Harassment and bullying in the theatre industry special report: Inside the story
Following the wide-ranging and ongoing allegations of harassment and abuse in the entertainment industry and beyond, The Stage carried out a survey to determine the scale to which this has affected, and continues to affect, theatre and the performing arts professionals.
It was also intended to investigate whether there were any parts of the industry particularly hard hit.
It was distributed to a database of registered users in November 2017 and was carried out over a 10-day period by 1,755 people with 1,050 people completing all key questions.
It collected the data of those who work, have previously worked, or are training to work in theatre.
As an actor, you risk not being employed again
Theatre professionals who experience harassment and bullying choose not to report it because the behaviour is so “normalised” by the industry, The Stage’s survey reveals.
In wide-ranging comments given as part of the survey, respondents also raise concerns that there are no proper channels through which to report abuse and that speaking out will damage their reputation or cost them jobs in the future.
The survey shows that more than two-thirds of respondents (67%) who experienced inappropriate behaviour did not report it, with 27% saying they did not report because it was felt there was no avenue to do so.
One respondent wrote: “It has never been clear to me how to report. I am not sure I even considered it worth reporting at the time, but I see now that is because it’s so normalised.”
Another wrote: “I never reported it because it was deemed normal behaviour.”
One theatre worker stated that the nature of the industry – including the hours worked, the intensity of the job and the “proximity of working” – encouraged a working environment in which physical contact is the norm, while another said they had been “bullied and disrespected so much within this industry” that they had stopped realising “how absurd it is”.
It is a given thing in the industry. You have to shrug it off
Another said: “It is very much a given thing in the industry. Like most people, you have to be thick-skinned and shrug it off.”
Some also commented on how those behind the harassment were often at the top of the companies they were working for, which made it harder to report harassment or bullying.
One wrote: “I was bullied repeatedly at work by my boss over a six-year period. It was impossible to report as she owned the company.”
Many expressed concern that they would not work again if they reported a concern.
“As an actor, you are bottom of the pile and you risk not being employed again,” one said.
Another wrote of her experience working with a director who made an all-female cast “kiss and hold each other as he took pictures”.
“He made it clear that if we did not do so then we would not be able to be part of the company any more,” she added.
Another said: “I have never spoken about or reported any of these incidents. I knew without doubt that it would go against me if I did.”
Was this behaviour reported?
I felt like a shadow of my former self
Theatre workers revealed how harassment in the sector has left them feeling “devalued and belittled”, with some suffering depression as a result.
Personal experiences reported in the survey range from theatre professionals being verbally abused to reports of rape, with many citing times they had been sexually and physically abused while at work. They report feeling depressed and isolated as a result.
One theatre professional revealed how they were “threatened, bullied, sexually harassed, sexually assaulted and demeaned” over 18 months by a fellow performer.
The effect this had on me was completely crippling. I chose to make myself unemployed rather than continue with the contract
“The effect this had on me was completely crippling and eventually resulted in me leaving the production severely depressed, and feeling like a shadow of my former self,” they wrote, adding: “I chose to make myself unemployed rather than continue with the contract.”
Another revealed how there was a “culture of bullying in the workplace”, which their supervisor had “allowed to continue, unchecked”.
“Ultimately the stress caused me to become ill and I was put on antidepressants,” they said.
Another wrote of their experience at the hands of their agent. “He sexually abused me and also physically hurt me. He broke me and caused me real distress,” they wrote.
One theatre worker revealed how they had been “systematically disrespected, devalued and belittled” by a colleague.
“I was torn apart mentally, made to second-guess everything about my capabilities and told I was not good enough. I felt trapped and unable to extricate myself from the situation without seriously harming my career and the fallout should I leave,” they wrote.