#MeToo: Working In Live Entertainment
By Anna Robb
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood, women from all over the world have been speaking up about their experiences with harassment and sexual assault and tagging their stories #metoo. Not surprisingly to women, the stories are many and all too familiar. In the Huffington Post article The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About, Gretchen Kelly sums it up perfectly:
We have all learned, either by instinct or by trial and error, how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable. How to avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all, on many occasions, ignored an offensive comment. We’ve all laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to.
As a public platform and in an industry in which the Harvey Weinsteins of the world are frequently represented, TheatreArtLife felt it important to acknowledge the #MeToo social media event.
We reached out to our female network within TheatreArtLife and asked them to share with us their stories:
He’s a day crew member and I’m on the show crew. I walked to our shared workstation to tag him out so he can go home for the day. It’s a small, isolated perch, and the only way to it is to climb up a ladder. From the bottom of the ladder, I can hear noise coming from what seemed like a video he’s watching from his phone. I climbed up and as I entered, he stood abruptly and fumbled with his pants and belt buckle. I looked away, feeling disgusted by what I may have just seen. Casually, he said “Hey (my name)!” Still feeling repulsed, I responded with “Bye, (his name).” To which he responded with “Have a good night!” as if nothing was wrong. I’ve spoken to people about him, and yet nothing has changed. Apparently, that’s just who he is. “It’s not what it looks like”, “Just ignore him”, or “Holler at him before going up so he knows to put his pants on”, they said, laughing. I’m not sure what I saw, but it was enough to make my skin crawl and make me feel uncomfortable. I shouldn’t have to dread going to that workstation. I shouldn’t have to work with someone who has made me feel uncomfortable. Yet he’s still here, and I still have to tag him out of that workstation.
Male Actor: “Men don’t like chubby girls, but I know a way that can help you lose a few pounds” *Gestures to his penis*
More times than I care to remember.
It started with one of my first stage management apprenticeship credits when I was 19 years old. Partway through the run, a middle-aged actor began making lewd comments towards me backstage, and in one case, groped my legs when I bent over to pick up a laundry basket as a part of my track. As things escalated, I became increasingly uncomfortable – after all, dressing this man backstage in the dark (alone) was an obligatory part of my job. After relating my experience to some supportive friends, I was able to muster the courage to speak up about the harassment. At first, the theatre’s management appeared to be supportive as well. The offending actor was spoken to, the behaviour stopped, and while the awkwardness backstage was palpable, it was easier to navigate than the repeated sexual advances. I knew the run would end soon, and felt confident that I had done the right thing by showing him that his actions were inappropriate and would have consequences.
My confidence was utterly shattered when the next year’s season was announced. I discovered that not only would the perpetrator be returning to work for this engager but with a promotion – the theatre was delighted to announce he would be directing a mainstage show. I was confused, humiliated, ashamed, and finally angry. Had the theatre’s management forgotten about the incident? Did they simply not care? I wasn’t sure which was worse. As a young woman just starting my career, I learned a painful lesson about how the industry works that day. And the next time I experienced sexual harassment and assault as an apprentice, I didn’t speak up. I didn’t want to feel that pain and humiliation again, especially if the only person whose career might be in jeopardy was my own.
Today, several years later, I know that the onus should not be on the victims to speak up about an assault, but for the perpetrators to stop assaulting us. And I hope that the visibility of the #MeToo campaign encourages our engagers to take allegations of sexual assault very, very seriously. After all, it’s happened to almost all of us.
Fairly early on in my career, working with a guy who was a bit odd, but hey, who isn’t in this industry. He was a nice enough guy and we got on well. Then he started crossing lines. Nothing much, just little things here and there.
An uncomfortable comment, I shrugged it off.
A ping of a bra strap, quip it away.
An attempt to undo my bra through my shirt. I told him to knock it off, to which he laughed.
Then one day, in a group of people, I was being ribbed for a shirt I was wearing, which was a black sleeveless t-shirt with two white handprints over the breasts. It was all good fun, nothing inappropriate and I was responding to someone on my right when out of the corner of my eye I registered a shadow and turned to see that this colleague had crossed the group to me and had his hand out with the intent to place his hand over the print on the shirt. I didn’t think. I smacked his hand away with some force and said “No. Not ok. Never going to be ok.” And then stormed away.
Even then, I still didn’t say anything.
I could look after myself.
I didn’t want to rock the boat.
He was just trying to be funny.
