By Laura Shamas
Abusive theatre practices continue to be of concern in 2016. In late April, Howl Round published an article by Holly L. Derr that details the toxic atmosphere of “Bro Theatre” at a university theatre department in upstate New York. Now, a June report from the Chicago Reader details abusive practices at a non-Equity company there: Profiles Theatre.
From Aimee Levitt and Christopher Piatt’s lengthy CR article, which was researched for a year: “The reason Killer Joe felt so vicious and so real was because it was. All of it: the choking, the bruises, the deep-throating of a chicken leg, the body slam into the refrigerator, Cox’s groping of Wellin through her dress as Joe attempts to seduce Dottie, Cox’s semi-erection at the beginning of Act II after Joe succeeds. ‘It was real,’ says Darcy McGill, the costume designer, ‘because there was a psychopath onstage.’”
As Howard Sherman reports, events have snowballed in the aftermath of the Levitt and Piatt news story; this includes the removal of a theatre website editor who seemed to place partial responsibility on the victims in such situations.
Abusive behavior and practices, as detailed in the articles by Derr, Levitt and Piatt, have no place in the field of theater, or any field. Such abuse is wrong; we must work to shut down such practices immediately. Period.
The effects of abuse on all actors (and other theatre artists–and anyone else who has been abused) can never be accurately measured or perhaps completely healed; my heart goes out to them.
In a general sense, the aftermath of sexual and domestic abuse for women–and its longterm effect on the victims, is part of our play Venus in Orange. In our interviews with young female college students, we found that many had already faced sexual and/or domestic violence by the time they were old enough to enroll in college. It was not part of their theatre training experience at that point, but rather, a part of their teenaged or young adult years growing up in the United States. Here’s one sample from our script:
“I tell you. He still loves me. He does. He doesn’t mean to—. Well, it’s just that when he’s drinking–. See, you have to understand, without him I don’t have anyone. Nowhere to go. And I–. I probably provoke him. I think I do. Because he’s not really a violent man. Not really. He just gets—.
I mean, sometimes I think if I were a better person, then—
Well, maybe if I were stronger, then I could get out of this whole thing.
If—If I had any sense.
If there was anything I could do…
I don’t call the cops anymore.
I bite my lip
And I don’t scream.
So the neighbors can’t call either.
I tried driving to different ERs, but
now I think they know me.
So I just stay home.
I don’t cry.
I don’t call out.
I just try to not be seen.”
We see you. We must all work for change in our world, our culture, and our field.