Not in My House.
I have been waiting for the right time to approach a new change for Not In Our House Chicago Theatre Community … and I think the time is now. We are being pulled sideways, backwards, and forward as activists in this age of the Cheeto. Each morning we wake up to a fresh hell that he has created. How exactly do we create tangible change? It seems to me that in small ways and in big ways … we can go back to what we know: community planning. This theatre community is what I know and love. It’s time for NIOH to get refocused.
I have had two years’ worth of information given to me about theatres in Chicago, the U.S. and across the world in confidentiality. Sometimes this information was given in statements, sometimes it was folks seeking answers, and occasionally it was someone just needing to process their survival of a horrible incident. I’m going to simply summarize the patterns that have arisen from this information. I’d like to get the summation of these patterns off of my chest so that we can begin the self-governing tool of looking at our OWN selves within our theatre contexts, our roles, and our relationships to ‘power’ in our theatres. I can only conclude that we need to look to ourselves first to clean up our own houses.
Since NIOH first started, I have had countless phone conversations, face-to-face meetings, received and answered thousands of emails, been a part of panel discussions and classrooms, post-show discussions, organizational dialogue, classroom Skype, coffee dialogues, training seminars … and have done my best to remain partial, even-handed, and to never pull out the pitchforks for policing upheaval. Having said that — there are times that I absolutely lose my shit. So, here is my hope — in ten wishes — in no particular order of importance. This is an extremely condensed list. It has been pulled directly from — or is indirectly related to — information conveyed to me over these past few years:
- Don’t call a woman a cunt, as one example. Words actually matter. By using shitty words in your theatre, you are not doing anyone any favors. Stop normalizing shitty words. Theatre is a workplace. Don’t assume that you are hilarious when you normalize shitty words at a rehearsal or tell a not-hilarious racist joke because we are wacky theatre folks that will “get it.”
- Step up, step in. If you are witnessing something egregious that calls for someone to step in — step in. If you see violence, something happening to a person that does not seem right, step in. Speak up. If something has happened to you or to another person that requires police action, call the police. An incredibly disturbing pattern is hearing from survivors of rape in a theatre or comedy venue and the barriers they face in the legal system. The legal system is stacked against the survivor, and without a paper trail of reports and immediate witnesses, it will be a lengthy battle of a “they said, they said” case. Believe people when they tell you something egregious happened to them. Believe persons of any gender when they tell you they have been sexually assaulted or harassed.
- Stand up: be heard. Stand up for one another. In the room. In real time. Personal actions mean a lot in this world.
- Inclusivity & Exhaustion: Think before you call folks up to see if they know any ‘Black actors’ or ‘Asian actors’ or … folks are exhausted by educating you. The Chicago Theatre Standards cannot tell your theatre how to cast … but if you are not aware of the thousands of town hall discussions and the hundreds of thousands of conversations surrounding inclusivity it may be time to educate yourself. Additionally, think before you decide that it is a good idea to audition for a part that calls for you to be “ethnically ambiguous.” I got calls from the Goodman and commercials for Latinx roles because I look “ethnically ambiguous” and passed on them. You are not Latinx, for example, because you are a white lady with brown hair.
- Don’t run shitty internship programs unless you mean it. If you do not have the infrastructure, money, or staff to properly run an internship program at your theatre: don’t. Don’t subject interns to all of the shitty work you don’t want to do because you have not taken the time to formulate a proper system and curriculum to engage folks in actual theatre work. Interns are not your cleaning service, and shouldn’t be subjected to physical danger, chemical burns, long hours, humiliation, or chaos because you could not be bothered or don’t have the resources to make a worthwhile, organized internship program at your theatre.
- Disclosure. If you are going to ask the whole gang to strike a set, let folks know. If you are going to have nudity in a show, let folks know. If you are rehearsing for 2 weeks or 4 weeks, let folks know. Let’s say you are going to run your rehearsals past 11 pm at night. Let folks know. In a written agreement. If we know what we are getting into prior to auditioning for your play, being in your play, designing for your play, running your play, costuming your play, choreographing your play, directing your play … let us know so we can agree on it before we are hired.
