Public Service Announcement About Jaybird O’Berski and Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern or How to Get Blacklisted from Durham's Oldest Running Theatre Company
This was originally posted to facebook on September 19, 2019 by Adam Schultz: The original post can be found here. I strongly suggest you read all of the comments on the post.
I've always enjoyed performing and improv. Until recently, the last production I was in involved a high school play about a group of teens who were unaware that they recently died in a car crash. The performance had a “Twilight Zone” meets “Hotel California” vibe. Since then, I got my performance fix from meeting facilitation, leading trainings or entertaining my friends with impressions. I also read to my three kids most nights before bedtime. Many of the book’s characters would have their own distinct voices and accents. Hagrid from the Harry Potter series remains their favorite, although I find his voice challenging without the lines in front of me.
The other important way I expressed this part of myself was through attending local performances. Over the years I've enjoyed productions from the Triangle's many theatre companies, but I found nothing to be quite as fun, creative, and immersive as the powerhouse that was Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern (LGP). Over the past three years, I've attended as many shows as possible and got to know many of the players. Not every performance was remarkable, but each one was always fun, interesting and unexpected. Most importantly, the players always appeared to be having an amazing time performing. Eventually, I became a Patreon supporter and was slowly working up the nerve to email the Artistic Director, Jaybird O’Berski, about upcoming auditions.
About a year ago, I came across Jaybird by chance as we were walking along Chapel Hill Street in Downtown Durham. We engaged in a quick conversation while passing each other. I was thrilled, when out of nowhere, barely breaking stride, he extended an invitation to join LGP’s improv group. I couldn’t believe it! I never asked why I was lucky enough to get an invitation to join the group, I was just excited to flex this muscle with a real audience. It felt like the Universe was honoring my intentions and provided me with an open door. I just needed to walk through it. Apparently, there was a reason they were recruiting and needed new talent in their network, specifically, talent not already integrated into the larger theatre community.
So I went for it. My oldest kid was 13, so I had more freedom to leave the house in the evenings while he babysat. Initially, I had my insecurities about whether or not I had the chops to perform alongside professionals. Soon, however, I was holding my own and was performing improv on a regular basis. It felt great to make strangers laugh, and the group had a lot of genuine fun performing together. The experience helped show me that I held talent as a performer and that it was worth putting more time and energy into honing that craft.
A few months later, the improv performances ended around the time LGP held open auditions for the upcoming season. I was looking for a way to continue to explore this new creative outlet, so I took the chance to audition and try something scripted. Despite my nerves, I prepared my monologue and apparently, I absolutely crushed the audition. The other players were laughing the entire time, and the feedback I received was steller. I was really excited at the thought of landing a role in one or two of their upcoming performances, and it felt like a dream of finally becoming a “real” performer was coming true.
A couple of weeks passed without any news about the audition results, and I had a chance meeting with a fellow Bull City arts and community advocate. During our conversation, I shared with her my excitement about the upcoming LGP season and my hope of securing a role or two.
There was silence, and the color from her face drained and upon my urging, she shared a story about her personal experience with LGP involving her leaving the company, and then told me that she had seen proof of Jay having or pursuing affairs with LGP company members, LGP incubator students and at least one former undergraduate student. She was unable to share the details with me, for legal and ethical reasons, which I totally support.
I felt shocked and deflated, but believed her experience and felt very concerned about the accusations, even though I had not seen the evidence myself. It was all very troubling and I was determined to learn more before taking any specific action. If ANY of the accusations were true, LGP was in a mountain of hurt and members of the performance community were at risk. On the other hand, I had not seen any evidence, so I felt that Jaybird deserved the benefit of the doubt, which added to my feelings of conflict. She offered to connect me with another performer to gain a different perspective.
So I followed up with a second source and her experience matched what had been previously relayed to me. Still, the most damning allegations involved individuals I didn’t know or were not named. Worse, I had heard about inappropriate behavior coming from someone in a position of power without any confirmation from the victims due to privacy concerns. As a result, I decided the best thing I could do in the interim was to take a step back and reflect more on how best to approach this unsettling situation.
One the one hand, I get it. It’s easy to blur the lines in an industry where we are applauded for pretending to be someone we are not. Our relationships are fluid as well. Sometimes company members are students, and students are company members. A director in one performance might be receiving direction in another. Players spend a lot of time together rehearsing, performing and celebrating. Friendships form, and relationships can grow out of that.
On the other hand, as the Director of the company and teacher/organizer of the classes, Jaybird is always in a position of power, and this behavior, even with full consent, if true, would be wildly inappropriate. That is the responsibility you take when you are in a position of power. If you can’t handle that responsibility, or don’t understand that distinction, you have no place in leadership. Period.
Another few weeks went by, and I still felt horribly conflicted. I was trying to reconcile my love for LGP and its players with being fundamentally opposed to how their leader allegedly conducted himself with students and employees. My belief of the validity of what I had been told, with the recognition that it was all hearsay. If I couldn’t find a path forward with LGP, I wanted more information supporting my decision to cut ties.
I grew impatient and reached out to a personal friend and fellow player with LGP. This friend was also close with Jaybird, so I was hoping that she would be able to shed more light on the situation. Although it appeared that the allegations were news to her at the time, I later found out that she knew about them all along and didn’t feel that it was right for her to speak about them.
Not long after, Jaybird contacted me via email, let me know that our mutual friend had informed him about our conversation and asked to grab a drink so we could “clear the air.” Here’s the second line from that email:
“I heard from [mutual friend] that you've spoken to some erstwhile friends of mine about my behavior. If you'd like any clarity there please let me know. I've been trolled for three years now and am tired of losing good friends like you based on rumors and lies.”
We coordinated a time and place to meet. He bought me a drink and sat down across the table. So I asked him outright, “have you ever had sex with company members or students”. He said, “no, never” and vehemently denied it in a number of other ways as I asked more specific versions of each question based on some of the details that were shared with me. When his performance wasn’t enough to assuage my skepticism, his tone and tactics changed wildly.
He first started out saying that were friends and that friendship mattered to him. Then concluding, after some back and forth, that he was never my friend and that I was a fool for thinking so. He called me a coward for not coming to him directly, but then it was ok, because I came to someone he trusted. He lauded my talent as a performer, saying that he wanted to work with me, even had specific roles picked out for me, then asserted that I was untrustworthy because I was unsure of whose stories to believe. As a result, I was out of the company for least two-to-four years. This seemed oddly specific, as if he was dangling an opening for me to redeem myself and earn back his trust. Throughout it all, I felt that he was twisting my words and at one point, even invoking my ex when discussing empathy and what it feels like to be accused and judged unfairly. It all felt very manipulative, purposefully disorienting, and punitive. He even went as far as to intimate that I was an asshole for ever thinking that he could be capable of that kind of monstrous abuse of power. How could he even consider working with someone who thought he was capable of such predatory behavior. Unthinkable.
Throughout our conversation, Jaybird was also wildly critical of his accusers. To him, they were talentless hacks who were completely unable to make their way in the world without his guidance and tutelage. I felt like the conversation was a sort of performance for him, with the spinning and crafting a long form storyline, making edits and building in circular references based on my responses and inputs. I know being accused of these things has been difficult, but there is absolutely no excuse for how he behaved. He showed no patience or compassion towards me. It became clear that I was either with him or against him. It felt like the entire meeting was in an effort to figure out whose team I was on. This type of manipulation and abuse of power seemed particularly evil in it's nuance and tenacity. It felt like a slow and patient assault that ultimately aimed to shame me for failing into its trap.
I’m fortunate that acting and improv is a hobby and not what I rely on to make a living. However, many of my fellow players do rely on their performance work to pay their bills. I have the privilege to step back and disengage for a while, where others who were (and are) impacted by this situation would have a much tougher time doing so without hurting their ability to earn a living. After all, LGP is a company and its players are employees.
More recently, it has come to light that Jaybird was, in fact, having sex with a company member and student. Dana, his wife, admitted as much in part of an email to company members and colleagues, notifying them that the company’s Managing Director, Jessica Flemming, was resigning:
“Jay and I have been talking about an open relationship for a while. Jay and a fellow company member (who has given us permission to disclose this) consensually engaged in a relationship that was discovered by other company members to their dis-ease, and upset. Jessica sees this engagement as an abuse of power and position. And while we understand how that can be seen that way, we think differently. Jaybird in no way used his position to coerce, force, or intimidate this person into doing something they didn't want to do. The company member in no way was coerced, forced, or intimidated into a relationship. It developed organically.
