29 March 2018
Student theatre needs to think more seriously about audition welfare, says Rosa Faye
CW: Discussion of sexual harassment, problematic audition practises, sexual misconduct on stage.
Last night, I had a wonderful conversation with Hannah Miller about Equity guidelines for audition practices, of which I was previously completely unaware. They include things from alerting non-successful auditionees of the outcome as soon as possible, to policies on nudity and sexual simulation in auditions. This immediately brought to mind experiences I've had as a student. They absolutely gobsmacked Hannah, and then myself: they are things I had pushed to the back of my mind, isolated incidents that I discredited. It’s hard to think of them as ‘institutionalised’ problems when you are auditioning and working with peers in a university context.
(I have been asked to simulate a sex act in an audition. I have been inappropriately touched on stage in a way that was not rehearsed or necessary.)
The experiences were isolated, small, and did not affect me in the long-term, but they made me highly uncomfortable and brought up dregs of past experiences that I would rather had stayed put. I decided not to attend my callback for the audition. I decided that having a bit of a sour taste in my mouth during the after-party of the show was Not A Big Deal. I did not flag up these issues to the people they involved, who probably would have been open to the conversation. We often feel more empowered to stand up for our friends than to validate our own experiences to the point of taking action.
This is the issue: neither of the incidents were badly meant. They were not instigated with any sexual designs in mind. But the fact of their happening is enough to make them wrong.
Even though student auditions might not be career-making, people want to do well, build CVs and experience, and will feel pressured to undertake what is asked of them. I did. The production team revelled in the fact that auditionees were not made aware of the fact a sexual simulation would be asked of them. They want you to be ballsy and daring. You want to be daring and ballsy. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
On stage, while it might only be ‘student drama’, as an aspiring professional you stay firmly in character; you brush any incident aside and stay ‘in the moment’; you are unable to respond or process any feelings that arise. In terms of the (probably unwitting) perpetrators, we often link standards of acting to our ability to be completely in character and therefore spontaneous. But there are times where these things must be secondary to the welfare of, and respect between, performers.
So much is happening, as we all know, in the industry (and the world) around this topic at the moment.
These conversations should not only apply to the professional acting world.
We need to think about how healthy mindsets can be cultivated in the seedbeds of the industry. If we implement Equity guidelines in student bodies, surely we have the power to change some of the wider problems. Even if there are policies, are they being implemented? Are they made visible and urgent? I urge you to write to your drama societies, to interrogate their policies, if you haven’t already (perhaps you have; hats off). At Oxford, our centralised society is primarily a funding body and therefore has limited sway over productions that do not come under the OUDS-funded banner. But I plan to start a dialogue.
It’s a conversation I hadn’t planned on having, but am so so glad that I did. I am so grateful to Hannah, and to NSDF for giving me space to think about and write this piece now. It is a shameful thing to admit, but I wouldn’t have been brave enough to say it otherwise.
Change is possible.
If you'd like to continue this conversation, get in touch @rozgarl.
Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca