Lights On: Task force set up for protection

Response to sex abuse claims

Testimonials on social media and in the press shined a light on the sexual harassment and assault several young women claim they endured while participating in community theater.

Lights On: Community Theatre Protection Task Force wants to make sure that glare continues until the problems are corrected.

The volunteer group is working to create a free training program to help theaters address the issues raised by some participants, both women and men, adults and minors.

Emelia Sherin, a playwright and actor / dancer who is one of the organizers, said, “Lights On is meant to be a prevention and education program not only for survivors and advocates but also for people who want to learn and understand. A lot of mistakes were made in the past, and we want to prevent them in the future for the safety of everyone in the theater community.”

Lights On is partnering with COMPASS Family and Community Services, which will provide rape crisis and counseling services to survivors and help develop Lights On’s educational program.

In addition to Sherin, the executive board for Lights On includes Kim Akins, attorney and founder of Mahoning Valley Players; Candace DiLullo, former director of Youngstown Playhouse Youth Theatre and an actor / director who has worked with several area theaters; Gina Marafiote, a licensed professional counselor and volunteer coordinator for Millennial Theatre Company; Hunter Thomas, an actor who serves as youth and family program coordinator at the Jewish Community Center of Youngstown; and Nicole Zayas, a clinical social worker and Rust Belt Theater Company board member.

Invitations will be sent to theaters within a five-county area (Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana in Ohio and Mercer and Lawrence in Pennsylvania) within the next week, and they will be asked to send a representative from their organization to help shape the policies and certification process.

“Lights On is not based out of any specific theater,” Sherin said. “We want a representative from every theater, no matter how big or how small.”

Those representatives also will participate in the education training and then take what they learned back to their theaters to train others, Sherin said.

Individuals who complete the training will be Lights On certified, and theaters whose staff members complete the training and implement the policy recommendations also can be Lights On certified. To maintain that designation, individuals and theaters will need to get re-certified.

“Just like CPR training, you have to get certified every two years,” she said.

Sherin would like to have an education program set up by early August and start training later that month.

“This is an issue that should matter to everyone,” she said. “I have a lot of trauma from my experience, but I’m taking that trauma and turning it into fuel to make a difference. It’s finding a silver lining in the darkest parts of my life.”


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