Culture club: Theatre’s problem is larger than the Rush/Telegraph case

Yesterday, Eryn Norvill articulated her version of what happened between her and Geoffrey Rush. As a theatre actor, I know that the problem is far beyond this particular case.




As a theatre actor, the more details emerge from the Geoffrey Rush/Daily Telegraph trial, the more I feel compelled to comment. Yesterday, Eryn Jean Norvill strode the top stop of our attention, claiming that Rush deliberately groped the side of her breast.



Whether you hashtag stand with her or not, you should know that the above is not an outlier. Everyone has worked with someone that they’ve shared sexual banter with. Sometimes they’re big names, sometimes they’re not. Norvill’s statement didn’t surprise me. You see, Theatre is a funny world. Boundaries are constantly crossed and tested, as all parties are close, both physically and emotionally. Living in such a small space makes the line extremely blurry, and what isn’t appropriate isn’t always clear.

Sexual banter and playfulness often walk with the territory. You’re getting changed in front of each other, you’re often spending a lot of time with this person through rehearsal, the run, and et cetera. The world seems very small. Add the fact that you’re often both painting in the deeper hues of human emotion, and these incidents become quite frequent. There’s a feeling of ease to it. Either you get comfortable with being exposed, and have a sense of humour about it, or your difficult life in theatre becomes harder.

In the real world, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Objectively, you can cast it off as false, and that real boundaries should always be respected, even in the word of fiction. I agree, but there’s often a lot of truth in these feelings we’re pretending to have. It often feels real, or it feels harmless. Many relationships, sexual or others, are often formed after handling these emotions. However, at the root of it all, are those small moments, moments between Rush and Norvill. The meaning of which become clearer after the fact.

I’m no different. I’ve had a fellow cast member grab my breast. I initially thought it was for fun, and there certainly wasn’t any malice behind it. I never thought it was fondling, we both cracked up laughing after it. But would I grab his dick and then laugh? Probably not. In hindsight, I should have not played into it. But at the time, I honestly thought nothing of it. It’s the culture that exists.

However it ends, and whatever the ruling, this trial should be the catalyst, not in the tearing down of names, but rather the culture that existed long before them. As it stands, there’s too much of an incentive to let allegations slide. Actors protect actors. Producers protect actors. After all, any scandal could torpedo the production. No cast, no show, no return. We need to take claims seriously, and protect those who come forward. People like Christie Whelan Browne. Pulling back the curtain should not be something worthy of punishment.




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