, and Nicole was nowhere initially in sight. I recall Nicole’s boyfriend, who was the music director of The White Plague, and I standing directly next to one another in a group conversation. We turned our faces towards one another to exchange words, and as we were speaking Nicole eagerly appeared out of nowhere directly between him and I, to kiss him for about eight seconds. Everyone in the circle stopped their volley of words, to quietly stare. I stood there, forced to wait for them to finish. It reminded me of one marking their territory. Once she was finished, she turned, looked me in the eyes longer than a glance, not acknowledging anyone else in the circle, and walked away. We continued the conversations, but shortly after I walked away, feeling uncomfortable. 

Trap Door company member Keith Surney was also an actor in The White Plague. He initiated that we walked to the train together after rehearsal, given that he also lived on the southside at that time. After a show, during the second weekend of performance, Keith and I transferred from the Blue line to the Red line. Upon entering the Red line doors, Keith shared he wanted to ask me something. He shares that Nicole told him that had I told her that I wanted to “Fuck him”. I was absolutely stunned. I was completely silent. Not only did I not say this to Nicole, I wanted to know why she would say that to Keith, who would later be given a title of Technical Director at Trap Door. He thought it was funny, and laughed about it, but no further conversation on that subject continued on that train ride. We switched the subject and would continue to ride the train the rest of the run of The White Plague, not mentioning it again. 

The red flags would continue, when Nicole Weisner became interested in my romantic life. She would later go on to tell me that she enjoys match making. She eventually became interested in my natal chart information (date of birth and time of birth etc.). When she first inquired, I only told her the month and the day. Nicole would text me horoscopes and pages out of books about my zodiac sign when she felt like it. I initially thought that was pretty cool, she was willing to share what she knew about my zodiac information, for I had never looked deep into it. I would later discover this is a type of violation of privacy, a way of gathering assumptions about my character, as more information was revealed.

Matty Robinson 

Matty Robinson is an actor here in Chicago, who later violated my boundaries and through a series of strange events, became a company member at Trap Door. Matty aided in creating an environment of intimidation at Trap Door, which resulted in uncomfortable scenarios and dynamics. 

Matty had verbally initiated and expressed interest in us hanging out in the spring of 2019, before I had worked with Trap Door. I initially met him in 2018, because a friend of mine had a group of us attend the PimpProv show that Matty regularly performs in for her birthday. After the show, Matty and I briefly talked in passing, and no information was exchanged at that time. The next time I coincidentally met him was at RedTape Theatre’s production of In the Blood in February of 2019.  We deemed one another friendly and cool, but it wasn’t until the spring of 2019 where communication became more frequent, and eventually we hung out in the city.

Just for history and clarification, upon meeting Matty, he did NOT tell me that he was married with two children before he and I started dating. As we dated, more of his situation was revealed. Matty and I would attend theater shows in Chicago, and he would invite me to his PimpProv shows. While dating, he would take me to dinner, the movies, and always provided alcohol – so much alcohol. Alcohol impairs your ability to consent, and I learned the hard way that Matty would not respect my ability to consent or not consent when alcohol was present.

Matty asked me to help him pack his things and move from the home he once shared with his family. I agreed to helping him out, because of the story he shared about their dynamics and him feeling abandoned. At this point we had been on multiple dates. I was told his wife packed up what she could and took the kids to their hometown in California.

The day I was helping him move turned into the evening, and I was too drunk to drive at the end of the night. I was certainly too drunk to give sexual consent. At the house I helped him move from, I fell asleep on the couch, only to awake the next morning in the bed of the master bedroom. He made me aware that we participated in sexual intercourse the night before, and I cried. Through those tears, I said, “that was not supposed to happen.” I did not believe we had sex. He unemotionally reached over, grabbed and showed me a used condom with his fluids inside, and said “look, see?” He could have thrown the condom away at least. 

