News / Edmonton

'The dam has broken': Edmonton's theatre scene on making change after high-profile harassment allegations

Theatre companies respond after after sexual misconduct claims against Chris Craddock went public

Trevor Schmidt talks about the theatre industry ridding itself of sexual harassment

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Trevor Schmidt talks about the theatre industry ridding itself of sexual harassment

Edmonton theatre companies are making changes after a well-known actor/director admitted to touching "without permission."

Raid Fire Theatre cut ties with Chris Craddock earlier this month following his admission on Facebook, stating he violated their anti-harassment policy by “acting without consent, pursuing women and misusing a position of authority in those endeavours.”

Northern Light Theatre artistic director Trevor Schmidt says there is a sense of greater freedom in the theatre scene for people to speak up about that type of behaviour.

“I think now the dam has broken and people aren’t being silenced about it any longer,” Schmidt said.

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He said he witnessed abuse in his early acting days in the 1990s, when it was “very rare” that anyone would speak out against someone in authority.

“I have worked with people who I felt were abusive in the workplace, or allowed other people to be abusive in the workplace,” Schmidt said.

“I’ve always been very vocal about that, sometimes to my own detriment in my own career. So I operate from that aspect at all times.”

Northern Light Theatre is made up primarily of women, which is a conscious decision Schmidt made when he took the helm 15 years ago after noticing a gender disparity in the theatre scene.

Amy Shostak is a former artistic director with Rapid Fire Theatre.

Amy Shostak is a former artistic director with Rapid Fire Theatre.

In the heavily male-dominated improv scene, Amy Shostak moved to create a more inclusive environment at Rapid Fire in her time as artistic director, from 2009 to 2015.

Rapid Fire's current director Matt Schuurman previously told Metro that Rapid Fire used to be “a bit of a fraternity,” and said that started to change thanks to Shostak.  

When she joined at age 17, she was “one of the only women” in the company for years before climbing to the role of director.

Shostak drew up a new anti-harassment policy, held workshops on gender portrayal, and sat down with members to talk about behavioural expectations.

Part of her aim was to foster an environment that was welcoming to women and nonbinary actors, and not “just a space for really funny, really charming men," in an art form that did not always make room for difficult conversations.

“All the stuff that we learn when we’re first starting improv, to say yes and agree with whatever idea is on stage, can lead us to some really tricky situations on stage where some young, vulnerable improv-ers are in scenes that they really shouldn’t be in,” Shostak said.

“I think that spirit of 'yes' sometimes can seep into the culture as well, where people feel there is not a place for quote-unquote negativity or criticism. But of course, there is."

Shostak said several improv companies across North America are publicly grappling with issues around diversity and power, partly inspired by the #MeToo campaign that went viral after dozens of women accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

“The way things were in the past are just no longer acceptable,” Shostak said.

Craddock used the #MeToo hashtag in the since-removed Facebook post that drew Rapid Fire's response.

Shostak said no one complained to her about Craddock during her tenure as director, but she had heard rumours of a complaint made about him long before she was senior in the company.

“I regret not looking into that further when I became (artistic director), but it was 15 years before I was A.D. and so I didn’t really pursue that information," she said.

Schmidt has also worked with Craddock over the years, and Shadow Theatre's artistic director John Hudson said he gave Craddock his first job 25 years ago.

Hudson said “there’s a real consciousness of what’s going on” in Edmonton’s theatre scene following the revelations.

Varscona Theatre, where Shadow holds its performances, is printing a list of actions considered “completely inappropriate” to post in dressing rooms and backstage.

It will be posted along with a list of what to do and who to talk to should someone feel harassed or abused.

“We always just said, ‘We’re a safe space, here it is, this is the equity policy, this is the guidelines we follow,’ ” Hudson said. “But now we’re going to say, ‘Here is a defined list and if there’s action needed, this is who you need to contact.’ ”

Schuurman said changes are in the works at Rapid Fire as well, including policy revision and training, though specifics have not been worked out yet.

Catalyst Theatre artistic director Jonathan Christenson went to school with Craddock and directed one of his solo plays through Catalyst in 2002.

He said Catalyst is not making any immediate changes in response to the revelations, but he said women are very underrepresented when it comes to senior roles in Edmonton’s theatre scene despite a "heightened" awareness of the disparity.

“Men, by far, have the lion’s share of artistic director positions in Edmonton,” Christenson said.

“I’d like to see that change over time and I believe it will.”

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