I’ve been doing it out on my blog, fyeahgreatplays.com, for a while now, so it seemed only natural to migrate here in a more official Advice Columnist capacity. I’ve freelanced as a stage manager around New York as well as regionally, I’m a member of Actor’s Equity and a total contract junkie, and I occasionally cohost a podcast on theater and performance (Maxamoo).
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I’m assuming you’ve seen the Chicago Reader article about Profiles Theatre, and I’d love to get your thoughts on it. My whole (Chicago-centric) Facebook feed is devastated and galvanized by it. What can we do in our theaters to keep this from happening again? Education and empowerment = everything!
The whole Profiles expose, which revealed systematic enabling and abuse of power within the Chicago theater scene, saddened me but ultimately wasn’t surprising. I’ve seen many people allowed into positions of power despite their abusive tendencies because of their real or perceived talent. If an employee at a bank, for example, continually coerced or harassed a coworker, presumably the employee would be able to take it to HR and have the bully dealt with. However, theater as a creative art isn’t always held to the same standard, and union productions less so. Cast and crew spend long hours together, both on and off the clock, which can make the environment seem more casual; less like a job and more like-minded people hanging out together. I think this makes it even harder to stand up and call harassment out.
What this means is we have to look out for not only ourselves but for each other. Chicago’s theater community has developed Not In Our House, a code of conduct for non-Equity that seeks to ensure safe creative spaces. Not allowing auditions to go longer than 3 hours or after 11 PM, required access to water and ventilation, and notification of potential stage violence in the audition process are some of the ways they are working to assure regulations in the workplace. They also clearly spell out the path of reporting an issue through the chain of command in case something does happen. I’d highly recommend looking to their code of conduct if you’d like to build your own in your community.
Actor’s Equity also recently released a Harassment Code of Conduct in light of actor Marin Ireland’s article about her personal experience with abuse within the Wooster Group. It’s less a series of rules and more publicly pledging to take stronger action on harassment and abuse in the theater community. They encourage you to bring any instances of misconduct to your stage manager, or directly to the AEA office. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve called Equity twice with questions regarding harassment in the workplace and found them quite helpful.
If you’re uncomfortable bringing the issue to Actors Equity, you can meet, call, or even Skype with The Actors Fund for free to speak confidentially with a professional who can assist with counseling and helping you determine your options moving forward. Theater companies can be our friends, family, and home; take care of each other.