Details of a new strategy that will enable staff at the Old Vic to share concerns about someone’s behaviour or the culture at work have been revealed by the London theatre.
Between four and six members of staff will be appointed to become designated Old Vic guardians, and will be a “sounding board” for colleagues wishing to share problems and concerns but who are hesitant to follow more traditional reporting lines.
It comes as a major survey into workplace harassment and bullying in theatre by The Stage reveals that four out of 10 theatre professionals say they have experienced bullying, with around a third reporting incidences of sexual harassment.
The Old Vic became embroiled in controversy last year after its former artistic director Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual misconduct. He is under investigation by the Metropolitan Police for a third allegation of sexual assault.
An investigation into Spacey’s behaviour during his 11-year tenure at the Old Vic uncovered 20 complaints of inappropriate conduct, some of which occurred at the theatre itself.
The Old Vic subsequently apologised for not creating an environment in which people felt able to speak freely, and published a document – Way Forward – outlining how it would improve processes in future to create “safe and secure working environment for all”.
The Guardians programme will officially begin in March, and will start with a workshop and interview process to appoint the individual guardians, who will then receive specialist training on facilitation and mediation, safeguarding principles and the Old Vic’s structure and processes.
Selected from the theatre’s permanent staff body as well a freelance workers, guardians will “listen and give neutral support and advice on issues and, where relevant, to advise upon which processes may assist staff”.
The Old Vic stressed that the purpose of the programme is not to appoint individuals who will call out inappropriate practice or intervene on problems, but advise colleagues as to actions that can be taken.
They will maintain “absolute confidentiality” about all issues raised with them except in scenarios which could amount to a criminal offence.
Executive director Kate Varah said the idea for the programme grew out of the theatre’s desire to reassure people they have a voice to raise concerns, both in serious cases or more everyday matters.
“We want everyone to have a way to be able to share their concerns with someone outside of the ‘regular’ reporting line. Our guardians will actively listen and support, offering confidential advice on options, discretion and empathy,” she said.
Varah also called on other theatres and other sectors to take up a similar idea within their own businesses, adding this would be a “heartening outcome”.
Following the investigation into Spacey’s alleged conduct at the Old Vic, the theatre also said it would develop a set of behavioural guidelines and provide additional training for all staff.