Bullying in theatre: our stories.

In light of anti-bullying week in the UK, we asked our 66 actors and admin staff the following question:

“Have you ever been subject to bullying and/or harassment (whether that be at school, work, or any other walk of life)?”

A staggering 89% of respondents said ‘yes’.

It’s no secret that bullying and harassment are rife in our industry – the movement to stand up against this form of misconduct began in the entertainment sector after all, with the filing of accusations against Harvey Weinstein.

With the subsequent international rise of the #MeToo movement, The Stage compiled a comprehensive report on bullying and harassment in theatre – and the results were alarming: 43% of respondents had experienced bullying specifically in the workplace (read the report here).

In the wake of this, Society of London Theatre (SOLT) released guidelines to help avoid sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace (read more), but this was only after international outcry. It was back in 2007 that Anne-Marie Quigg entitled an article ‘Bullying in Theatres and Arts Centres in the United Kingdom’. It found that bullying was more prevalent in the arts than in the armed forces and health service (read the entire article here).

Then again in 2013 the Federation of Entertainments Unions launched a campaign to combat bullying in the media and entertainment industries, with Oval House hosting a Devoted and Disgruntled event in the same year entitled ‘Breaking the Silence on Bullying in the Arts’ (article available here).

Clearly there has been little change. It’s worth noting that this is most certainly not restricted to the UK. In one example, Theatre Network Australia note the requirement for a Safe Theatres Forum to address harassment and bullying in the industry (article available here).

We have mentioned above the UK and Australia theatre industries because these are particularly pertinent to us at Interactive Theatre International, as they are the home to our two offices.

In addition to asking our acting and admin team the question detailed at the top of this article, we asked them if they would be comfortable sharing their experiences with bullying. Here are just some of their stories…

 

Alison Pollard-Mansergh, Company Artistic Director & Co-founder, Australia

I’ve experienced bullying throughout my life, at school, at work, and online. It affects who you are as a person, it makes you question what it is about you that deserves this treatment, it gets into your head and stays there. I’m also a cancer survivor. Fighting cancer is horrific, but the long-term effects of bullying in many instances are worse. However, I refuse to be a victim, and don’t tolerate bullying in any form and encourage others not to be silent. Let’s shine a spotlight on this crime forever, not just a week.

 

Luke McGibney, Actor, UK and Ireland

As a child I was dyslexic, and back then information on the condition was poor – teachers, including my parents, assumed I was lazy due to poor exam results. In each [academic] term results would [be displayed] outside with a nice thick line under the poor performing pupils – the lowest three, and I was one.

Each term I was bullied in regards to being stupid, unable to spell and I struggled with short term memory. It was not the greatest time for me in school and it made me dread attending, however I found acting and I loved comedy.

Thankfully a teacher worked out what was wrong when I took up drama and used visualisation techniques to start to help me to learn lines as well as juggling. Once I learned the lines to get them into the body I would juggle at the same time – eventually the lines became second nature. I was very grateful for that teacher and, although I still have challenges, life is much easier. 

 

Summer Alexander, Sales Executive, Australia

Prior to working for ITI I was employed in the insurance industry – a high stress industry.  It’s a very boozy, drinks oriented industry and I wasn’t really a drinker. If you’re not a drinker somehow there is something wrong with you and you’re looked down on. The company I was employed by would have after-work drinks in the office on a Friday afternoon. One afternoon I was ‘offered’ a drink, to which I said no, but my boss made me have a drink; she would not take no for an answer. Normally she would let it go but that afternoon she was insistent. Her manner was that of a bully and, given she had been at the company 16 years and myself only two, I had no one I could complain to. Her actions (and many more) are the direct reasons I left the industry after 12 years.

 

Donna Gray, Associate Director & Actor, UK

I was bullied all through school. I’m not sure why. Most of my friends were boys, as girls had a tendency to just ‘breakout’ with me for no reason. I cried a lot and they nicknamed me ‘crybaby’. I still cry a lot but I’ve now realised it’s not such a bad thing – I’m just in touch with my emotions.

My most vivid memories are at age 10 being pinned down on the playing field by a bunch of girls, who then pulled down my dress to reveal my chest to the rest of the school – they did this regularly. I was at a pretty vulnerable age for that to happen. The other was at secondary school around age 13 when I was frog marched to the local rec on the way home from school to have a fight! I had no idea why. I was just pushed into the arms of a girl who was wearing rings on every finger ready to punch me. I walked home alone with a black eye and a nose bleed and cleaned myself up before my mum found out. It wasn’t the first time I got beaten up.

