Recognizing Harassment

userpic=theatre_musicalsI often bring lessons and teachings from my workplace to my hobbies, such as attending theatre and writing up shows. A prime example of this has been our training regarding ethics, which is the clear reason I do not accept comp reviewer tickets. The other days some incidents have come to light regarding another workplace training I have received; incidents that make clear that the theatrical community is in clear need of similar training.

The incidents in question occurred in the non-Equity theatre community in Chicago, and were written up extensively in the Chicago Reader (note that the article behind the link is likely to be triggery to those that have suffered abuse). They concern the Profiles theatre and some of its artistic leadership. It details specific incidents of unwanted sexual and physical advances against actors, in an environment where there were no union protections. The Chicago community is working on a solution; hopefully they will achieve it.

This shitstorm hit the fan, and spread its noxious odor over LA when the editor-in-chief of Bitter Lemons, Colin Mitchell, wrote an op-ed piece essentially saying: they were consenting adults, and they should have taken the personal responsibility to stop it. And the gates were opened, and verily, Colin stepped into it. Deeply.

Let me state the definition of sexual harassment from the EEOC website:

It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

It is clear from the article that the situation in Chicago was clear sexual harassment. The complicating factor was the nature of non-equity theatre: there was not necessarily an employee-employer relationship. But even that is not required under EEOC rules.

Now, I am not an actor. I’ve never been one. I’ve never worked in that community. I am, as they say, a professional audience. At work, we are regularly required to have harassment training. This is not training on how to harass, ye of little minds. It is training on how to recognize harassment, and how to report it. If there is not such a thing in the theatrical community, there should be. The only thing that should be making actors uncomfortable in the theatre should be the ideas in the script; the work environment must be supportive, not hostile.

In response to Colin’s article, the Hollywood Fringe Festival has issued a statement severing their relationship with Bitter Lemons. While I agree in principle, I’ll just note that Bitter Lemons is more than Colin Mitchell. I believe the ball is now in the courtyard of Bitter Lemons. There needs to be a pubic response to Colin’s behavior, and this needs to be more than statements by Enci Box, the publisher. At minimum, this should be mandatory sexual harassment recognition training for those who work for Bitter Lemons, and perhaps funding such training for the LA Theatrical Community. Perhaps it is providing an ombudsman for the LA Community to report such incidents when Equity is not involved.  Bitter Lemons needs to make clear that Colin was not speaking for Bitter Lemons, and that Bitter Lemons strongly disagrees with the positions that Colin has taken.

There certainly should also be some response involving Colin specifically. At minimum, Colin’s editorial voice should be removed from the site for an identified period of time, certainly until after all those in publicly visible positions have undergone appropriate training. There have simply been far too many instances in the last year where Colin, as the voice of Bitter Lemons has stepped in it. Enci, and perhaps some of the other columnists, must become the voice of Bitter Lemons and demonstrate that Colin’s attitudes are not the attitudes of the organization.

I say this as someone who has gotten to know Colin, and at times, even defended his actions. This time, however, his action has demonstrated that he doesn’t understand the issue. His response has offended the community and hurt the reputation of Bitter Lemons. There must be distance between the man and the website.

Many years ago, at a former employer, we were having ethics training. The instructor said something I will always remember. He said (essentially) “I can’t teach you ethics. You are either ethical or you are not. However, I can teach you the law, and the penalties for violating the law.”

What has happened in Chicago is (to me) clear sexual harassment. It has created a hostile work environment. The appropriate organizations should be legally called to task for the behavior, and there needs to be community enforcement and education that such behavior is not tolerated. We have that in the aerospace industry. There’s no reason it can’t be in the theatrical community. Further, such enforcement and education should not just be in Chicago, but in every community with non-equity theatre. Sexual harassment and hostile workplaces are illegal, be they a traditional industry like aerospace or a non-traditional industry like the theatre.

(As an aside, I’ll note that sexual harassment has no place anywhere. That includes in other volunteer artistic organizations such has historic dance or theatre guilds (there has been an image related to this going around Facebook, part of the Standing Up for Safer Spaces movement), at technical conferences (a large concern in recent years), at non-technical conferences (again, a large concern, especially amongst those clowns who believe that cosplay equals consent), and in the gaming world (cough, Gamergate, cough). Harassment of others is never acceptable. Alas, we have at least one presidential candidate who presents the attitude that harassment of others is acceptable — ridicule, name calling, etc. But that’s the subject of another post)

As for Bitter Lemons, an organization I’ve supported in the past. I hope that they can clearly distance themselves from Colin, and clearly demonstrate that he does not, and in the future will not, speak for them. Only by doing that can they rebuild any relationship with the LA Theatrical Community.