Stay off the Casting Couch
*Photo by Justin Patterson

Staying Bulletproof against the Harvey Weinsteins of the World.

or, Bette’s personal policies to keep you out of harms way

My apologies…I’m interrupting the Money: Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget series for a topic that is too important to pass over. This past week, a huge gaping sore on the entertainment industry was opened up to the world, and rightly so. It’s got a lot of names, and has been around since the beginning of time. Sexual assault and harassment.

In my business it’s sometimes been affectionately and disgustingly referred to the “Casting Couch”. Well, I find NOTHING affectionate about it. People using their power to prey on typically, although not always, younger actresses and actors (I see you Gents fighting off the leering, too!!!) are the worst. NO MATTER WHAT KIND OF GENIUS THEY ARE HERALDED TO BE!!! Doesn't excuse it. Not only are they taking someone’s ambition to pursue what is an already difficult career and turning that ambition against them, but they make it a tactical gauntlet to say no and still get or keep your job, and shameful to speak up at all. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Well thankfully, it seems we are finally speaking up, loudly, saying no, calling out those who would do harm, and getting a real conversation going about how to prevent these kinds of situations.

I learned a few things as a Baby Bette, still in grade school. Like most women I know, it is an early lesson. One of them was; how I looked affected how people treated me. Another was that favorable attention was a double-edged sword. Of COURSE I wanted (and still want) to be appreciated for the time and energy I put into making myself the best performer I could be…and part of that is physical attractiveness. Like the sculptor who spends hours making their masterpiece, I’ve been at it since childhood, and like most of my fellow Bettes, spending 30+ hours a week in the studio, and countless hours in voice lessons and acting class, working on my craft. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say attention doesn’t feel good to a certain level. I am a performer after all! But that other part…the teachers, directors, and bosses that thought my pleasant and friendly atitude, and naiveté, and how I looked meant they could try something with me, or push the boundaries on what was appropriate…let’s just say I’ve been super lucky in some really, really stupid and sometime scary situations!

Instead of commenting on what others should do, or analyzing Weinstein and others like him, I’m going to tell you what I believe I should have done in those moments to take care of myself. We hope people do the right thing, but they clearly fail at this time and time again. Below are my experience earned, personal rules for protecting myself, things I learned from my own bad situations AND some fellow Bettes’ tales…because until we reach a day where this is 100% unacceptable and TREATED that way by society and the law, I can’t do much but keep myself safe. And speak up. Hopefully it will help you too.

Bette’s rules for keeping the creeps away:

·      Don't be in your boss's house/apartment/hotel room alone.

·      Business meetings happen in business locations

·      Having another person present in a meeting is never a bad idea

·      Don’t date the boss. If someone sends out “flirtatious” energy, and they are your superior, do not reciprocate, it can only lead to bad situations down the road. Keep it pleasant and professional. If they don’t get the message, report it. If they sign your checks, you have no business with them other than business.

·      Don’t flirt/date someone working under you either, and especially if there is a huge power discrepancy (like age, position, etc.) Don’t be part of the problem!

·      Don’t be the last person to leave at the company party

·      Don’t overdo it with the substances…the only thing it can do is make you vulnerable, and if you are at a work party, make you look unprofessional. Not that it gives ANYONE and excuse to try something with you, but it’s a whole lot easier to fight back and get out of a situation when you have your faculties about you.

·      Keep your conversations topical to what you are doing, or other appropriate subjects. Yes, there are topics that we deal with in theatre that people don’t encounter in other businesses, and we have an obligation to the work to dig for honesty, yada yada yada, but nonetheless, keep it in the context of what you are doing. You don’t need to be their therapist, and they don’t need to be yours.

·      It doesn’t make you a "method" actor to sleep with someone in your cast just because your onstage character might be romantically linked with them. There are other ways to generate theatrical intimacy. It’s called technique.

You’ll notice that I don’t have any personal policies about what I wear. This is because I spend most of my time in costumes and dancewear that often show a whole lot of me. So I can tell you for sure that it’s not about what you wear. Anyone who is asking that question is missing the point! It’s about respect. The other thing to know is that deep down, people who use power and intimidation to get sex and whatever other gratification they are seeking are really, at their core, just cowards. In their own eyes…they are the weak kid on the playground, and their treatment of you is their way of filling that hole. Remember that. It might keep you from paralysis when what you need is a quick escape.

While it is enraging that people in power have gotten away with this for so long, I couldn’t be more thrilled about the conversation we are now having, and hopefully the new standard of behavior that we will create.

Sincerely, and with so much hope,

Bulletproof Bette

Bulletproof Bette shares her wisdom in the first ever Showgirl’s Guide to surviving and thriving in a city and industry that wants to eat you for lunch. Get exclusive content when you sign up below!