Monday, December 7, 2015

Bullying, sexual harassment and fear, part of the job. Actress.

I had a shocking call from an actress in Ireland a few days ago.
She told me of recent work in a Theatre in Ireland where her boss verbally abused her in front of co workers. It was the final straw in decades of what she , rightly, called "abuse".
You see she has been changed by Waking The Feminists. And truth be told, so have I. Not because of what they are proponents of, that, I have always believed strongly in. But because of the stories that I'm hearing from women, their reality. Thankfully they have stopped being silent. They must never stop.
I listened to someone I admire greatly, describe her work life. She detailed a  work place frequently filled with sexual innuendo , sexual advances, veiled threats , bullying rants and ultimately what I would consider is "grooming".
This is perpetrated  a "Boss". And she is an actress.
I'm sure this behavior visits other female workers in the Theatre and the Arts, but none are as vulnerable as actresses.
Imagine walking into a new career that demands instant access to your emotions to be displayed. Almost always in a sexual fashion, or distraught , and tears, always tears, usually over a man you will do anything to get back!. It can be mistaken that this is you. You are the part you play. You're young and entering a profession that offers few opportunities. It's a cut throat occupation that demands dedication, endurance, talent and craft.  Its a business that no longer, unfortunately,  has an apprenticeship. After a drama school you are supposed to be ready for a lead . And sometimes people offer to put you at the front of the queue. If you behave. The way they want you to. And then imagine this market you are entering is a tiny one, like Ireland , like Dublin. Where there are only a few "Bosses". Its a recipe for disaster. Unless strong labour rules are in place of course.... to protect workers in a professional employment. I mean those laws must be in place right? And we all know what they are right?
I don't think so.
My friend described how she fended off some "Boss" when she was starting off. Trying to keep his advances at a distance , but not wanting to offend him for fear of not working. Something that happened in many jobs. This can happen in other occupations too, of course, but I'm just concerned with getting our house in shape. Cleaning up our side of the street.
And none of this surprises me. Because I have witnessed it. And for some reason because this is the way things work I accepted that. I also accepted it I think, because I was busy trying to build a career myself. But I never , ever had to endure advances , overtures or bullying. Because I wasn't female. That's part of their workplace. Not us men. We NEVER have to even think about that. NEVER.
Why should a female worker have to navigate that field in a work place?!
I now realize I owe an apology to my female friends for not telling these "Bosses" to stop harassing them.  I didn't like these men , and they were always men, but I never really understood that these women were negotiating with their careers.
To my female coworkers ; I apologize. I will work to make amends for my mistake.

Acting is a job where boundaries are willfully broken all the time. I have met actresses at work for the first time , on the first day, and had to make out with them or had a sex scene, or a had huge emotional scene. It's always , in my experience, a place where people are hugely respectful of each other , putting boundaries in place and making everyone comfortable. Respectful. Remarkably caring. That's usually Film and TV work. Theatre is slightly different  ( in that you don't have a scene first time you meet, there are prolonged rehearsals) . The work isn't as fractured, and so Theatre is a place where trust is built and you play out different scenes and scenarios finding the correct path of emotions. It's fun, infuriating, terrifying, rewarding and ultimately, play!  It can be a  deliciously bawdy environment, it can be emancipating and liberating. But like my kids at school during their play, there are rules and boundaries set up between practitioners. That are almost always adhered to. There are rare transgressions.
It can be confusing as well, of course. You fall for people , your character is in love.... you have the words of great writers to express it . It gets complicated sometimes.
But that's usually with the actors. Not the "Boss". Not the "Boss" who feels like he can do or say anything. Because another actress will be along if you give him trouble.
And the "Boss"  is paid by you ( in subsidized Theatre). The taxpayer. Remember that.
There is a lot I know and can't say. Because of legal reasons. And I'm not interested in calling people out, it would be anecdotal, and potentially damaging for the victims.
I will say, women's careers have been destroyed in Ireland because of the behavior of some people. That couldn't be more vague I hope. But if you are a Theatre practitioner in Ireland you already know who I mean. You have experienced them. The actresses have been destroyed in a real way in that their chance of employment has been taken away from them because they didn't behave ( NOTHING to do with their talent) . And almost more heartbreaking their careers stop because they have become emotionally broken. Because of the behavior of a few people. With power.
I have a challenge for us men. Don't accept this behavior towards our co workers. We would not accept it if men were treated this way. Stop these abusive men.
I have a challenge for my female coworkers. Talk about your experiences. Truthfully.
( IMPORTANT ; get legal advice if using social media. I do not want to call out any individuals, just change our ( Industry) behavior. I do not want to, or wish any female workers to be involved in a legal battle because you have told your truth. DO NOT NAME ANYONE OR INFER ANY ONE SPECIFIC WORKPLACE. This is an industry wide problem. On an aside ... where is Equity ? )
My friend said she felt like an abused woman as she was being quiet and accepting these terrible work conditions as just part of her work. If all my female coworkers step forward and say no more, this will stop. Because the horrid truth is these "Bosses" are terrified cowards. They divide to conquer. They silence and banish to protect their sick behavior. And they are actually afraid of women.
Lets end their reign today.
I call on Waking The Feminist to call each Theatre to furnish them with that companies work  practice rules . Immediately.
The  rules in place to protect workers from the bullying of sexual harassment etc. I presume they are in place. It would be astonishing in this day and age if every company did not already have this in place.
This must be done today, because some workplaces, this very day, are not safe places  for women. Women are going to work in theatre today knowing they will be bullied or sexually harassed.
I call on Equity and the Unions to step forward. Today.
We've all played along.
We've all been groomed.
The first day of a TV job here in the US, we have a meeting on sexual harassment. Everyone. We are given a lecture about what sexual harassment is, what work place bullying is . We sign contracts agreeing to abide by workplace laws. It initially seems like overkill, until you realize its protecting people.Its allowing people go to work and do their best in a safe environment and return home to their family afterwards.
Actresses in Ireland are not protected. Or they are not aware of the rights they have. Because some "Bosses" are getting away with abuse. And have been for a long time.
Let's end it.

