The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance has today released the findings of an anonymous survey for members of the live enteratainment industry, which it conducted online between July and November 2017.

The findings are pretty grim. Of the 1,124 respondents, at least 40 percent had experienced at least one form of sexual harassment. As for the perpetrators, 35 percent were fellow cast members, 18 percent were directors and 35 percent were crew members. The other ten percent of perpetrators included teachers, conductors and photographers. Almost a quarter of the victims didn’t make a complaint for fear of repercussions for their career.

As a result of the survey the MEAA will now work with all the major state theatre companies as well as freelance artists to develop more effective policies for dealing with sexual harassment, assault, criminal misconduct and bullying in the theatre.

The survey also found that there is a culture of bullying to be addressed in the opera sector. Speaking to Limelight, Zoe Angus, Director of MEAA’s Equity section for performers and actors said: “Gee, the findings in relation to opera are not pretty in terms of bullying. There is a clear theme that we will need to raise with the Australian opera companies, but our research tells us that there is a problem of bullying in Australian opera. It may be that there are other themes there but we are yet to drill down into particular sectors. I think the really strong themes emerged in relation to our subsidised theatre sector but there is a clear message too in relation to alarming levels of bullying in Australian opera.”

The MEAA initiated the survey before allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein led to the #metoo campaign and an avalanche of allegations against a number of actors, conductors (including James Levine) and other members of the entertainment industry in the US and Australia.

Asked why the MEAA decided to initiate the survey, Angus says: “We were hearing recurring anecdotal stories about instances of sexual harassment and bullying, particularly in our live performance sector, and on that basis we decided we needed to better understand the problem. The reality is that people weren’t formally reporting it to us either and we wanted to know what was going on and why.”

“Clearly a key important, awful message of the data is that the most common reason why people don’t report is they think they might not work again, they might not get a job again, they actually fear professional repercussions,” says Angus.

The MEAA sent the report to the state theatre companies last week, and Angus says that the companies have been receptive to the idea of working with the Union to develop better procedures to deal with sexual harassment and bullying.

“Clearly the evidence says that whatever systems they’ve got in place, they’re not working, and in my conversations with the theatre companies I think they acknowledge that, and I’m very pleased to say that their response to our data and to our request to work with them has been really heart-warming,” Angus tells Limelight. “And I think that in the New Year we will work together to get proper structures and cultural change in place in Australian theatre.”

Asked if there are differences in the level of success of protocols developed to deal with nudity, sex scenes and violence on screen compared to stage, Angus says: “One of the key differences for screen compared to live performance, clearly in live performance if you are doing sex or violent scenes you are doing them intensively in a rehearsal period and then you are doing them eight times a week for many weeks, so there are often problems that arise from a breakdown, from a dysfunction in the creative process itself that has its own risks and hazards and harm that are unique to live performance.”

“Point number two is that in the screen sector there are very clear protocols about how you manage, and the procedural steps involved, in doing a nudity or simulated sex scene on camera. We’ve certainly had problems in the past where those procedures have not been followed and it can result in quite distressing experiences for those involved and so in a number of situations we have needed to raise problems with screen producers but not to the same extent that we are clearly seeing in live performance.”

Angus says that it is upsetting to see that 35 percent of perpetrators reported in their survey were fellow cast members. “This is our community, we are talking about a community of actors, so MEAA will start a campaign of educating our members to ensure that our members treat each other with respect in a way that our community deserves.”

In a press statement released by the MEAA today, Angus says that she considers this to be “a unqiue moment in history”. Speaking to Limelight, she says she is positive about the potential for change.

“I am actually really optimistic for us going forward. I think for anyone who wasn’t aware or didn’t know, it’s impossible now to look away from this. I think we’ve heard the recorded evidence, we’ve heard that it’s so widespread and systematic, the data is there and there is a real willlingness for change now,” says Angus. “So I think this is a historical moment for us and I look forward quite positively to real change on the ground.”

A summary of the research findings is available HERE