Saturday, March 5, 2016

Anger and Big Ships.

There was a time when I would get up in the morning with a hangover,  dress,  rush outside to light the first cigarette of the day, then walk to the corner deli to grab a coffee and the New York Times.
I would spend the next hour coming to. Filling with nicotine and caffeine, I would read shit that pissed me off.
A time came when I realized this was not working as a way to start my day. My everyday.
I no longer drink or smoke. I enjoy a couple of coffees in the morning and I'm wary of wallowing in any form of anger, particularly reading news. Its just not good for me. Other people can let stuff slide off them. I can be sensitive to stuff I'm sure other people wouldn't notice. I feel uncomfortable with anger. Really because my reaction to anger is to destroy myself. The feeling is too strong to let out. Better to medicate myself with something.
I found a line of work where access to strong emotions is often rewarded. My work has thrown similar people around me. This can lead to exhilaration at times, other times , despondency.
I tell you this in relation to the Waking The Feminist movement. In relation to Theatre in Ireland, and in turn NYC. And my reaction to it.
To me , when the damning statistics were laid bare of the exclusion of female playwrights and directors on the Irish Stage, the solution was simple. Just change it. Make a decision. Take action. I mean it's a tiny community of good people. And in fact the number of people in charge, you can literally count on one hand. What's the problem there I thought. Easy.
But then mutterings of "seasons planned" , "not that simple", "committees " began to surface.
When I think of institutions being unable to pivot, I think of large ships. We all know they are difficult to turn. It doesn't happen fast. We all accept that.
Imagine my surprise standing on the Bridge of an Aircraft Carrier in San Diego in January,  being informed of a maneuver in the Persian Gulf by said ship. A young man leapt from the ship in the middle of the night, the boat charging along in darkness. The navigator told me with pride that they immediately went into a maneuver that enabled them to turn and find the sailor in 7 minutes. This enormous ship turned in darkness and found this man in the dark ocean. An extraordinary feat.
The Abbey, The Gate and Druid are no aircraft carriers.
A call of woman overboard was shouted in October. All 3 companies seem to have continued sailing in darkness. Let's consider where we are.
The Abbey had a meeting with WTF and said they would announce the end of the years planning in March. Well here we are. If I'm the woman in the water, I'm not feeling too hopeful. And btw , who is programming the Abbey? Is it the Senator ? If the two men required to fill his part time shoes are starting in June, when do they start programming? When do they have creative control? Have they opened back door channels with people already? I presume they have. Have they reached out to WTF? If they haven't, they need to.
The Gate met with WTF, we were told  they had a good meeting. Nothing else has been announced. If I'm the women in the water with that news, honestly, I stop struggling and accept I will die. I'm thinking the HMS Gate might turn around after they've eaten. Might. Unless the Gate 5 have a coup. One can only hope.
Druid have been out front with WTF. The only ship helmed by a female Commander one would expect this. But they have announced their season. I didn't hear WTF complain. Druid's reaction to the "Anger in Octobter " was to plan one play by a female playwright. Congratulations to her, but this is hardly a response that I expected from Druid. Waiting for Godot with a great cast will be a thrill, but sitting in the climate of WTF, it seems to me to be an affront. I'm sure the Druid Debut  series will have many female voices. I can't help but feel this is tokenism. How long has Druid been doing their staged readings of new plays and how many have they produced? It's nonsense. Play readings are not productions. People can't survive, I'm talking literally survive, on play readings. (This is a scourge thats happening all over the world by the way. Literary departments existing for reading series. A small industry to themselves, rarely having an effect. Have we ever heard how many playwrights the Abbey have on commission ? At what cost? )
If I'm in the water, I watch Druid turn around but sail a long way by me. Disappointing.

I've been quiet for a few months watching, because , well I don't want to get angry. And my way is often not the best way of affecting change. I'm reminded of that constantly by my wife and kids. Even the dog knows. My best thoughts on the inaction with the institutions in Irish Theatre is walk in, lock the door and refuse to leave until change happens. I mean I want them to sign a document before I leave. And I want to stare menacingly at them.
But as I said , even my dog knows I'm wrong most of the time. And I rescued him. Feed him. Pick up his shit.

