Young actors and theater crew want behind-the-scenes consent culture priority
Actor Natalie Venettacci is at home on stage but she knows what it’s like to feel uncomfortable backstage.
- The culture of consent has been at the center of the professional scene and screen since allegations against Hollywood film mogul Harvey Weinstein sparked the #MeToo movement.
- Those who take part in volunteer or amateur community shows, or lower paying independent productions, say culture change is needed there as well.
- Young theater practitioners are driving change through their work in the industry
Ms Venettacci has performed across the country for the past 18 years and said she has had a number of negative experiences in the theater industry.
“The sexual harassment never happened during the shows, but it did happen during the season outside of this rehearsal or this hour of the show,” she said.
“You still act with this person every night and they have to touch or kiss you, or you have to show that you love them or have feelings for them.”
“It was really difficult for me as an actor and I didn’t feel like I had any support.”
Her experiences motivated Ms. Venettacci to focus on creating theatrical workspaces with a safe and supportive culture.
She made her directorial debut in Hobart this month with the play Medusa Waking, which weaved themes of sexual assault, trauma and healing.
“I went to this space wanting to create a rehearsal room that I would like to be in as an actor,” she said.
“So I made sure there was always listening, understanding and working together on the story.
“And we all had our say in how we wanted this story to be described and how far we wanted to push it.
The culture of consent has increasingly focused on the professional scene and on screen since allegations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein sparked the #MeToo movement in 2017.
Actors and directors involved in volunteer or amateur community shows, or lower-paying independent productions, say culture change is just as necessary in these spaces.
“This needs to change, we need to hold people accountable and listen to people when they say they have been assaulted or harassed in the rehearsal or theater space,” Ms. Venettacci said.
“Consent should be the first thing that happens in every movie theater.”
Policies needed for amateur shows
Emma Skalicky, a sexual assault survivor, is an actress and director and has written Medusa Waking.
It was important to Ms. Skalicky that the culture of consent be part of the production process for the first season of the play.
“I’ve had experiences on some shows where I felt like I had to do something that, in a few years maybe, I look back and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I was a kid and I was. feel like no choice, ”she said.
The professional industry uses intimacy coordinators whose role is to do things like risk assessment and choreography of intimate scenes.
Ms Skalicky said more needs to be done in amateur, community and independent theater to keep people safe.
“I think it’s on its way but I still don’t think it’s quite there yet,” she said.
“Because there aren’t necessarily any strict policies or education or integration process in community theater, you just trust that the people who run the company or run the shows have the know-how and access to enforce these consent practices, and many of them don’t. ‘t. “
The cast of Medusa Waking worked with the Sexual Assault Support Service to learn more about the play’s themes and to better understand consent issues.
“People say ‘direction of privacy is this new thing’ and ‘shouldn’t directors be able to do that anyway? “but it’s a particular technical style that makes a show better,” Ms. Skalicky said.
“I love telling people that I can say ‘you don’t know’ or ‘you’re not sure’ or ‘I’m uncomfortable’ and then give them space to practice. say “no” and then they know it they can.
“An intimate scene will be so much sexier and more intimate and full of thrill if both actors feel safe and know exactly what they are doing and no one is improvising anything.”
Theater practitioners invited to seek help
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance released its first privacy guidelines for the Australian stage and screen in November.
Actor Chloe Dallimore is one of only three fully qualified intimacy coordinators in Australia and has worked on creating the guidelines for 18 months.
The role of the intimacy coordinators is to support the production by providing a safe and professional environment as well as a clear structure and process for the choreography of the intimate content.
“These guidelines are for everyone, they are common sense,” she said.
“Don’t assume anything about your human touch, we are in a workplace, everyone deserves to come home feeling physically and mentally empowered from their workplace.”
Ms Dallimore said even volunteer productions should consider using a privacy coordinator to help create intimate scenes.
“It’s the same with intimate scenes.
“Just because we know how to kiss or kiss someone we want to kiss or kiss doesn’t necessarily mean we know how to do that or have that conversation with someone we haven’t chosen to kiss or kiss. hug, then we have to have this conversation. “
Young performers drive change
Andy Aisbett created Theater Closet, an independent company that supports queer artists.
He believed that early communication was essential to make sure the actors were comfortable.
“First, I make sure in the audition room or at the first rehearsal, at the very least, that we cover all aspects of what is required of the actor and what is expected of him,” he said. he declared.
“And it will always be in an open discussion to make the actors feel comfortable with it.
“In the theater space, we need to see consent from so many different angles, in order to make sure we’re comfortable with the material.”
Actor and director Benedicta McGeown works with teens and young adults through the Tasmanian college theater group, PLoT.
Ms McGeown said it was encouraging to see a growing awareness of the culture of consent in community theater.
“The best example is probably when I did a PLoT show called The Return and asked the director if I could have Emma [Skalicky] to do an exercise between me and another actor because I felt what the script was that I wasn’t quite comfortable with, ”she said.
One scene involved the character of Ms McGweon being kissed by another actor in a non-consensual manner.
During the rehearsal period, Ms. Skalicky walked the two actors through an exercise where they touched different parts of each other’s body and rated how comfortable they felt to be touched in each spot.
“Audiences commented on how uncomfortable I felt and how horrible it was to watch – which was the director’s intention, it’s not supposed to be a good time – but me and the other actor knew exactly what was going on and we rehearsed that, ”Ms. McGeown said.
“So at no point did I feel like a director and another male actor asked me to do something that I felt uncomfortable with.
“And I think it’s really important for all community theaters and professional theater bodies to start applying.”