There are many things I'd rather be talking about than today's topic. For example, a substitute teacher out in Utah decided to show his students a filmed version of a 1999 stage production of Oklahoma!, starring Hugh Jackman. Apparently, the camera happens to briefly pan across some of the old-timey dirty pictures that Jud has in his filthy shack, and a bunch of parents lost their goddamn minds over it. There is nothing I enjoy more than watching a bunch of uptight parents whip themselves up into a moral panic over nothing, and there are so many jokes I could make about watching porn with Wolverine; but, alas, I cannot do any of that.
Even if I was in a more serious mood and wanted to honestly address something like a new play that romanticizes the relationship between slaveowner Thomas Jefferson and the woman he legally owned, Sally Hemmings, I can't do that, either. There is something much more immediate and deeply important to our industry that is finally having the big moment that it deserves, and we should be honing in on it with laser-like precision until we see it through to the end.
I know you're probably expecting me to have some jokey twist on that preceding paragraph, as I so often do, but I can't do that today. I want to. I really wish there was a way to do it. I want to go back to poking fun at actors for getting their collective panties in a bunch over audience members enjoying themselves in the theater. I want to join in on the chorus of nitpicky critic-bashing. But we are not going to talk about those things today. They will always be there, waiting for us to circle lazily back to them.
Today we are talking about sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment industry.
This might sound familiar to you. Two weeks ago, we talked about Harvey Weinstein, a veritable gushing oil rig of sleazy behavior, finally getting some measure of comeuppance for decades of predatory behavior. I did say, though, that this moment is about more than just punishing one man, that what we need is a complete and total housecleaning.
And it looks like it may actually be starting.
Last week on News and Notes, I made a mention of Anthony Rapp's accusation that Kevin Spacey attempted to sexually assault him when the Rent star was only 14 years old. Since then, many more accusations have come to light, including a long list of gross behavior on the set of House of Cards and some really skeezy shenanigans while he was the Artistic Director of London's Old Vic theatre. If all of the accusers are to be believed, Spacey's life as a famous person was a long series of disgusting gropings of younger, more vulnerable actors. It's just gropes all the way down.
In the past, someone of Spacey's star caliber would have been able to weather this event with some sort of personal sob story, some stint in a rehab clinic, and some managed media blitz a few years later. In this old world, five years from now, Spacey would have been on the cover of Time or People looking properly penitent (but also strong and determined), with a caption reading something like, "How He Came Back From Scandal For the Better", and the majority of America would have said, "Aw shucks, he made some mistakes, but, golly-gee-willikers, he's basically a good egg!" Instead, Spacey decided to come out of the closet (as if that was the real problem), pissing off the entire gay community and causing Spacey's own brother to say, "Coming out after being accused of assaulting a 14-year-old is an insult to the entire gay and lesbian community." In the meantime, UK police are now seriously investigating some of the claims from Spacey's time in London, and Netflix has dumped him from House of Cards. Spacey's talent agent and publicist both dropped him like a bag of deadly cobras, and even then Spacey made the even dumber mistake of checking himself into the same sex-addiction program as Harvey Weinstein.
Good luck with that, guys.
The cynical part of me says that all this sturm und drang is just a passing fancy of the internet age, that we will quickly move on to one more outrage next month and forget all about the sexual predators that we've ignored, tolerated or outright encouraged in the entertainment industries for so long. But, there is another more hopeful part of me that rarely gets its chance to come out and play, and it is thinking that maybe, just maybe, this is the crucial moment, the paradigm shift after which we will never again tolerate this kind of behavior from people, regardless of how much power we think they have.
There was a lot of commentary when the Weinstein revelations hit that we only choose to gang up and punish powerful people when they're already on their way down; but Kevin Spacey has been sitting at a high point since House of Cards blew up Netflix. He's probably never been more powerful than he is right now, and his career was pulled apart in a matter of days. In the wake of Weinstein, all kinds of powerful, yet creepy, dudes are coming under fire. Lest you think the theater world is too disconnected from the public at large to get this kind of attention: as I was writing the preceding paragraphs, news broke that the Artistic Director of Writers Theatre in Chicago is being investigated by his board over a claim of sexual harassment. Previous to this paradigm shift, the board of a nonprofit theater could have easily swept this kind of thing under the rug for years with no real repercussions. Now, they can't afford to. And as much as I kind of agree with this NPR story about how tricky the definition of sexual harassment can sometimes be in the workplace, I can't ignore the fact that, holy shit, look at this NPR executive who was forced out over accusations of sexual harassment!.
By the way, you conservatives in the audience have no room to sit back at chuckle at the the foibles and hypocrisies of these "liberal elites". One of your big boys down in Kentucky just got called out; and, hey, how's old George H.W. Bush doing?. Actually, this kind of gross behavior is happening in a disturbing number of statehouses across the country. Actually, it is happening in a disturbing cross-section of every freaking industry in every freaking part of our nation, and it is a goddamn shame on all of us that it took so long to start addressing it directly.
Here's the real reason I am so fired up about this today. I hope to god you remember Jason McLean, the former CTC actor/teacher and former owner of the Varsity Theater and the Loring Pasta Bar. He was named in a hefty number of lawsuits over sexual assault committed against minors back when he was still at Children's Theatre. You might remember that he skipped out on a preliminary hearing in the case and was generally uncooperative with the court. Just a few hours ago, news broke that McLean failed to appear in court and the judge awarded a summary judgment of $2.5 million to one claimant.
That is a good outcome. That is not why I am mad. I am mad because the reason McLean did not show up in court was that he fled to Mexico, where he is reportedly attempting to purchase several million dollars worth of investment property with cash. This is most likely the money he received from selling off his properties here in Minneapolis, which means he is working to lock up his money in a foreign country in a way that is difficult or impossible for a US court to garnish or seize, thus proving everlastingly that Jason McLean is one of the All-Time Scumbags of the Universe.
(Just an idle thought: do any of you out there know anyone who lives or works in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico? Because there's some people down there who might want to hear about exactly what kind of person they're dealing with. The US courts may not be able to reach him there, but the Court of Public Opinion has no jurisdictional boundaries.)
So, yeah, that sucks. I make no bones about having some sort of journalistic neutrality. I want all of these assholes to pay dearly for what they have done. I also recognize that the world is not inherently fair and that some of them will manage to weasel their way out of that payment. But we must all continue to press the advantage that we have right now. The world is finally watching, and we have the opportunity to make this "passing fad" of calling abusers to justice a permanent reality. Keep it up.
For those theater companies out there who are wondering how you can make sure that this kind of monstrous behavior never seeps into your own realm, you have good examples of what you should be doing. The Royal Court Theatre in the UK just published an ambitious 30-point plan for tackling this issue. Even if you're not a big multi-million dollar organization, there are still preventative measures you can take. Our own HUGE Theater has a good, responsible model that any small company can enact.
There is no reason to go back to "business as usual." There is no reason to let predators set up shop inside of your organization. Step into the new paradigm, and let's get on with this housecleaning.