Dallas — For the past year with the #metoo campaign and the #notinourhouse movement, we have been able to shine a light on many occurrences of harassment and abuse in the performing arts industry. As more people come forward, we are beginning to question the nature of our industry from the inside out and analyze what creates conditions conducive to exploitation.
An aspect that warrants further discussion is how a performer confronts verbal or physical harassment during a performance. The main story that has come out so far is from the performers of Sleep No More, which gained a massive following, and internal and external examination; but what about performers on a micro-scale? The ones who are not protected by a union, who perform in tiny and intimate venues, and primarily in alternative spaces. We are at a point in our awareness that we need to expand the conversation and look at ourselves locally to quell further abuse.
I offer up a recent experience for evidence. I work primarily in collaborative and devised dance/theatre and strive to create a balance between the artists that I work with and the audience that will eventually witness (or even participate in) the show. There is a sense of parity created and a system of shared equal status that we build. Though every process is different, the actors often participate in the development of a performance in ways that makes them vulnerable, either through the sharing of personal stories or the generation of movement that close physical contact and sometimes nudity. However, none of these things necessitate or encourage bullying or abuse, mainly from audience members.
I have worked in this manner for over a decade, and I have not once experienced any harassment or abuse from an audience, until recently. Last month, I was presenting a piece of performance artwork during a gallery opening wherein my dancers and I were live sculptures moving through space. The performance was not an intentionally immersive or interactive work—in fact we did not engage the audience in a participatory manner. Yet, one audience member felt it necessary to invade our performance space both physically and verbally. For an hour, our aggressor—a female attendee—0followed us around spilling alcohol on our feet and faces and engaging in a continuous critical commentary on our performance. This was the first time I had ever felt completely exposed, vulnerable, and at risk in a room of over 100 people, surrounded by three fellow dancers, and fully clothed.
She mocked and mimicked us, calling our work “boring, immature, a shit show, the fucking worse thing she had ever seen.” She kept spitting in my face asking me if I knew anything about performance art, telling me I was a bad feminist for showing cleavage, yet at the same time, telling me that I needed to be more like Marina Abramović—that I needed to be “edgier or to get the fuck out.”
People are entitled to their opinion, and everyone is a critic. While the words were biting, it was not until she physically put her hands on me that she destroyed the invisible line between performer and audience. Granted, I broke character at that point and engaged her in a conversation—which in hindsight might have exacerbated the situation—but I felt like it was my obligation and responsibility to the other performers to establish a boundary and remind her to keep a respectful distance.
She did not want to listen, and instead, continued her verbal attack, this time making pointed remarks about my body, the bodies of my dancers, and my education. She thrust her drink in my face and grabbed my shoulders. That was it for me. I left and sought out the gallery director to help assess the situation. However, in that short period, she moved on to the other performers, caressing one of their faces and making inappropriate comments about another's body.
Her actions turned us into objects and commodities; stripping us of our equal status. She destroyed our environment and focus, and immediately placed us all in danger. She perpetuated the culture of demeaning and degrading performers that we had all hoped was over. We are still considered playthings, brainless individuals meant only for entertainment. Her actions are indicative of the entitlement that (some) audiences feel towards performers.
I do not have an answer as to how to stop this from happening again, but I do now have an agreement with my performers. If they feel as if an audience member is acting inappropriately, they have my full support to leave the environment and inform me, or a person in charge, of the aggressor and we will remove them.
We should not have to enter into future performance with this burden on our backs, but we are now more aware of the reality of our circumstances and will take whatever action we must to continue to present and explore our craft.
» Danielle Georgiou, Ph.D., is a dance educator, critic, and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) whose work focuses on ensemble-building, devised work. She is a professional dancer and choreographer working in contemporary dance and theatre. Her column Sixth Position appears on the second Friday of the month on TheaterJones.com. (Except for May 2018, which is running on May 28 because of an editor's error.)
(If a month is missing, there was no column)
- February: Cash Choreography
- March: Make the Fringe Your Future
- April: Don't Freak Out, It's Just an Audition
- May: You Love Dance. You're Not Alone
- June: Persevering Through Movement
- July: Sharing in Success
- August: To the Barre
- September: Method Act
- October: Fear of Flying
- December: The Editor Dance
- January: Community Relations
- February: The Fabric of Movement
- March: State of the Dance
- April: The Dance Mom Complex
- May: Who Wants to Date a Dancer?
- June: Figuring How Men Fit In
- August: Creative Economy
- September: Dancing to Learn
- October: Whose Idea Is It Anyway?
- December: '15 Going on '16
- January: In Memoriam
- Februrary: The Politics of Dancing
- April: Defining Dance Theatre
- June: Dancing for Change
- September: Sweat the Details, Not the Consequences
- December: Louder Than Tweets
- January: Making and Moving
- February: Don't Fudge the Truth
- March: The Collective Unconsciousness of Creating
- April: Professionally Speaking
- May: Dancer Depictions
- July: Where Have all the Critics Gone?
- August: Rain Dance
- September: The Theory of Taking Risks
- October: Get in Line!
- March: Collaboration and the Poetics of Failing