Scottish Theatre and Sexual Predators
A #ManyVoices article by Rosie Priest as commissioned by Annie George.
Trigger Warning: sexual abuse, r*pe, harassment, bullying
It’s been four years since #MeToo swept across the world, seeing millions of women step up and share their most vulnerable, terrifying and traumatising stories of abuse. After 2017, the UK saw a surge of reports through official channels, calls to organisations such as Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis rose dramatically and it was clear that #MeToo had encouraged women to step forward, to ask for help, and to attempt to hold their abusers accountable. However, whilst reports to the police rose by 61%, actual conviction rates fell. The system is clearly failing women. I believe #MeToo hasn’t failed though. Women have highlighted how monumental the problem is and how inbuilt and systematic abuse is. Real, genuine work is needed to tackle it, but that work has never started. One of the problems when you call out an issue as systematic and societal, is it shifts the blame to other people, to society. Individuals don’t feel they need to be accountable, because it’s society that’s failing.
The Scottish theatre scene appears to be a mirror image of this. When #MeToo erupted Scottish theatre watched as those in power said they would make dramatic changes to their organisations, that enough was enough, that the sector would look after women. And yet, the story of Kevin Guthrie, and from across the border Noel Clarke, has triggered a wave of #MeToo stories to emerge across the Scottish theatre scene again. What has resulted from the frantic outpourings of stories of abuse is an even more frantic scattergun approach to tackling such a huge problem. Creatives across Scotland are offering free training to make rehearsal rooms safe without any formal training themselves in the issues, organisations are asking how they can do better without providing measurable aims and objectives, women are creating and sharing lists of known problematic men amongst their networks. Artistic Director of The Lyceum Theatre, David Greig, tweeted an enormous thread on his take of the situation, which included providing no quantifiable measurable aims which he could be held accountable to, misinformation about organisations women could contact, and detailing himself as a person women could speak to if they had experienced abuse in his organisation. Expecting a woman to step forward to a man they don’t know and who has done no official training on trauma support is incredibly naïve. I cannot stress enough that this work should have started in 2017 when #MeToo gave David Greig the opportunity, as the Artistic Director of one of the most highly funded theatres in Scotland. Instead, the thread highlights just how out of touch the powers that be in Scottish theatre are from the actual problems. This is not victim centred. This is performance.#
What has emerged over the past few weeks are two separate, but intertwined conversations which are repeatedly treated as one. The first conversation is based on organisations such as Stellar Quines and Persistent and Nasty, who have been working on strategies and best policies to make rehearsal rooms and organisations safe for women, as well as policies and procedures for reporting and seeking support. The work is big, and it is gnarly. It is also being done by organisations with small staff teams and even smaller budgets (in Persistent and Nasty’s case, voluntarily), so it is anticipated this work will take some time. It’s important and much needed, but not much surprise that it is these smaller women run organisations trying to tackle these huge issues. Issues which primarily live within the bigger, higher funded organisations and buildings.
The only problem with developing these policies and procedures is that we will only know that they work, when a report of abuse happens. This means a woman will have to go through something awful and traumatic for us to see the benefits of these systems.
The second conversation is around the predators we know work in Scottish theatre now. Most women working in Scottish theatre will have seen a variation of a list of abusive powerful men at some time or another in their career. The same names and stories arise time and time again. We often find ourselves in the same rooms as these men at sector meet ups, after show drinks or awkward zoom training sessions. One of the problems with building and gathering a list so publicly is, how does it centre those who have experienced abuse and harm? What will happen to the information gathered? Will survivors have to speak to police at some point? Who will be supporting these women legally and financially? Furthermore, we know the impacts of sexual abuse, harassment and bullying have an unpredictable longevity. PTSD, anxiety and other mental health issues can erupt unexpectedly, and these lists which are being so publicly gathered do not ensure women’s mental well-being is centred. These lists have potentially no impact. Or worse, unpredictable and unsafe impacts. Whilst I think it’s very important we maintain our shared knowledge of who to avoid and who is potentially dangerous, there’s a reason this is often done in private, over late-night drinks or in our whatsapp groups. To quote Lord of the Rings, “Keep it secret. Keep it safe.”
