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#metoo and me

In Theaterkrant, 445 theatre makers have a open letter posted, addressed to Toneelgroep Oostpool, calling on creators and players to stop being afraid and report abuses to Summary of the foregoing: there were several complaints of sexual harassment by Oostpool's artistic director Marcus Azzini. An investigation ensued and Azzini was initially able to return to work after a robust conversation with the supervisory board. After this letter in the Theaterkrant, there will be a follow-up investigation and Azzini will resign his duties until the results are known.

'Fear is the enemy of art' write the playwrights. But 'power and art' also tolerate each other badly and these three, power, fear and art often have everything to do with each other. When I graduated from the Amsterdam Theatre School in 1986, I did an internship at the Zuidelijk Toneel Globe, as it was called at the time. There was a kind of gap year in which four artistic directors had an appointment, following an illustrious period led by Gerardjan Rijnders.

I ended up in the middle of a fierce power struggle between two of the biggest ruffians, Theu Boermans and Sam Bogaerts. They were fighting over who would get to direct that year's big-screen production, in which I played a leading role (Ghetto by J.Sobol). The outcome was that they did it together and that was not only an unfortunate choice artistically. What I observed in terms of behaviour among the actors was that most of them were scared and wondering which horse they should bet on now to have work in the next season too. Would it be Theu or Sam?

I don't remember exactly who won (I don't think either of them did), but I do remember the behaviour of four young actors towards their big hero Sam, which I found shocking at the time. They did everything he asked. Everything had to be 'real', so falls or fights were not allowed to be 'fake'. They wounded and humiliated themselves whenever he wanted them to. It taught me a lot about the power relationship between director and actor, after which I began to doubt whether I had made the right career choice.

The following season, to my delight - there was very little work at the time - I got a role in a youth theatre production by the Paardenkathedraal in Utrecht, where something similar happened to me again. I decided after that production that theatre was over and done with for me. In an environment that was so unsafe, I simply did not want to and could not function. I am scarred by my parents' war traumas and need safety and trust precisely in order to develop myself. To be able to learn and live.

I also think that the great drive I had and still have to express myself and tell my stories is rooted precisely in these traumas and their consequences, for example being 'not seen'. Aren't stages around the world full of people, who were not seen enough as children and therefore have this need so strongly? It is a need for many. That aspect also makes them so vulnerable to abuse of power and intimidation.

Artists, both performers and creators, are often willing to do anything just to be seen and heard. That 'everything' includes suffering humiliation and harassment, whether sexual in nature or not. It is not for nothing that some of the larger -affairs takes place in the world of arts and entertainment.

Knowledge, understanding and behavioural change are needed among all stakeholders to really address this. Directors and policymakers are needed who are aware of the increased sensitivity to this kind of abuse. So this is also what the Fair Practice Code is about! It requires artistic directors, conductors and directors, (self)reflection and a great sense of responsibility at every sign of impending abuse of power. After all, you are someone who determines whether someone else has bread on the table or not. You do have that power, so use it prudently. But it also demands something of the (potential) victims, without me suggesting anything about 'provoking'. Quite the contrary! But self-knowledge is crucial. Why are you afraid? Why do you want to be seen? What is your need?

My choice was very rigorous though; it would be a shame if every talented young actor or actress made the same decision, because then we wouldn't have any theatre left. I therefore wholeheartedly support this letter and appeal and long for full theatres (again), where we can laugh and cry at strong, vibrant and self-confident theatre-makers, who play the stars of heaven, free from fear.


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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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