There is no real mechanism in performing arts groups to address internal issues of sexual harassment and misconduct. Even the largest stage companies do not have a human resource department set up to mediate a conflict or confront a person in management with allegations of inappropriate behavior.
And given the recent wave of revelations, allegations, firings and resignations involving male figures at the top of the arts and media industries, it only makes sense for the theater community to try to fashion some kind of working response. Although the Dallas-Fort Worth area has a long-established tradition of theater companies run by women — from Undermain Theatre to the Dallas Children’s Theater to Amphibian Stage Productions — the industry is still weighted in general towards men in positions of authority and approval, while casting productions from musical comedies to tough-minded stage dramas often revolve around issues of looks and sexuality.
So how to establish a work environment that is safe for women (and in some instances, straight or gay men)? In particular, an environment that never forces someone to choose between a paycheck and tolerating unwanted sexual contact or abuse? That does not discriminate against him or her in employment or advancement?
To address these questions, Joanie Schultz, artistic director of WaterTower Theatre, has invited to North Texas one of the architects of a self-regulating and voluntary instrument that Chicago theaters developed on their own — Schultz’ invitation was supported by nearly a dozen North Texas theaters who are members of the Theatre Communications Group. Laura T. Fisher, coordinator of Chicago Theatre Standards, will lead a discussion on these matters December 11th in Oak Cliff, moderated by TheaterJones editor Mark Lowry.
Here’s the official release:
North Texas Theatres Convene Artist Town Hall: Theatre Code of Standards
With Laura T. Fisher, Coordinator of Chicago Theatre Standards
Addison (TX)… In an effort to do better, and in response to the recent thoughtful discussion that has taken place specifically regarding inappropriate conduct in the North Texas theatre community, Theatre Communications Group (TCG) Member Theatres of North Texas have worked together to convene an Artist Town Hall about developing a theatre code of standards. The Town Hall will be moderated by TheaterJones Editor Mark Lowry, with Laura T. Fisher, Coordinator of Chicago Theatre Standards leading the discussion.
“Having been in Chicago during the founding of #NotInOurHouse, and as an ensemble member at one of the pilot theatres of the Chicago Theatre Standards, I have been inspired by the work of Lori Myers and Laura T. Fisher,” commented Joanie Schultz, Artistic Director of WaterTower Theatre. “With their leadership in this movement, there has been a significant shift in the Chicago theatre community through open dialogue, awareness, and education. When Laura offered to travel here and speak with our community, I immediately turned to my fellow theatre leaders who were all eager to organize a town hall around this topic. We hope to learn from Laura’s wisdom and expertise, and begin a discussion that will move us in the right direction together, to ensure a healthy and safe theatre community for all.”
“In response to repulsive sexual abuse and harassment in the Chicago theatre community, members in our community stood together to say Not In Our House” added Laura T. Fisher. “The result has been a cultural paradigm shift, and the development of The Chicago Theatre Standards (available at NotInOurHouse.org), is a completely-free, wholly-voluntary tool for self-regulation in theatre spaces and beyond. The intention is to prevent and respond to abuses, and create a safe space for even-riskier work.”
Artist Town Hall Details
When: Monday, December 11th
8:00 – 10:00pm
Where: Arts Mission Oak Cliff
410 S Windomere Ave.
Dallas, TX 75208
Admission: Admission is free, and space is limited and available on a first come, first served basis.
This Artist Town Hall was convened and coordinated in a combined effort with TCG Member Theatres of North Texas which include:
Amphibian Stage Productions
Bishop Arts Theatre Center
Cara Mia Theatre Co.
Dallas Children’s Theater
Dallas Theater Center
Kitchen Dog Theater
Second Thought Theatre
Stage West Theatre
About Laura T. Fisher
Laura T. Fisher is Originator and Coordinator of the Chicago Theatre Standards. She is a 30-year veteran of Chicago theatre community, who recently originated the role of Mary Page Marlowe at 50 in the world premier of Tracy Lett’s Mary Page Marlowe, directed by Anna Shapiro at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre. Laura has worked with many theatres including The Goodman Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Court Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Victory Gardens Theatre, The Lyric Opera, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Indiana Repertory, Milwaukee Repertory and many others. Outside of the Midwest, she has performed in New York, Scotland, Singapore and throughout the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Feature Films include Contagion, Princess Cyd, and the upcoming Captive State and Steve McQueen’s Widows. Television credits include Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, Sense8 and Empire. Laura has won Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson award, and Chicago’s After Dark Award, and is a member of Actors’ Equity, and SAG-AFTRA. Laura lives in Chicago with her husband Don Copper and her dogs Gladys and Stanley.
