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Editor’s View: Theatre must break its silence on harassment

The New York Times broke the story of allegations of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein. Photo: Shutterstock/Sam Aronov
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Recently, I’ve found myself reflecting on a brief news story I wrote in 2011 on a report revealing that bullying is more common in the arts than any other employment sector.

Some of the things its author Anne-Marie Quigg said to me at the time seem especially pertinent in light of the allegations emerging around US producer Harvey Weinstein’s behaviour and the increasing calls for UK theatre to get its own house in order.

Quigg said: “In some ways, those of us working in the arts have ourselves to blame. Often, there’s a passion attached to the work we do, a commitment and great admiration for good art. So, I think we tolerate behaviour that wouldn’t be tolerated in other sectors, because we are committed to the end result being great. In some respects, we need to open our eyes a bit more and realise that it’s not necessary to tolerate any harassment or bad behaviour. It’s perfectly possible to create high-quality work without inflicting pain or harm on people.

“Part of our issue in the arts is that we don’t like to think there is a problem. We subscribe to the notion that we’re all nice people and we embrace diversity and inclusiveness. The idea that we are able to behave in this way is not one that we would welcome. That makes it difficult to have the right kind of mechanisms in place and, indeed, the right kind of leadership.”

Everything Quigg says about bullying applies equally to sexual harassment, which – like bullying – tends to spring from a power imbalance between the victim and perpetrator. Part of the challenge the theatre industry faces is the widespread acceptance of a mafia-style omerta when it comes to reporting these problems, for fear of reprisal.

This is understandable when it comes to the victims: I would never criticise anyone for not feeling capable of speaking out. But sunlight can be the best disinfectant: what finally brought an end to Weinstein’s behaviour was public exposure by the New York Times, made possible by the courage of a few victims who were willing to break that silence.

News outlets aren’t the sole path to achieve justice, though one of our key responsibilities is to hold power to account. It is a responsibility we at The Stage take seriously. We will always work to expose malpractice and, should anyone wish to talk to us, they can be certain we will treat them with consideration and in confidence.

Email your views to alistair@thestage.co.uk

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