British Columbia

Theatre schools working with students to identify industry harassment, bullying

As stories of sexual harassment surface in the Canadian theatre industry, Vancouver post-secondary institutes are working to recognize and report inappropriate behaviour.

Young artists don't have to put up with anything and everything, says head of UBC theatre department

Studio 58 at Langara College theatre student, Erin Palm, said standards in place in the school's theatre department make her feel safe against harassment and bullying, and supported by the faculty. (CBC News)

In the wake of sexual harassment allegations against a high-profile Canadian theatre professional, Vancouver theatre schools are working with the next generation of talent and technicians to recognize inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.

Albert Schultz, former artistic director of Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre, resigned from his role Thursday after four women filed civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual battery and harassment.

Theatre instructors at Langara College and the University of British Columbia spoke with On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko about preventing future incidents.

'It's pretty shattering'

"It's pretty shattering to think that one of our most high-profile artistic directors, at one of the most important theatres in the country, that these sort of things would be revealed about him," said Stephen Heatley, head of UBC's Department of Theatre and Film.

Heatley said he spoke with his students about harassment and was surprised to find out many of the young artists in his program didn't feel that they had the power to stop a situation if they perceived it as inappropriate. 

"As trainers, it is our job to continue to make sure they understand they don't have to put up with anything and everything," said Heatley.

Kathryn Shaw, artistic director at Studio 58 at Langara College was shocked to hear about Schultz, but said the news was also very timely — Studio 58 rolled out a new harassment and bullying campaign this week.

Not in our space

Not in Our Space is a set of standards established by the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres and the Canadian Actor's Equity Association that provides guidelines for reporting harassment. Shaw said Studio 58 students will be held to these industry standards.

Students at Studio 58 at Langara College can turn to national guidelines used by professional associations if they perceive harassment and bullying while studying theatre. (CBC News)

"Harassment and bullying will not be tolerated and we need to have a dignified and respectful workplace for our students,"said Shaw.

Students should report any questionable behaviour to their instructor or director and should expect that action will be taken.

Excited about support

"I am very excited about us adopting this policy," said Erin Palm, a student at Studio 58, "Not in Our Space exists in the professional world so why not, while you're training, adopt those policies now?"

Palm said she feels supported by the faculty because they have this set of standards in place for them and for incoming directors.

Heatley said working with directors is critical to stopping industry harassment.

"We train directors as well and we are looking toward talking to directors about what it means to lead a team safely and creatively," said Heatley, "We need to be talking about this all the time."

For both Shaw and Heatley, reaching young people is the key to change.

"We are starting to educate for the future of theatre," said Shaw.

"[Sexual harassment] has got to stop."

With files from On The Coast and CBC News