The Chicago Theatre Standards Statement of Principles
No one should be forced to choose between her personal safety and dignity, and her job. But too often in the theater community this is exactly the choice that women must make. Sexual discrimination and harassment, and gender-based violence often occur in the intimate and physical context of a theater production.
Victims of such conduct face a stark choice between continuing to work in close collaboration with their abuser and quitting the show. Few can afford to give up a job and lose not only income, but also the opportunity for career advancement. There is a sense in the community that it is not necessarily in a victim’s best interest to report abuse because of the fear that the response will be insufficient and open her up to retribution.
In addition, many instances of abuse happen outside of the physical boundaries of a theater. No theater, union or guild currently takes responsibility for handling such cases. However, the two people involved will most likely have to work together in the next day or in another production and the victims are left to deal with the aftermath themselves. In the face of these realities, victims often choose silence and abuse is allowed to continue. It is time for the theater community to break its own silence on harassment and abuse and formal address the problem.
Obviously, both women and men can be subjected to abusive conduct, but the reality is that those who behave abusively are generally in positions of power. These roles continue to be predominantly held by men and their victims predominantly women. An unresolved conflict with a person in power can easily become an ongoing barrier to career opportunities thought a woman’s career. Harassment and abuse are contributing factors that slow the advancement of women in theater.
We are aware of men being intentionally injured during performances, as well as young gay and straight men being harassed and abused in much the same way women have been. Victims can be stagehands as well as actresses, designers as well as writers. A more robust and victim centered response to the problem will move the culture forward and benefit all.
On January 12th at New Dramatists, a meeting was held of members of the theater community, including representative from the Dramatists Guild of America, the Actor’s Equity Association and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. Three proposals for change and enhancement of existing procedures were generated and discussed.
- We recommend that a clear statement be read at each professional production’s first company meeting outlining the procedure to file a complaint. The procedures and related contact numbers should be prominently posted on theater and union/guild websites.
- We recommend that each union or guild designate a specific person to receive complaints. This person should be thoroughly educated and knowledgeable about the procedures and be prepared to guide victims to them and to appropriate support services.
- We recommend that, when appropriate, a mediation process overseen by a neutral professional be added to what the unions and guilds currently offer to parties in dispute over a claim of abuse or harassment.
Mediation has an overwhelming success rate and over the past twenty years has become a preferred method for handling harassment claims in the courts and in private practice. All federal district courts are required by law to implement an Alternative Dispute Resolution program and the New York Supreme Court has both mandatory and volunteer mediation programs, depending on the nature of the dispute. A study of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission’s (EEOC) mediation program found that 91% of claimants and 96% of respondents who used mediation to solve their dispute would use it again. Studies have also shown that when disputing parties voluntarily participate in mediation they are more likely to abide by the terms of their agreement ant there is less likely to be retribution, one of the most common reasons victims do not come forward with complaints. Moreover, mediation would provide a complainant the opportunity to speak for herself and participate in shaping a remedy. It allows the accused to clarify their side of the story and avoid public charges. In addition, mediation is the most likely method to reach an amicable resolution in a relatively short time, which limits the costs and disruption to the theater, union or guild.
We strongly recommend and support making these simple changes to recognize and address the needs of the victims of abuse. By instituting these measures, the unions and guilds will be taking steps towards ensuring the safety and dignity of their members.
The theater community has long whispered about, laughed about and written about harassment in its ranks with tales of the casting couth and out of control stars. It is past time we stopped encouraging or ignoring abusive behavior and publicly recognize the existence of sexual discrimination and harassment, and gender-based violence within our community. It is time we take positive steps to end it.