As an administrator at a theatre organisation in 2015, I would often welcome board members to meetings. Every time one board member arrived, he would squeeze my hips. At Christmas drinks one evening his hand sat on my knee, his boozy-breath spilling down my neck and I felt the fear a lot of women will know. When I reported to my boss what had happened, he begrudgingly said that I didn’t have to welcome board members anymore, and maybe I avoid sitting next to this man at future meetings. A few months later when a member of staff flagged that they didn’t feel safe around a freelancer, I had to speak up again. “Women don’t feel safe here” I said, and again begrudgingly, my boss made me feel small and unsafe and expected high praise for simply replacing the dangerous freelancer.
The people in power have failed us time and time again. I do not believe the men in power currently can make those changes we need. Nor are they willing to. David Greig’s twitter thread highlights just how unready leaders are to make meaningful impactful change, whilst centring themselves as being compassionate and kind people. We all know many of the names on the lists we’re given are the names of men in power. We cannot expect them to make changes that may infringe on their power or potentially unveil their past problematic behaviours.
Abuse intersects with BIPOC+, LQBTQIA+, working-class and other marginalised identities in horrific ways. Over the past few weeks several informal accounts have emerged from women of colour in the sector who have experienced bullying and harassment by a well-known white powerful man. Whilst the accounts of what happened are shocking to listen to, they are not unexpected. His name is on the list. We’ve heard of his bullyish and abusive behaviour. We know to avoid him at all costs. We also know the boards he is associated with have heard these stories too, in both informal and formal reports. Just as every board member sitting in the pub with me that night saw that man put his hand on my knee, these board members have stayed silent.
Something needs to shift, and quickly.
I grow flowers in window boxes, and when they have crisped up and turned to black, you must remove them from their stems because it drains energy from the rest of the plant. I think we need to do the same in theatre. It’s time to dead head the powers that be. The organisations have failed us. The leaders who have become stagnant and unable to grow are draining our sector and ensuring it will die. They have failed to safeguard their staff. We need them to do better. We need them to actively listen to the complaints and rumours and to take charge of decluttering this sector.
Rosie Priest is an interdisciplinary artist and PhD researcher based in Edinburgh. They will be donating their fee for the article to charity.
If you have been impacted by anything in this article, please consider contacting one of the following organisations (from a list created and disseminated by Stellar Quines):
Scottish Women’s Rights Centre
Helpline: 08088 010 789
Women can use the helpline.
Read their guide: Information & Support for anyone experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.
All genders might find the guide useful.
EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission)
Helps workers understand the law and how their employer should respond to their complaint.
Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work – Technical Guide: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/…/sexual_harassment
Members: contact your local rep for support.
Read the Bectu guide – A workplace guide to dealing with sexual harassment
Theatre Helpline.org (24hr)
0800 915 4617
The Theatre Helpline is a free, independent and confidential phone and email service that provides support to people working in the theatre industry
Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline
08088 01 03 02
6pm – midnight daily
Emotional support for survivors (all genders) of any form of sexual violence (including sexual harassment).
Support available via text and e-mail too.
24 hour support is available from both:
Tel: 0800 915 4617
Tel: 116 123
Further support resources:
ACAS (Advisory,Conciliation& Arbitration Service) https://www.acas.org.uk/search?keys=Sexual+Harassment
Counselling Directory UK https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk
Equality,Advisory& Support Service https://www.equalityadvisoryservice.com
LGBT Health & Wellbeing Helpline https://www.lgbthealth.org.uk
Further support resources:
Revenge Porn Helpline https://swgfl.org.uk/services/revenge-porn-helpline
Suzy Lamplugh Trust (National Stalking Helpline) https://www.suzylamplugh.org
Victim Support Scotland https://victimsupport.scot
And finally if you are leader of a company or organisation and are looking for training and policies:
Federation of Scottish Theatre Combatting Abuse page has details: https://www.scottishtheatre.org/sect…/combatting-abuse/
See also The Consent Collective: https://www.consentcollective.com