True Story: So This One Time I Was Rejected By A Weird Sex Cult
I was 15 years old when we moved to Rochester, NY. The big fight we had at the time was that I thought I should go to the School of the Arts and study acting, and my parents did not. I was pretty sure I would be awesome at being Irene Cara — and Taye Diggs went to that school and he was in “Rent,” and this was the ’90s, so duh, yes, I wanted to go there. My mother, of course, had plans for my future career as an ACLU lawyer and wanted me to go to the public school, Brighton, which at the time was one of the top five best public schools in the nation and was not about to let anyone forget it.
Clearly, I am neither of those things now.
I didn’t end up getting to go to SOTA, but my parents took pity on me and found an actor’s studio where I could take classes. Said studio was called “Magnum Opus.” After a weirdly thorough interview process with Jaime and Victoria, the married couple who ran the studio, I signed up.
The class I took was with Jaime, whom I remember almost nothing about other than the fact that he kind of looked like a Keebler Elf. It wasn’t anything too different from classes I’d taken before, save for the fact that I was in class with mostly adults. But hey, I was tall for my age.
In another class, however, was a boy not too much older than me, with shoulder length brown hair and a rather aloof demeanor, not entirely unlike that of Jordan Catalano from “My So-Called Life”. I was pretty sure we were gonna make out.
In fact, I spent a good deal of time plotting out exactly how to work that. Maybe we’d be in a show together or something, but then we’d fall madly in love over realizing that “Harold and Maude” was our mutual favorite movie, and then maybe we’d move to New York and be very bohemian and have a loft apartment involving many floor pillows and bead curtains and we’d listen to Tom Waits and Velvet Underground and read Baudelaire out loud to each other like that was a normal thing to do because basically I was an incredibly insufferable pretentious twat who had never actually been in any kind of a relationship before.
I think the only time I actually spoke to him was when I made a point of loudly announcing that I would be at the open mic at a coffee shop the next day, and then casually inviting him to come. He said he’d try, but he never did make it. I kind of maintain that if he had seen me there, playing my acoustic guitar and singing “Both Hands” by Ani Difranco, that he’d never have been able to resist my charms.
But then! One fateful night, as I was busy hoping that he did not see me hopping into a Volvo with my entire family like a huge dork, the dreamy boy was suddenly grabbed by several large men and thrown into the back of a white van.
Victoria, the studio’s main instructor, a short, round woman with excessively long blonde hair, spiral permed and crunchy from too much Dep Gel, screamed and tried to hold onto him as they tore him from her arms. But they were stronger and soon the van sped away, as she was left in the parking lot still yelling and getting hysterical. Which, to be fair, made sense to us given the fact that she’d just seen a person get thrown into a van and driven away. Except for the fact that she also kept like, twirling around the parking lot in despair. But even that we sort of excused. You know, because theater people.
My dad let her use his car phone to call the police. When she calmed down, she explained to us that the dreamy boy had come from a bad home and was staying at the studio to escape his abusive family. It all sort of made sense at the time.
Then, one day, my mom dropped me off at class—but when I went in, I saw that everything in the studio, all the furniture and everything was gone, and there was a sign on the door saying that they’d up and left town.
Aside from the occasional “Hey, remember that weird thing that happened with that studio?” convo, I didn’t really give any of it much thought. At least not until that summer at drama camp when I told my friend Mary Ellen about it and she said, “Uh, Robyn. I know people who went there. That place was a weird sex cult. They had like, orgies and shit.”
“Whatever, “ I said, “I would totally have noticed if there were brainwashed people having orgies and shit while I was reciting monologues, okay? I am not oblivious.”
As it turns out, however, I would not have noticed.
In fact, I didn’t notice. And yeah, it was a fucking sex cult. A few months later, in fact, there was a huge exposé on the whole thing in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Just last year, I actually got them to send me a copy of the article, as it is not available online.
It was seriously bonkers. Apparently Victoria, who was 43, was banging my dream boy, a high school senior referred to in the story by the pseudonym “Barry”—which, ew. She even tried to get a divorce and marry him at one point during all of this. Apparently, there was an elite group of people who attended the studio and called themselves “The Group” and Victoria told them that she had psychic powers and could speak to god and that they were the new apostles.
She told all these people that they were supposed to have sex with everyone they could, because they could “learn something” from each person. God had also appointed her as an official “matchmaker” and she would tell people which other members God wanted them to bang. She even told a teenage girl that God wanted her to bang Keebler Elf husband, which thankfully did not happen.
Even the middle school age kids, apparently, were having “kissing lessons.” A great deal of time was spent convincing everyone that their families hated them and they should devote their lives entirely to Victoria and the studio.
It was seriously messed up. Perhaps even more messed up though was the fact that my initial reaction to all of this was feeling pretty offended that no one even tried to brainwash me, or invite me to any orgies. It’s hard not to wonder. Was I not pretty enough? Was I a terrible actor?
No one wants to feel unwanted, even by crazy people who use way too much hair product and think they can talk to God.
I mean, I’d like to think that they just thought I was just way too swift—but, like, do you know what I wrote in my diary the night “Barry” was kidnapped? I wrote: “Ugh. So unfair. All the cute boys are gay, taken or kidnapped and hauled away in a van by their family members.” DIRECT QUOTE. So, clearly “way too swift” was way off the menu.
A few years later, my mom and I were drinking martinis in Toronto across the street from a Scientology Center offering free “personality tests.”
“Oh my god, I’ll give you 50 bucks if you go get one and report back to me!” she said. So, dutiful and clearly drunk daughter that I was, I agreed to this arrangement.
“Don’t forget to ask them how many body thetans you have!” she yelled as I walked off.
Long story short, I did get hooked up to an e-meter, I did ask about the body thetans, and they did ask me to leave pretty immediately.
Magnum Opus didn’t want me, “Barry” didn’t want me, and even Scientology didn’t want me. I suppose I could think of all these things as harsh blows to my self-esteem, but hey! I’m an optimist! And you never know, the Moonies may still want a piece of this.
Vice Week is our seven-day exploration of all the indulgences that surely will ruin us sooner than we can imagine. But hey, what a way to go. You can check out all of our Vice Week coverage here.