NEW YORK (AP) — Actress Kate Shindle has been backstage in a lot of theaters — on Broadway, off-Broadway and on tour. But she came across something unusual a few months ago when she went to rehearsals for a new show in New Jersey.
Cast members had barely met when they were walked through the theater’s sexual harassment policies and shown a video to reinforce the messages. A staffer came by to explain the policies and answer questions. That was a first for Shindle.
“I had never worked at a theater that set aside an hour of rehearsal time at the very beginning of the process to do a full-on sexual harassment orientation,” she said. “It becomes a lot easier to make sure that the workplace is safe when everybody’s on the same page and participating in reinforcing those values.”
The harassment orientation offered by the Paper Mill Playhouse has been in effect for many years. It may become a model for other theaters, TV shows and film sets a year after the entertainment industry was rocked by sex assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
Arts professionals are trying to respond to the crisis in multiple ways, from doubling down on ensuring actors and actresses are aware of anti-harassment policies to holding workshops and hiring onset advocates to ensure a safe workplace.
“It’s something we all are talking about at every level,” said Allyson Green, a professor and dean of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, which asks incoming students to take an online training program on harassment issues and their rights.
In the spring, the university required all employees to “refamiliarize” themselves with existing university policies related to sexual misconduct and reporting requirements. “There was a definite turn to, ‘This is here and if you didn’t know about it, you need to know about it,'” said Green.
There have also been workshops and programming on diversity, equity and inclusion, and the school is making structural changes, looking into its curriculum and pushing for diversity in its faculty and student body. People of color comprise half of the new faculty hired at Tisch in recent years; 60 percent are women.
“We hope that we’re teaching everyone how to go out and make a more respectful and considered field for all voices,” Green said, noting its alumni include groundbreakers such as Sterling K. Brown, Dee Rees and Donald Glover. “They’re not done when they leave here. They’re just starting.”
Other top performing arts schools are more reluctant to talk about the changes they’ve made in the wake of #MeToo. A representative for the Juilliard School said it didn’t have “anything specific to share at this time,” and the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television declined to make anyone available to talk about how the school’s curriculum had changed in the past year.
While the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have triggered an outpouring of allegations against powerful men in politics, publishing, academia and business, the world of entertainment has been shown to be especially rife with misconduct.
“Acting is so different than other professions because it’s really about how you look, how you sound, how you relate to the director and things like that. I think men have used that to their advantage for decades,” said Melissa Silverstein, founder of the advocacy group Women and Hollywood .
While laws against harassment were on the books before the shocking Weinstein allegations, schools and unions have scrambled to put anti-assault policies front and center. In April, the acting union SAG-AFTRA released a guideline calling on producers to refrain from holding professional meetings in hotel rooms and private residences and urged actors to avoid high-risk locations.
Actors’ Equity Association , which represents more than 51,000 professional theater actors and stage managers nationwide, sent a letter to all employers asking for a copy of their sexual harassment policy. It also hosted meetings with members in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles who wanted more information on how to eliminate harassment in the theater.
Mary McColl, Equity’s executive director, said many small theaters “didn’t know, under the law, that they had to have a policy.” In the past year, she’s noticed theaters working hard to be in compliance. “Just that is a huge swing,” she said.
Shindle, president of the association, started noticing that when friends started new jobs, they’d post on Facebook that they’d been handed a copy of the theater’s sexual harassment policy at the first rehearsal.
“That change, the idea that everybody knows that harassment — it doesn’t have to be sexual, anything that leads to a hostile workplace — is no longer OK,” she said. “As not OK as it was in the past, it is less OK now.”
One idea is for so-called intimacy coaches or coordinators — people who protect actors from unwanted demands on movie and TV sets or in theater rehearsal rooms. The HBO show “The Deuce” has such a person at every sex scene to ensure that boundaries aren’t crossed.
Kirsten Schaffer, executive director of Women in Film , notes that harassment doesn’t only happen on film sets. “Equipping both men and women with the vocabulary to call it out and to put an end to it when they see it and experience it, is really important,” she said. “I think that can be taught in the schools.”
Arts professionals say real, lasting change can only happen when power imbalances are corrected and when the number of women calling the shots is increased.
“Getting women to fill more roles on film sets — behind and in front of the camera — sends a signal of inclusion. It shows that different voices are welcome and can offer support if needed,” said Terry Lawler, executive director of New York Women in Film & Television .
Schaffer agrees: “Harassment and abuse are related to power. If there are more women in leadership positions, if there are more women at the top, then it will decrease.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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