A former actor and instructor with the American Conservatory Theater has sued the company alleging "systematic discrimination" and racism, according to court documents.
Stephen Buescher filed a lawsuit against ACT in San Francisco Superior Court on Tuesday. Buescher worked at the San Francisco company for nearly a decade before deciding he had to speak up.
Buescher said his concerns built up over the course of years, with everything from racial epithets to being asked to "police" the people of color in his program. The president of ACT's board of trustees said he cannot comment on the lawsuit, but the company has moved quickly to put new measures into place, ensuring equal treatment.
"My main complaint is that ACT is making it appear as one thing is happening, but in reality what’s happening on the inside to black faculty, black staff, black students, black guest stars is very different," Buescher said.
For the better part of a decade, Buescher practiced an array of crafts at the nationally renowned company, including acting, choreography, directing and teaching. But there’s one distinction he says he struggled to grasp.
"I was the only African-American member of the core faculty my entire time, my entire 10 years," he said.
Through Buescher’s eyes, racism was pervasive.
ACT board President David Riemer confirmed new measures have been implemented.
"I can only say that when we heard the concerns that were expressed by Stephen a year ago, we took immediate action to explore," Riemer said. "We formed a committee to look specifically into equity, diversity and inclusion issues."
In an official statement, the theater said it can’t comment on the lawsuit, but said Buescher, "significantly contributed to the success of the institution, so much so that we made multiple efforts to retain him."
Since then, ACT also has implemented a diversity consultant, new committees and a complaint line. But Buescher remains skeptical.
"It’s superficial," he said. "It’s not really (different). People, specifically black folks who are still there, are still in the same kind of pain, humiliation, trauma and lack of representation that they were before."