by Lyn Gardner
A study suggests that bullying is more common in the arts than in the army. It’s time to speak out.
For many people working in theatre, bullying is a fact of life. The whispers about it are constant. One theatre chief is famous for the strops taken out on staff. People working in jobs seen (wrongly) as less “creative”, such as press or marketing, are frequently victims of this high-handed behaviour; but it can happen to anyone from stage hands to actors. Do the victims complain? Often not.
I’ve come across playwrights who have been bullied into silence and made to fear for their future careers by the very theatres who commissioned them. I’ve heard of producers throwing their weight about, and directors who treat theatre buildings as personal fiefdoms.
Bullying can find its way into the performances themselves. I once witnessed a US live artist reduce an audience member to tears. If that wasn’t bullying, I don’t know what is. Did I intervene? No, I was a coward. I didn’t want to be picked on either.Fortunately, audience-bullying is pretty unusual (they tend not to return), but for many working in theatre there is no way out. When Anne-Marie Quigg investigated workplace bullying in the arts, her 2011 report revealed it was more prevalent in the arts than in the armed forces and the health service.
Earlier this month, the Federation of Entertainment Unions launched a campaign to combat bullying in the media and entertainment industries. Next month, a Devoted and Disgruntled event at Oval House will take place, titled Breaking the Silence on Bullying in the Arts, looking at any aspects of the problem attendees wish to raise.
There is undoubtedly silence around the issue. Perhaps it’s because people make allowances for what they see as artistic temperament, when in fact it’s just a lack of human decency. Perhaps there’s some hero-worship going on; and it may be that in an area where more people want to work than there are jobs, there is more room for exploitative behaviour.
British theatre is a small world, and people worry about being labelled a troublemaker. But, whatever the reasons, it’s time to get the issue out into the open and put a stop to it.
Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd
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