Community theater leader disappears and leaves a trail of deception in his wake

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People will tell you that Richard Bento is a good actor, on and off the stage. That’s why many on the New England community theater scene think he’s been able to do what he’s been doing for so long – cheating people and taking their money, over and over in different states.

People will also tell you that Bento is charismatic. In numerous videos on his theater company‘s Facebook page, he has seen the buzz about upcoming productions.

But on several occasions, as the frontman of South Shore Theater Works, he did not purchase the rights to present these shows, like the two youth productions of “Legally Blonde” and “Newsies” which were due to perform this month. this. Children were charged $ 150 to participate. The money was supposed to be used, among other things, to buy the rights.

Last summer, Bento took to Stoughton Public Access Television to promote their production of “Carrie: The Musical,” saying the cost of obtaining performing rights was worth it.

“There are always rights and royalties, but you have to think about – well, at least what we think about at SSTW – is what impact do we have,” Bento said. “Not only on our audience but also with our performers.”

He was fined for playing “Carrie” without permission. In a statement to WBUR, a spokesperson for Concord Theatricals, owner of “Carrie” said: “South Shore Theater Works and producer Richard Bento have mounted a number of unauthorized productions in 2018 and 2019 of Concord titles Theatricals “.

Once Bento’s dishonesty pattern was flagged by the former SSTW theater technician last month on Facebook, Bento is gone; he has deactivated his Facebook account; hung up when WBUR called and ignored emails and texts.

Bento, however, sent parents an email to “apologize for all of this.” He wrote that “it was never my intention [sic] hurt someone anyway [sic]. “

But this is nothing new. According to interviews and files, over the years, on numerous occasions, Bento has been to various community theaters, become a trusted leader tasked with managing finances, has taken money and is gone. And then the cycle continues again elsewhere.

Richard Bento in 2011. (Courtesy Brian Rapoza)

“He’s like the Jesse James of community theater,” said Sue Nedar, who runs the Footlights Repertory Company in Swansea.

Nedar first met Bento in 2011, when he played the role of Judas in Nedar’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Later that year, Nedar said that Bento went on to direct a show for his theater company. Bento has been tasked with making sure the set builder gets paid. Nedar said the set builder was never paid.

Nedar fired Bento, but not before he said he had taken advantage of her kindness.

“If it wasn’t that he was dying from throat cancer, it was that he needed a few dollars to save him,” Nedar recalls.

Other people in New England’s small amateur theater community remember Bento having a GoFundMe during this time.

“Let’s just say he [owes me] thousands of dollars, okay? ”Nedar said.

A judge ordered Bento to pay Nedar nearly $ 3,000 in 2013.

Nedar said she was lucky she hadn’t let Bento get near her theater company’s bank account. But others weren’t so lucky.

In 2012, Bento became the artistic director of the Bristol Theater Company in Rhode Island. Marie Knapman, who runs the theater, says that two years later she found out that Bento had siphoned off nearly $ 15,000 from the theater company.

“We ended up getting pictures of the drive-thru from the banks that showed him cashing checks,” Knapman recalls. “He was arrested and charges were brought against him. And finally, he was found guilty and ordered to pay us back.

Rhode Island Superior Court records show Bento paid about half of what he owed. He stopped paying last year, Knapman said, and there is now an open arrest warrant for his arrest.

After leaving the Bristol Theater Company, Bento returned to Massachusetts to start his own community theater company, South Shore Theater Works. The 501 (c) (3) designation was revoked in 2018, according to the IRS nonprofit portal, for failing to file “for three consecutive years.”

But last summer, a year after his theater company’s nonprofit status expired, Bento went to Stoughton Public Access Television and claimed South Shore Theater Works was an organization. non-profit after the host asked if the company was looking for sponsorships and donations.

“What kind of a non-profit organization would I be if I didn’t seek sponsorship, right? Bento asked rhetorically, smiling. “Of course. We have wonderful sponsorship opportunities.”

Bento had organized raffles and galas and suggested that people make “generous contributions” after the theater lost its nonprofit designation.

Jennifer Kuzmeskas was treasurer at the start of South Shore Theater Works. But she said it didn’t last long after asking Bento about fundraising money that was never deposited.

“I spent many hours on the phone with the bank, trying to find out where this money had gone – whether it had been deposited in the wrong account or what had happened,” Kuzmeskas said. “So when I had a lot of questions about it, he quickly fired me from my position as treasurer.”

After Bento’s most recent financial masquerade comes to light – forcing artists to pay to participate under the pretext that he would buy the performing rights, but never buy them – the entire board of South Shore Theater Works resigned and hired a lawyer.

The attorney, Chris DiOrio, said he intended to brief the Bento state attorney general. He said the board always wanted there to be a community theater that Bento couldn’t interfere with.

Richard Bento in another scene from the 2011 Footlights Repertory Company production "Jesus Christ Superstar." (Courtesy of Brian Rapoza / Footlights Repertory Company)
Richard Bento in another scene from the 2011 production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” by the Footlights Repertory Company. (Courtesy of Brian Rapoza / Footlights Repertory Company)

Sue Nedar says she has an idea of ​​what Bento’s next move will be like, based on her previous relationship with him.

“He’s going to pick up all the dollars he’s put in his unwitting parents pocket and he’s going to hit the bricks and he’s going to go AWOL,” she said. “And he’s going to resurface in another city, because he’s been the model from the start.”

But many hope that this time Bento will be held accountable and not repeat the pattern.

WBUR went to an address listed for Bento in Swansea. His father was there and said his son was in the hospital – as someone was looking through the blinds.


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