In her debut piece, our new blogger Natalie Braid (pictured below), a stage manager currently working on the tour of People, Places and Things, discusses the importance of protecting others in the industry
When the Harry Potter plays exploded onto the West End, so did the now synonymous hashtag "keep the secrets" onto social media. To maintain hype and mystery, #keepthesecrets encourages viewers to keep quiet about the details of the production. For those of us who make theatre magic happen, it can feel like we have to employ similar restraint as we daily encounter, and are entrusted with, secrets of the entertainment industry.
While it's a rock/hard place situation I think everyone in the industry has been stuck in, stage management are often uniquely privy to frank and off the record interactions. Whether it's a break out chat at the end of a meeting, overheard snippets on the tannoy or by virtue of our ability to blend into the rehearsal room walls - we hear things and, for the most part, it's assumed we will keep those things quiet.
But what happens when a stage manager hears something troubling or problematic? I don't mean innocuous gossip (save that for the pub) - I'm talking about the thing that makes a red flag flash up as you think, maybe at the time or maybe years later, "I'm pretty sure that's harassment."
At a time when so many are being empowered to come forward against abusive behaviour (I'm cheering each and every one of you on), it's crystal clear the damaging, long-lasting impact of keeping misconduct quiet, and how easily we can all slide into the danger zone of complicit silence. It calls for real scrutiny into our own behaviour, as well as the behaviour of our colleagues.
I applaud the Royal Court's industry-wide code of conduct, which clearly outlines inappropriate behaviour and supported pathways to reporting it. A stage manager's mandate is to fix problems and keep the company safe, so when we know they are in discomfort or distress, we want to fix this - and beyond the basic empathetic human response, we have an obligation to seek a solution. To have concrete, irrevocable words as a reference point for harassment is vital; it sharpens blurred lines, and prevents subjective moral compasses from judging professional practice.
There's an image of stage managers as neutral, discreet and oozing equanimity - at least, I like to think there is. Combine this with the fact that most of us are jobbing freelancers, unable to rock the boat for fear of ignominy, and we're in a pretty vulnerable position. The job means we often have to be alone in the room with people of significant power and won't have witnesses for inappropriate exchanges.
In supporting others, don't minimise any of your own personal red flags. If you can, use the channels you'd direct company members to for your own representation. If you can't speak up professionally, as it's becoming clear so many can't just yet, I do so hope you have a personal support network where you feel safe sharing your experiences. And if you're in a position of relative power, make like the Potter gang and do good. You have a responsibility to lead with respect, integrity and transparency, and the ability to ensure the only secrets we're keeping are the ones onstage.
- Natalie BraidBack to news