*The #MeToo movement has come for Ben Vereen.
The New York Daily News is reporting that the veteran stage and screen star has been accused of sexually abusive behavior by several young actresses who were audition for his 2015 production of “Hair” at a community theatre in Florida.
Via NY Daily News:
The women — part of the Venice Theatre production outside of Tampa — say Vereen forced unwanted kisses, hugged them aggressively, stripped naked during an acting exercise and made degrading comments about their weight, sex appeal and personal lives.
Two of the actresses told the Daily News that Vereen lured them to his Florida rental home on separate occasions in September 2015 under the guise of “private rehearsals.” Then he pressed his erect penis into their legs without warning.
The women said they had no idea until recently that Vereen used the same lines on both 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 told The News.
The women said once they got into the hot tub, Vereen began asking personal questions allegedly aimed at reaching creative breakthroughs. This was the same technique he used during rehearsals when he made different cast members, usually women, sit in the center of a circle and discuss their emotional triggers.
“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 f–k 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 during her time in the hot tub, things went even further. He asked her to perform oral sex on him. She passively obliged, feeling “confused,” she said.
“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 told The News.
“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,’ ” she said.
“Now I understand it was a power play. It was so calculated. It was like we were putty in his hands.”
Vereen acknowledged the allegations and apologized in a statement to the Daily News on Thursday.
“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, adding that 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.