Five years on from #MeToo: What Next for Drama Schools?

head and shoulders portrait
Lucy Kerbel

Tonic’s director Lucy Kerbel reflects on what Tonic has been doing since #MeToo.

Hard to believe – especially because we’ve been in time soup since 2020 – it’s now five years since the #MeToo movement exploded into our collective consciousness. Here’s a little about the journey Tonic has been on since…

It was autumn 2017 when revelations about Harvey Weinstein tipped many of us into a mass re-evaluation of gender imbalances, sexual harrassment, and the misuse of power. Because of some high-profile cases specific to theatre, the conversations prompted by the #MeToo movement had a particular intensity, emotion and reach in the industry. 

For someone who had, at that point, spent six years running an organisation initially created to address gender inequalites in theatre, it was an interesting time. On one hand, finally seeing matters that Tonic had been trying to instigate action around for years being given air time was hugely gratifying. At the same time there was a concern: what happened when the press narrative moved on or the initial burst of energy fizzled out? Would we be left with a job half done in terms of addressing and rectifying historical misuse of power in the industry? Or, even worse, a perception that there had been lots of intense conversation for a few months so surely that was the job done?

On a personal level, everything thrown up by #MeToo felt complex to navigate. It required looking, with fresh eyes, at things we’d all been conditioned to see as normal or inevitable and realising that, maybe it didn’t have to be like that; perhaps we’d not needed to live our lives or conduct our careers on those terms. It made me angry but more than that it made me sad. Reflecting on those lost opportunities, the environments we existed in where individuals didn’t feel safe to speak out, and how we’d been treating our fellow human beings. 

Amid all of the emotion, the talking, the sharing, the listening, and the shock, it felt important to me that Tonic made something positive in response. Something that lasted beyond that initial fevered period. Something that would actually go some way to creating change. That would build a different kind of future for people working in the industry. To do this I spent a lot of time trying to pin down what it was about how we worked in theatre that had offered an environment in which misuse of power could so easily occur. Because yes, making it easier to report was important. But surely we also needed to work out why it was happening in the first place if, going forward, we were to reduce the chances of it happening again.

The result was an extraordinary journey through the culture, history, myths and values around which our industry has been built. I recorded the notes of my many conversations and hours of thinking in a notebook (shiny gold cover, with ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ on the front, because if you’re going to look into a topic like this you need chipper stationery). Re-reading it now I can see the pieces gradually coming together in my thinking, the clarity on what needed to happen gradually emerging across the pages. 

These pieces eventually coalesced into a range of support for theatre and performing arts organisations which Tonic continues to this day. Just last week I was with an opera organisation, working with its senior team on a plan for ensuring visiting artists and other freelancers are provided maximum protection from harassment or misogynistic behaviour. Meanwhile a couple of my colleagues on the Tonic team are busy this week building a programme specifically for touring companies, designed to ensure that people experience safety and respect on the road, not just at base. 

Beyond this, our Participate programme, created for drama schools, conservatoires and performing arts colleges has been a huge success. Through a series of practical workshops for students and staff we explore topics such as consent, boundaries, understanding power dynamics, managing fear and developing resilience. We seek to provide participants with tools and knowledge to navigate complex interactions, make informed decisions and feel comfortable establishing their own values and professional codes. By training today’s generation of students, we will change behaviours and expectations in the industry of tomorrow. The numbers reflect the necessity of this work: in this academic year alone we have worked with over 1700 students and staff nation-wide. 

We’re running an event in London, hosted by LAMDA, on 10th June called 5 Years on From #MeToo: What Next for Drama Schools. It’s specifically for staff members at drama schools, conservatoires and performing arts colleges and is designed to provide them with fuel for the next stage of their journey in this area, and to create space for them to connect and share good practice. Places are free and open to anyone who works in an institution that delivers performing arts training (as well as to freelancers working in this sector) but need to be booked in advance. We’d be delighted to have the widest possible range of training colleges represented. 

To book your place go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/5-years-on-from-metoo-what-next-for-drama-schools-tickets-320655498227

Written by Lucy Kerbel
May 2022

Tonic – For greater equality, diversity and inclusion in the arts

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