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Tuesday 23rd
posted by Will Stone in Britain

BULLYING is so widespread in the acting profession that most actors admit having been victims, Equity delegates heard yesterday.

Actors reeled off horror stories about their treatment by serial bullies at theatre companies and other employers, often when they were just starting out.

London area’s Ayvianna Snow, who called the debate the most important of the actors’ union’s conference, said: “I’ve been a victim of bullying and sexual harassment.

“It’s a horrible, isolating experience that ground me down and made me question my own abilities.

“I used to wake up every morning with a knot of tension in my stomach and the quality of my work suffered.

“Bullies operate in a culture of fear. If you do speak out, it’s your word against theirs, and their powerful friends may not side with an unknown actor.

“We can often only help after the bullying when the damage is already done. Nobody should have to suffer in silence.”

The Creating Without Conflict survey found that 56 per cent of those working in theatre said they had directly experienced bullying, the conference noted. More women were found to be victims: 58 per cent compared to 52 per cent of men.

Brighton and Sussex branch’s Mjka-Anne Scott said: “We brought in an anti-bullying phone line and I’m speaking to ask that we look as a union at all the various options we have to deal with bullying.

“We have to move on to support those people who are bullied in work. It’s important for the health and welfare of every member of this union.”

Currently a bullying allegation is investigated by Equity and the employer takes their own internal action.

However, given the freelance nature of the industry, serial bullies can simply continue their behaviour with a new, uninformed, employer — or even as an employer themselves, the conference heard.

Delegates called on Equity to better inform members about bullies to prevent harassment and discrimination.

Online branch’s Nana St Bartholomew-Brown said: “Bullies are cowards. It doesn’t matter how old you are or who you are.

“I’ve been a victim of bullies but I’ve dealt with it. On every production I go, I carry anti-bullying cards and distribute them everywhere. Bullying should never be tolerated because it demeans us.”

A workshop with student Equity members was held, providing tips on how to deal with bullying.

The conference also called on Equity to fund a fully trained anti-bullying and mental health officer, a post to be created for a minimum of two years on a full-time or part-time basis.