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Exclusive: Study reveals extent of harassment in theatre

More than 40% of theatre professionals and students polled by The Stage say they have been bullied, while one in three has experienced sexual harassment.

Harassment and bullying are “ingrained into the theatre culture”, according to respondents to a survey undertaken by more than 1,000 people, from performers and creatives to backstage workers, front-of-house staff and management.

Of the 1,050 people who answered a question on their experiences of workplace harassment, 43% said they had been bullied, with 31% encountering sexual harassment.

Nearly 8% of respondents said they had been sexually assaulted at work. The survey also recorded several accounts of rape.

The Stage’s research was prompted by a wave of allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and abuse in the wider entertainment industry, with the theatre industry also coming under the spotlight in specific cases.

In October 2017, it was revealed that the director Max Stafford-Clark was forced to step down from Out of Joint, the company he founded and had led since 1993, after an accusation of sexual harassment from a female member of staff.

Former Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police over three allegations of sexual assault, all occurring during his tenure at the London theatre.

While the results of The Stage’s survey indicate that sexual harassment is prevalent in the industry, levels of bullying were found to be higher.

Respondents described feeling “systematically disrespected, devalued and belittled” by colleagues or fellow cast members, with many claiming this sort of behaviour was “endemic” and that they had never considered it possible to report what they had experienced.

Backstage and technical workers were the most likely to have personally encountered bullying, with more than half of respondents that work in this area answering that they had done so.

Arts consultant Anne-Marie Quigg, whose 2011 report Bullying in the Arts found bullying to be “rife” in the creative industries, said The Stage’s new research painted a “worsening scenario for people working in the cultural sector” since she had undertaken her research.

Freelance workers were less likely to report harassment or bullying than people working as members of staff, the survey also found.

A large proportion of freelance theatre professionals did not report their experiences because there was no avenue for them to do so, they said. This has previously been identified as an area of concern for the theatre industry, which is populated by a large numbers of freelances.

Of the current students who took part in the survey, 36% said they had been bullied, with one in five answering that they had suffered sexual harassment – both these figures are lower than the average response.

Students were also more likely than either freelance or staff-member professionals to see action taken when they reported harassment, suggesting more effective systems are in place at drama schools.

The survey also found:

  • Backstage professionals recorded the highest levels of sexual harassment.
  • Harassment was highest among creatives, as was sexual assault.
  • 68% of disabled respondents said they had suffered bullying at work – significantly higher than the average across all respondents.
  • Sexual harassment was more prevalent in respondents under 35, while those aged 35 and over were more likely to experience bullying.
  • The survey found negligible differences in the way different ethnic groups responded. However, those identifying as white made up the vast majority of respondents.
  • The majority (67%) of people who had suffered some form of harassment or bullying at work did not report it.
  • Of the minority who did report what they had experienced, 70% saw nothing done about it.
  • Even when incidents of sexual assault were reported, no action was taken in four out of five (79%) cases.

Read the full report here

Dowload full report (subscriber only)

Download report workings (subscriber only)

Click here 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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