Kwame Kwei-Armah and Maxine Peake urge industry to ‘keep up the momentum’ following harassment claims
Leading theatre figures including Maxine Peake and Kwame Kwei-Armah have praised the change already being made in the industry around sexual harassment, but cautioned that real progress will only come from sustained commitment.
At the second annual Tonic Awards, which celebrate women in theatre, presenters and award winners signalled a changing culture in British theatre following the wave of people speaking up about harassment and bullying that has characterised recent months in the entertainment industry and beyond.
The awards celebrate “game-changing women in theatre” as well as organisations that are redefining the role of women in the performing arts.
Peake, who presented an award to Royal Exchange artistic director Sarah Frankcom for the theatre’s commitment to female stories, said it was important that the momentum harnessed by the #MeToo movement does not fizzle out.
She told The Stage: “It’s about creating that climate of support, isn’t it? But it really is about moving forward now. We are very good at getting excited about things and then they fade but hopefully it’s part of the psyche now and people know that it’s not acceptable behaviour. This is not going away.”
Frankcom added that, while change was afoot, “we’ve got to be very careful that we don’t think that everything has changed”.
“Change is something that needs to be continually worked at and I think there’s a point where we won’t have to think about it but that point is a long way off,” she said.
Kwei-Armah, who took over as Young Vic artistic director last month, said he already felt a shift occurring in theatre that he hoped could usher in lasting change.
“You can’t sit down and have a conversation about theatre without thinking about gender parity, it just is. It doesn’t mean anyone can rest on their laurels but it does mean that women are now pushing on open doors,” he said.
Kwei-Armah spoke after he presented an award to critic and journalist Lyn Gardner for her dedication in showcasing new voices. Other winners included Gina Abolins and Steffi Holtz, who were among the first in the industry to speak out about their experiences of sexual harassment at work last year.
Abolins and Holtz were given their award by Vicky Featherstone, who said they “changed everything for us in theatre”, when they spoke about their experiences working for Max Stafford-Clark at Out of Joint.
“They changed something, they had no power, and they were brave enough to take up the space and say ‘We have had enough’,” she said.