 I have written to the contact info given for The Abbey, The Gate and Druid asking to see their sexual harassment and anti bullying policy, or their worker protection policy they currently have. I URGE you to do the same. A simple email enquiry.
The contact adresses are ;
Abbey Theatre main web page  ; . fill in contact form
Gate Theatre   main web page    ;  ( no there email contact info given on website )
Druid Theatre  main webpage  ;  .

Also write to Irish Equity  asking for action  ;    fill in contact form.

Take simple action.

Please pass this on if you agree.


  1. I received a reply from Druid Theatre almost immediately stating they " are fully aware of all employment and equality legislation and adhere to it " . They stated they would put my request to furnish sexual harassment and anti bullying policy to the board. I thank them for their speedy response and look forward to reading their policy.
    Please email companies asking for their specific policy.


  2. Thanks Brían.. it matters a lot that you are this angry and engaged. I've seen a lot of bad bullshit in the workplace and I spoke out but you pay a price and it goes on for the next woman - with or without you.. Collective directed anger feels so much better :) Sorcha F

    1. Thank you Sorcha. I have already heard from a number of women who are afraid to even voice that this is happening. Just acknowledging it exists is too dangerous they feel. Which is an extraordinary situation. Extraordinary. And highlights the absolute need to it . I have also written to Irish Equity asking for an active role from them. I urge everyone to write just asking for the workplaces policy. I have suggested to Equity that such policy should be handed out and discussed on the first day of work in an institution. That happens here in the US. When I work on a tv show, we have a talk on sexual harassment and anti bullying and we sign a specific contract for that. Even day players on a tv show, sign a specific document. Its no big deal. But we all know where we stand. Its not asking for anything if we say a work place should be safe from predators. And we owe it to the new generation that they don't have to think "how do I navigate doing my work today". Please share , and thank you for responding . We can change this very easily. And the next generation of theatre artists won't have to put with such working environments .

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  3. Hi Brian!
    Your post is most interesting and poses a lot of questions for me, as well as the employers and bosses.
    I hardly know which way is up on this argument.
    I sometimes feel like a battered wife keeping a dark secret, because if word got out, if people actually knew what was going on and was considered “the norm”, they’d think our industry was completely depraved and out of step with reality!
    But just like the wife who keeps going back for more, why are we putting up with it?
    I am complicit because I just want to keep my head down and do my job.
    I don’t want to complain to a director when he keeps directing me and lets the male actor do what he likes, because I’ll be called “difficult”. So I keep my head down. That’s ok isn’t it?
    I stood in a towel, dripping wet after my shower, after a performance, because the director thought it was funny to give me notes while I shivered. Is that ok?
    Here’s a funny one- an actor in a show I was in once sent a good luck card to another actor. On the front was a picture of a girl kneeling by her bed praying. The actor wrote my name over her head and a bubble saying, “Dear God, thank you for the pony but the fat arse has got to go!” It was most upsetting but I laughed it off. Is that ok?
    A director invited me out to his house once, to read over a script. And I went! And yes, he hit on me! But I went to his house! I mean come on! What was I thinking! So that makes it ok, doesn’t it?
    I once overheard an employer calling me a c**t! Is that ok?
    Some directors forget to knock and walk into your dressing room when you’re changing. Is that ok?

    I love my job Brian and this kind of stuff doesn’t happen every day of the week! Most employers are respectful and even appreciate what we try to achieve. Most of the time it’s the most sacred and special of places. Rehearsals are a celebration of human spirit and emotion. We can bare our souls without fear or favour. We know the boundaries. We understand the task and how to harness the very guts of a character. Then we go on stage every night and offer it up. It’s the best feeling in the world. I adore what I do for a living. I love the very bones of the theatres I have worked in. And no inappropriate employer with a hidden agenda will ever take that away. Is that ok?
    Surely it’s a simple task to put these anti bullying and harassment policies in place. Then we can put our head down and get on with our job.
    That would be more than ok!

  4. Thank you for sharing this Dawn. What a beautifully honest and brutal voice to add. I hope you inspire others to come forward in this manner. I also thank you for not naming anyone ( legal reasons). I will share this. I hope your voice will inspire badly needed change in Irish Theatre immediately. Thank you again. Brían

  5. Unwanted comments? Check. The directors walking into dressing room without knocking? Check. Having to brush off unwanted advances? Check. Sexual innuendo? Check. Accusations of being difficult? Check. A day in the life of an Irish actress.

    1. missyb , thank you for taking the time to comment and responding to Dawn's alarming ( but common it seems) experiences.I am sorry you are enduring similar work discriminations. This must stop. We must make it stop.Could you please email the compose involved and Equity asking about policy. And Share blog if possible. Thank you

    2. "companies" , apologies for the typo.

    3. Thank you, I will do, and thank you for raising the issue.

  6. Here in America we are dealing with very similar issues. Over at The Lilly Awards we have come up with a Statement of Harassment that we have put forth to heighten awareness and offer tactical solutions. Please share with anyone seeking further discussion or advice. Thank you for your passion and support on this subject. It is so important.

  7. Thanks Georgia, that is a wonderful document. I am still waiting for a reply from Irish Equity and The Abbey and Gate Theatre. I then loo forward to making suggestions. Your document seems ideal. Although the employment protection laws seem to be different here (US) than in Ireland. I will be in touch. Thank you for commenting. Brían

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