This was the beginning of my red flags with Matty. The second red flag was when he asked me to take an overnight trip to Michigan. I did not feel comfortable going out of state, overnight with Matty alone. I felt that was a trip people take when they are in serious relationships. Considering the previous red flags, caution arose. I chose to reveal that I was still open to dating other people, and was not sure if I was ready for that type of intimacy. Matty began to screen my communication. He went from contacting me every day, to suddenly not contacting me at all. We did have one phone call during the trip, where I learned he still went to Michigan, and took a female guest. After that weekend trip was over, he began to contact me again, and initiated hanging out, like nothing happened. We went out for food, played video games, and he came to see my show at another theatre. 

In November of 2019, was my third red flag. Matty asked me to stay at his house for Thanksgiving and meet his friends. I stayed and had dinner with his friends. We all participated in group activities, games and banter that evening. The night did not end with everyone on the same page. As one of the guests was leaving, I felt that this may be my cue to leave as well. I had already met this particular person on separate occasions. That night she asked me if Matty and I had been intimate. I tell her the truth and say “yes”, and I share with her the non- consensual experience as well. Matty was aware of this conversation, and did not take that well. I went to gather the rest of my things from inside of Matty’s apartment, and judging by the shift in his demeanor, I said, “I think I am going to go.” Matty replies, “yeah you should”. 

As he and his other guest both walk me to the door, Matty states that he has ordered my Uber. I say thank you, and he says you are welcome. Matty and I lived on complete opposite sides of the city. I got in the uber, and the ride was cut short no where near my house. I tell the driver that I do not live here, and the driver states that the ride was stopped at that location. Matty knew where I lived, because he had taken me home before with his vehicle. We did not talk or see one another again until Nicole cast him in Decomposed Ep. 5, and I did not know that he was at odds with me until that time. 

Talent or Natal Chart: Trap Door 2020 Edition 

The Water Hen

The show The Water Hen, to be directed by the international director and travel abroad to Turkey in 2020, had been postponed, and then canceled due to Covid. This is the same director Nicole said she was worried Emily N. would sleep with, and Emily ended up not getting cast in the show.

My main focus was on helping Trap Door get financial support, and I used my personal page to do so. My family and friends have been generous with the shows I have participated in. I was not focused on the fact that you have to search this photoshopped picture to find people of color at Trap Door.

I believed they wanted to change, against the odds of their reputation as a predominantly white institution, and I wanted to help them. I eventually learned in a meeting with Michael Mejia, Beata Pilch and Nicole Wiesner, that my peers at Trap Door felt that it was unfair for me to even be cast in this show, The Water Hen. Around this time first words of a pandemic were being announced. 


Nicole Weisner would continue to periodically text me as though she were trying to form a good working relationship. But then eventually I felt things were even more personal when she asked for my Natal Chart information a second time in order to cast me in a role in April of 2020. Leading up to this point, I did not think anything of it, because I did not know what a natal chart was. At this time, she knows my month, day, and year of birth. I didn’t even know my time of birth at this time, so I could not give it to her when she asked. The name of the show she was casting was one she self-titled, called “God X”. After asking for my natal chart information on the FaceTime call she initiated, she reveals to me that she is a “witch.” I took it as a joke and laughed. As I think back on it, she stated this with a straight face, and no laughter ensued from her after. If she was serious, it is still unclear. I even wondered if she were telling me that she was a witch to see if the information would return back to her, a test of loyalty of some sort. I have combed my brain over and over for details like one would part the fine hairs of their beloved pet for a lice of reasons, no lice found. The “GodX ” project had one zoom meeting with only company members of Trap Door, and all work on this project ceased to exist, without explanation.

This is a four part testimonial authored by Robin Minkens about her experience with Trap Door Theatre. This is Part One.

Click here to read Part Two.

Click here to read Part Three.

Click here to read Part Four.

*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: Chris Popio. L-R Michael Mejia, David Lovejoy, Robin Minks, Dennis Bisto.


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