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Careers Clinic: Should I have spoken about abuse?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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The recent media stories about abuse by well-known industry figures has brought back something that happened to me about a year ago, which I have been trying to forget.

In my case it wasn’t a celebrity actor or director, just an older, more experienced performer in a small production I was in.

The behaviour wasn’t overt: just lots of inappropriate comments, deliberately (I am sure) rubbing against me almost every night in a dinner-party scene and frequent, unwanted drink invitations.

I mentioned it to other people in the production but was told ‘that’s just X being X’, ‘he’s just winding you up’ and ‘this is the real world, not drama school’. I made it to the end of the run and just let it go.

On the one hand I regret doing that. The experience has definitely knocked my confidence, and I know I shouldn’t have let him get away with it. At the same time, I am still a bit reluctant to pursue the matter.

I want to stay focused on my acting and not let what was a very unhappy time then define my future now. 

Do you think I should just close the door and move on?

JOHN BYRNE'S ADVICE First and most importantly, I am very sorry to hear about what happened to you. There is absolutely nothing in the story you have told me that you should blame yourself for. I can completely understand why, with other cast members dismissing your experience at the time, you didn’t feel supported to cope. 

Let’s be clear that bullying and harassment, overt or covert, are equally wrong whether they happen at drama school, in theatre or in any other part of the ‘‘real’’ world. If any good has come out of recent press coverage on this topic (besides the benefit of helping people like yourself realise that you are not alone) it is flagging up how inadequate the response to a whole range of abusive behaviours has been in our industry to date. Hopefully that will change, and change rapidly, now.

You don’t mention whether you are a union member or have an agent, but if so, you should enlist support from both those sources should a similar situation happen again. I would also encourage you to let them know what happened last year too. Even if you don’t have an agent and aren’t in a union, you have the right under law not to have to put up with harassment.

The actor involved should certainly have respected those boundaries, but the production company who was employing you also had responsibilities to protect your rights. Even if the company wasn’t ‘officially’ aware then, if it happened on its watch and you bring it to its attention now it is something I would expect the organisation to take very seriously.

Which brings me to your question about whether you should take any action at all. Ultimately, it is your choice, and you definitely shouldn’t feel pressured in any one direction, but I think it is important, if only for your own well-being, that you get support to make the most informed decision.

There are a number of people, ranging from your GP to Victim Support and Citizens Advice, you can talk to for support with your own self-care as well as looking at what your next steps may be, including legal ones if necessary.

I absolutely agree with you that it would be a real shame if your career going forward was held back or sidetracked by something that happened in the past. However, in wishing you every success with your future career, I would respectfully suggest that knowing you have made a fully informed decision about dealing with this unfortunate and wholly undeserved experience once and for all will give you the best foundation on which to build that future.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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