Rehearsal halls have to be, by definition, safe spaces. They have to be places where people can be as vulnerable as necessary, as open as they need to be, as free of inhibitions, as daring, as fearless, as liberated as the work requires.

I am sick and tired of men who turn those spaces into sites of abuse. Who hide beneath vapid claims of artistic integrity, of boundary-pushing, of radicalism, to justify sexual assault. Who commit physical or psychological violence under the fraudulent cover of art. Who exploit the base conditions for the creation of theatre to their own ends.

Real artistic exploration begins with autonomy. It begins with freedom. It begins with equity and respect. It begins with safety, not with fear. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be conflict. There should be conflict. But fear doesn’t lead to conflict: it leads to repression. It makes abuse possible.

Sexual harassment and assault are repellent under any circumstances. (This doesn’t really need saying, does it? Just like “I believe the women” shouldn’t really need saying. What exactly is the alternative? “I think the women are probably lying?” To what end?) But there is something especially disgusting about men — and of course it’s basically always men — who harass and assault in places and under circumstances that of their very nature ought to be spaces free of such risks. Spaces like rehearsal halls.

Those spaces are always surrounded by the language of safety: when practicing a fight — “be safe.” When arguing for excluding observers — “it’s not safe. The hall is a protected space. It’ll be inhibiting to have outsiders there.” “Safety first.” And yet, underneath all that reassuring discourse, partly protected by it if anything, there are those men. Those men who foster climates of anxiety and fear. Of intimidation. Who make actors do things they do not actually want to do, say things they have no reason or motivation, no intellectual or emotional justification to say. Who touch actors they have no business touching. Who impose their wills and their bodies on the very people they are supposed to guide, to encourage, to liberate, to entrust with the work they are collaboratively creating.

Of course this makes for shitty art. Intimidated actors are limited actors. You can’t actually take artistic risks if you yourself, personally, are at risk already. The abuser may push personal boundaries, but he doesn’t thereby enable his victims to reach new artistic heights. They may do that anyway: that’s a personal triumph, against the odds he has created. But abuse and intimidation, harassment and assault have nothing to do with making powerful theatre. They are obstacles to exploration and mechanisms of fear. They do not “push boundaries,” they magnify them.

It’s a pretty pathetic argument: don’t be a monster because you’ll make worse art. “Don’t be a monster” should be fucking good enough. But evidently it’s not. So, there it goes. Theatre men: if you can’t stop violating women simply because it’s obviously the right thing to do, can you do it out of respect for the first principles of your art? Can you do it out of respect for the sacred space of the rehearsal hall? Can you at least do it because you’ll get to make better theatre?

(There’s a postscript to this. It’s personal and professional. I have long been proud of the very strong record our Theatre and Drama Studies program has in students being admitted to the Soulpepper Academy. For all my criticisms of the aesthetic developments at Soulpepper over the years, I have always considered the Academy and the support the company has given to young actors worthy of great, unequivocal praise. So today’s revelations distress and disgust me not just as a theatre thinker and sometime theatre maker — or as a human being. As a teacher, they make me utterly furious.)

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One Response to When the Halls are Full of Monsters

  1. Lynne says:

    We all want to know more and hear more from you Holgar. This article is brilliant.

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