More than 500 professional actors, including former Tony nominee Marin Ireland, have joined together to ask the industry’s powerful union, Actor’s Equity, to help address what many perceive to be rampant physical and sexual abuse in the business. Theatre professionals acknowledge that the lines between personal and professional can be particularly challenging in the theatre—employees are often asked to flirt, kiss or have other sexual interaction on stage. But they contend that the lack of clear policies and support have created an environment where predators can prey with near impunity.
Ireland, who says that she received a black eye from co-star and partner Scott Shepherd in 2012, told the New York Times that “many actors don’t know when behavior—physical, sexual, harassment, bullying—crosses a line.” She said that, when representatives of the production company saw the black eye, they failed to take any action against Shepherd, but instead focused on her, wanting to know if she would quit the play. She acknowledged uncertainty about “where responsibility and accountability should be,” but admitted that she felt as if she had no impartial party to turn to for guidance.
Ireland and others say the problem is exacerbated by the longstanding traditions of sexual harassment, sexual liaisons and sexual contact in the profession. Historically, those actors who complained about sexual harassment were typically labeled troublemakers or ignored.
Some theatres have their own harassment policies and the Actor’s Equity union also has a policy in place. Actors and actresses say those policies are largely unenforced, though.
Ireland and others have proposed three specific measures to Actor’s Equity:
At Leeds Brown Law, we have successfully represented many professionals who have been victims of harassment in the workplace. Call us at 516-873-9550 or 212-661-4370 (toll-free at 1-800-585-4658) or send us an e-mail to schedule a meeting.