My Fellow Theater Professionals,
I have seen a lot of justified outrage and frustration following the “revelations” in The Hollywood Reporter regarding Scott Rudin. Your anger is righteous. We all have the right to safe workplace. Moving forward, I know it’s important to many of us that major changes are made.
I know that there are some who are relieved that this information is being brought to light (again), and hopefully that it adds tinder to a fire that is already burning. There are those of us who have been rumbling about these kinds of problems in our industry for years. Despite how much we love what we do, we have to admit that show business has been a boy’s club since the beginning. How many of us have put up with bullying directors in order to keep our jobs? How many of us have endured blatant misogyny and/or racism, homophobia, transphobia, queerphobia, from every aspect of our industry? From agents’ offices, to casting notices, to casting rooms, to negotiations, to rehearsal halls, to the stage, to reviews, and awards committees.
Ultimately our industry is no different than any other industry. Theater professionals rely on the people with money for their employ, just like everyone else. Most of us do not have the privilege to turn down work, or call out problematic behavior, because we need to keep rooves over our heads, and food in our family’s mouths. Those of us who have called out certain people in power have generally been met with silence from our peers and consequences to our careers.
While it’s true that there are some A-list actors who have remained silent on this issue, I want us all to pause and consider that those actors represent hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs. If the star of an up-coming revival (of a show that, let’s face it, no one REALLY needs to see again, and probably wouldn’t even go without a huge star attached) comes out in “solidarity” with the theater community, they risk closing a show that employs hundreds of people. Sure, Hugh Jackman probably doesn’t need the Equity weeks. But his stand-in probably does. His dresser probably does. The entire ensemble probably does.
Yes, we have known for years that Scott Rudin is (usually) terrible to work for. It’s not a secret. We know that there are quite a few directors who are abusive. That’s not a secret. But we have rents, and families, and bills. Acting work is always uncertain. Most of us can not afford to turn down a job because the boss is terrible. And these men on the top are the ones who employ us. Calling them out or refusing to work with them harms us.
And yes, I know that this seems like a selfish way to live, allowing the abuse to continue in order to survive. But that’s the way our system is designed. Pointing the finger at your peers, rather than at the ones perpetuating the abuse feeds into it perfectly. If we want to enact real change, we must turn our gaze from our peers to those in power.
I know that this statement will land me in hot water, but my ship has mostly sailed on that front. I didn’t do myself much good when I called Ben Brantley out for perpetuating rape culture and misogynistic, tired tropes about women. But I have the privilege (or naivete) to not care anymore. I can afford (at least for now) to alienate myself from those who have the power to hire me. Most of my peers do not, and I would never presume to blame them for keeping their heads down and keeping their jobs. There is no shame in saving your job. I would hope that those same peers are doing something to combat the toxic culture we live in, however quietly or privately they may do it. But expecting them to put themselves on the line because “David and Goliath” or whatever is unfair, unrealistic, and myopic.
It bears remembering as well, people have been speaking truth to power for decades without seeing much change. When someone’s abuse is made public and they are allowed to continue abusing by the powers that be, it’s easy to feel like speaking up won’t make a difference anyway.
What I want us to remember is that we are on each other’s team. Turning around and pointing the finger at other theater professionals for their lack of public outrage is exactly what the people at the top want us to do. It is no different than being angry at fast-food workers for demanding a living wage. Or being angry at sex-workers for providing a service. The fast-food worker is not the problem. The sex-worker is not the problem. Your fellow theater professionals are not the problem. Demanding that working professionals put their jobs, security, and health on the line because the culture at the top is toxic is not helping our cause. Blaming actors for being “complicit” is complicity. You are giving a pass to the people who actually make the decisions and directing your ire at the ones who need to work.
Our anger is justified. But is better directed at our union for allowing this culture to continue and not putting the proper measures in place to protect us. Or at theater owners for working with producers they know are abusive. Or at producers who insist on hiring directors with reputations for screaming at their actors. And it doesn’t need to be expressed publicly. Change can be affected in many different ways. It does not need to be tweeted to be valid.
We are all doing the best we can within a system that was designed to keep us down. Our industry is in desperate need of major change. Let’s keep our attention on the ones at the top and away from each other. We can start by lifting each other up.