/The Culture of bullying at the theatre work place

The Culture of bullying at the theatre work place

The hashtags #Metoo and #TimesUp originate from the rise of sexual allegations and harassment cases revealed within the wider theatre, film and entertainment industries since the latter part of 2018. After media outlets announced the sexual allegations claims made against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, more claims of sexual abuse, rape and harassment came out about other notable figures, including ex-artistic director of London’s Old Vic theatre and actor Kevin Spacey. He was accused of misconduct and inappropriate behaviour by 20 members of the Old Vic as artistic director from 2004-2015. Actor Anthony Rapp also accused Spacey of making sexual advances towards him when he was 14 years old.

The Stage’s Special Report on Harassment in Theatre was published on January 25th. Having read it I thought I’d share some sections, quotes and statistics from The Stage’s findings. (The actual report can be found here. You need to be a subscriber to read all seven pages of it online.)

The Stage’s Special Report

The survey was ‘distributed to a database of registered users of The Stage in November 2017 and was carried out over a 10-day period by 1,755 people with 1,050 completing all key questions.’ This survey included answers from performers, backstage workers, front-of-house staff and members of management.


Citizens Advice defines sexual harassment as unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature, including sexual comments or jokes, displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature, sending emails with sexual content, and physical behaviour such as unwelcome sexual advances and touching.

Sexual Assault is a criminal offence.

Harassment covers disability. gender, ethnicity, age and sexuality.

Bullying is ‘any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimated or offended… through social media, face to face, letter or email.’ (ACAS)

The Numbers:

The Stage magazine’s survey findings:

1. 31% (one in three people) in the survey said they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
2. 43% of respondents said they had been bullied.
3. 32% of respondents who were performers said they had been sexually harassed.
4. 30% of respondents who were in creative roles claimed they had been sexually harassed.
5. 37% of respondents who worked backstage or had technical roles said they had been abused, harassed and/or bullied.
6. Roughly 67% – 70% of respondents who said they had been sexually assaulted or sexual harassment admitted they didn’t report it.
7. The greatest response to sexual harassment and bullying came from female workers with creative roles and directors.
8. 40% of disabled respondents said they had suffered from harassment in the form of gossiping, inappropriate behaviour and more.
9. Workplace harassment includes victimisation, criticism and humiliation. 20% of respondents said they had experienced this specifically.
10. Of the cases where respondents reported sexual assault and harassment only one in four cases saw that something had been done about it.

From The Stage's Special Report of Harassment in Theatre
From The Stage’s Special Report of Harassment in Theatre


• A respondent pointed out the long hours, close contact and ‘close proximity’ with other co-workers made it easier for those in power to take advantage of touching victims or having any bodily contact.

Use of Force

• Some respondents said they were forced to do things against their will to keep their job and position in the theatre company.
• A backstage worker said it was commonplace for senior staff to assert their authority and make them feel ‘seriously uncomfortable’.
• Respondents received inappropriate text messages from tutors.

The Effects it has on Victims

• Harassment has left some workers feeling undervalued and underappreciated.
• Victimisation and abuse can happen both physically and verbally.
• One respondent said they were told they were ‘not good enough.
• Some have confessed to being ‘threatened, bullied, sexually harassed, sexually assaulted and demeaned.’ This statement comes from a theatre professional in the same company for over 18 months.
• Some have suffered from stress and depression, and developed mental health issues because of sexual harassment and/or bullying.
• A disabled performer said a theatre worker told them they wouldn’t be able to work in a certain area of theatre because audiences felt that watching disabled people on stage was ‘too depressing.’
• One respondent said, ‘ I have been laughed at and undermined countless times for my technical and backstage work, by men who didn’t believe I was strong enough or knew enough technically.’
• Some workers have terminated their contract of work because of the abuse.

What other colleagues and supervisors do

• Respondents claimed that their supervisors and/or senior managers knew of such abusive and bullying but dismissed it, and did nothing.

Remaining Quiet

• Between 63-70% of participants who had been sexually assaulted and/or harassed said they didn’t report it. There are multiple reasons for this including:
• Feeling afraid of the impact it would have on their professional career, their reputation and chances of getting a job in the industry.
• Others said they didn’t deem reporting the incident as a choice and considered it as ‘normalised’ in the industry.

My thoughts

Naturally, I feel shocked and angry about these figures and results. There are many lessons to learn from this report, particularly what is missing and should be put in place, immediately. I know it is easier said than done, but this culture of bullying in the workplace needs to end. No one deserves to feel victimised no matter who they are. It should not matter if you are disabled, female, gay, transsexual or from an ethnic minority group. Workers deserve to be treated like a valued member of staff.

In November 2017, The Royal Court’s artistic director Vicky Featherstone drew up a first of its kind theatre industry code of behaviour, which can be found here. More companies need to follow suit and write up new guidelines to protect their staff. As we speak, theatre organisations and charities are following Featherstone’s footsteps and drawing up their own best practice guidelines for workers to prevent further sexual abuse, bullying and abuse of power.

The National Theatre also held a silent protest around the same time last year. Actors Nastazja Somers and Laura Hvopwood organised the demonstration and said, ‘it’s also about responsibility. We all have responsibility in different ways to try and create standard of respect.’

These codes of behaviour would act as a stepping-stone to preventing further harm for victims of abuse. It would require positive representatives and figures to set the standard and carry out these best codes of practice.

Members of staff also need to know where they can get support from if they need to report an incident, be it a member of human resources (HR) or calling a free support line who can give them some advice.



For support lines and advice, please check these websites.