Friday, October 13, 2017

My Green Dress: Changing the Story

I was wearing a green dress. You know this.

It was a mini-dress and zipped up in the back. It had long sleeves and a scoop neck.

This is a story you know.

I was in an apartment in New York City, because depending on where you are, auditions are sometimes held in people's apartments or hotel rooms. I was 23 years old and the producers conducting the audition offered me some wine.

I accepted, trying to be what I thought was adult. We talked a while about the film they were trying to make, or hoping to make, and the kind of character they were looking for.

About half an hour later, I was lying in bed with one of the producers. I had started to feel sick and he brought me to the bed and got me into it. After a little while, I realized he was unzipping my dress.

It took every ounce of strength I had to get out of that bed and get out of there. Whatever was in the wine they gave me made me feel pretty dizzy, but I realized it was either get out or get assaulted, one way or another.

I was lucky. I got out of the door and into the elevator without throwing up and took a taxi to a friend's place. I was also lucky my friend was home.

You know this story because you have lived it, or lived something like it, or you know someone who has. This is only ONE of my stories. I'm sure you know that too, because the entertainment business if full of stories just like this one.

Of course, sexual assault is everywhere and can happen to anyone. But I think the entertainment industry deserves its own special star of distinction for this.

I started out in my career as an actor, and then became a playwright. Part of the reason I did that is because I love writing, and part of the reason is that I wanted to write more interesting roles for women than what I was seeing. And then there is the other reason, which is that I didn't want to be seen anymore as someone's piece of meat.

For nearly two weeks, we have been learning about the predatory habits of one of the most powerful producers in the business--Harvey Weinstein. Celebrities who have mostly been harassed before they became famous are coming forward to say they too have experienced sexual assaults. Our business is sick, and unfortunately, it has gone on for years and years and years--for as long as I can remember.

This is our story, and it belongs to every man and every woman and every child in this business. While woman are the majority of people who are harassed, men are too. Both men and women who experience sexual abuse are often under the age of consent.

If there is a silver lining, it is that young people are speaking up more than anyone has before. When I started working in this profession, I was told there were a lot of predatory people and I had to figure out how to deal with it.

Somehow or other, it was made clear to me that I was on my own if someone was hitting on me. And that's what I believed, and why I was scared for many years just going to auditions. Because people like Harvey Weinstein are not isolated figures. They are everywhere, and entertainment is one of the worst platforms for sexual abuse that I have ever seen.

It is institutionalized. It is rationalized. It is encouraged. Sometimes it is even applauded. Sexism is part of the industry's culture in ways no other profession would tolerate. Example: in casting auditions for the film Dangerous Beauty, women were asked to bare their breasts to determine if they could be selected. I know about this because I read an article in which the film's director talked about how his producers told him to check out each woman's chest before hiring them.

And that's just what we see publicly. The other stuff--groping, drugging, assaulting and raping--goes on behind the scenes all the time.

This is a story we all know, and it is a story we all have known for quite some time. I am not talking years; I am talking generations. I am relieved and pleased and even thrilled that a new generation is saying, "Enough! We want no part of this!"

Actors, hairdressers, makeup artists, technicians, stage managers, playwrights, singers, directors,  screenplay writers and all the talented people who make up this industry  deserve to be treated with dignity. The fact that we have to fight for it as hard as we do is appalling.

But as a playwright who is frequently rewriting,  I can promise you that it's never too late to change the story. If we continue to speak up, we may be able to revise this narrative and create a less dangerous, less humiliating environment for people in our profession.

My thanks also go out to the parents who are teaching their kids to stand up when they see injustice and protest. You did it.

Raised 'em right.

Green dress photo:  Alexandra_s93