Faced with the revelation that their lead actor was a convicted sex offender and fearing the possibility of protests, the Fells Point Corner Theatre and the Collaborative Theatre Company have canceled their production of “A Christmas Carol,” which was scheduled to open Friday.
“The information that we received leading up to this week made it impossible to move forward with the show in good faith and in good standing,” said Ann Turiano, interim president of Collaborative Theatre, which had scheduled the show through Dec. 31 at the Fells Point Corner Theatre’s Ann Street building.
Steven Shriner, a founder of the Collaborative and, until he resigned last month, its president, was scheduled to play the lead role of Scrooge in the production. But “a few weeks ago,” according to Fells Point Corner Theatre President Andrew Porter, word reached officials of the two theaters that Shriner, 56, had been convicted on five counts related to sex with a minor while living in New Jersey and was on Maryland’s list of registered sex offenders.
“At that point in time, we all felt that we could move forward in good faith,” Porter said. The play’s cast and crew took a vote, Turiano said, and opted to continue with the production.
But over the past few weeks, officials of the two theaters continued to hear from people concerned about Shriner’s past.
“I guess there were whispers … that there would be protests that would occur both before and during the show,” Porter said.
With concern mounting, Turiano said, the decision was made to cancel the production.
“It was an accumulation, it was just simply the quantity, not any one specific thing,” Porter said of the mounting pressure the theaters felt.
Shriner resigned as president of the Collaborative on Nov. 6, according to a post on the theater company’s website. No reason was given. In another post four days later, Collaborative officials came out against “violence in any form,” insisting that “we cannot be the gramophone of society if we allow or dismiss abuse, discrimination, and harassment in our artistic homes.” The post mentioned no specifics.
According to online court records and news accounts, Shriner was arrested in 2003 after driving 60 miles to meet someone he had communicated with through an internet chat room, and who identified himself as a 14-year-old boy. The boy was, in fact, an investigator for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice.
Shriner was arrested on arrival at the meeting place, and was later convicted on one count each of second-degree attempted sexual assault, third-degree luring or enticing a child, attempted endangering the welfare of a child, fourth-degree attempted criminal sexual contact and fourth-degree endangering the welfare of a child, according to records. He was sentenced to six years in prison, a conviction that was affirmed on appeal in 2007.
Shriner has no criminal record in Maryland. Contacted Friday at his home, he declined to comment.
Both Porter and Turiano said that no allegations have been made against Shriner in connection with his work at the Collaborative or on “A Christmas Carol.” The play’s cast featured six adults playing multiple roles.
No children “have been involved in any production from the Collaborative Theatre that involved Steven Shriner,” Turiano said.
The fate of “A Christmas Carol” raises significant issues that theater companies like Fells Point Corner and the Collaborative will need to address, both officials said.
“We’re committed to sitting down to put in writing all of our policies and make sure those are shared with our artists and our community,” Turiano said.