VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) – Famed Tony-award winning actor Ben Vereen has been accused of sexual misconduct while directing a production of the musical “Hair” at the Venice Theatre in 2015.
Two young actresses came forward with their allegations in a report printed in the New York Daily News.
The women claimed that Vereen assaulted women in a hot tub at his home. He would also ask actresses to perform sex acts.
One of the actresses, Kaitlyn Terpstra, said Vereen stripped naked in front of the cast and forced the group to comment on each other’s bodies. She recalled that Vereen told her to lose weight.
In response, Ben Vereen released the following statement:
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. 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. 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.”
Vereen starred in the original Broadway production of “Hair” from 1968 to 1972.
The musical, which features a nude scene, is about a group of hippies who celebrate peace and love during the Vietnam War
“We are obviously appalled and we are extremely disappointed in him,” said Venice Theatre Executive Director Murray Chase. “A betrayal of sorts that this could happen in a volunteer situation with a show that had such a strong camaraderie as part of its core.”
Chase says the theatre was not aware that this conduct was going on.
“We have researched theatre groups and communities across the country to find the best solutions to making sure that we will never have a situation like this come to fruition again,” he said.
The Venice Theatre is strengthening policies and making it easier for cast members to report harassment.
“We really are sorry that we didn’t see this coming,” he added. “Obviously it’s a painful situation, but its things that need to get talked about. We expect that there will be plenty more discussions and some of it will be uncomfortable but that’s how change is made and how things get better.”
In a statement to News Channel 8, Terpstra has a message for sexual assault victims: “I encourage them to seek support and know it was never their fault.”