As allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct continue to sweep the entertainment industry, the theatre and performing arts community too has had to face its own share of charges and revelations against men in positions of power. The movement has seen the resignations of artistic directors, among them the Alley Theatre’s Gregory Boyd and Soulpepper’s Albert Schultz, renowned playwright and director Israel Horovitz, and Broadway casting director Justin Huff.
In the face of this burgeoning movement, myriad individuals and organizations have made an effort to start positive conversations around misconduct as well as to provide theatremakers with practical help and information for combating sexual harassment in the workplace. The latest: New York City’s Artist Co-Op, a shared working space for actors, directors, playwrights, dancers, and more on West 52nd Street, hosted a panel and community conversation titled “Sexual Harassment in the Theatre” January 19.
Moderated by Claire Karpen, an actor and director working with the TimesUp movement and a counselor at Actors’ Equity, the panel featured actor, activist, and Musical Theatre Factory Artistic Director Shakina Nayfack, performing artist and singer-songwriter Diana Oh, and literary agent Alexis Williams.
“The goal of [today] is to address the systems that allow sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse to be able to persist in the theatre and to discuss positive solutions to dismantle this behavior,” said Karpen as she introduced the panel.
Here are five things you need to know from the conversation:
Information is power
If you feel like you may be the victim of sexual harassment, abuse, or misconduct, know your legal rights. Victims are protected under discrimination law and there are free legal resources at your disposable. The Artist Co-Op has an online list of resources offering everything—from where to get legal help and who to speak to at your union to mediation programs.
Micro aggressions can be abuse
While you may assume that certain behaviors are not legally considered harassment, it’s important to either respond to, record, or report micro aggressions if they make you feel uncomfortable and impact your performance at work. Discrimination law does protect victims of a hostile work environment, in which your work is compromised because of abusive behavior. “It’s the subtle aggressions that create a culture of misogyny and aggression,” says Nayfack.
Speaking truth to power
“In the theatre, we have this deeply entrenched hierarchy of roles,” says Nayfack. “I’ve seen those power relationships become imbalanced, problematic, and then abusive.” Accepting abuse or bullying by someone in a position of power is simply a false narrative. Even if you don’t want to take legal action, know that you have the power to speak up and walk away.
Find allies and a community who will have your back
Often, the reason artists don’t speak up is because the industry has perpetuated a “whisper network” when it comes to harassment and abuse. Individuals haven’t been willing to put their careers on the line when those who abused their power didn’t face any consequences. Rather than perpetuate this culture—find your allies and voice your concerns. “You’re not alone and you’re not crazy,” says Karpen. For trans actors, the Trans Actors Guild Facebook group is a safe space to report and liaise.
“This moment is so great—great and terrible,” says Williams, “in that a lot of people are starting to speak up. It just takes one to inspire others to say ‘Me Too.’”
One topic discussed at length was the need to further protect actors in vulnerable situations at work, where abuse of power or harassment is more likely to occur. Karpen is currently advocating for mandatory intimacy choreographers on shows which require nudity and intimacy. An intimacy choreographer will ensure that all participants are consenting and feel comfortable and empowered.