The theatre as a workplace: New York Times Exposé delves into dark side of show business

 Marin Ireland, and Robert Dorfman in Huntington Theatre Company's Mauritius at the Calderwood Pavilion, BCA. Part of the 2006-2007 season. Photo: Eric Antoniou - http://bit.ly/1G1RLu5

Marin Ireland, and Robert Dorfman in Huntington Theatre Company's Mauritius at the Calderwood Pavilion, BCA. Part of the 2006-2007 season. Photo: Eric Antoniou - http://bit.ly/1G1RLu5

After a shocking case of sexual harassment in a theatre troop, The New York Times wrote an expose on a culture of workplace harassment within the world of acting.

In the play As You Like It by William Shakespeare it’s declared that: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Well, to those players, that means that all the world’s a workplace, too.

A recent New York Times article by Patrick Healy, titled Sex and Violence, Beyond the Script, delves into the gritty underside of stage life. The problems he highlighted included quid pro quo sexual assault, a toxic workplace environment and the total lack of recourse for victims.

Theatre groups are often decentralized, they have no HR departments or best practices for harassment cases. What’s worse, the often-sexualized nature of theatre leads to a culture of permissive bystanders allowing what would be considered unconscionable in any other work environment.

Absolutely shocking allegations

To quote the article:

“…Interviews this winter with 45 performers, dancers, writers, directors and other theater artists from around the country yielded scores of accounts of firsthand experience with harassment and unwelcome behavior by fellow production members,” wrote Healy.

“When performers did complain, they felt they weren’t taken seriously by those in authority. Many didn’t speak up at all, for fear of being labeled troublemakers in a small industry".

This reminded me a lot of the interviews I had conducted as part of my research for The Bully’s Trap.

“Though some theaters and the 49,000-member Actors’ Equity union have harassment policies in place, the provisions are largely toothless, many performers say. And the far-flung world of plays and musicals lacks a human resources department to complain to,” wrote Healy.

The actress at the centre of the story is Marin Ireland, who was being abused by her boyfriend and co-star. She found that the remedies undertaken by the theatre company to be unacceptable. She says she cannot put the incident behind her.

FIGHTING BACK

But Ireland is a fighter and has decided to speak up about her experience as well as sexual harassment culture in the theatre. She has even proposed some very good first steps at addressing these problems.

“She is pushing Actors’ Equity and other theater unions on three proposals: to have a statement read on the first day of rehearsals for all Broadway and professional shows that describes how to file complaints about harassment or other unprofessional behavior; to designate union officials to handle these complaints; and to create a confidential mediation process where complainants and the accused can talk through instances of harassment, misconduct and abuse with a mediator and without fear of penalties.”

Well bravo! What Ireland is doing is right on the money; she is making what is known as a statement of claim.

She is also engaging others from show biz who share her concern.

“Nearly 500 theater actors and artists have endorsed the campaign, including Jessica Chastain and Joanna Gleason, and the playwrights Lynn Nottage and Stephen Adly Guirgis,” reads the article.

EMPLOYEES CAN DRIVE CHANGE AT WORK

This is the type of employee-driven activism that can change an entire industry. Ideally cultural change works from the top down, but more often than not it it’s up to a single individual to take on a goliath toxic culture.

You can see this employee-driven change in the growing trend of shareholder activists and in people like Ireland, who refuse to accept the status quo.

Given that Ireland has been above board with her experiences, criticisms and suggested remedies – with very little response – she is was well within her rights to put together this campaign to shine attention on the issue.

It looks like the theatre world may be in for one heck of a show.