- Stop sexually harassing folks “under” you. Stop psychologically abusing them. Stop treating folks in a shitty way to make yourself feel better. You may feel that “power” enables you to use the theatre as your dating playground, but that power is not actually real. You are not a demi-god that has superpowers, you are not curing cancer — you run a theatre or an internship program or direct plays. If you are stressed out because your show sucks, don’t take it out on those “under” you. Chances are, they want their job and so does everyone else around them. So they might not speak up. If you have been shitty in the past, have conversations. So many folks let me know they went back and apologized to folks about being shitty to them or sexually harassing them or bullying someone through a rehearsal process because of their perception of “power.”
- Complaint Paths: see it through. Yes, there are stage managers out there that are best friends with the director and the artistic director. They may not “see your side.” See your complaint through the Non-Equity Deputy or the Equity Deputy to the Stage Manager on up to the Artistic Director to the Board if you are not seeing results in due time UNTIL you see the results for your grievance. On the flip side, a complaint path should not be abused by clogging it up with complaints such as there being no fresh fruit backstage (for reals).
- Create your own NIOH chapter. There have been so many folks who ask me if it is ok to start an NIOH chapter where they live. YES! But know that different communities have different needs, so get together and talk to folks to see what they need/the pattern of problems arising. Here’s what we did:
- Formed a support network (legal, counseling, volunteers to house or walk to cars, etc.)
- Worked on a Code of Conduct (Chicago Theatre Considerations)
- Worked with Equity to examine language change
And, when we needed to, we had some boots on the ground actions.
10. Remember, if you have essentially a class action lawsuit on your hands…seek legal advice. I never dole out legal advice. I’m not a lawyer. But I do know that public meetings and communications with your community are vital and they will serve to shape what you need in YOUR community. What is necessary in Chicago may not be so in Atlanta or London, on down the line.
- OUTING: if you decide you want to out someone to the public, you must know what you want your end result to be. If you have been sexually assaulted, do you want this person to serve jail time? If this person is a serial abuser of any kind, do you want the survivors to all come forward in a class action law suit? Are you going after an offensive or defensive case? Do you want an apology? Do you want to sue for damages? You must know what you want at the finish line. Then you MUST seek legal advice. You will be in it for the long haul. Don’t talk to reporters until you have had legal advice. Remember that getting sued for libel is a real thing, and one is innocent until proven guilty in the court of law.
- Finally, know that grassroots actions do work. Please look out for one another, know that you do not have to take shit, and know that 96 percent of the time you are in good hands, you are safe, and that theatre is not a scary and fucked up place. It’s the complete assholes that tip the scale.
What do you want us to do about it? Why do you keep saying “Not in My House?”
Not in Our House Chicago Theatre Community is kicking off a new campaign. Not in My House. A tool to examine self-governance within our theatres. It starts with you. Each time you are in a theatre. Each time before you make a potentially poor decision, think about the above list. Each time someone approaches you at a rehearsal and tells you they are hurting, think of the above list. It’s a private campaign, seen basically by you and felt deeply by those around you.
For the future, I would like young theatremakers and new practitioners to be able to easily search us at notinourhouse.org. I’d like educators to encourage their students to look to The Chicago Theatre Standards and Not in Our House Chicago Theatre Community as a resource. Students or folks new to the theatre scene can ask advice or questions, or “this was really weird, what do you think” in a safe environment on our closed group Facebook wall. I’d like to make our wall into more of a forum where even if you have been here in the theatre scene for thirty years, you will still find that you need help hashing something out and can come to our wall space or shoot us a line. There will always be assholes and there will always be amazing folks in the scene: we can’t abolish all of the crap. But we can help one another and we don’t have to be secretive about it.
NIOH will continue work on the Chicago Theatre Standards to be used in Chicago theatres and hopefully across the country. This is an amazing project organized by Laura T. Fisher that requires hard work, determination, and an open ear. NIOH will continue to trumpet to the final rollout of the CTS this summer. NIOH will continue to work with Actor’s Equity and James Holbrook in order to bring language to the bargaining table surrounding sexual harassment, intimidation, violence, and bullying in the years to come.
In the meantime, shift Not in Our House to Not in My House. What can I do to clean up my own house if I run a theatre? What can I do to say Not in My House to promote self-governance and community healing? If we work together to examine the above summary in order to recognize it within ourselves and move forward, then The Chicago Theatre Standards works … then community justice, healing and transformation works. We had extremely bad players at Profiles Theatre in our theatre scene for many years, and there will be more bad players to come. What can we have in place to ensure this does not happen again?