American Theatre Magazine wrote a response to my blog post about their enablement of sexual abuse in American theatre. I appreciate their engagement and their apology, and wrote Robert Weinert-Kendt, the editor-in-chief; and Teresa Eyring, Executive Director of TCG, to tell them so. But I felt the response left quite a lot to be desired.
Specifically, they did not list any concrete steps to address the fact that they had solicited and now know the name of serial abusers working in the field, including at their own member theaters, and are now choosing to sit on them indefinitely. Rob writes, “The magazine has never been, and has never represented itself as, an investigative news organization.” I disagree. “Investigative” is an arbitrary label, applied retroactively for convenience’s sake; they brand themselves as is “the nation’s only general-circulation magazine devoted to theatre,” which anyone—including I, as a source—could rightly interpret as including work categorized as “investigative,” especially when they’d authorized their reporter to initiate an investigation. If ATM is in fact a magazine-length glossy ad for their member theaters, they need to put that on their About page instead. If they are or want to be something else, then they have an ethical obligation to act on the information they solicited. From what I understand, they are now refusing to do so on technical and legal—in other words, financial—grounds. This, while publishing pieces like this, wherein Teresa herself writes, “The culture of silence can be profound and entrenched. And what’s required when there are reports of workplace misconduct, sexual and otherwise, is immediate action and transparency on the part of boards and leadership.”
So. Here is my question to Rob, Teresa, and the board of TCG:
Where is your immediate action?
Moreover: what made you think that real change would be safe?
What made you think that real change would not come without social, financial, and legal risk, to your institution and to yourselves?
I’m well-acquainted with these risks. I’ve taken them on several times now, and will again in the future. But it’s time for the burden of those risks to stop falling on individuals. We already did our part by coming forward. We’ve done it over and over and over. Now it’s your turn.
Your two options are to (1) authorize Ms. Tran to publish the stories, and take on the social, legal, and financial risks that comes with that; or (2) partner with a national media outlet that was built to take on such risk, such as Buzzfeed or The Washington Post. In my opinion, not doing so would represent a final and irreparable breach of trust between your organization and the entire field of practice, especially the women and people of color who are disproportionately impacted by your silence.
Now, here is my question for the leadership of all TCG member theaters:
Why so quiet?
I’ve received messages of support from exactly three Artistic Directors of TCG member theaters, out of five hundred and six. Two were already friends.
I’ll grant, it’s given me a sense of just how pervasive the culture of silence is in the field. It’s also helped me understand the role of “niceness”—or, reluctance to confront or offend—in the machinery of enablement. Niceness has been the leadership’s norm on that national nonprofit theatre scene for as long as I’ve been aware of it, but it is in fact anything but niceness. It is cowardice. Niceness means speechifying on Facebook without ever naming names. Niceness means, in Rob’s words, “urging the field as a whole (rather than any specific theaters) to do better,” so that no one ever thinks they’re part of the problem. Niceness means you never acknowledge that you or your friends may be part of the problem. Niceness means that you never have to have difficult conversations with your colleagues. Niceness means you’re terrified of not being liked, or how not being liked could affect your career. Niceness means you’d rather cover up abuse than run the risk of alienating donors. Niceness means you convince yourself that, because you’re a good person with good intentions, you can’t possibly be part of the problem. Niceness means believing that, because an institution has done some good sometimes, that outweighs the abusers who both operate from within it and benefit from its silences. Niceness means you never actually risk anything.
I’ll be as clear as I possibly can: An institution that prioritizes its own continued existence over the safety of the individuals who work there does not deserve to exist.
That applies to American Theatre Magazine. That applies to TCG. And that applies to every single theater that knowingly employs and harbors abusers, or neglects to speak out against their continued enablement, now, in the MeToo era.
Rob, Teresa, and TCG member theaters: you already know the right thing to do. You just have to be brave enough to do it.