Why are you doing this? Is there a problem?
Look, every community can work together to make things better. Every industry has its particular challenges. We’ve all been reading about Harvey Weinstein and college wrestlers and so on. Theatre people in DC are certainly not immune.
This is a very intimate profession. It requires working closely with other people. And that’s a good thing: If people work better together, the work gets better. The more trust there is among actors and other creatives, the more risks people will take for the sake of a show.
But the flip side of that bravery is that it can leave you vulnerable to exploitation. The Chicago Not In Our House movement was started in 2015 and picked up steam in the wake of a particular crisis at a theatre called Profiles, which was detailed in an expose in the local alternative paper, the Chicago Reader.
And the DC market has its share of upsetting stories — they get traded backstage and shared at through what’s commonly called a “whisper network.”. People warn each other about so-and-so.
Actors Arena, a group of professional full-time actresses and actors who meet at Arena Stage for professional development, invited Laurie T. Fisher from Not In Our House Chicago to speak.
This was in June 2017, before the #METOO hashtag exploded and that movement became a household name.
And from there, working theatre people here in DC kept the ball rolling, with meetings and online collaborations and even a town hall. It’s been thoroughly grass-roots, and it’s produced conversation about what the community could do, and work on a document that will outline standards of what working together might look like.
What other problems are there?
Theatre is a collaborative art form. Whenever you get a group of people, sometimes people who have never worked together before to create a show that will run for weeks or even months on end, it requires a great deal of open collaboration and readiness to work together. Sometimes the process is bumpy. There can be real conflict — and not just about intimacy. Not just about sexually charged material, or the abuses of power that the play might be tackling. There are all kinds of hurdles — creative, technical, and on and on — that need to be negotiated with grace, without breaking trust.
The Not In Our House DC document addresses many different aspects. But one core idea is that it recommends a process for “calling in” to raise concerns — not “calling out” problems and people, at least not as a first step. We want negotiations about problems to surface easily, and be resolved so a deeper collaboration can happen.
How will it work?
One idea is that every cast picks a point person — a “deputy” who’ll be the go-to for any issues of the kind we’re concerned with here. And this is not the Equity deputy, at least not necessarily. That’s a different gig, with different requirements.
This NIOH deputy gets a contact list for all the people at the theatre they might need to reach out to if there’s a problem. An HR boss, if there is one. The managing director; a board member.
In fact everybody gets that contact list, just in case people working on the show don’t feel comfortable talking to the deputy. Which hopefully will never be the case, but still.
That way there’s a clear, transparent structure ready to go to work in case of an issue. And it’s accessible not just to the cast, but also the people who might come in just for a few days — technicians, a designer working on a particular production element, anybody who puts in time on the show.
What is an Intimacy Choreographer?
Dancers move to prescribed steps; fight choreographers stage fights so nobody really gets hurt. Intimacy choreographers or intimacy directors do something analogous with sex scenes and other moments of stage closeness. They’re on hand to make sure everyone is both emotionally and physically safe in these moments. One resource if you’d like to read more is Intimacy Directors International.
What is the role of theatreWashington?
The community is leading the process; theatreWashington has been helping by facilitating meetings, inviting community members to discuss what Not In Our House DC could look like, and providing some financial support.
How will it be different than the Chicago version of Not In Our House?
In the resources we’re getting ready to share, we’re adding some sections specifically for artists and technicians and others who may not be full-time on the production, but still face the same obstacles.
They come into a project differently than, say, actors who’ll be at the first read where Not In Our House gets discussed, and everyone gets encouraged to acknowledge that NIOH principles are part of the process.
These people may only be in technical rehearsals, or only work for a day or two. They still need the same understanding of what to do if something happens that they want to discuss, or if they want to pass on their experience to someone who has the power to change it for them or for others working in the same space.
We’re also working on a section about donors. When casts and supporters and theatre staff gather for an opening night party, for example, donors can sometimes expect actors and actresses to be the same person they saw on stage. What does an actress or actor do if a donor is harassing them?
Who is working on it?
It’s actors, designers, directors, HR directors, choreographers, artistic directors, dramaturgs, marketing directors — you name the position, we’re likely to have someone with that title. It’s a big group of people who are really invested in seeing these ideas and principles get shared, explored, refined in a collaborative way, and eventually adopted.
And not just as a document that goes in a file or on the call board, but as a bedrock part of the ethos of the DC theatre community — a real part of the cultural sensibility that comes with the idea of “I’m in DC theatre.”