COLUMN: Pushing back the predators of the theater

by Michael Shutack, Columnist

by Michael Shutack, Columnist

With the accusations against famed actor Kevin Spacey riding on the tails of the numerous accusations against Harvey Weinstein, the public has new insight on an old dilemma: Sexual predators exist in the theatre arts. 

When a phrase such as “casting couch” is thrown into usage, vintage images of actresses like Marilyn Monroe being pinned up against metaphorical and/or physical walls by producers may come to mind. Unfortunately, inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances occur relentlessly in the performing arts to this day. Why? From what I’ve experienced as a thespian, there may be a few reasons:

Artists are damaged. This may sound cliché but it is true. Insecure, temperamental, damaged individuals turn to the theatre in order to escape their everyday lives. 

 

Everyone, theatre artists and theatregoers, should make a greater attempt to stop the Kevin Spaceys, the Harvey Weinsteins, and the Bill Cosbys in the industry from obtaining and maintaining a flourishing career. 

 

Theatre allows them to work in another world and in other person’s story. It is no surprise that some of these people become sexual predators. They confuse what is real with the false perception of their working environment. 

Professional relationships are oddly intimate in theatre. Art is the expression of emotions and, therefore, artists constantly expose themselves emotionally. 

After getting to know another person on such an intimate level, a sexual predator may want to see them exposed physically. Also, depending on the performance, actors may have to work while physically exposed. 

Horror stories exist in which actors have been sexually harassed and assaulted during nude/sex scenes. Navigating around those types of experiences may be difficult for sexual predators because such situations do not occur outside of this particular profession.

Theatre is a career of connections. Sometimes it’s not about what you can do, but who you know. Artists often find themselves at the will of others in order to make a good impression and help their own career. Sexual predators are attracted to this power and use it to take advantage of desperate artists. In this case, fame isn’t a drug, fame is a weapon.

 

Artists are damaged. This may sound cliché but it is true. Insecure, temperamental, damaged individuals turn to the theatre in order to escape their everyday lives. 

 

Regardless of the reason sexual predators exist in theatre, sexual assault and harassment are inexcusable. Everyone, theatre artists and theatregoers, should make a greater attempt to stop the Kevin Spaceys, the Harvey Weinsteins, and the Bill Cosbys in the industry from obtaining and maintaining a flourishing career. 

That starts by not supporting their work and properly addressing inappropriate behavior in early, educational theatre. I’ve been to plenty of high school and college theatre parties that have gotten out of hand. 

Despite the success predators have accumulated, young thespians need to learn that sexual assault and harassment is unprofessional and will not be tolerated.