You know when you are angry and then , thankfully in a way, it turns to disbelief ? A true WTF moment.
I had that in December having made contact with the 3 main Theatres about their policies regarding sexual harassment and bullying. ( Again I use the main 3 because of funding, but I know whats found in the 3 will be replicated  throughout Theatre. )
Lets recap; stories of harassment surfaced almost immediately when Waking The Feminists voices started to be raised. The most high profile being the courageous Tony nominated actor Dawn Bradfield. Followed by the indomitable Derbhle Crotty. I wrote a Blog about it. I received many other contacts detailing horrible events. Perpetrated by men and women.
Out of this came an unexpected champion.  Irish  Equity, a much much maligned organization ( rightly fully so I'm afraid) stepped forward. In the person of Anne Russell particularly , they have taken steps to at least address the issue.
They have a much too brief survey that I urge you to take
which is a good start. I have a feeling that Irish Equity also realizes that if they cannot protect their members they may as well close its doors. Unfortunately the mistrust that members have towards the union, it faces an uphill battle to be relevant. The truth is, actors and the union need each other. the main problem may be that its regarded so poorly by SIPTU. Hopefully WTF holding their womens day event at SIPTU will light several fires over there. I will say that my dealings with Irish Equity give equal sense of hope ( the passion of Ms Russell) and despair, emails to the union were unanswered when asking for details regarding the protection of its members. I was told Equity shares a phone number for other unions  of SIPTU .... one being workers in Bookies offices. I leave that one there.
So my interaction with the 3 was interesting. I wrote a simple request asking if each company had protections on their books regarding sexual harassment and bullying. And I phrased it around the public pronouncements made by actors.
The Gate Theatre  has no policy regarding bullying or harassment for those on short term contracts, which are used for actors and other non permanent creative personal. It does have policy for permanent staff.
Read those last two sentences again.
One more time. No really.
They told me they have been reviewing employee related policies for the past year and intend to update both permanent and short term when they finish.
I responded asking when they expected the review to finish and how many permanent staff were employed at the Gate.
 I did not receive and answer. There is nothing on their website showing policies other than financial governance ( that I could find )
I contacted The Abbey. They have a well documented policy. Crucially defining what bullying and harassment looks like. I will post it at the end of this blog so you can see. I don't know of this document is handed out to all who work there, or if it just exists until required.
Druid responded that they were aware of the laws of the land and adhered to them. When I ask for specifics regarding harassment and bullying they didn't reply. I asked again and was told that a workers handbook that is given to all employees would be posted on their website "shortly" .
And indeed it was. I think it was, because while the document does detail how grievances are handled, there is nothing specifically written about sexual harassment or bullying . (I will post it also).
So we have a problem. A big problem. Its clear we don't know what sexual harassment is or what bullying looks like. There is nothing in place to stop the predators that exist.
This requires an overall strategy for the Theatre community. And most importantly I include all Drama schools in this. Drama schools are places where abuse is almost expected and worn with a badge of honor. People often talk of "surviving" drama school.
So who do we turn to? The companies are mostly failing miserably . Appallingly. What about the boards of each company? Well I don't think that will work as its not just a matter of having a document in place, although that is crucial.  And bizarrely I discovered that the boards may not be so independent. Mr Colgan is on the Board of his own Theatre.
Please read that sentence again.
One more time.
How does that work?
Lets move up from the boards then. Surely the Arts Council shouldn't be funding organizations without the basic protection for employees? I will contact the Arts Council this week. I know WTF had a meeting with them. I don't know what that entailed.
Above that is the Minister. Which of course may change. But let's look at Ms Humphries briefly.
She was an insulting snub to Arts community, a political pawn.
A person whose first action was to elect a gas station owner to the board of IMMA for 2 weeks so he could be handed a Senator's job. With a pension. For life. And she defended her choice.
And her other interaction with a Senator, was to give 500k Euro to the Abbey. Not through the Arts council where it should pass. But directly to the Abbey. It wonldn't surprise me if it was in a paper bag.
I didn't read any statements from her regarding WTF. I don't believe WFT met her.
Since WTF are the main catalysts of change I urge them to add harassment and bullying policy to their demands. Start with the Minister and The Arts council demanding that money will not be given to Theatres without policies in place. Get one policy for all institutions. Not individual ones. Have it as a requirement for funding. This should be set up by the council immediately.
But here is a crucial part. It is easy for companies to have a policy on their books. But what happens if someone is being harassed of bullied. Are there people trained to deal with this? Not just a title of company management. But trained. The Arts Council should create and hold training sessions on how to deal with such complaints. Industry wide. And the Arts Council should have a dedicated professional ready to deal with disputes that occur. So people within a company know that if they have a problem that can't be solved internally there is someone independent to speak with.

This problem should be easily corrected. Theatre is a small community in Ireland . We just need to speak up and ask for change. I urge WTF to take up this mantle. I urge you the reader if you work in Theatre to talk about it and ask questions of your own theatre. If you run a theatre I urge you to lead and make public your policies and ask the Minister and Arts council to take immediate action. Make a public statement that you want to see change and robust policies in place.

And I wasn't going to reveal this, but it saddened me so much I wanted to close the curtain that I had peered behind looking into Irish Theatre. When I asked  a friend who I should speak to at the Arts council they responded two days later and said "you're not going to believe this , its happening there as well".
Sexual harassment and bullying does, of course, happen everywhere. But we have a chance to address it now. With the momentum of Waking The Feminists.

Sorry for going on.
A quick congratulations to Mr Colgan, great to  read the report in the Irish Times announcing that his pay topped 240k Euro. Fantastic renumeration for a 300 seat theatre. Well done. Its no wonder he's  held the job for over 30 years. I would too.
I think its time we start looking at money in theatre now,where it really goes . Since its publicly funded and is a non profit sector.
And what the effects ( positive and negative) on continuity of leadership has on Theatre. Given that 3 of the 4 directors of the top funded companies have run them for over 30 years. And the 4th is the Senator at the Abbey who has been there longer than a decade.

And a big well done to Lisa Tierney Keogh (@lisatk)for starting a dialogue in NYC with WTF . I have a wonderful feeling that doors will be kicked down there.

See Documents from Abbey and Druid below.

Please pass this on if you have the inclination. And feel free to comment.

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