Venice Theatre Announces New Operating Standards



Venice Theatre this week announced the adoption of a new set of operating standards, including an updated and extensive overhaul of the theater’s harassment policies and procedures. The change comes some four months after allegations of sexual misconduct against guest director Ben Vereen, who helmed the Venice Theatre production of Hair in 2015. “This is a manual of behavior,” says Venice Theatre Executive Director Murray Chase of the new standards, “and this is how we expect people to behave.”

Though the theatre was already operating under an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission-approved policy, says Chase, recent revelations brought a need for another look. “We wanted to get much more specific and much more detailed,” he says. And over the last three months, the theater’s leadership has made the overhaul a priority, eventually finding the guidance needed in the Chicago Theatre Standards, a comprehensive harassment policy put together by artists and administrators from the Chicago theater community in response to a now nationally recognized problem. Much of the standards were adopted wholesale, says Chase, with some necessary adaptations for Venice Theatre, which is a community theater, not a professional theater, and includes many more volunteers than official staff.

Venice Theatre’s new harassment policies, which can be found online, now include not only statements and guidance from the EEOC as to the definition of sexual harassment, but more than a page of additional material laying out all the myriad ways that harassment can manifest in physical actions, vocal statements or even under theatrical guise—such as attempting to recreate sensitive scenes outside of the proper setting. There are “absolute can’t-dos,” says Chase, such as overt misogyny and obvious assaults that previous policies would cover, but the new policy also takes care to look at the less obvious, and takes steps to prevent problematic situations from ever arising in the first place.

New rules about who can be in dressing rooms, and when, have been enacted, as well as similar rules regarding the Green Room. Rules about what doors will be left closed, and when, provide expectations of privacy to be respected and officially upheld, as opposed to unofficially recognized. Which teaching or instructing positions require background checks has been updated as well, in the interest of safety. And coming from the other direction, the theater will in the future be more strict about pick-up and drop-off policies for parents, so that children are not left in the theater’s care when the theater cannot guarantee their safety.

And though the theater will not be unfeeling and draconian in its policies, says Chase—“It’s not one off-color remark... it’s a pattern.”—there will be consequences for violations. “Any time something is unwanted and expressed as such, then that has to be stopped right then,” he says, “and if it’s anything involving a minor, there’s no leeway.”

In direct response to the Vereen incidents, a new policy also requires that all rehearsals be held at the theater, and any exceptions require the stage manager to be present at all times. Today, Chase likens those revelations to the Apollo 1 disaster, which saw a lethal fire during a test on the launch pad. “That was our lack of imagination,” he says, echoing the words of former astronaut Frank Borman, and not something he wants to see the theater repeat. To that end, Chase views the document as a living document, to be revisited yearly for updates and improvement. “Things will change,” he says. “Every year we’re going to give it a good, hard look and see what needs to be added.”

View Venice Theatre's new harassment policies online below.

Venice Theatre Harassment Policy

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