Jeff Church of Coterie Theater killed after sexual abuse allegations

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A longtime Kansas City children’s theater director was found dead on Christmas Eve – days after he resigned amid allegations of sexual abuse.

Jeff Church, 63, who led the Coterie Theater for more than 30 years, was found dead at his home Saturday afternoon, the Kansas City Star reported.

The cause of death was not disclosed.

On Thursday, KKFI 90.1 radio host Mark Manning accused Church on Facebook of assaulting him in 1991 when he was 27.

He introduced himself by sharing a since-deleted video of Deshawn Young, a Florida actor who previously lived in Kansas City, in which he described an attack.

“I am sharing this video testimonial from my friend Dashawn Young. Please be careful. This is very hard to watch and listen to,” Manning wrote.

“My emotional muscle memory was triggered in a way I didn’t expect. I lost it. I was so touched that I wondered if I could make my radio show,” he continued.

Mark Manning
Mark Manning, a Kansas City radio host, said he was sexually assaulted by Church in 1991, aged 27.
Facebook/Mark Manning

Manning recounted how Church allegedly assaulted him at the director’s home during a post-production party on “Dinosaurs.”

“I found myself pushed back on the bed, his mouth was on parts of my body, my clothes seemed to disappear and very quickly the director penetrated me,” he wrote.

“It felt like my body was being used. How did this happen?” Manning said, adding that she had heard many similar reports of sexual abuse at the hands of the theater boss.

Dashawn Young
Actor Deshawn Young posted a since-deleted video on Facebook alleging abuse he suffered at the hands of Coterie Theater director Jeff Church.

Manning told the Star that the abhorrent acts “go on for over 30 years”.

“Most of these people were young theater artists trying to find their way in their theater career and a person in a position of great authority to direct them and decide who gets paid and who gets the job. [was] interfering with people’s lives,” he told the newspaper.

He said that after sharing the lengthy post, three other people reached out to him to share their similar experiences.

On Friday, the Kansas City Pitch first published more shocking accusations against Church from more than a dozen people.

Jeff Church was director of The Coterie for 30 years.
Jeff Church was director of Coterie for 30 years.
The Coterie

KC Comeaux, an actor who worked for Church in his early 20s, also spoke out on Facebook.

“I was sexually assaulted by Jeff Church. Many of you in Kansas City had no idea of ​​this man’s behavior. Many of you have heard rumors. But I am here to tell you he is a predator,” he wrote.

“He prepared, abused and assaulted several young people over more than 30 years. I include myself,” Comeaux wrote. “…this man, who used his position of power as Artistic Director of a renowned children’s theater, for manipulation and sexual exploitation.”

Dashawn Young
Young’s post prompted others to speak up about their experiences with the late director.

On Saturday afternoon, the theater announced that it had accepted Church’s resignation and planned to investigate the multiple allegations.

“We want you to know that we are taking these allegations extremely seriously and will proceed with the investigation immediately, despite the impending vacation,” it said in a statement.

Manning called the sinister affair “a tragedy for our community.”

“I don’t want to see an entire theater company destroyed because of one person and the horrible things they’ve done over a long period of time to many different people, both men and women,” he told the paper.

Theater statement
The Coterie Theater released a statement following the allegations.

Church’s death comes a month after Coterie chief executive Joette Pelster died in her sleep aged 71 – a week after announcing her intentions to retire after nearly 30 years.

“His accomplishments have been many and his impact on the performing arts in Kansas City has been immense,” theater representative David Golston told the Star last month.

It has not been confirmed whether others in the theater were aware of the allegations against Church, the paper noted.