Recently my social media feeds were full of people remembering where they were and what they were doing on that fateful day in 2020 with the industry shut down. Months of uncertainty followed with so many freelancers stranded when the industry closed for business. Many girded their loins and fought back in the most creative of ways as the digital world opened up, offering at least some opportunities to practice our craft and continue training the professionals of the future.

Then just a few months into the turmoil George Floyd’s murder over in the States set the platform for the industry to reflect on its history with diversity, with BLM protests across the world, liberal people (of which our industry is predominantly populated by) took a step back and promised to “bring back better”. Out of the embers of a closed industry, it felt like something good could come out of the pandemic . . . a time to reflect and implement meaningful change.

However, as the industry slowly came back to life there was no evidence of the changes being implemented. Much heralded appointments within the training industry slowly morphed back to a familiar hue (with no fanfare or explanation why). When Rebecca Caine shouted out her truth about her horrific experience at the hands of the Canadian producer Drabinsky, other than an army of TikTok theatre “insiders” sharing her story, it felt like the industry turned away – allowing him back on Broadway in spite of Rebecca’s warnings around his financial history. Very soon history was repeating itself and the formally disgraced producer became disgraced again.

Rebecca’s reputation appears to have been damaged from having fought a public battle with Drabinsky back in the day. This is a pattern that we’ll see repeated time and again – the people calling out bad practices get labelled as trouble-makers whilst the perpetrators somehow escape any labelling at all. This is fundamentally because everybody wants to work – and quite frankly, many people don’t care where that work comes from. So better to vilify a performer or a whistleblower than call out the practice of a company or an individual that one day could offer you a job.

Years ago I remember a huge scandal engulfing and even closing a certain organisation (though the official statement stated something very different as the reason for its closure). Fast forward a few years, the organisation springs back to life reputation intact, and some of those same people that were once outraged by what they had learned were happy to work for it. . . the reason being having integrity is too high a price to pay when you have bills to pay.

Back in 2016 when I launched the #time4change Mental Health charter of the arts I was labelled as a troublemaker for highlighting that our industry (then) had a problem with mental health. Staff at certain colleges were reprimanded, and in one instance threatened with losing work if they were publicly seen to support my posts. I mean how ridiculous is that – toe the party line or lose your rent/mortgage money, little wonder then that people are getting whiplash looking away so much.

After the pandemic the training industry discretely lost quite a few people in senior positions – all had been permitted to resign, pension and reputation intact, a good deal for avoiding the accountability that would have followed an investigation that would have been needed had they chosen to stay in post. Seemingly the reputation of any organisation is worth so much more than accountability for poor practice and transparent, ‘meaningful’ change. Once again nobody speaks out because the industry is small, and nobody wants to rock the boat. . . meanwhile the boat has a bloody big hole in it that nobody’s mentioning. . . because. . . well, you know. . . we all need the work.

When the majority of the colleges that were members of the FDS were frantically fire-fighting serious complaints, the FDS itself did nothing to sort out the systemic issues. Instead, it closed ranks and supported the perpetrators as opposed to the students and staff. Theatre never really had a #MeToo moment it didn’t need it- it was too busy operating with tacit threats of never working again. You don’t have to silence the whistleblowers – very few people find their whistle. People are effectively groomed by establishments to just go along with whatever’s happening. . . after all. . . you have to protect the reputation of the organisations making the money, not protect the welfare of the people needing to earn it. This advice can follow you throughout your career endorsed by some colleges, agents and producers.

Over the past month or so I’ve been regularly calling for the industry to listen to the students and staff over at Birds – who have been making some really serious allegations against the management. My point in an earlier blog was that these allegations should be investigated as it wasn’t fair on the staff involved (on both sides) to have these claims hanging over them, and it was setting a dangerous precedent for the students that they were shouting for help and the industry had opted to turn a blind eye.

Meanwhile, Jake Kanter over at Deadline, the Sky News team and BBC’s Panorama had all published extensive allegations of wrong doings and poor practice at dance and drama colleges yet our industry’s paper. . . The Stage, hadn’t picked up one of the stories. It’s a credit to Jake that he persevered with his reporting of the situation down at Arts Ed, as it was only after he published the evidence of the wrongdoing the Board down there decided to investigate. . . again. Once again though, students screaming for help and an industry looking in the other direction. Nobody wanted to support the students as Arts Ed has connections with some major players in our industry, so back in the boat we go. . . and don’t rock it, just smile at the captain and hope for the best.

Then more recently Jake broke another few stories, this time about some potentially rogue agencies, one of which might even have crossed the line into criminality (allegedly). Once again the vast majority of the industry looked the other way, as a few people told me, they couldn’t comment as they were aware of the practices and it’s a “tricky area”? The Stage didn’t follow up on any of these investigations. It felt, and indeed it feels like nobody even wants to stand in solidarity with whistleblowers lest they get labelled as ‘trouble makers” too. . . and you know. . . we all need to work right? Best not rock the boat.

When The MTA called out the alleged wrongdoings at Trinity I was struck by the people who privately supported us but who wouldn’t do so publicly because they relied on Trinity for funding, or relied on the colleges that Trinity validated for work. This is not a hypothesis. . . people named this as a reason to offer behind the scenes support.

I see friends and colleagues from different areas of the diversity spectrum regularly asking why they’re still fighting for equality, and I see an industry that claimed to be allies to these groups back in 2020 all looking the other way – because they don’t want to (you’ve guessed it) . . . rock the boat. Work is hard to come by, today more than ever, so best keep your head down and suck up to the people and organisations that you feel can give you a job, rather than doing the right thing and stand shoulder to shoulder with the people asking for help.

It pains me to say it but we have somehow squandered an opportunity to implement meaningful change, we failed to build back better, and the same power imbalance that has always stifled our industry appears to have more of a stranglehold on it today than before the pandemic. My hypothesis would be because there’s less work about, so people are avoiding the dramas in order to be in one and get paid. Doesn’t make it right though