Discrimination in Theatre: An Open Letter
By Becky Curl
The theatre and performing arts worlds seem to finally be waking up from the unapologetically inappropriate fantasy world they have situated themselves in for far too many years. We have grown comfortable in our complicity and that truly scares me. What kind of world are we creating for our future generations?
We are showing future generations that it is OK to be narrow-minded. We are showing them that discrimination in theatre is acceptable because that is simply how it has always been.
We are passing on our fear of anything that challenges the “normal” we have grown so accustomed to. We are teaching them that misogyny is not only OK but really, the law of the land. We pass on the understanding that those of us working on and in the productions are below the rich patrons who demean, belittle, and harass us. We show them that they have no real value beyond how much work they can produce. You learn early on in this industry that you are not to be seen, nor heard. You are merely the glue holding everything together—vital, but nothing anyone ever wants to show off or is proud of. What kind of a world are we creating for the future theatre makers and artists of the world? One that needs them, but very, very clearly does not want them.
Enough is enough. This year alone I have seen so many brave souls speak up and speak out about the horrific atrocities they have faced at the hands of their employers, teachers, co-workers, and patrons.
Every day, another horror story from another theatre or production surfaces, and I am even more disgusted that this is the world I have given so much of my life to. I am horrified that these are people I have worked with. And my heart breaks for my colleagues who have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of these abusers. This has to end. We can’t keep sweeping every incident under the rug to try to keep up our images. You can only hide so much before it all comes spilling out. We have to do this. We have to let it all spill out.
I guarantee almost every theatre worker has a story to tell. Maybe you’ve been harassed once. Or maybe you’ve been harassed for years. No matter the time or degree that you suffered, your suffering matters. You matter.
We have to stop shaming people for telling the truth. How many more people do we have to lose and how many more lives do we have to destroy before we all can finally agree that enough is enough?
Sometimes, it seems easier to choose the route of silence. When we are silent, we are not provoking any of the people in control of our job security. When we are silent, we are “good” employees. When we are silent, we turn a blind eye to the suffering of our peers. We turn a blind eye to our own pain. When we are silent, the only ones who win are the ones inflicting our pain. We continue to foster unsafe work environments and therefore, we are forcing ourselves to condone unspoken rules and regulations that are truly the things that nightmares are made of.
I admit, I am not one for confrontation. The fear of the “aftermath” was enough to keep me in my own suffering far longer than anyone should ever have to endure. We have ingrained in us this inherent fear of being fired, shunned, and cast out of the career we have fought so hard to try to even become a part of in the first place.
But our silence comes with a heavy cost.
Every time we choose not to speak up about the horrors we are observing or enduring, we open up the door for someone else to suffer in the same way. Maybe I have been able to pull through the crippling sexual harassment I’ve endured throughout my theatrical career, but what if someone else cannot? What if one of the young theatre artists I am now responsible for teaching suffers in silence and can’t bear to go on because they never had an example of someone standing up for themselves to look up to?
Every time we don’t stand up for ourselves, we aren’t standing up for any of them. It sickens me to think of anyone suffering through the same pain that my peers and I have been enduring for years. Right now, the future of theatre is bleak. It is dangerous. A space once thought of as safe has begun to crumble all around us. At every corner, danger awaits our young artists, and there is no one there willing to help them. We have to help them. We have to tell our stories. We have to stand up for ourselves, so we can stand up for them.
I don’t want to spend another second of my life wondering how I could have missed the signs of another abuser harming someone I care about. We all need to wake up and realize that we aren’t missing anything. The signs are all around us. We are just conditioned not to see them.
We try to tell ourselves to just work through it. We are all taught to “grin and bear it” from a young age. Why should anyone have to bear such a heavy and completely avoidable burden? We are convinced that the more we suffer, the stronger we will become. But the thing about strength is that we are all already born with it within us. You don’t have to suffer under someone else’s abuse to grow strong. You are already strong. Maybe if we taught our young artists to believe in their own power instead of cowering under someone else’s, we wouldn’t be in the dark place that we are in right now. They deserve the light, and we are the only ones who can give it to them.
Tell me, how are we going to fix this?