Not In Our Schools: Creating Self-Advocating Artists Starts in the Classroom

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The 2017 TIME magazine named the collective “Silence Breakers” Person of the Year, honoring the survivors of sexual violence and harassment who spoke up in the #MeToo movement founded by Tarana Burke in 2006, which actress Alyssa Milano made viral in October 2017. Since then, the movement has led to an international discussion about victim blaming, reporting practices, and harsher punishments for sex offenders, as a wave of accusations has shed light on sexual misconduct in the arts, sports, academia, religion, and politics. For the first time, survivors of sexual violence and assault are heard and believed; the torrent of accusations has resulted in multiple firings, resignations, cancelled programming, investigations, charges, and public apologies of perpetrators.

The #MeToo movement, and particularly its impact on the film and theatre industries, takes me back to June 2016, when social media lit up with theatre artists sickened and disheartened the exposé on Profiles Theatre in Chicago Reader written by Aimee Levitt and Christopher Piatt’s. The piece details the alleged mental, physical, and sexual abuse endured by stage actors and crew members for over two decades at Profiles–which has since shut its doors–under the leadership of then Co-Artistic Director Darrell W. Cox. Theatre long ago earned a reputation for chewing up and spitting out young hopefuls; being overworked and underpaid, brutal rejections, and physically taxing performances are all considered par for the course for the novice actor hoping to earn his or her keep. But inhumane misconduct is finally getting the attention its deserve thanks to efforts such as the #MeToo movement and Not In Our House, Chicago’s grassroots organization spearheaded by Laura T. Fisher and Lori Myers to provide preventative measures against sexual and violent abuse in the theatre workspace as well as support for victims.

At the University of Central Florida, where I am an assistant professor in Theatre for Young Audiences, a campus-wide campaign “Let’s Be Clear” serves to “increase disclosure of sexual and relationship violence,” claiming “the more people who come forward, the more who can be supported by campus and community resources.” In our theatre department, the play The Day Before Yesterday by playwright Israel Horovitz was pulled from our season after nine women accused Horovitz of sexual misconduct. To honor the training of the students already cast in the production while bringing light to the importance of the issue, the title was replaced by Rebecca Gilman’s play Boy Gets Girl, a play about stalking that “examines the culture that makes such sexism and harassment possible.”

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