Listening to the Whispers

UPDATE: TheaterJones editor Mark Lowry on our series of essays about sexual abuse in the theater community, and how we're moving forward.

published Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Photo: AdobeStock/Focus Pocus LTD

Editor's update, 8 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28 (see original letter below):

TheaterJones solicited these stories from within the theater community and promised anonymity to anyone who wished it. The majority of the women chose anonymity; some did not name an abuser or theater. The 40 stories represent a wide swath of theaters and abusive situations.

It became apparent that, as in many other industries and groups, there exists a culture of abuse of power, past and present, that cannot be ignored.

Because we promised anonymity and most participants requested it, and some made it clear that they do not want names published, we decided to go with that for all of the stories. We feel they are important to tell. The plan for the essays is not only to reveal these stories, but to ask questions about what we, as a community, can do to fight this abuse. What protections are in place and how can we strengthen them?

Feedback on yesterday's first essay and the editor's letter was so strong that we have decided to rethink the strategy.

The series will continue and we will include the stories for which anonymity was requested. For those who wanted to go further and name names, we will investigate and report on those in the near future. We did seek legal counsel for this project, and we will go further with that. We are beefing up the team and working on it.

Thank you for reading the series, which continues on Thursday, Nov. 30.


The first editor's letter we published on Monday, Nov. 27:

In June of 2016, when the Chicago Reader published an explosive story about a history of sexual misconduct and abuse at a theatre in that city, it shed light on the city’s relatively new #NotInOurHouse initiative—and started a nationwide conversation in the performing arts,. Many recognized similar offenses in their discipline, in companies they have worked with, in their own backyard.

This year the allegations of sexual assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein not only inspired the #metoo hashtag, it set off a series of similar accusations across the spectrum of film, journalism, politics, music, fashion, restaurants, performing arts and in the corporate world.

Women, and some men, had had enough of men abusing their power for sexual gain.

That’s when local director and playwright Allison Hibbs approached me about writing a series of essays in TheaterJones about sexual misconduct in the local theatre scene. We started by soliciting stories, via social media, from women (and men) who wanted to share their experiences.

That story turned into a series of essays that we’re calling The Whisper Network.

The title refers to the long-running culture of women discussing abuse and misconduct among themselves, but not being able to speak out for fear of losing work and not being “a team player” in a growing and increasingly nationally recognized scene.

We promised anonymity, and for multiple reasons we are honoring that. But know that each of these stories comes from quotes by these women. We are not identifying the victims, the theaters or the productions (in most cases, names of the theaters and abusers were not given). The stories you'll read in the series chronicle a range of bad behavior, from crossing boundaries in scene partnering to intimidation to quid pro quo harassment.

We hope this will provoke even more conversation that will move beyond social media and into a public forum. In fact, look for several announcements regarding that. It seems that many communities are engaging in this conversation, such as this event in New York on Dec. 4.

It’s an issue that must be addressed. And the time is now.

If you have a story you wish to share, or a comment, please contact Allison Hibbs at and/or TheaterJones editor Mark Lowry at

Let’s keep the conversation going.

The Whisper Network essays will run every Monday and Thursday through Dec. 18. We have created a special section, so that you can read all them in the same place. Thanks For Reading

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Listening to the Whispers
UPDATE: TheaterJones editor Mark Lowry on our series of essays about sexual abuse in the theater community, and how we're moving forward.
by Mark Lowry

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