I was regularly called names and talked and sniggered about in class as notes were passed around. I’m just thankful it was pre-internet. It must be awful to be bullied via social media – it  makes you paranoid enough without people being actively cruel via online messaging – there is no escape.

I was lucky that I found performing as my saviour. I’d finish school and go to dance classes where I felt like I belonged. I was good at it and so I found my confidence and slowly managed to grow my self esteem.

Years later I now believe people bully because they are terribly insecure and it’s a defence mechanism for them to gain power over others. It’s taken many years, but now I have no time for bullies and I very quickly exclude them from my life.

Feeling unworthy because you are being fed negative information by another human being gives you the darkest feelings and it’s so hard to shake off and ignore. It stays with you, it has a downward spiral effect, and you doubt yourself in every aspect of your life.

Psychotherapy is a way to talk to someone and find out that you are not alone and you deserve a happy and fun life as much as the next person (visit http://wwwtrevorgraytherapy.co.uk).

 

Jamie Bowen, Head of Artwork & Design, UK

My experience with bullying has stemmed from school. I don’t know why, but kids are mean and sadly some of these kids don’t grow up and they take it in to adult life. As a red-headed person, I was often singled out and that led me to be a shy character. It wasn’t until I joined the Air Cadets at 13 that I regained my confidence and went on to be a very social and outgoing person.

For people to pick on me for the colour of my hair, is the same as if they were to single a person out for the colour of their skin. In so many words: racism. I don’t know why, but picking on the ginger kid almost became a way of British culture. I feel that from the rise of certain celebrities, such as Prince Harry and Ed Sheeran, it has now become popular to be ginger. Where were they when I was growing up!

I was also quite focused at school with a want to learn. I had to be there, so I might as well! Again people took this as a chance to make harsh comments, and again cause me to be shy. I took comfort in one of the life lessons from Bill Gates to teenagers. ‘Maintain good relationships with nerds. One day one of them may become your boss.’

At the end of the day, my experience with bullying has led me to have a thick skin for harsh comments, but no one should be made to feel small or insignificant, just because someone else wants to put you down, whatever their reason. My favourite musician at the moment is Frank Turner. He has two rules his gigs – “One, don’t be an asshole, have fun but not to the detriment to others. And two, if you know the words to these songs, sing along!”This speaks volumes, that this can be said at major gigs. I’d find it quite apt that his latest album is named ‘Be more kind’. A lesson that everyone can learn from.

 

Geraldine Hill, PR & Brand Director, UK

I had absolutely no problems with family, school and college career – if anything it was all rather shiny and good.

However, during my early work career there were loads of sexual advances, as ‘normal’ for those days (the ‘80s) for a young woman of my age and alleged attractiveness. You just bat them back and think ‘yeah right’, but looking back there was some horrible stuff: serious groping on the tube; a leery male boss who I wouldn’t be alone with; an alcoholic female boss threatened by my advancement and moved to spread lies about me; a couple of men in a lift, at lunchtime in a 5-star hotel, asking me and my friend ‘how much for a quickie’; worst of all: a stalker all through my 20s. This is why I hate lies and abuse of power – vehemently to this day.

I was brought up to have high ethical standards and a strong moral compass, and found it difficult at first to deal with shocking behaviour that I’d never before been exposed to. By my 30s, I’d learned to fight back – still using honesty and ethics, but with a tougher brain and no rose-tinted glasses. I also learned that a stiletto heel ground into a groper’s foot while looking him in the eye is very satisfying. But I’ve always tried to avoid cynicism, and to train and bring on younger men and women in the industry and in life generally, in a fair way. I have no time for bullies. No-one should.

 

Anonymous

I’ve been fortunate to have not directly experienced bullying or harassment in my life, but have friends and colleagues who have been belittled and humiliated in the workplace. It’s a horrible thing. Actors are often in a position of vulnerability- exploring emotions and highly charged situations, frequently in front of near strangers- and I’ve known directors to exploit that and rule their rehearsal room through fear and scalding. It can happen in auditions as well, which is already an emotional minefield. In my opinion, if a creative person uses methods of humiliation and belittlement to achieve their ‘results’, they are not doing their job properly. Making art is about collaboration and exploration not intimidation.

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