Allegations of sexual harassment and abuse have taken centre stage in the theatre industry for some time. Because of the #MeToo Movement, those affected now feel safe and supported about speaking out about their experiences. But there is still a lot to do.
The phrase ‘Me Too’ was first used by Tarana Burke in 2006 to help raise awareness of women who had been sexually abused.
It wasn't until eleven years later in 2017 that Harvey Weinstein began dominating the headlines and Hollywood actress, Alyssa Milano, tweeted “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet”, that the #MeToo global movement was sparked.
Five years on, we ask the question, what has happened since #Metoo? How has the theatre industry dealt with sexual harassment?
Some theatres acted quickly and decisively, including London’s Royal Court. On 27 October 2017, Vicky Featherstone and Lucy Davies from the theatre, set up a ground-breaking event entitled, No Grey Area - Your Stories Told, which enabled people to tell their #MeToo stories. This day of action heard 150 testimonies of sexual abuse, which were read out over five hours.
Results from the day show that out of 150 stories, 126 related directly to experiences in the theatre industry. 21% of the incidents happened in rehearsals or backstage. 14% happened at drama schools between tutors and students and there were a shocking 11 accounts of rape.
SOLT and UK Theatre created 10 Principles for creating safe and inclusive working spaces in the theatre industry. Bectu plus 20 other industry trade bodies, unions and more supported these principles that tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination. These Principles have recently been updated.
Equity UK, the union for performers and creative practitioners, created the ‘Our Safe Spaces’ campaign with the simple aim: ‘to figure out how to address our industry's sexual harassment crisis’.
The campaign ensures Equity members are treated with respect while working and always supported should they wish to challenge or report inappropriate behaviour.
President of Equity, Maureen Beattie, joined the panel at our ‘Taking the Stage’ event last month alongside our Artistic Director, Rosemary Hill; actor, Sarah Berger; and playwright, Carly Halse to discuss the #MeToo Movement and how far our industry has come.
Beattie said that the one thing that’s very important is that it’s got to be embedded in artists’ contracts and terms and conditions that they must look after their workers, making sure they are not bullied and harassed.
She also mentioned that there is a movement within Equity to put a mentee scheme together to support artists. She suggested there should be a nominated person on every production for actors to go to if they had any concerns.
Whilst it appears that positive steps are being taken to stop sexual harassment in theatre, as playwright Suzie Miller says, it is “still a work in progress.”
Miller’s play ‘Prima Facie’, which is currently on at the Harold Pinter Theatre and starring Jodie Comer, is a one-woman show that follows a barrister who defends men of rape and is assaulted herself.
In an interview with The Guardian, she says that she never thought her play would come to the stage, as “Nobody wanted to go see a ‘rape play’.”
However, #MeToo has not only given a platform for plays of this nature to be commissioned, but also it has made it normal for all people to have these incredibly important conversations about their experiences and be heard without feeling guilty, shamed or scared.
Many plays and stories have followed since the start of the #MeToo Movement. It has been noted that some of the most successful works have come from women who have personally experienced sexual harassment.
It’s important to remember that it is not only women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace. It happens to men too.
There have been positives to come out of the #MeToo Movement, but we still have far to go. We need to continue to have these conversations so that it is no longer frightening to speak out.
It is prevalent in our industry, and it will be for some time. It is not acceptable, and it needs to be stopped.
Quite rightly Tarana Burke says that the #MeToo Movement is so much more than a hashtag. She says it is, “the start of a larger conversation” and a space for “community healing” for all.