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Rufus Norris and Sonia Friedman back industry code to tackle harassment in theatre

Vicky Featherstone (left) is creating the new code of behaviour, which is backed by Rufus Norris and Sonia Friedman. Photos: Rosie Hallam/Paul Plews/Alex Brenner Vicky Featherstone (left) is creating the new code of behaviour, which is backed by Rufus Norris and Sonia Friedman. Photos: Rosie Hallam/Paul Plews/Alex Brenner
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National Theatre director Rufus Norris and leading commercial producer Sonia Friedman are among those throwing their weight behind the new industry-wide code of behaviour being drawn up to prevent sexual harassment and abuse in theatres.

It follows escalating allegations of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, which began with the Harvey Weinstein revelations and have widened to accusations against theatre director Max Stafford-Clark and former Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey.

Royal Court artistic director Vicky Featherstone is spearheading plans to draft a set of guidelines expected to be published by the end of this week, enabling the industry to be “really fast and really bold” in response.

The code of behaviour is being created following the Royal Court’s ‘day of action’ on October 28, at which members of the industry discussed how to make lasting changes to prevent harassment and abuse.

The code will include ideas that will “stop the first level” of the problem. As an example, Featherstone said at the weekend: “It’s not appropriate to say to an assistant director, ‘Let’s meet for a drink after work and talk about how rehearsals are going.’ We will say that is not appropriate.”

National Theatre director Rufus Norris told The Stage he had identified a “real appetite” to ensure that the current momentum translates to a meaningful policy shift. This would include making sure that people who speak out are heard, as well as tackling a “profound lack of awareness” of individual behaviour, Norris said.

“For all the awful stuff that’s coming out, this does represent an opportunity to really leapfrog and jump to the kind of culture that we want to live and work in.”

He said the NT would be involved in discussing and implementing the guidelines once published, but stressed that it was important the measures do not feel “punitive”. “[It’s important] that it doesn’t feel like the whole thing is bogged down in some kind of puritanical agenda, that’s not the way people behave,” Norris added.

Friedman said she stood in solidarity with Featherstone and the Royal Court’s actions, and offered “whole-hearted support to the brave women, and men, who have come forward to speak of their experiences of sexual or emotional harassment, both within our industry and beyond”.

She added: “To those who feel they cannot speak out for whatever reason, I offer my support too. I applaud the idea of an industry-wide code of conduct, which we should all work on to develop together. Any way in which we can both improve understanding and challenge unacceptable behaviour in our society is a good thing. We need to learn from our past and move forward with strength.

“An industry-wide charter will leave no further hiding places for sexual harassment or abuse of power and will create a more positive, empowering, creative and transparent working environment for us all.”

Trade body Stage Directors UK said it was aware of how vulnerable assistant and associate directors could be to abuses of power and that it would be working with organisations such as Equity to help those who wish to come forward.

“We are also acutely aware that those in a position of power are often directors, and those who abuse that power may be part of our current membership. We do not tolerate any abuse of power. This is why we welcome the guidelines being published and will work tirelessly to ensure they are adopted across the sector and by our membership.”

Following allegations made against Spacey, the Old Vic has said it is “deeply dismayed” about the revelations, and has appointed external investigators to deal with any historic complaints, and is asking anyone who wishes to speak out to contact it.

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