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TBA Online: News & Features: March 2018

The Business of Show Biz: Dealing With an Abusive Cast Member

Wednesday, March 7, 2018   (6 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Velina Brown


Q: I have been involved with a local community theater group for about eight years and was recently cast in a show in a role I really wanted. I've worked with everyone [in the] cast in previous shows, except this one guy.


He is disrespectful and physically threatening to myself and other cast members. Once [during a rehearsal] he pulled my hair saying I needed to get it out of my face. With other cast members as witnesses, I told the director and hoped she would talk to him and put an end to his abusive behavior.


Then, during a preview, I missed a line. I was quietly talking about it backstage with a castmate when this guy (who was playing my husband in the show) walked up and smacked me on the face, saying, "You'll never forget those lines again now.” I didn't know what to do or say. I had to go back on stage. After that he kept trying to talk to me backstage, saying, "Do you really think I would do that for real?” and that he shouldn't have done it since he didn't know me that well. (There was another cast member present for all these exchanges.) I told him to get away from me, don't ever touch me again, don't speak to me, and to leave me alone.  


I told the director, with two witnesses verifying what had happened. Needless to say my real life husband was upset.  He told the director he wanted it dealt with.


Her response was, “What did [my husband] want her to do about it?” The show was opening soon. Then, she said that she could pull me from the show, and she could play the part. Was that what he wanted?


Meanwhile, the guy had told her he never pulled my hair, had only touched my face gently to reassure me because I looked so down about messing up the scene.


Finally, in a rehearsal, I stood up for the other cast members that he's verbally bullied.  But the other cast members said nothing while he and I argued about what he did or didn't do. Eventually he apologized, "If he had done those things." I was asked if I could do the show and “act” like I liked him. After rehearsal, other cast members told me they felt too awkward to speak up, that the whole situation was upsetting to them, and they just tried to get through the show and ignore the guy.


What should I do? The director seems more than okay with seeing me go instead of the guy—who’s buddy-buddy with some board members. I'll also have no chance of ever being involved with this theater group again. But if I stay I have to act lovingly toward this abusive guy and feel completely unsupported by the director.


Either way, I'm wrecked. This is night two of no sleep and a massive headache. I don't want to let my cast mates down or be "that one that quit a week before tech week" but I don't feel comfortable or welcomed and supported. And I feel that by just swallowing it I am saying what happened doesn't matter. The whole thing has me second-guessing myself. Unpaid community theater, which is supposed to be fun and enriching, is right now anything but that.

 

Actor and career consultant Velina Brown.

A: Wow, that’s terrible. I do not advise normalizing the violent person’s behavior and continuing to work with him as if nothing happened. You will be at risk to receive more violence and in the meantime it will be a miserable experience. Don’t be concerned about letting your castmates down. They stood by silently as you tried to stand up to him. Your first concern must be your own safety. Really, if just a couple more cast members said they weren’t willing to work under those conditions, the director would be forced to do something else. She can take over your part but not everyone’s.

With every story of abuse, there’s also the story of enablers. Abusers are only able to continue under cover of secrecy and with the aid of others who look the other way because they don’t want to “make waves” or “burn a bridge.” There is no excuse for the director making you feel like you should be the one to leave the show when you did nothing wrong.

The director is an enabler. Your castmates are enablers. Will the artistic director and board be enablers as well? You could let them know what has happened and ask them to take action to restore the theatre to the safe and fun place that you’ve happily worked at for the past eight years. It is reasonable to request they replace the abuser, thereby conveying that his violent behavior will not be tolerated. However, since you mention the abuser is friendly with some board members, you may understandably lack confidence in the board’s interest in doing what’s right.


If you decide to leave the show, I advise controlling the narrative of why you are leaving by making the reason public. Don’t let them say you left for some flaky reason that makes you appear unstable or unreliable. Make it clear you left an unsafe work environment.


Also, keep in mind that pulling your hair and slapping you is assault. I know it’s a hassle but I recommend you report the assault to the police. Even if the police do not handle the situation to your satisfaction at least there will be a record of what happened. I guarantee you are not the first person he’s treated this way, and, if no one stops him, you won’t be the last. The next time he does it (and he will), your statement will be there to show a history of abusive behavior and support the victim, if they choose to speak up, even if the abuser and his enablers try to minimize the gravity of the situation or accuse the victim of lying. Regardless, I simply can’t advise “putting it behind you” and pretending that it didn’t happen, which often means turning to drugs or alcohol to help you numb your rage, while the abuser goes on unscathed. This stuff has gone on too long.


He is the one who should go. But if it ends up being you, I hope you’ll make sure everyone one knows exactly why.


All the very best with whatever you decide. I know this has been a nightmare. May your next project be a dream come true. You deserve it.

 

Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at velina@businessofshowbiz.com.

Comments...

Velina Brown says...
Posted Thursday, March 15, 2018
Thanks everyone for your comments! And Marin Shakespeare Company thank you for underlining the fact that even if it seems some board members and the violent actor are friends, the board as a governing body needs to be informed of the violent behavior in writing and expected to respond responsibly to the situation.
John LeFan says...
Posted Thursday, March 8, 2018
Absolutely name him in public. Write the board and demand that your fellow cast mates stand by you. Ms. Brown is right, the cast and director are enablers. The minute he slapped her somebody should have called the cops. A couple of times in my career I have seen a guy act like that and be brought down by ridicule. Most bullies are very thin skinned. I watched one actress take down a bully by making jokes about him, his bald spot, mentioning how much he looked like a certain cartoon character. The rest of the cast got into the act, started calling him Elmer Fudd to his face. The guy steamed, fumed, fussed and then shut down his bully act. He pouted alone in the dressing room through the rest of the run. Don't see him around anymore.
Laura '. Sottile says...
Posted Thursday, March 8, 2018
TELL Everyone who he is, name and all. ASAP!
Marin Shakespeare Company says...
Posted Thursday, March 8, 2018
In addition, regardless of what the actor thinks some board member's relationship may be with the perpetrator of the violent behavior, the actor should report the facts of the situation to the board in writing. The actor can also ask the board for a copy of their Policy Against Harrassment, and follow any procedures for reporting in that policy. If the organization doesn't have that policy, it might spur them to create one.
Lauren Andrei Garcia says...
Posted Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Thank you so much for this article, it is important and much appreciated.
Joan Miller says...
Posted Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Great response Velina! No more silence. Folks need to stand up. Bad behavior won't be tolerated in the Arts (or anywhere else).