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Royal Court publishes 30-point plan to tackle harassment in theatre

Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre. Photo: Mark Hamilton
Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre. Photo: Mark Hamilton
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The Royal Court has published an industry code of behaviour featuring more than 30 recommendations in a bid to prevent sexual harassment and abuses of power in theatre.

The guidelines are described as “an offering, a provocation [and] a hope for culture change”. The document sets out steps that individuals and organisations can take.

It was created following the Royal Court’s ‘day of action’ on October 28, which was held in response to a string of sexual harassment and abuse allegations against senior figures in the entertainment industry.

The report is split into five sections: responsibility, reporting, raising awareness, breadth and scope, and patterns and scenarios.

Royal Court artistic director Vicky Featherstone said her organisation would be adopting the code of behaviour immediately and it represented the “beginning” of an industry-wide conversation about how to bring about lasting change.

The guidelines cover wide-ranging recommendations around areas such as taking responsibility over power, calling out inappropriate behaviour and having a clear, open reporting structure.

They also refer to more specific scenarios that the guidelines highlight as being inappropriate.

These are:

  • It is never appropriate for someone in a junior role to be asked by someone in a senior role to work outside hours in their private home
  • It is never appropriate to verbally sexually objectify anyone’s body in a rehearsal room or theatre
  • It is never appropriate for an actor to be made to feel vulnerable through nudity, undress or costuming
  • It is never appropriate to send overly personal or suggestive communications to a junior colleague
  • It is never appropriate to initiate unwanted intimate physical contact
  • It is never appropriate to push people to share their personal experiences to deepen the work. If it is offered, it has to remain within the trust of the working room

The Royal Court’s day of action included an anonymous sharing of 150 stories of harassment and abuse, of which the Royal Court has now said 51% took place in rehearsals, backstage, in drama schools or involved sustained verbal abuse.

“[This] suggests significant change needs to happen in institutional culture,” the document says.

Other recommendations in the document include logging inappropriate behaviour, even if no further action is wished for, and acknowledging that “artistic freedom of expression is essential but the creative space must be a safe space”.

It also suggests an industry model could be developed for dealing with historic cases.

All staff, freelances, casting directors, actors, stage managers and crew should be inducted on their first day of work into the policy and code of behaviour, and should sign that this has happened, the document says.

Featherstone said: “Thanks to the bravery, openness and desire to see change happen from the people in our industry who have either experienced abuse or are desperate to see it end, we have been able to compose this document. We at the Royal Court are adopting this today. It is an offering, it is a beginning. We have to start somewhere,” she said.

View the code of behaviour in full here

Click for all The Stage’s coverage of harassment in the theatre industry and advice on who to contact if you or someone you know has been a victim.

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