There have been times in which I was not comfortable in the theatre. In which a space I held so dear felt scary, unsafe, and wrong. The recent news about Utah Repertory Theatre Company and the abuse endured by its artists is upsetting, but not shocking whatsoever.
What surprised me the most about this particular situation was that something happened. That someone spoke up, people joined together, and action was taken. What happened at Utah Rep is not a new story. I hear time and time again about abuse happening in companies all over the country. Theatre artists are known to be a tight-knit community. “What a small world” you always hear people say. Well, that small world is biting us in the ass.
We as artists spend so much time telling stories and expressing ourselves through our work, but have completely shut that down as human beings. Because the community is so small, people never feel that they can speak up. We feel that any action taken or negative words given will turn to a lack of work, when its hard enough already. We cannot afford to jeopardize our already rocky career.
So instead, we have hushed conversations, sideways glances, and generally accepted faults of people who continue to get hired and take up space in communities where we do not want them. Everyone knows that so-and-so is creepy, so just be careful.
Every day we are experiencing, watching, or hearing about abuse. We get uncomfortable. We talk about how wrong it is. We join in community with those who have also been affected. Then we go on with business as usual.
The Utah theatre community was able to make immense change in a few short hours, and the abuses of Utah Rep shut down. That is the power of speaking up. It is also the power of listening and believing.
So in this moment, I encourage you to think critically about who you have believed and who you have fought for. Have you heard women consistently speaking up about sexism? Did you hear them? Have you heard people of color, disabled people, LGBTQIA+ folks, immigrants also speaking up?
The answer is most likely yes. Yes, you have heard people saying these things. Have you done anything? The answer is probably no. Did you stop hiring that person? Stop seeing their shows? Let our current situation be a lesson to us all: when people do wrong, we must take action before it gets to that point. It’s time for a cleanse of our theatre environments, and to create brave spaces that allow us to flourish.