The scene is an office. It might be an estate agent’s or a solicitor’s, in a bank or in a government department.
A male middle manager is describing an encounter with a more junior, female member of staff. “Last week I was really nasty to her about a report she had just done. I was just horrible. I was apprehensive of how it would be received, and this lovely lady who doesn’t usually do reports of this kind was very nervous.”
He is questioned about his behaviour: “Does it, in that moment, feel entirely justified?”
“Oh, absolutely, yeah. Female circumcision was about to happen. Afterwards, I felt awful, terrible, but not so bad that it won’t happen again. Things happen, don’t they?” He chuckles, then sighs. “Things happen.”
Awful, isn’t it? Bullying in the workplace, lack of respect for colleagues, sexism, abuse of position. It’s all there. An industrial tribunal would have a field day. Aren’t you pleased that you work in the liberal arts? In this business we all work together, respect each other’s contribution to getting the show on, tolerate all-comers.
If you replace the words “report she had just done” with “putting on my new wig” you have a direct quotation from a leading actor interviewed in a liberal newspaper at the end of last month.
Oh, all right, such unacceptable behaviour and the lack of questioning of it does not deserve anonymity – it was Rupert Everett interviewed in The Guardian.
There is no justification for an actor being nasty and horrible to one of their colleagues any more than there is for an office manager
Now, for all we know, the management who is employing both these people were alerted to the situation and, in view of the duty of care to their employees, have taken appropriate disciplinary action. But if they have, it would be very surprising.
Up here on the flyfloor we are pretty lucky in this regard. Most of what we do is mediated through the production manager or stage manager. Okay, sometimes they might get upset but it is hard to be too personal when others are listening and the person you are shouting at is ten metres up in the air. It is different if you need to do your job in the privacy of a dressing room and in direct contact with a performer.
Of course, actors get nervous and we are all trained to treat them in a way that takes that into account. Don’t chat to them in the wings if that is not what they want. Ensure that the props are always in the right place. Do not do anything to interrupt their concentration. Our job is to make their job easier. No problem with that, and it is exactly what a dresser is doing. They may have already spent hours preparing the costume or wig so that the actor will look at their best.
Blaming your wig for uncertainty about your performance is an almost everyday occurrence (one famous opera singer is reported to have stopped rehearsal with the complaint, “I can’t sing in these gloves”). But there is no justification for an actor being nasty and horrible to one of their colleagues any more than there is for an office manager to behave in that way.