Theatre bosses ‘on notice’ over abuse claims

Equity vice president Maureen Beattie. Photo: Marc Marnie Equity vice president Maureen Beattie. Photo: Marc Marnie
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Equity has issued its strongest warning yet that theatre managements will be held to account for any instances of sexual harassment that occur on their watch.

The union said it was putting the “industry on notice” that it will be cracking down on “those who hold positions of authority and manage our industry”, claiming they are the ones who “have a duty and responsibility to provide a safe working environment”.

Its warning comes in its report into sexual harassment, carried out in the wake of a series of allegations made against prominent figures within the entertainment sector. The union labelled it “ugly, demeaning behaviour”.

Following publication of an interim document last month, the union’s full report outlines a series of points and actions aimed at key parts of the sector, including employers, casting directors and agents, boards and training providers. The union has also set out its own pledges aimed at stamping out sexual harassment.

“Equity is taking a lead in creating the culture shift that is the proper response to the tide of horrifying revelations of sexual harassment,” Equity vice president Maureen Beattie writes in the report’s introduction.

She adds that those in positions of power and who manage the sector need to do more to protect people from sexual harassment.

Calling on the industry to adopt proper codes of conduct to stamp out harassment, she adds: “These documents must not be an administrative exercise, a sticking plaster over the collective guilt of past failures. Equity not only expects these policies to be put in place but we will use them to hold engagers to account. They must be the levers of real change.”

Beattie claims the industry has “protected” perpetrators of abuse for many years.

For its  part, the union is reviewing its own policies and procedures on how to deal with allegations of sexual harassment.

It has established a helpline, overseen by a dedicated member of staff, who will be the first point of call for members who experience bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.

The union will also launch a campaign that will see posters displayed in casting spaces and workplaces, encouraging members to challenge and report inappropriate behaviour.

It will investigate the “misuse” of non-disclosure agreements that it claims prevent its members from speaking out.

Elsewhere, the plan calls on employees to make it clear at the start of rehearsals and read throughs that they have a “policy of zero tolerance” to sexual harassment. Agents and casting directors must ensure auditions are conducted in appropriate spaces, while boards are urged to strive for “gender balance, inclusion and diversity”.

The report states that agents must “ensure clients have full information on the nature of an engagement, with particular attention to agreements governing nudity”.