Vancouver's Studio 58 puts policy to prevent sexual harassment into full practice

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      Vancouver's Studio 58, one of the country's most respected theatre schools, took steps this week to protect its students against harassment. At the same time, it's preparing them to stand up against similar abuse when they enter the professional stage.

      The move came Tuesday, just a day before four female actors filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre Company artistic director Albert Schultz, who resigned Thursday. And it came amid the spreading outrage of the #MeToo campaign and ongoing allegations against Hollywood brass.

      The theatre school at Langara College made the announcement at the first rehearsal for its next show, The Skin of Our Teeth, that it would be fully adopting a zero-tolerance initiative against bullying and harassment called #NotInOurSpace. 

      In her statement to the show's company members, Studio 58 artistic director Kathryn Shaw said the facility "is committed to the pursuit of respectful workspaces, and we support anyone who witnesses or experiences inappropriate behaviours. Conduct that undermines the dignity or self-esteem of an individual, or which creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

      "Students, faculty, staff, and visiting professionals must speak up against harassment, and stand together in addressing problems if they arise. Since Studio 58 is a training program that mirrors the profession, we are choosing to adopt the professional standards set out in Equity’s anti-harassment campaign, developed to stop harassment before it starts."

      Spearheaded by Canadian Actors’ Equity & PACT (Professional Association of Canadian Theatres), #NotInOurSpace was adopted by the professional community last fall. In a statement released November 3, Equity executive director Arden R. Ryshpan explained, "The Not In OUR Space! campaign was launched as a proactive initiative to change industry culture." The campaign included protocols and downloadable support materials. Practices include identifying workplace advisors and a “first day talk” at the beginning of a show so that everyone will know who to speak to if incidents occur. The program will also offer ongoing education, and support theatres and management in "fostering a culture of zero-tolerance" as well as investigation support for company management.


      As for the impetus, Ryshpan cited a national survey of members in 2015 that found nearly 50 percent of respondents reported being on the receiving end of inappropriate behaviour and nearly 50 percent reported being a witness. Men and women equally reported bullying as the most prevalent form of workplace harassment but twice as many women than men reported being sexually harassed.

      "It is important for members to report inappropriate behaviour to a theatre/engager and/or to Equity," she said in a statement last fall. "The theatre/engager bears the legal responsibility for ensuring a safe and respectful workspace. But it is even more important for us all to work together to stop this pernicious behaviour before it starts—to send a message to harassers and bullies that they can no longer behave without consequence. Looking out for each other, speaking up for each other and calling out bad behaviour in our workspaces will begin to effect the change we seek."