London’s Old Vic theatre has established a new channel for employees to report harassment as an alternative to human resources and management.
The initiative is known as the Guardians, a program though where colleagues can share concerns about the environment of the Old Vic. “Guardians” will be trained members of the staff who act as a sounding board for those who want to share something but are unsure if it should be reported to HR or traditional management. The theater’s website describes the process as:
As outlined in the Way Forward, our commitment to creating a safe and secure working environment for all, the role of a Guardian is to listen and give neutral support and advice on issues and, where relevant, to advise upon which processes and staff may assist. This could relate to something serious, or a more everyday matter. Guardians respect and maintain absolute confidentiality over issues raised with them except in cases in which the issues might amount to a criminal offence.
Kevin Spacey was the artistic director of the Old Vic from 2004 and 2015. After allegations of sexual assault against the actor first emerged, more than 20 people (former and current staffers, plus actors) came forward to report Spacey harassing them. Scotland Yard is also currently investigating at least three incidents of assault involving Spacey, two of which occurred in the same neighborhood as the Old Vic.
In addition to Spacey, British theater at large is reckoning with the #MeToo movement. The New York Times reports on a recent survey of 1,050 theater workers done by the British theater magazine The Stage, which found that “one in three theater professionals and students among its registered users polled said they had experienced sexual harassment.” Vicky Featherstone, the artistic director of the British Royal Court theater, also released a code of behavior for the theater industry in November.
“The idea for The Old Vic’s Guardian programme grew out of our desire to help reassure people they have a voice,” Kate Varah, Executive Director of the Old Vic, wrote of the new program in a statement on the theater’s website. “Our Guardians will actively listen and support, offering confidential advice on options, with discretion and empathy. A heartening outcome for us would be other theatres, and sectors, taking the concept of Guardians within their business, and making it their own.”