Performing arts

Actor Marin Ireland takes on sexual harassment in the theater

Thumbnail image for marin-ireland-parallelogram8.jpgChances are you know Marin Ireland. She has been on "Homeland," "Girls," "Masters of Sex," "Mildred Pierce" and other TV shows. She was in "Side Effects," "Hope Springs" and had an affair with Chris Messina in "28 Rooms." She was nominated for a featured actress Tony award in her first big role on Broadway, "Reasons to be Pretty." And she's currently in "The Slap" on NBC, as a woman who gets battered by a man in her life. In 2013 the Ventura County native came to LA to star in "A Parallelogram" at the Mark Taper Forum (photo above), but behind the scenes Ireland was then in the midst of an uncomfortable personal and professional situation that is driving her cause to make working in theater safer for the members of the companies.

A New York Times story today details an incident in which Ireland was given a black eye at home by her boyfriend, actor Scott Shepherd, also her co-star in a London production of “Troilus and Cressida.” Shepherd took responsibility and was publicly apologetic, but Ireland's visible injury and the tension between the two actors was traumatic for the company, the story says, and Ireland regrets staying for the run of the show. Now she is working with Norman Siegel, a former New York Civil Liberties Union lawyer, to push Actor's Equity and other theater unions to make clearer what the boundaries are on and backstage and what recourse theater people have if they feel they are harassed or abused.

Ms. Ireland believes that a few specific steps would go a long way in helping actors and other members of a production respond to abusive or harassing behavior. Along with the writer Julia Jordan (Off Broadway’s “Murder Ballad”), and others, she is pushing Actors’ Equity and other theater unions on three proposals: to have a statement read on the first day of rehearsals for all Broadway and professional shows that describes how to file complaints about harassment or other unprofessional behavior; to designate union officials to handle these complaints; and to create a confidential mediation process where complainants and the accused can talk through instances of harassment, misconduct and abuse with a mediator and without fear of penalties.

Nearly 500 theater actors and artists have endorsed the campaign, including Jessica Chastain and Joanna Gleason, and the playwrights Lynn Nottage and Stephen Adly Guirgis.

“When you’re young, you’re vulnerable — you’re auditioning, you need your next job,” said Ms. Jordan, who recalled accepting an offer years ago to assist a prominent director only to lose it when she wouldn’t sleep with him. (She said she saw no point in telling anyone at the time, and declined to name the director now.)

“And when actors prey on actors, but everyone wants to put the show first and help it succeed, what do you do?” she asked.

Actors’ Equity officials declined to comment on the mediation proposal and the two other ideas, but said in a statement that its existing policies were “clear and strong.”

Actors in Chicago are also meeting on the issue. “We’re looking into forming a psychological support group, talking to theaters about our concerns,” said Lori Myers, a Chicago actress and Equity member. “We’re not ready to name names yet. But we are ready to take a stand so no more 19-year-old women have to take off their clothes in an audition for no good reason.”

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