Theatre in the Age of #MeToo
Following the rise of the #MeToo movement, and its effects on the entertainment industry, we speak to three artists about creating work that challenges and questions
The #MeToo movement needs no introduction. After its creation in 2006 by Tarana Burke, it has felled numerous high-profile men in the entertainment industry in recent years. But with such a large cultural shift leading to people speaking out about abuse, how can theatre allow us to keep the dialogue going, and make the industry better for everyone? Three theatremakers who have tackled the subject spoke to us about their work and how it can help others.
“After my experience, I sorely lacked any stories about the aftermath I could actually identify with, so I decided to share my own,” begins Samira Elagoz of her piece, Cock, Cock... Who’s There?, which charts her experience of trying to relate to men again after being raped. Examining the male gaze across three continents, the play invites audiences to look at the topic of rape and promotes frank discussions about it.
“I didn't want to be the subject," Elagoz explains, "but rather address misconceptions about rape victims, expose aspects of rape culture and share certain patterns I noticed in male behaviour. And do this in a way that would be accessible to men too.”
The reactions to the piece have been interesting, from one woman insisting that Elagoz was a victim, a label she rejects, to men sharing their experiences of sexual violence.
Elagoz says: “Perhaps the most encouraging comments for me are when men look back at their escapades and second-guess their actions, considering if they did cross a line at some point. To hear my work made them recognise something in themselves or question what they’d done gives an indication of how accessible the work is.”
For writer and performer Craig Malpass, #MeToo happened while he was writing a piece about male suicide. The movement and the reaction to it allowed him to go on a very personal journey and create The Spider Glass, which sees a man question his actions following the rise of #MeToo.
“I started to delve deeper and found that the story of what it meant to be a man – my own personal story of masculinity – had led me to be complicit in the culture that allowed such abuse to happen and my attitude and behaviour made me deeply unhappy,” Malpass explains.
Writing the play was not without its challenges and he found that he had, in the past, some “shameful attitudes” towards women. But in order to speak to other people about it, he had to put himself on stage and talk about it.
“Putting myself out there as an example, as the writer and performer of The Spider Glass, is a very vulnerable place. But the point is that some people need to step forward. The challenge for me is to keep doing so even though it feels uncomfortable. I'm being shown though that most men are grateful that the conversation is available.”
For Tom Ratcliffe, the writer and performer of the darkly comic one-man play VELVET – which follows a down-on-his-luck actor offered a professional lifeline by a predatory authority figure – conversation is vital, particularly when it comes to abuses of power.
“We haven’t really had many gay male #MeToo stories, and what’s nice about VELVET is it’s not a play that’s dependent on sexual orientation. For me, it is a story about an abuse of power and for me, also, the need for recognition.”
Based on some of Ratcliffe’s experiences as a young actor, and featuring dialogue taken from real-life conversations, he wants to question our beliefs about abuses within the entertainment industry.
“A key point in the play, I think it challenges the perception of someone who’s been through something like this, with no public profile, no celebrity, no immediate love for them," he explains. “I just want to challenge their perception of that because it does change things slightly.”
But if a culture of silence has enabled the abuse, then talking about it will help. His advice? “Find people you trust and speak up.”
For Elagoz, theatre must be used to discuss difficult topics: “Confronting such issues in performance can be a powerful way to admit ‘lapses in judgement’ and communicate realisations.”
Malpass agrees: “Theatre can help provoke those difficult, nuanced conversations in the unfamiliar terrain #MeToo has created – a terrain that's unsettling for many men to feel they can enter into without co-opting the movement and without the emotional literacy that many men wish they had developed.”