These were two, adult, consenting people engaging in a private relationship.”
Last week, I emailed Jaybird and asking point blank why he lied to me back in July. His response was short and sweet.
“I lied to you because I don't know you.
You're a tool, Adam.
Please fuck off.”
So there it is. They openly admit that on at least one occasion, Jaybird had a sexual relationship with an employee and student. Why Dana is the one sending messages of public defense and spin to the community I can only guess. Since then, there has appeared to be no additional public fall out or discourse. Jaybird continues to work with LGP and the other allegations remain unaddressed. This is not ok. This can’t be ok.
Regardless of your affiliation or familiarity with LGP, know that this is happening here in Durham, and that our amazing local theatre community is in need of both light and love. Light so that victims are able to step forward without fear of retribution, all allegations can be explored, the facts can be made public, and so unsafe communities can be made safe again. Love so that any potential victims can find closure and heal, the community can rebuild, and LGP gets a chance to thrive without being destroyed by these un-addressed allegations.
Given his recent admission of guilt, we, as a community, must call for Jaybird to remove himself from any involvement with LGP and the Durham theatre community until all the facts can be known about the remaining allegations so we can be assured that LGP students and employees can work and learn in an environment free from predatory abuse of power.
Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern News and Observer Durham Herald Sun Indyweek Daily Tarheel Duke Chronicle
Update: I've been receiving messages of support, solidarity and validation from folks who have had similar experiences with Jaybird. If you read this, have had similar experiences or worse, and are willing to speak out about your experience, please do publicly. Either on this thread or in your own space, and then link to it from here. We need as many voices to tell their stories as possible if we are going to discover the full extent and impact of his behavior. Now is the time to bring your story into the light.
If you'd like to post anonymously, you are welcome to PM me. I'll post it to the thread on your behalf, with your identity withheld.
Update 10/10/19: I posted this as a comment, but wanted it here as well so it's easier to find.
This is from a person who wishes to remain anonymous. I have personally confirmed their identity:
"I met Jaybird as an undergraduate student. He was my professor at Duke. We spent a lot of time together outside of the classroom. He spent time with fellow classmates outside of the classroom as well, so it didn’t seem out of the ordinary. He made me feel understood and loved. I was quite conservative, which changed when he introduced me to a world in which sexual relationships appeared limitless (as he engaged in these intimately with cast members and friends). It was intoxicating and felt amazing at the time. Completely consensual and lovely. From where I stand now, I wish he had loved me enough to stand firm on an important boundary. Despite our feelings, we should not have engaged in a romantic/sexual relationship. I was his student. Now I’m left in a confused place, where I’m not sure where relational boundaries should stand. I worry that my current partner will lose patience as I try to figure out what this experience meant. If I was the only one. If it was real. I also dread how easy it became to lie to and deceive those closest to me."
She later asked for this update on 10/25:
"I am the Duke student who shared my story with Adam. I’d like to add that I was not coerced into doing anything. I shared this because I was scared and confused, but now I understand my responsibility in the matter. I was pushed to make a statement and now regret doing so."
Update 11/22: Erin Bell just added this brave testimony to the comments.
For those of you who don't know me, my name is Erin Bell. I have been LGP's webmaster for 5 years and on their board for 2. Over the years I have also stage managed and acted for LGP as well as photographed their shows.
Jaybird recently confessed to me that he did in fact have sex with an undergraduate student. I'm not cool with that.
This morning the straw that broke the camel's back was Jaybird threatening to call someone's employer as a consequence for them speaking out against him.
Fuck Jaybird and the horse he rode in on.
That is all,
In a series of emails with me today, Jay admitted that he had a conversation with Erin Bell and Cuquis about contacting Housing for New Hope, the non-profit I was on the board of, about my attempts to get them blacklisted from Durham venues. I'm not sure if he ever actually did this or not. I stepped off the board last month to pursue other community affordable housing efforts. He continues to deny having any relationships with students or employees other than the 3 that are publicly known, which he denied before they were publicly known. He also denies ever blackmailing anyone though I'm not sure he thinks the things he has done qualify as such. He does however accuse me of blackmailing the women who have come forward and is convinced that I'm the bully in this story. I'm not sharing any quotes from his emails because each message, save for the first, included a note not to.