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September 30 2021

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Equity vows to stamp out sexual harassment

MAtthew Hemley

Equity has vowed to put an end to the “seedy culture of misogyny and predatory workplace behaviour” in the industry.

Speaking at this year’s Special Representative Conference, general secretary Paul W Fleming outlined the work the union’s members had been doing to tackle “a pernicious plague, as old only as the scourge of low pay”.

“Again this year the scandal of sexual harassment reared its head in our industries. Whether allegations are current or historic, from current students or longstanding professionals, the time must now be up for seedy cultures of misogyny and predatory workplace behaviour,” he said.

He added that in 2017, the union had struggled to get its voice heard.

“Instead, we were drowned out by the bosses – those responsible for safe

Paul W Fleming workplaces. This time that hasn’t happened – we were the first port of call for journalists, and our unique role of securing not just guidelines, but enforceable collective agreements is acknowledged by the campaign groups leading this charge,” he said.

“Only a union can truly protect members from unsafe workplaces. And only our president, Maureen Beattie, has put Equity in its rightful place at the forefront of the fight against sexual harassment. Madam President, for the Safe Spaces round table and its work, thank you,” he added.

In his speech, Fleming also vowed to fight for “bold new claims” for performer and stage management members in theatre.

“The time is long overdue for five-day rehearsal weeks and touring accommodation befitting of a dignified, talented workforce,” he said.

He also said the union would be focusing more on variety artists, and in particular, circus performers, where he said there had been a growth in women members.

“We need to think about the resource we provide to our variety members, and how we can amplify the all too often marginalised voice of those women. Conference, extra support for variety members, and putting the needs of working women members at the heart of our industrial agenda remains my absolute priority,” he said.

He added the union would also launch a “national campaign to deal with the poor terms, and de-professionalisation” of members working in care homes.

Maureen Beattie: ‘The government is whittling away our industry’

Matthew Hemley

Maureen Beattie has taken aim at the government for “whittling away” the arts and for perpetuating the divide between the wealthy and the poor.

In an address to this year’s Special Representative Conference, held in London, the Equity president said the “divide between rich and poor, the haves and have-nots” was getting wider, and this had to be prevented.

“We have a government at the moment that seems hell-bent on whittling away at our industry – this is about a very specific thing that is happening at the moment. I am not suggesting governments in the past have been particularly keen on us,” she said, adding that the government was “frightened” of the arts.

She said this was because the arts can “speak truth to power” in a way that others cannot.

“We make it into something creative and make people laugh and think in a completely different way about the troubles of the world, and point out where wrong is being done,” she said, adding: “And wrong is being done to our industry.”

She said the industry brought in “vast amounts of money” to the UK economy, which was not valued by the government.

She went on to highlight how the prime minister and others in his cabinet went to Eton College, a school she said had a “fully functioning proscenium-arch theatre with an artistic director”.

She added the school would help any of its students excel in the arts, but that she

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Maureen Beattie wanted this opportunity to be available to all schoolchildren.

“Does your child want to learn how to play a 16th-century crumhorn? No problem – we will get a 16th-century crumhorn and somebody in to teach your child. And that is fantastic, but I want every single child in the world to be able to play a 16th-century crumhorn,” she said.

Beattie added: “As always the folk at the top, who have their hands on the purse strings, know the importance of the arts and the importance of our industry, but they want to keep it to themselves and we have to be careful about not letting that happen.”

Pandemic offers narrow window to transform arts education, experts warn

Georgia Snow

Arts education experts have warned that the UK has a limited time post-pandemic to change and enhance the way children engage with culture at school, or risk entrenching existing inequalities.

Leading voices including Royal Shakespeare Company director of education Jacqui O’Hanlon, children’s author Piers Torday and education specialist Alison Peacock have called for more holistic approaches to arts education, to nurture the children and young people who have been affected by the pandemic and the loss of in-person teaching.

Torday, who has written several novels for children and adapted John Masefield’s The Box of Delights for Wilton’s Music Hall, said the education sector needed to “radically rethink” the platforms given to children to express themselves.

“[The pandemic has] created a golden window for change, but that will close as normal life returns. These next few months are really key in how we enable students to be heard and to articulate their anxieties and concerns about the future,” he told a panel discussion on post-pandemic arts and culture for children, hosted by London children’s theatre the Unicorn.

He said the arts should be “a podium – not an add-on, not an afterthought, not a luxury, but an essential right for everyone to make art and collaborate in art”.

Meanwhile, Peacock warned that without urgent efforts, schools could lose the ground gained from teaching more creatively during lockdown.

“I worry that we will very quickly return to the ‘compliance agenda’ if we’re not careful... Where’s the humanity and passion? We have to put that at the forefront,” she said.

O’Hanlon, who runs the RSC’s education department – the largest at a theatre in the UK – has previously warned of the potential damage the pandemic could inflict on young people’s access to the arts, arguing that it is incumbent on organisations to be proactive.

This is especially important for children who are unable to engage digitally, and for young people whose only access to culture is at school, she told the panel.

“I want arts subjects to have parity with other subjects, and if arts subjects have parity with other subjects, every school in the country would be arts-rich. That is what every school in the country should be,” she said.

Her comments were echoed by Afsana Begum, who has worked in arts education for more than a decade and runs an all-female theatre company associated with the Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets.

“When schools closed down, it was the lack of space for practical skills that we lost. Not having that space for live performances was one of the big impacts in school, especially if you live in a place where it’s impossible to develop your practical skills, like you would in school. For most of our students, the only access to the arts is at school, so if we are unable to provide that for students then they miss out completely,” she said.

O’Hanlon said the problems were particularly acute at secondary schools, where issues such as the lack of arts in the English Baccalaureate, and reforms to further education, remained sources of concern within the cultural sector.

“There is so much wonderful work that happens in primary, and it goes badly wrong with secondary. That’s become clear during this pandemic period,” O’Hanlon added, suggesting that the secondary education system needed an overhaul.

“How is it going to enable young people to take their place in the world? It is not an exam factory, it doesn’t work,” she said.

The panel discussion was held at the Unicorn Theatre in central London, where artistic director Justin Audibert said the experience of lockdown had forced the theatre company to work in new ways.

Through a collaboration with a London primary school, the theatre had “moved the co-creation process into the heart of how we will make all of our engagement moving forward”, he said.

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