Recently, in Los Angeles there was an increased awareness of sexual harassment. A few people in the community were accused of sexually harassing women to the point that they didn’t want to take classes at certain theaters because their instructor was harassing them and creating an unsafe experience for the students. It got crazy and the LA improv community was damaged by it. This harassment affected many major theaters in the LA market. The harassment had been going on for a few years but no one came forward until recently. Why did this happen? Partially, the victims didn’t feel that they had a safe place to come forward and talk about it. They didn’t know who to talk to. There was no policy or the policy wasn’t enforced and the victims felt they would be ridiculed and possibly shunned from the community. It sounds crazy, but it’s completely understandable. This happens in other industries all the time. So, how do we help solve this? How do we protect our improvisors from this horrible and gross thing? Your theater needs a Sexual Harassment Policy and procedures on how to report them.
There should be a NO TOLERANCE Sexual Harassment Policy that any member of the theater who teaches or performs there should have to read, agree and sign. It should also be made clear how someone, male or female, can seek help if something like this comes up. They need to know that they are safe and that they can report this stuff so it doesn’t spiral out of hand as it had in LA.
It’s beyond me that we aren’t thinking of this and it hurts that we even have to, but we do and we need to protect our improvisors from people who may want to hurt them. So if you don’t have one, get one quick and implement it immediately. Set up a system of reporting and let them know that they will be safe in reporting it. You may want to consult a legal entity if you have one and you may want that person to handle any reports that are being submitted. If you have the money to take it one step further, recently one of the theaters I belong to, iO West, hired a Human Resources Manager to oversee all policies of the theater including sexual misconduct. It’s a step in the right direction and great job iO for taking this seriously. I know some other major theaters have policies as well. For those larger theaters that can afford something like this, if you haven’t already…you should, there’s no excuse. For you smaller markets, it doesn’t matter how small you are you have to at least have a policy and implement it and make sure your company understands it. Your improvisors are your family and you should do anything to protect them and make them feel safe. Let’s have each others backs!
Bill Binder and Nick Armstrong
National Improv Network