The fallout from the #MeToo movement has only just begun, and Broadway legend Ben Vereen is the latest to face accusations of abuse after several young actresses came forward accusing the star of sexually assaulting them during the 2015 production of Hair.
According to the New York Daily News, the women, all part of the Venice Theatre production outside of Tampa, Fla., accused Vereen of attacking them with unwanted kisses, hugging them aggressively, stripping naked during an acting exercise and making inappropriate comments about their weight, sex appeal and personal lives.
Two of the young women—Kaitlyn Terpstra, who was 22 at the time, and another 23-year-old actress who preferred to be identified only as Kim—told the Daily News that Vereen lured them to his rental home in Florida on separate occasions in September 2015 for “private rehearsals,” but instead pressed his erect penis into their legs without warning.
On Thursday, Vereen, who was approaching his 69th birthday when the alleged incidents took place, did not appear to deny the accusations, according to the Daily News.
“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,” he said.
The women said that they did not realize until recently that Vereen used the same gross, inappropriate lines on each of them to get them naked in his hot tub.
“He gave this whole speech about how nudity was not inherently sexual. ‘That’s not what it’s about.’ He made me feel that if I wasn’t mature enough to understand that, I wasn’t mature enough to be in ‘Hair,’” Terpstra said.
“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,” Kim added.
The women said that once they were lured into the hot tub, Vereen asked them personal questions.
“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 recalled.
“He asked me, ‘Feel that?’ It was terrifying. I said, ‘Feel what?’ I wanted to act like I didn’t. I pushed myself off with a laugh. Then later, he asked, ‘Do you think I want to fuck you?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and he got angry. He said, ‘Well, I don’t, and that’s unfortunate.’ He made me feel like I had my mind in the gutter.”
Kim said that while she was in the hot tub with Vereen, things went even further after he asked her to perform oral sex and left her feeling “confused.”
“I just think at the time, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I didn’t want to do it, but I was intimidated and scared. He was being very intense and angry. He seemed very angry and offended. I had seen him behave this way toward others in the tribe during circle,” she said.
“I just felt powerless because I thought I really needed his help and guidance. And when he said nudity doesn’t have to be sexual, I was like, ‘OK, maybe this isn’t even sexual,’” Kim added. “Now I understand it was a power play. It was so calculated. It was like we were putty in his hands.”
The Daily News notes:
In his statement, Vereen said he gained new perspective on his behavior in the last two years.
“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. So I am not going to make any excuses because the only thing that matters here is acknowledging and apologizing for the effects of my conduct on the lives of these women,” he said.
“Going forward, my having come to terms with my past conduct will inform all my future interactions not only with women, but with all individuals. I hope these women will find it in their hearts to accept my sincere apology and forgive me,” his statement read.
Kim acknowledged that she eventually became involved in a relationship with Vereen, saying that she told herself it was more spiritual than sexual.
Another actress, Ariella Pizarro, accused Vereen of pressing himself against her one night as he hugged her goodbye, before later texting her, “Yo (sic) felt so good tonight.”
From the Daily News:
The News obtained a copy of the text message sent by Vereen and confirmed the number was listed in his name.
Pizarro said Vereen also randomly kissed her on the lips in the first few weeks of rehearsals, when she was 22 years old.
“We were in a music rehearsal, and he was just walking around, and then he walked up and kissed me on the lips. It was so weird. We all knew Hair was going to be a different kind of production, like in the ’60s, but he didn’t even ask first. He just kissed me. I was shocked, for sure,” Pizarro said.
“He didn’t shove his tongue down my throat, but it gave me an uneasy feeling. Then he moved on. I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “From that point on, I kept myself at arm’s length with Ben.”
Cast members also recalled an uncomfortable moment when they had to strip for a rehearsal exercise and Vereen decided he would get naked, too.
“It was uncomfortable, to say the least,” Pizarro noted.
As for Venice Theatre, which was supposed to be watching out for these young women, officials said they only became fully aware of the extent of the allegations after Terpstra posted on Facebook about the experience back in November.
The theater reached out to every member of the Hair cast, getting in contact with all but six of the 32 individuals.
“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. Some of those visits resulted in compromising situations for at least two of the actresses,” Executive Director Murray Chase said in a statement. “We are working to strengthen our sexual harassment policies and procedures, including the reporting of them, to prevent any future occurrences.”
That being said, Terpstra said that Chase had to step in during one particularly volatile confrontation with Vereen.
The Daily News reports:
Terpstra said she’s not sure exactly what she told [Chase], but she thinks she mentioned at least one forced kiss. She said Chase later sat in on the final dress rehearsal, but Vereen was not banned from the building.
Chase told the News he remembered the hallway incident but thought it was isolated.
“While we were aware of an altercation between Ben Vereen and Ms. Terpstra, we have now learned of additional situations,” he said.
Both Terpstra and Kim said that the experience with Vereen had lasting effects on their careers, with neither having acted in a production since, although both have stayed in the creative fields, with Terpstra going toward burlesque, while Kim returned to a job at the Venice Theatre to “redefine that space.”