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"we are done with the myth"

After a year of the mass movement to fight abuse, we are moving beyond marches and hashtags, writes Lydia Sarks.

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#MeToo: Year 2 – An Actor’s Perspective

Date: 1 Mar 2019

After a year of the mass movement to fight abuse, discrimination and the imbalance of power in the workplace, we are moving beyond marches, and hashtags and statement dress codes into a burgeoning era of respected workplace principles.

It’s not in perfect working order just yet but we are well and truly on our way. Driven largely by the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns, we’re seeing this sweeping shift occur across all occupations. As an actor, I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.

Thankfully, I’m within respectful, nurturing and safe workplaces now. I make it my priority to ensure this. But it was not always the case.

I consider myself very lucky to have had incidences I’ve reported dealt with appropriately and my heart aches with every account I hear that wasn’t. As a result, I’ve found myself thinking long and hard on why an abuse of workplace safety towards (predominately) female actors has stayed so expertly camouflaged for such a long time.

In our business, somehow, somewhere between characters and reality, stage and backstage, ‘action!’ and ‘cut’ incidences can happen that, outside of the context of a film set, a rehearsal room or a dark theatre, would be seen, unmistakably, as wrong.

However, from within the workplaces behind film, TV and theatre, often these actions are excused as they tend to fall within the famously mysterious “grey area” – that once-held fictitious safe haven for questionable actions, where poor choices are given asylum and the people who make them, immunity. This proverbial marshalling area for arguable behaviour is rife in the entertainment industry.

But now, there’s no alibi.

That “grey area” that has been purported for so long has been blown wide open to the point that we can clearly see there was nothing inside. It never existed. And we are done with the myth.

You do not get to use the characters as an excuse anymore. You don’t get to use the story or the subject matter as a disguise. There is a vast difference between pushing boundaries in the name of a collective creative pursuit and straight up pushing boundaries.

You don’t get to indulge your own desires, under the guise of creative expression at the expense of someone else’s safety. Ever.

It’s not rocket science. It never has been.

This time is a reminder to all of us to communicate better and to look out for each other. There is no role too big or too small to warrant ignoring each other’s creative parameters. Many of us love working within a free, inventive and exploratory environment – it’s what draws a lot of us to this vocation in the first place. But it only works within a space that upholds everyone’s safety and civil liberties and that honours every actor’s status as a trained professional in a place of work.

Sadly – devastatingly – we haven’t heard the last of these experiences. I thank anyone involved with or in support of this movement for helping to make us all feel safer when we go to work to do the job that we love. I promise to uphold this mission everyday and I’m motivated by the sense that it already feels a whole lot easier to call out unacceptable behaviour the second it happens.

We are seeing new codes of conduct made concrete by our Unions and Academies and morality clauses, pay parity and inclusion riders are being considered within contract negotiations. I am seeing more and more women represented on both sides of the camera and there’s almost always a talk at the start of every shoot definitively outlining standards and accepted behaviour. It’s an intentional shift in consciousness and it’s resulting in a previously non-existent sense of safety at work.

At it’s very core, an actor’s work is play. After seeing the progress we’ve made already, I’ve no doubt we’ll continue to stand together to safeguard against anyone who tries to take that away.

#MeToo: Year 2, featuring Emily Steel, Sohaila Abdulali and Tina Tchen, is hosted at the Sydney Opera House, March 10.

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