With the allegations of more sexual misconduct within the Australian live performance industry, there’s a new conversation to be had. In my response to #MeToo, I discussed the existing culture that we’ve all witnessed in our industry, but now we need to turn our focus to have a look at how we deal with it as Stage Managers.
In the 7:30 report on Monday, Chloe Dallimore and Amy Maiden both highlighted the need to create a space to have real and difficult conversations, and both raised the point that people initially turn to Stage Management and Company Management when a problem arises. On the Stage Management Network of Australia facebook group there has been a lot of discussion about how Stage Managers can support cast and crew members when they come to us with issues of harassment, bullying, intimidation and assault. How do we best deal with it when it comes up?
Many years ago, before the #metoo and the #timesup movements, a female cast member I was working with was a victim of bullying, harassment and misogyny. As the SM, she came to me and I felt completely powerless to do anything about the source of the problem. I knew that if we took it to upper management, nothing would be done – the perpetrator was highly valued by the company and there was a culture of this sort of behaviour. I discussed the issue with my production manager and the company manager, but they didn’t want to take it further either. It was a complex situation with many layers, but ultimately my strategy to help the cast member was to provide an environment to support her through it, rather than make the perpetrator accountable for his actions. This was by no means an isolated incident in my career. However, looking back now within the current context, I wonder if I could have done more, if I could have fought harder for that female cast member. I know it is still something that troubles her to this day, and to her, I’m sorry.
Moving forward, I want to deal with these issues better. I want to support the victims in a way that makes them know they are being seen and heard. Thankfully I now feel that there’s a climate where we can have these discussions, but I call on producers and management to support Stage Managers and Company Managers who are the gatekeepers for these issues.
Freelance Stage Managers don’t want to risk their own careers by taking these allegations to producers who don’t care. One of the reasons SMs exist is to deal with problems at a grass roots level so upper management can concentrate on other things. Many SMs feel like bringing these sorts of issues to producers makes the SM look incompetent at dealing with issues.
So what do SMs need from upper management?
Stage Managers need to feel like they are supported. If we file an incident report with claims of bullying, harassment or inappropriate behaviour, we need to feel like it will be followed up, not shut down. SMs are mostly happy to have tough conversations (we’re a tough lot), but we’re usually only wiling to go there if we feel supported.
We need more training. We need training in Mental Health First Aid. We need training in how to respond to bullying and harassment. We need to be relying on more than our instincts.
And what do SMs need to do?
We need to recognise when the rehearsal room or the theatre no longer feels safe for someone. Contrary to the article by Neil Pigot and Julian Meyrick, I disagree with their assertion that “The theatre is a place of profound vulnerability, a place where overstepping the lines of normal behaviour is unavoidable, and sometimes encouraged.” I’ve worked in plenty of rehearsal rooms where vulnerability is achieved without overstepping any lines. All it takes is a culture of trust and respect. It is up to us to notice when trust and respect is being corroded.
We need to keep ourselves accountable. We need to keep appropriate documentation about what has been reported and when. We need to file an incident report in a discreet manner. We need to share the documentation with the victim. That way they can see that something is being done, and there is concrete evidence that can be referred to down the track.
We need to keep listening. To our casts, our crews and our instincts. Pay attention to the jokes that have a hint of truth. Pay attention to the relationships within the casts. We need to address issues early, rather than letting them smoulder.
We need to look after our own mental health and we need to look out for each other. We need to keep the conversation going. Most of all we need to work together towards an industry where every individual feels safe, validated, trusted and respected.