Like many of you, we’ve been following what has been happening in other improv and comedy communities – Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia – particularly the problem of inappropriate treatment and potentially harassing behavior towards women.
We have been made aware of concerns about these issues in our community and that female-identified improvisers in the Twin Cities are organizing to address it. We look forward to supporting those efforts, if and when we are asked. Meanwhile, independent of these efforts we wish to provide our statement of belief on these issues:
Behavior that silences or diminishes women’s – or anyone’s — voices and bodies — onstage, backstage, during rehearsal or in class — will not be tolerated and must change. If such behavior is reported and substantiated we will take all actions available to us to stop the behavior and provide consequences to those that engage in this behavior.
To accelerate and support this change, HUGE is bringing in specialized trainers with expertise to train our teachers and staff. Our goal is to develop a common vocabulary and approach. In addition to addressing immediate classroom and rehearsal situations, it is our hope that this will provide a model for conversations that improvisers initiate with their practice groups, performing groups, and others.
In addition to providing training, we are updating our policies and making our existing policies and code of conduct more prominent and clear with real consequences for behavior found to be in violation of policy.
Most important, we are encouraging all of our staff, students, and performers to speak up about any inappropriate treatment they have experienced. To that end, we are providing clearer and easier ways to report issues.
We have published our harassment and offensive behavior policy, which covers in more detail our policies and definition of sexual harassment. Following are guidelines on when and how to report issues.
Students, please let your teachers and/or teacher assistants (TAs) know about any harassment or discomfort you experience from other students, whether you feel it is intentional or not and whether it happens in the classroom or not. Please give the teacher the chance to address the issue as quickly as possible.
- Under no circumstances should you continue with an exercise or scene that makes you feel physically or emotionally distressed or unsafe. You will be supported by the teacher if you decide to stop or leave a scene for any reason.
- It is our belief that under no circumstances should you be expected to tolerate unwelcome sexual attention from fellow students, whether that happens inside or outside class, online, via text, or any other method. While there are limits to what we can help with outside the walls of our classrooms and theater, we ask you to advise us as situations arise so that we can address them to the best of our ability and identify patterns.
- Under no circumstances should a teacher, show director, or coach — or anyone in a position of power at HUGE or any other theater– demand or expect physical or romantic interest from you.
It is best if you can communicate with your teacher or TA right away. If for any reason you feel uncomfortable or unsatisfied communicating with either your TA and teacher, we encourage you to contact:
- Jill Bernard, Director of Education, at firstname.lastname@example.org or to Rita Boersma, Artistic Director, at email@example.com or Butch Roy, Executive Director at firstname.lastname@example.org
- An alternative option is to fill out HUGE’s anonymous feedback form at http://www.hugetheater.com/contact.
- We also have a whistleblower policy in case an incident requires a person outside of HUGE Theater to investigate: http://www.hugetheater.com/blog/2015/03/30/whistleblower-policy/
Performers are all held to a code of conduct when performing at HUGE.
- Under no circumstances should a show director, coach — or any other individual — demand or expect any physical or romantic interest from you in exchange for opportunities or anything else. (Certainly there are plenty of examples of improvisers in relationships successfully working together — that’s not a concern. The issue here is use of power in unfair treatment of others.)
- Under no circumstances should you be expected to tolerate unwelcome sexual attention or advances from other performers, whether that happens inside or outside class, online, via text, or any other method. While there are limits to what we can help with outside the walls of our classrooms and theater, we ask you to advise us as situations arise so that we can address them to the best of our ability and identify patterns.
- Under no circumstances should you continue with a scene that makes you feel physically or emotionally unsafe. We encourage all performers to leave or end a scene by whatever means works in the moment and to address the issue backstage following the performance (preferably as soon as practicable). We further recommend that individuals bring up issues in the presence of the entire cast present as well as the director/coach, if possible. These issues are not between individuals, they affect the entire group, and the entire group should support the conversation. Failure to support a member of the group in expressing concerns about his or her emotional and physical safety may indicate a much larger problem.
The following outlines our next steps in the framework created by Chicago theaters to help address some of these issues. It is meant to outline a starting framework, and is not representative of the sum total of the steps we are taking to create a safe space for all genders.
1. We will make our current code of conduct, Policy Against Harassment, and whistleblower policy more visible, and to update our contracts to specify that sexual harassment and other forms of unlawful harassment will not be tolerated.
2. We have assigned more than one designee to whom people can make a report, and are posting a Code of Conduct in all classrooms that includes instructions on how to give anonymous feedback.
3. As outlined in our Policy Against Harassment, we commit that to the greatest extent possible all reports will be investigated as confidentially as possible and we give assurance that no retaliation will be tolerated against anyone who makes a report or cooperates with an investigation.
We acknowledge that inappropriate behavior and unlawful harassment can happen to, and be initiated by, any gender. Also that allies of all genders have reported feeling uncomfortable or ill-equipped to step in and help at the moment they see a problem. We also recognize that there are a number of struggles related to marginalization of improvisers due to race, sexual orientation, age, and other factors. Please know that to focus on female-identified harassment at this critical moment is not to dismiss or diminish other needs.
We also want everyone to know that we are using strong language because we care very much about fostering a safe and healthy environment at HUGE. We do not believe in “good” people versus “bad” people — it is behavior that needs to be identified and addressed. Depending on the severity of the issue, our primary goal will be to point out the problem and provide a clear path/guidelines for making needed changes. In cases of physical endangerment, unlawful behavior or repeat offenses, we will take stronger measures as we are legally able to, up to and including termination of teachers or staff and discontinuing a student’s classes or a performer’s chance to appear on HUGE’s stage. Also possible are a time-limited probation or complete banning of entrance to HUGE Theater.
We welcome your comments and feedback. You can reach us at admin @ hugetheater.com or comment via our anonymous feedback form on the bottom of http://www.hugetheater.com/contact/