I read with interest your Editor’s View on employment practices (‘All theatre workers need HR support ’, November 2, p6).
Speaking from experience, human relations staff support only the people that pay them. Sadly they are not impartial in situations that take place in theatre. They often appear to act as the arbitrator, but in the end it is their superiors who have the loudest voice.
I had first-hand experience of this when I went to HR because a company director told me to “fuck off” for no reason.
The advice I received was to file a complaint or “get over it”. When I asked what good filing a complaint was when it was clear a culture existed within that organisation that meant that language was acceptable, a shrug of the shoulders and a faint grin appeared on the face of the HR person. That brush-off confirmed everything I needed to know.
As for appraisals, they are never what they are set up to be, instead being used by organisations to put pressure on individuals to perform and achieve business objectives. They are never an open conversation about how well you are doing or have done, even though this is meant to be the case.
How many theatre workers go to an appraisal meeting with their own objectives, only to have them changed by the end of the meeting in favour of the organisation’s preferences?
The best support any employee can have is organisations such as UK Theatre, Equity and your newspaper where impartial advice exists for theatre workers to seek counselling rather than from the HR person within their own organisation.
Name and address supplied
Your article is well-meaning but rather naive: HR is only there to protect a company’s interests. When I brought misogyny allegations against a previous employer, I eventually settled out of court, following a seven-month campaign to bully me out of my job. I ended up having a nervous breakdown, which led to the settlement.
Two things need to happen. Firstly, it needs to become easier for employees and freelances to access legal aid once again. I brought an unfair dismissal claim in 2012 against the same company. It was settled in six weeks and the outcome was a promotion. In 2015 it was harder to access and, had it gone to court (which eventually I was willing to do), I could well have ended up paying legal costs.
Secondly, outside bodies need to be invested with more power to protect the worker. For example, the Women’s Committee at Equity would be a good place to start. Even with copious evidence, it was still (in my experience) difficult to fend for oneself in a room full of people loyal to the company.
Name and address supplied
Watching two plays recently – Beginning at the National Theatre’s Dorfman and Albion at the Almeida – I missed a chunk of dialogue, as the actors whispered or mumbled their lines.
In the former, Sam Troughton pitched many of his lines upstage. Both venues are small but I do like to hear lines projected so they can be properly heard in the auditorium.
Perhaps directors Polly Findlay and Rupert Goold should sit in different parts of the theatre during rehearsals to check line lucidity.
Sitting in the balcony to watch The Best Man at Sheffield Lyceum recently, I found the first half marred by inaudibility. Laughter from the stalls at comedy lines clearly contrasted with the reaction from the balcony seats.
During the interval, I asked other theatre-goers if they could hear the dialogue. Someone else said they were struggling and had missed too many lines, so I spoke to theatre staff.
When the second half started, the transformation was striking: diction was perfect. It seems some actors who do too much TV and cinema work forget to project their voices when returning to theatre performances.
Shipley, West Yorkshire
The 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses poses the question: why have there been so few productions of John Osborne’s biographical masterpiece since the National’s 2001 revival?
It seems even the subsidised theatres are too timid to tackle this piece nowadays. How I miss the English Stage Company.
Quotes of the week
“When good actors rehearse, they test the ground, showing you or telling you where your own work is boggy. This is the glorious payoff for the hours you spend alone. Good actors illuminate everything.”
David Hare (Guardian)
“You live in fear of the dreaded one-star review. Then you get one, and realise it’s not the end of the world. The Earth keeps spinning, your family still love you, and your laptop keyboard still works”
Playwright Sam Holcroft (Evening Standard)
“The world’s so crazy I can’t not write about it.”
Playwright James Graham (Telegraph)
“She’s cornered by her own personality and by the social expectations about having children. It’s very interesting because it’s a subject that’s hardly tackled. I battled to have children, I was one of the ones who was desperate to have a child, but there are women who just don’t want children. One of the characters talks about how it’s ‘against nature’ to not want children.”
Actor Kate Duchene on Suzy Storck (London Theatre)
“If we want young people to become theatregoers, they need to see real stories on stage that they can relate to. The power of theatre is that it allows us to feel that we’re not alone, that someone else has our story.”
Libby Liburd (ThisWeek London)
“You can get stuck when you’ve been in the business for over 30 years. You can start just treading water and repeating things because you’re comfortable with them. It’s always good for somebody to drag you out of where you’re comfortable and put you somewhere where you feel awkward and a bit exposed and a bit vulnerable.”
Actor Douglas Henshall (The Arts Desk)
“All the men saying ‘witch hunt’. Recalling hundreds of thousands of women persecuted, tortured, executed up until last century. Hmmm.”
Stella Duffy (Twitter)
“Purni Morell will leave the Unicorn Theatre in 2018. Her tenure has been almost as transformative as David Lan’s was at the Young Vic.”
Critic Matt Trueman (Twitter)
What you said on Facebook about…
Judging from its forthcoming programme, it seems there is no room for female writers or directors at the Bridge. A golden opportunity for 50:50 inclusion has been missed.
The theatre has a much cosier foyer than anywhere in the West End. The legroom is amazing and there are more ladies’ toilets than at all the theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue combined.
Splashy musicals are in the limelight – they are popular and most have decent storylines. That said, there now seem to be more dramas each year than ever.
Plenty of theatres only put on plays, including many fringe venues. Musicals need homes too.
I always like to chat about rehearsals in the pub. It’s a bit of a leap to say that’s automatically inappropriate, isn’t it?
The rule should be this: don’t hit on someone and make them feel like they owe you something because you are of a higher status than them. That goes for women too.