Last month, Rescripted received an email from an anonymous theatre artist with the subject ‘Time’s Up Metropolis.’ In the email were anecdotes collected from a large number of actors, directors, and various other theatre artists, which spoke of the culture of harassment, intimidation, and unsafe working conditions at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.
We are currently working on a long-form piece about Metropolis and will be applying our resources to investigate these matters more thoroughly. If you have worked at Metropolis and have a story you would like to share (anonymously or otherwise), please email us directly at email@example.com. If you are a victim seeking community and support, you can also check out the Time’s Up Metropolis Facebook page.
Below is an open letter from Lauren Berman — a long-time director at Metropolis — who offers up her experience in the hopes of bringing these issues into the spotlight.
To All Actors, Artists, and Humans,
After the recent “Times Up, Metropolis” letter was sent out, many people called/emailed me, asking/accusing me of writing it. I did not write that letter. I did read it and recognized much truth in the stories it holds. Although the author remains anonymous due to fear of retaliation or repercussion, I admire their courage to speak their truth, as well as the brave countless others who have come forward to support #MeToo, #NotInOurHouse and other movements that break the silence against injustice, and empower change.
Since 2004, I have worked at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre (Metropolis) as a director, then resident director, and have witnessed many incidents cited in the letter, as well as my own lived experiences.
I, too, have felt the fear of being ostracized if I were to anger the powers that be. I tried finding ways to expose the truth behind the curtains by reporting wrongful behavior through phone calls/emails, a letter to the board, or reaching out to production staff. Yet all my attempts to be heard were returned with placated responses of “Thank you for letting us know,” or “We are aware of the problem and are working on it.”
Nothing changed. Things grew worse.
I need to own that I didn’t do enough. I didn’t stop the behavior in the moment. My voice was not loud enough, strong enough, or persistent enough. I take full responsibility for caving into the fear that kept me in place and made me feel paralyzed.
I was in the room.
I was in the room when a full cast entered spacing rehearsal without a set.
I was in the room when a full cast had no props during tech week.
I was in the room when an actor reported feeling unsafe on set and nothing was done to fix it.
I was in the room when actors were sent audition sides with little time to prepare, or not given the opportunity to read sides they had rehearsed, or reached out to on Facebook and invited to callbacks by someone other than the Metropolis casting department.
I was in the room when the Executive Director (ED) promised an actor a role in a show.
I was in the room when the ED took an actor’s hand and told her she would always have a job at Metropolis.
I was in the room when the ED took some of the publicity photographs standing behind the actors, which made me feel uncomfortable.
I was in the room when the ED led actors in mandatory “Hands and Feet” workshops during the week before tech rehearsals.
I was in the room when an actor felt pressured to dance with the ED and was danced out of the rehearsal room and down the hallway.
I was in the room when an actor was verbally berated and pressured to talk (audio was recorded) in front of an entire cast and production team. Cast members stood up and spoke out to stop the behavior.
I was in the room when a Metropolis staff member asked me to document an incident that occurred in 2019 in the ED’s office. This is a very short excerpt:
The ED said he needed to speak to me in his office. My SM and I went into the office and he proceeded to tell me that my direction lacked discipline, and that I needed to come from out behind the table and be in the physical space with my actors more, to physically demonstrate notes. He then began getting heated when he said that I had avoided meeting with him. I told him that I could meet before or after rehearsal, or on a weekend. I explained that during the last week of rehearsals, I need to prioritize the show and cast so that I am ready for spacing. He became irate, and told my SM to leave the room. She reluctantly left the room with the door slightly ajar. At this point, his hands were in fists by his side. I told him that in all the years I have worked at Metropolis, my process and productions are proof that I am highly disciplined and professional. He responded in a threatening tone that he didn’t want to hear about any of my past productions. I then calmly said, “Then let’s focus on this production. My cast and show will be polished and ready by spacing.” He then said, “Close the door.” At this point, I felt intimidated by his tone and his clenched fists by his side, and I did not close the door. He repeated. “Close the door. The actors do not need to hear what I am saying.” Against my better judgment, I did close the door. It was at that moment that I thought to myself that whatever he is saying should be able to be heard by other people. He took a small step toward me to make a point and I said, “I do not feel safe here with the door closed.” He told me that I could go and get someone. I opened the door and ran and quickly knocked on the door of a staff member and told him I needed him. He returned to the ED’s office with me and observed clenched fists by his side and the angry tone in his voice.
I was in the room when after preparing and working on this year’s fall show with my team since June, we were sent an email stating that the fall and spring shows were being swapped, with this request: “We are asking artistic teams to remain with each contracted show. This request means that the Shout! team would realign with the new schedule and fulfill the artistic roles in Spring 2022.”
My response back included, “We request that instead of asking us to remain with our contracted show, that you respect the commitment we have already made to the fall show time frame, acknowledge the artistic opportunities we gave up, and have us remain within our contracted time…” We never received an email back — only separate phone calls after the new team was already contracted. Compensation does not take the place of being treated with dignity and respect.
I was in the room during a previous year when the opposite behavior occurred, and due to a change in rights, they took away the show I was contracted to direct in the spring, and gave it to the fall show director.
So, why write this letter now?
This is the time to look out for each other and change the culture and climate of theatre.
This is the time to prevent even one more person from feeling unsafe or disrespected.
This is the time to create safe and brave spaces that leave no room for intimidation or manipulation.
This is the time for inclusivity and diversity to be foundations—not additions.
This is the time for all actors, artists and humans to be treated with integrity and dignity.
This is the time to give others strength and security to come forward and tell their own stories.
I’m not afraid anymore.
Thank you for listening,
Freelance Theatre Director and Founder and Director of 4 Chairs Theatre