Trigger Warning: The following post contains descriptions of emotional abuse.
While this project is not intended to be a cautionary tale of Theatre School, it’s important that all voices have the opportunity to be amplified, especially those that may help others.
Today is World Theatre Day and I’m conflicted. I love theatre. For years it was my life, my home, my safe place. I was literally a walking, talking encyclopedia of all things performing arts. I loved it so much. My goal was always to trust in the process, train with the best, and make it to Broadway AND Hollywood! I wanted so badly to be part of that big, shiny world.
When I graduated high school and moved to Toronto I felt like I was one step closer to that dream. I was making friends who had similar aspirations and training everyday with spectacular teachers. While not every day was easy, and god knows it wasn’t, I was still in love with what I did. I was happy.
For a long time, I thought that trusting in the process and training with the best would serve me well, but in one instance that truth crashed down on me. Someone I trusted to help me, harmed me instead. I was emotionally abused during the entirety of a production by the director in charge. We were warned about this man beforehand by one of our teachers. Our director was an older man who was known to pick on women during rehearsal, and get upset at the drop of a hat. I remember hearing this and telling myself, ‘I won’t let anything that this person has done to others be done to me’. Then, when it happened to me, I felt that it was my fault. I kept asking, “what can I do better? Will no one want to work with me?’ What did I do wrong?” Nothing I did seemed to be right and I was harassed for it. I confided in my classmates, and some supported me outright, while others supported me from the background. They didn’t want to speak up because they wanted to work with this person again. They still held him in high regard despite how he treated me. I felt sad and angry. How could someone so small be considered so big? Why were people so willing to put themselves at risk for notoriety? Why did it seem like no matter how hard I tried, no one would take me seriously?
When I graduated college, I tried to push everything that had happened to me to the back of my brain. I lost my trust in men in the industry and I felt that if I wasn’t hard as a rock, no one would take me seriously. On the other hand, I had so many good experiences- why let one bad one ruin the rest of them, right? Turns out, my brain doesn’t work like that. Anytime I entered a room ready to work, I felt like I was putting myself right back into that situation. It didn’t matter how positive the space was, or how many times people assured me that it was okay for me to let my guard down and be myself, I still felt as if I was in the line of fire. Every time I left a rehearsal, I would go home and break down because I felt like no matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to feel safe in the theatre ever again. I did this for a long time.
I remember during the situation, after a particularly brutal rehearsal, one of the people on the crew gave me this piece of wisdom: “You just have to find people who speak the same language as you”. Over the course of my time at college, I had accidentally internalized this belief that theatre was some kind of dictatorship. That I should be blindly following someone else’s demands and not questioning it. I had forgotten that at its core, theatre is about communicating. I had forgotten that there are people out there who are willing to learn how to understand each other, adapt each other’s ideas, and make an effort to come to a mutual understanding when things get lost in translation. I had forgotten that to me, that’s where theatre thrives. Of course, there will always be people out there who have no willingness to come to a mutual understanding.
No one warns you that there are going to be people in positions above you who want to see you fail. No one tells you how to clock the dictator in the room. I’m just now starting to find the joy in theatre again, but it’s a long process. The only reason I’ve even begun to love it again, is because I found people who truly support me, and want to see me succeed. I can’t stress enough how important that is. They always tell you that you need to be the strongest in the room, the prettiest, the funniest- but what happened to just being you? If I can’t be honestly and sincerely myself around the people I’m working with, then how can I be expected to love what I do?
I hope that one day I’ll have the courage to call this person out, and report them, but I still have that fear. That stupid fear that my career will be ruined. That no one will want to work with me again. That if I say anything openly, I could be sued for slander, even though I know what happened to me is the truth. I know that other people have had similar situations as I have with this person, but I have yet to find those people. I guess what I really want is for people to speak up when these things happen. Like truly and bravely say in a rehearsal “fuck off you egotistical asshole”. I sometimes wonder if I had done that, and been kicked out of school, would I be better off mentally, and still have a solid career in the arts? Who knows. All I can do for the time being is continue to heal, and hope that one day I’ll build up the courage to really, truly tell this person to leave us alone.