It happened to me very early in my career. I was still in college but had a summer gig at an opera company. I was at a party, was approached and propositioned by two people. When I said no they continued to badger me until another person saw what was going on and stepped in on my behalf. The harassment didn’t stop there but continued for much of the rest of the production. When I tried to go back to the company a couple of years later, I was told by someone on the staff that knew of the incident that it wasn’t a good idea for me to be rehired. The person made a couple of offensive comments about my sexuality and that was that. My career with that company was over. Did it have an effect on my career? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Since the story broke about Harvey Weinstein my Facebook page has lit up with either the words “Me too” or the hashtag, #Metoo. Frankly, the sheer volume of the posts just on my page makes my heart sink. Artists that have been my mentors, colleagues, and friends over the years have posted. Behind those “Me too” posts are stories, sometimes a single incident, sometimes a pattern of harassment and in some cases a level of sexual abuse that has been part of the arts for far too long.
We all accept that in our lives as artists we will most likely live a nomadic existence. We go to companies across the country and in foreign lands and try our best to make a positive contribution to each and every production or concert. Even though we are there for the current production, we are already “auditioning” for the next production. We want to be hired back as each organization becomes part of our economic livelihood. So when these kinds of incidents happen, we often don’t speak up. Worse still, many place the blame on themselves and just try and move on.
It is troubling that when these incidents happen artists have little recourse. Making a complaint may lead to nothing more than the organization labeling the artist as a troublemaker and not inviting them back. The artist carries the memory and the scars with them for the rest of their lives. They may choose not to work for that organization or it may be years before they return, hopefully after the offending person has moved on.
I have always thought that the bonds that tie together artists in a given production are very strong. I’ve been fortunate to assemble casts of artists that worked well together. There were even some moments when the cast got along so well that I wondered if the production would get finished in time! It always did and those were some of the most memorable performances. Though offhanded comments can fly between colleagues during a rehearsal period in a given production, there was a line beyond which comments couldn’t go. We have all been guilty of this kind of banter. As a Pittsburgh colleague once said, “Remember, harass is one word, not two.” But when those comments cross a line and offend that’s enough. There is absolutely no excuse for allowing sexual harassment or abuse to exist in our arts organizations.
While the news cycle is filled with the latest person to get caught and finally held to account, the arts as a community need to step up, have the difficult conversations and together plot a positive course forward. Artists and organizations need to be held accountable when this type of behavior is allowed. It is time to banish this dirty little secret and make a change. It has no place in our boardrooms, our administrations or in our rehearsal halls and stages.
Even though I never went back to that company, I am still thankful to that person who stepped in to put a stop to that behavior. We went on to work on several productions together over the years. Let us all pledge to be that person in someone’s life. Let’s step in and stop the behavior. Let’s be the change. Let’s all commit to do our part to break the cycle. #Metoo