With my final project, I wanted to use this as a chance to reconnect myself with my first topic of the semester (and my career!), theatre.I created a type of living art piece that symbolizes the joke those in the performing arts have been living and breathing for decades: the “casting couch.”
The casting couch is an age-old stereotype based on the idea that young women must yield themselves sexually submissive to (most often) male higher-ups in order to gain recognition, retain notoriety, or to advance in their field. Jokes and stereotypes, however, are rooted in the truth. While women were being taken advantage of and manipulated behind closed doors, men on pedestals were weaving comedy based on their suffering, which still persists today.
Something as tangible as a literal casting couch felt like it could be more easily understood and confrontable. While this is an issue that directly affects those in performing arts businesses (ie. film, theatre, dance, music etc.), it becomes a more widely effective issue when general consumers’ monetary support and affirmation is what sustains the careers and legacies of such offenders. Included on the couch was an informative card which read:
“CASTING COUCH – a cultural stereotype which perpetuates the idea that young women must submit sexually to studioheads, directors, agents, etc. in exchange for auditions, roles, and renown.
“ABUSERS & ENABLERS are only as powerful as the support and notoriety they are given.
“While such incidents are specific to the entertainment industry, pop culture is powered by media, advertisement, financial benefit, etc. administered by CONSUMERS – denouncing abusers in all levels of society is the first step towards reform.
According to a 2018 survey from USA Today, 94% of 834 women surveyed claimed they have experienced some form of sexual harassment during their careers in Hollywood.
“It’s time to put an end to this.
I left the piece in the green room (our social hub in the Goode) during a class and for a while and came back to do something before taking it to the Webb. What resulted was a lot of conversation concerning the state of the industry and discussion on the routes of our futures. There are many upperclassmen within the department at the moment, and a lot of us are quickly being confronted with the reality of our futures. Simply put, the project was scary… but it created a dive-point for an important dialogue we needed to create about ourselves and each other. One of the most morbidly exciting parts of the project was people seeing names and asking, “Oh, what did they do?” (James Franco’s explanation was a particularly horrible story to tell.) This project proved to be more than a public statement or educational tool—it was a promise which we all made to ourselves to hold others accountable and to take care of ourselves. Sexual harassment in the performing arts has, for a long time, been something so easy to ignore or brush off out of ignorance or fear; it’s horrible imagining the things that could happen to us—women especially live in fear. Every. Damn. Day. In trying to cultivate a positive environment for ourselves and our audiences, it’s hard to dig deep to expose the bone in that way, but it’s even harder to get people to take us seriously. With #TimesUp and #MeToo, things have gotten somewhat easier in that respect, but it doesn’t make the career or life any less exhausting.
I was able to use this project not only as an educational tool, but as a form of personal reflection. Taking the time to write these names and quotes out and looking at the piece for hours was a somber activity, and honestly a bit stomach-churning. Hearing names like Harvey Weinstein’s in the news for his actions is a brutal advertisement that women, while they are a force to be reckoned with in the world of entertainment, are just as subject to abuse as they ever were. However, women are not the only ones falling victim; these issues are based in systemic power dynamics that have convinced marginalized peoples that they must pass through a ring of fire in order to achieve success. The color of someone’s skin, their sexuality, their gender, the language they speak, their age, their ability, and more all play against them as factors of disadvantage. One of the most significant stings of the casting couch stereotype etc. is that perpetrators have used our own identities against us and to their advantage. This further links what this project was into the thesis of our class, bodylore.
The ideas generating around this concept are linked to bodylore in the way we discuss bodily autonomy, slutshaming, and identity. Especially in cases such as these, where assault or harassment is performed in the workplace and has been perpetuated as a joke for ages, it’s easy to feel as if there is more that happened than the act itself. There is a dissolving of trust, power, and a loss of the ability to feel safe or to enjoy doing what is considered a labor of love to many. In addition, sexual harassment as a whole is saturated with the constant questions, “Why were you drinking?” “Why didn’t you say anything sooner?” and of course, “What were you wearing?” The way we dress, interact with one another, and build our own identities concerning our outward appearance are sacred to each and every one of us. In a craft where we are forced to be so vulnerable for the sake of the art we create and the art within ourselves, there is an incredible issue when that same craft is downtrodden by as horrible a stereotype as the casting couch.
Within my contemporary issue blog post, I identified an issue surrounding Free the Nipple being the distinct lack of diversity and the “white feminism” which has overtaken the movement. The problems I touch on with this project (in conjunction with #TimesUp and #MeToo) prove to focus on a similar issue—bodily autonomy and slutshaming—while serving as a more diverse medium of activism which I am proud to work with. The arts aren’t a specific politic, per se, but there is an inherent political undertone and intention within the things we create—keeping those ideals in mind are crucial in the ways we move forward. There will always be people who will brush off sexual assault in the industry as minor infractions or innocent jokes. I’m constantly surrounded by beautifully powerful women and men who inspire me every day—knowing that these ideas are wreak havoc within all of our hearts (whether or not we let it show) is always a painful reminder that we arefighting, we have always beenfighting, and we must continueto fight.
Historically it was so rampant and so accepted as part of the industry, so much so that family members would joke about it; it was so rampant it became the butt of jokes. We didn’t realize we had the power to say, “not today, or forever.” (Lewis)
Lewis, Rebecca. “Hollywood’s Sexism Was so Rampant ‘It Became the Butt of Jokes’.” Metro, Metro.co.uk, 11 June 2018, metro.co.uk/2018/06/07/hollywoods-sexism-casting-couch-rampant-became-butt-jokes-7613178/.
Krystal (Krys) Tuzon Gonzalez (she/they) is a junior Theatre Performance major and Women’s Studies minor at Old Dominion University. Krys finds joy in makeup & fashion, video games, writing, drawing, music-ing, theatre-ing, and activities of artsy persuasion, and abides by a lifelong motto of continuously learning and striving towards self-improvement. They hope to pursue a career in theatre alongside cosmetology, and aspire to someday work as a galvanizing force within marginalized communities in the arts. “We’re not pawns of some scripted fate. I believe we’re more. Much more.”