Listen: PKG: RenFest Rape (Combs)

MPR’s Marianne Combs reports on allegations of harrassment and abuse at Minnesota Renaissance Festival. Carr Hagerman, the fair’s entertainment director, is facing criminal sexual misconduct charges alleging he raped a freelance photographer on festival grounds in Shakopee.

Those charges and a lawsuit initiated by two female former employees led eight other women to come forward to MPR News to recount what they said were years of abuse and harassment when they worked at the festival.


2019 MNSPJ Page One Award, first place in Radio - Investigative category


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SPEAKER: The annual Renaissance Festival is underway in Shakopee without its longtime entertainment director Carr Hagerman. He's scheduled to appear in court today on charges that he sexually assaulted a freelance photographer on festival grounds last year. The incident has led others to tell their own stories of abuse or harassment. Marianne Combs has more. And a word of Warning, this story contains graphic references to sexual violence.

MARINNE COMBS: The Renaissance festival is known for immersing patrons in a body and fantastic world, a mix between Jolly Olde England and a fairy tale land. While there's plenty to entertain the kids, there's also lots geared to the adults. Waitresses are called wenches, and alcohol is a core feature of the day. Events include daily pub crawls as well as the Bawdy Beer Show, Much Ado About Mead and Wild for Whiskey.

It's in that environment that Carr Hagerman served as the entertainment director. Linda Clayton-Behr describes her first encounter with him at a cast party when she was still new to the festival. She says he ran his hand up the inside of her thigh and made a joke about his casting couch.

LINDA CLAYTON-BEHR: I froze. I didn't know what to do. And dO you know after when he put his hand on my thigh, he told me, "I can't believe you let me do that." So now it's my fault.

MARINNE COMBS: Clayton-Behr says Hagerman preyed on vulnerable women persuading some of them to pose nude for him because they believed he had control over their performance contracts. Now, moved by the rape case, she's part of a civil suit that charges the Minnesota Renaissance Festival knowingly fostered a hostile work environment. Hagerman was charged in June with assaulting a young woman on festival grounds toward the end of its 2017 run.

The alleged victim was working as a freelance photographer. According to the police report, she says, Hagerman showed her to an upper storage room where she could get a good vantage point for her photos then beat and raped her until she lost consciousness. Another woman, performer T. Lake, read an article detailing the rape charges and how Hagerman called the victim a whore and other vulgar names as he assaulted her.

Lake says, she was immediately reminded of a phone conversation she had with Hagerman years earlier. She had called to tell him her act would not be returning to the Renaissance Festival. She says, he exploded using those very same words. According to her account, he said, "You don't know who I am, and you don't know the reach I have.

T. LAKE: He told me I'd never work in this town again. He told me, you're lucky this is happening on the phone and not in person, and I believed him and was actually afraid. i found myself thinking, 'this guy knows where I live.'

MARINNE COMBS: Lake says her husband suggested she report Hagerman's behavior.

T. LAKE: And my response was, report this to whom? He was not the official entertainment director in terms of being the person who ultimately did the business of signing the contracts, but he had oversight to all of the entertainment. He was our understanding very much in the back pocket of the owner and the powers that be. And so it was a very clear that that wouldn't go anywhere.

MARINNE COMBS: Others say Hagerman was far from the only problem at the festival.

MEGAN CULVERHOUSE: From the top down, they just they don't believe women.

MARINNE COMBS: That's Megan Culverhouse. She worked at the festival for a decade. Several of those years, she worked as a member of the security team, and what she witnessed disturbed her. Culverhouse and another woman who worked in security both say management put pressure on their team to not call the police unless absolutely necessary for fear that it might result in having the festival's campground license revoked. They say the festival's decade-long security director Bob Kinsman cared more about protecting the company than about the well-being of staff and customers.

MEGAN CULVERHOUSE: Minimizing exposure and liability was the guiding principle behind which he ran the entire department. So sometimes, things would happen, and they wouldn't necessarily make it into the security log.

MARINNE COMBS: Kinsman, a retired Air Force police officer, resigned from the Renaissance Festival in June citing health problems. He flatly denies the accusations against him and upper management.

BOB KINSMAN: This very disheartening, these allegations because I worked very hard to protect everyone out there. And I thought I did a really good job of it. And it was a part-time job for fun. And to accuse me of covering up for the Renaissance Festival is just ridiculous.

MARINNE COMBS: Kinsman says, all incidents were properly logged and any criminal behavior was immediately reported to the police. Many women didn't feel the presence of Renaissance security was enough to keep them safe. Last summer, a group of women formed the Sisterhood of the Pink Garter, their own network of allies who watch out for each other.

Some of them are shopkeepers who will gladly offer up a safe space for a woman fleeing a harasser. Others are street performers who can warn colleagues about trouble headed their way. Performer Theresa Meis is one of the leaders of the group. She says the combination creation of an immersive experience, costumes, and alcohol often leads customers and colleagues to believe they have permission to behave in a way that, well, hasn't been appropriate for centuries.

THERESA MEIS: We want to make sure that we can get through the day having a great time with our audience because we obviously all love what we do out there or we wouldn't keep doing it while at the same time, maintaining our personal boundaries and our personal bodily sanctity.

MARINNE COMBS: Meis says, one person in particular appeared unnerved by the creation of the Sisterhood of the Pink Garter, Carr Hagerman. She says he made comments about the dangers of gossip insisted on meeting with the heads of the group and attended a meeting that was for women only. Meis says, his presence had a chilling effect. The women weren't comfortable speaking out against him for fear of not being invited back to the festival the next year.

THERESA MEIS: So the people you're supposed to report to about problems with the festival are the same ones that can decide whether or not you're going to get another contract.

MARINNE COMBS: Representatives of management say, no one who complained ever suffered such retaliation. Minnesota Renaissance Festival's Director of Business and Legal Affairs Bo Beller says before the recent rape accusation, management was unaware of any problems with Hagerman aside from an angry outburst in 2011. That resulted in his taking anger management classes. Beller says management has promptly addressed all concerns brought to its attention.

When asked if it was possible that Hagerman was obstructing communication between the contracted staff and management, festival lawyer Sheila Engelmeier points to the harassment and discrimination policy that all employees agree to. Via email, Engelmeier stated, "The policy makes it clear that contractors should report any concern to anyone in management, which includes four people besides Hagerman." Carr Hagerman is expected to appear in court in Scott County this morning for a pretrial hearing.

Hagerman's attorney Piper Kenney Wold declined to make him available for comment for this story. Wold writes, "The incredible allegations and rumors against Mr. Carr continue to evolve. What hasn't changed is Mr. Carr's insistent denial of wrongdoing of any kind." Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio News.

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