Guthrie Theater Under Investigation After Staff Resign Due to ‘Toxic’ Work Environment

Regional News   Guthrie Theater Under Investigation After Staff Resign Due to ‘Toxic’ Work Environment
 
Two carpenters have left the Minneapolis theatre, describing the scene shop as hostile towards women.
Guthrie Theatre
Guthrie Theatre Mark Vancleave

A formal investigation is underway at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater following the resignation of two staff carpenters who worked in the theatre’s scene shop. The work environment and culture was described as toxic and hostile towards women.

One of the carpenters who resigned, Molly Diers, told Minnesota Public Radio News she was heartbroken to quit what was supposed to have been her dream job after 13 years at the Guthrie. She said that the “general tone” of the scene shop was discriminatory towards women and that there was a lot of “men touching.” While the touching wasn’t necessarily sexual in nature, it was unwanted and made Diers uncomfortable. However, she was encouraged by colleagues early on not to report it to HR.

Read: 5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW FROM THE ‘SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE THEATRE’ INDUSTRY PANEL

Diers told MPR she did eventually go to the theatre’s HR department with her concerns, but she continued to feel as if they were not being appropriately handled by management. The second carpenter to resign, Nate Saul, corroborated with many of Diers' claims and said that the culture was particularly toxic for women.

The Guthrie's managing director, Jennifer Bielstein, said the theatre was committed to anti-harassment training and workshops on sexism, and that there were consequences in place for staff members who failed to adjust their behavior. That said, the resignation of two staff members was “unexpected” and the theatre is welcoming the formal investigation in the hopes of improving conditions for all.

“We are facing our challenges head-on and will learn from the investigation, address the issues and grow stronger“ Bielstein told Playbill. “We are actively committed to an inclusive and respectful workplace.“

In the wake of a growing number of misconduct allegations affecting theatres and organizations around the world, institutions have begun to implement new strategies to help combat what is undoubtedly an endemic and complex issue.

Earlier this month, London’s Old Vic announced the launch of a Guardians program in which trained staff members will act as confidential sounding boards for concerns about behavior or the culture at work, and will advise as to which actions that can be taken to ameliorate the situation.

Read: A NEW INITIATIVE FROM MARIN IRELAND HOPES TO CHANGE HOW THE THEATRE COMMUNITY DEALS WITH SEXUAL MISCONDUCT

The Guardians initiative is similar in nature to Marin Ireland’s newly announced Mediation Pilot Project. The project, developed with civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, aims to resolve grievances regarding non-criminal misconduct in the theatre industry through a process of confidential mediation and continued education.

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