It wasn’t until a few months later when I saw him being inappropriate with a teenage girl that was in my care that I finally said something. Even then, while I was reporting these actions, I twisted myself into a pretzel trying to make sure that while he was spoken to and told to readjust his behaviour, that they understood that he just didn’t understand that what he was doing was wrong. That he was a nice guy. Like it was my responsibility to protect him from the consequences of his actions.
Male Mech: “I didn’t think you would know how to handle a big drill” while I was constructing a set.
We were having a great evening. A group of ten of my favorite girlfriends– dinner, drinks at a piano bar, and then dancing at a club- not with any men, just us girls having a fun night out.
A man decided that me dancing with my friends meant I wanted him to stick his hand up my dress, ripping my underwear, and groping my vagina.
I tried to push him off and I screamed for him to stop, but this seemed to make him try even harder- pushing me up against a wall. Thankfully my friends were able to get the man off of me and I ran out of the club. He melted into the crowd, and to him, this may have been just another Saturday night. To me, it ruined the entire evening experience that had been a wonderful memory. Now it is all I can think of about my Bachelorette Party.
As a Stage Manager, I was asked to take my top off during a closed room rehearsal of a play that featured nudity so the male actor would feel more comfortable. When I politely declined I was called a prude.
As a young ASM I was locked in a kitchen as a ‘joke’ by two male SMs for a full hour break because “that’s where I belonged”. I cried myself to sleep that night.
I had a male sound operator that refused to take calls from me while on tour in Asia, he would only speak to my young and inexperienced male ASM, so I had to adjust my whole show to give cues earlier for them to be delivered on time.
I was working at a festival and finished early so I went to watch a show and went into the moshpit. It was body to body tight and I felt a hand slide into my underwear but I couldn’t move to get it out or to find out who it was. I started screaming and eventually, the crowd moved away from me enough to see it was the hand of a male colleague I considered my friend.
I went to the police on site and the officer shrugged and said “That’s what you get for going into a moshpit. Boys will be boys.”
I’ve been groped. I’ve been called sweetheart, darling, and some more unsavory names too. I’ve had things said both to my face and behind my back that could make your toes curl. All of these things happened and still happen simply because I am a woman. These are of course well-recognized forms of sexual harassment. Well-recognized but rarely corrected, even in this day-and-age. It’s bemusing, really, but what seems to be more underhand and certainly more damning, in my book, is the subtle ways women are still being put down to this day. I’ve said it for as long as I had the right words for it; we work twice as hard for half the pay and half the respect of our male counterparts. To be questioned on whether we are able to do a particular job as well as a man is an archaic notion and to put it bluntly, a steaming pile. It’s time for things to change.
My first job as an Intern ASM I had a male production manager that used to grab me while my hands were in a sink washing dishes in what he considered “flirting”, he flicked buttons off my shirt when my hands were full of props and hugged for too long for comfort. This was all when no-one was around to witness it. The cherry on top was opening night he got drunk and told me that he would write a good reference for me if I slept with him, without it I would never succeed in the industry. Turns out I had my own Weinstein.
Yeah, me too. However, as I read the painful story after story, I think maybe I was actually relatively unscathed. If you call unscathed the fact that I have often felt the sting of men talking like I am not present about what they would like to do with me sexually as I walk past on a public street, unscathed if you can ignore the times men have approached me in the grocery store to tell me I have a nice ass, but then are pissed off when I don’t want to have a conversation with them after that brilliant intro. Unscathed by observing my best friend in college become manipulated into a sexual relationship with the director of our theatre program leaving her scarred for most of her adult life. Unscathed by observing the 40 something married artistic director of the summer theatre where I had my first job in college, stop by my housing to sneak off for sex with my young 19-year-old housemate. Unscathed by my first husband who pinned me down and spat in my face when I dared try to leave the abusive relationship. Yeah. I am one of the lucky ones.
As one of our contributors so adequately sums up:
Me too. What now? Women are united in our experiences; that is clear. What are we going to do with this solidarity? We must use our pain, our anger, and our wisdom to make a change. What does this mean for the entertainment industry? We must become leaders. We must see ourselves in positions of power. The only way the rape culture in this world is going to end is to change the paradigm. We must create spaces where men and women alike will not allow abuse. We must nurture our potential female leaders. When the artistic leadership is shared more equally with not only gender but with race, ability, sexual orientation and identity- then we might have a chance at truly healthy workplaces where we can bring our full selves to the craft of making entertainment.
Also by Anna Robb:
Love to write or have something to say? Become a contributor with TheatreArtLife. Join our community of industry leaders working in artistic, creative, and technical roles across the globe. Visit our CONTRIBUTE page to learn more or submit an article.