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The curious case of sexual harassment at Sydney Theatre Company

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Earlier this month a group of state theatre companies released a joint statement in the wake of the revelations about sexually predatory behaviour in the arts, most notably by producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey.

Its version of the statement was published on the main page of Sydney Theatre Company’s website under the heading “Sexual Harassment is Unacceptable“. The statement says, “We have a responsibility to proactively work to prevent, and put an end to sexual harassment, abuse and predatory behaviour in our industry and workplace”.

It continues: “We are an organisation of individuals that care deeply about our people and our community. STC is responding to the need for action through a range of existing and new workplace communications and support initiatives. We want our staff and artists to feel empowered and informed about what to do and who to talk to in case of an incident. We strive to be a place where everyone, especially our staff and artists, feel safe and supported”.

Given the vagueness of the statement an STC spokesperson told Daily Review that “STC has several policies – the Workplace, Bullying and Harassment Prevention Policy and the Grievance Procedure Policy. These policies are continually evaluated and updated. Inductions are carried out at the commencement of each production that refer to the existence of the policies and set out who employees should talk to if they want to discuss an issue”.

One of the alleged sexual harassment cases STC will not talk about is one in the recent past. One performer alleged sexual harassment against a fellow cast member.

Asked how the process of raising and dealing with sexual harassment claims is dealt with at STC, the spokesperson said: “Our response would depend on the situation. Actions could include face-to-face interviews and consultation with the affected parties, and if relevant their agents and/or union. We also provide support through our Employee Assistance Program which provides independent, confidential counselling”.

So has STC dealt with sexual harassment issues among its employees and contractors?

“Sydney Theatre Company has investigated a very small number of issues over the last few years. Sydney Theatre Company respects the confidentiality of the complainants and will not comment further,” the spokesperson said.

STC must be a very unusual theatre if the interim results from a survey of performers conducted by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) are anything to go by. It found that a staggering 40% of respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment of a physical nature (touching, groping etc.) in their work while 60% reported sexual harassment that included lewd or suggestive comments and jokes. Ten per cent said they had experienced sexual assault, including stalking.

But one of the alleged sexual harassment cases STC will not talk about is one in the recent past. One performer alleged sexual harassment against a fellow cast member.

The issue was dealt with by the alleged victim withdrawing from the production and the alleged aggressor continuing in their role.

The STC’s method in settling the complaint of alleged sexual harassment had, and still has, a profound effect on the company. The fallout from its handling of the incident has seen the career trajectories of at least four senior STC figures alter dramatically.

Daily Review is not naming the parties involved in the initial incident, or the production they were cast in, because the performer who alleged the sexual harassment has made it known that they want to remain anonymous.

Zoe Angus, the National Director of MEAA’s Equity, would not comment on this incident, however she said the interim results of the Equity survey into sexual harassment show that whatever policies or processes that are in place at theatre companies are not adequate.

On Sunday, 32 members of Equity’s National Performers’ Committee will meet in Sydney to discuss sexual harassment in the performing industry, analyse the interim results of the survey on sexual harassment and discuss case studies.

11 responses to “The curious case of sexual harassment at Sydney Theatre Company

  1. My knowingly false allegation and subsequent dismissed charges by the NSW Chief Magistrate of aggravated indecent assault in a nursing home will see its closure in the High Court where I have to reverse the onus or burden of proof to prove my innocence.. . and I can and the NSW Police should have found the exculpatory evidence. Where are the other stories of knowingly false allegation. … it too is a crime. My story is part of a proposed movie: Snow in The Pocket. While I strongly support those who have been the victims of harrassment and abuse, the ME TOO and other scenarios should also support the victims of false allegations… few as they might be!!

  2. What is more important – the person, the show or the organisation?
    The nature of institutions are usually hierarchical, hence money, hence – a show, which must always go on (LOL). It is the business after all. And in that way no different from hospitals or BHP, organisations that provide products and services, except for one important difference: the trust inherent in the nature of the work of performance to create a ‘believable truth’ for others. Show Business – the business of showing.

    My anecdotal history, going back to the early 19 70’s in theatre, is littered with stories and experiences of sexual predators and emotional abuser/manipulators – not exclusively men. The ‘best’ stories and my worst experiences were almost always associated with mainstream theatre and television. It was a major reason I chose to work in and identify with Melbourne’s emerging Alternative Theatre. Networked, yet fluid and in comparison with the mainstream, a relatively cashless industry. It was, in my experience, largely self-reliant and, importantly, self regulating. Abusers didn’t have administrative support, therefore a short shelf life, which meant if ‘X’ was ‘outed ‘or in town the stories preceded them.
    At my age and largely now retired I rejoice that finally, finally, these issues are being named and hopefully addressed with the ‘grown-ups’ for emerging artists.
    My concern is that sense of self-regulation isn’t stifled by administrative over-regulation, or reaction, given visual media, but a return to respect and trust. The integral quality of (mainly) the Performing Arts:
    Holding and Being Held : mutual trust, the essential relationship between performers; between performers and their audience; between performers and their employers.
    Abuse is the topic, not the business, of Art.

  3. This sounds like a story designed to raise questions about the STC in circumstances in which nothing concrete is raised – only innuendo and hearsay. FAKE NEWS? Shame on you Daily Review, for publishing without better facts! The seriousness of the allegations demands facts.

  4. Just as something of a side note. Long time readers of DR will remember a number of reports of a culture of bullying and harassment at SBS in 2016. Remembering this, I was intrigued to see ads on SBS trumpeting its “workplace diversity” program for its own staff. Did an internal video accidentally make it to air? Seems very weird to me …

    1. I have been thinking about the SBS as this unfolds. I’m not aware of any sexual harrasment, but I’ve seen how bullying is dealt with, and it is all about power. There are certain people with many complaints against them, but a blind eye turned as they are in positions of power. Fear of repercussions also plays a big part to stop these becoming formal complaints.

      On topic though, the behaviour of the STC in releasing this information without giving Rush the opportunity to know or respond to the allegation is reprehensible.

  5. While I understand and sympathise with the performer who would like to remain anonymous in the STC case, it does mean that the alleged aggressor continues to be employed in situations where others may be vulnerable to their actions in the future. What is to stop it happening again? Especially when the STC kept the person on in the play, and the person making the allegations was put in a position where they had to leave. Sadly a common response by companies and institutions that means aggressors can continue to play it as they like without sanction.

  6. In terms of how seriously the STC actually takes this sort of thing, it would be rather telling to know is whether – in addition keeping the alleged perpetrator in his role -they have since employed him again in other shows?

    1. If the allegation was found to be unsubstantiated, then that would be perfectly reasonable. ‘Alleged’ does not equal guilty. Wrongfully discriminating based on unproven allegations is just as reprehensible as bullying or sexual intimidation.

      1. And….where does it say it was a “he” or a “him” doing the alleged harrassing? Lynch mob mentality ring a bell with ANY leftists EVER?

  7. “The issue was dealt with by the alleged victim withdrawing from the production and the alleged aggressor continuing in their role.”?

    Sounds like it wasn’t “dealt with”.

    Perhaps “The issue resulted in the alleged victim withdrawing from the production while the alleged aggressor continuing in their role.”

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