Around 50% of theater employees in the UK are contemplating resigning due to audience behavior
- Around 50% of theater employees in the UK are contemplating resigning due to audience behavior
- UK theatre staff have been attacked, sexually harassed and abused by drunken audience members during performances, a new survey has revealed.
resigning due to audience behavior
Bectu launches safer theatres charter as survey reveals 45% of workers may quit due to shocking levels of antisocial behaviour by drunken theatregoers
According to a recent survey by the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre union (Bectu), theater employees in the UK have been subjected to attacks, sexual harassment, and abuse by intoxicated audience members during performances. The report uncovered incidents of front-of-house staff being assaulted, patrons urinating in fire exits, and large-scale brawls breaking out in auditoriums.
The survey revealed that almost 90% of theater staff have either experienced or witnessed inappropriate audience behavior, with more than 70% believing that the problem has intensified since the Covid pandemic. With concerns that such antisocial conduct at shows is becoming more prevalent, the union is urging venues across the UK to endorse a new charter aimed at safeguarding workers.
A staggering one-third of participants in the survey reported being involved in or witnessing incidents where police had to be called to the venue, and 20% admitted to having felt unsafe at work at least once.
One anonymous theatre employee shared their harrowing experience, stating: “A patron physically assaulted me and continued to cause disruption while security attempted to remove them. The incident had a profound impact on me, and I was unable to return to work for a period. Even after this, I could not bring myself to enter the auditorium.”
Another individual recounted how they and other young women at their theatre were routinely sexually harassed by male audience members. They were compelled to use a code word during radio communications to signal danger, such was their fear for their safety.
Many theater workers reported that they regularly had to deal with drunk patrons, with multiple venues requiring police intervention. One employee shared, “During a jukebox musical, a brawl erupted among around 20 intoxicated individuals over some people singing along to the show. Security, police, and ambulances were all involved.”
Over 1,500 theater employees, encompassing various roles such as front-of-house, hospitality, box office, stage door, sound, and lighting, participated in the survey, with participants from a broad range of shows. Nearly half of the respondents (45%) have contemplated leaving the industry due to inappropriate audience behavior.
One anonymous worker speculated that pre-show alcohol consumption by theatergoers was a significant contributing factor to the disorder. “As drinks are quite expensive, people tend to come in already under the influence or bring their own alcohol,” they stated, noting that hen parties were among the worst offenders.
According to the survey, theatre staff have encountered a range of disturbing incidents, including individuals refusing to leave, activating fire alarms, assaulting employees, and behaving inappropriately or creepily. Philippa Childs, who leads Bectu, pointed out that these incidents are not limited to one type of theatre and are happening across all performing arts, including ballet and opera.
Childs expressed her shock at the frequency and severity of the incidents, noting that the issue must be addressed by the industry. She emphasized that low-paid workers should not have to face such behavior in the workplace, and that the threats of physical violence are particularly alarming.
The report’s main discovery was that 90% of theatre employees believed that drunk audience members were a major factor in declining audience behavior. Childs believes that alcohol plays a significant role in lowering people’s inhibitions and causing them to behave in ways that they would not usually behave. Additionally, she suggests that there is a broader societal issue around how people interact with public-facing roles.
“It’s unclear if it’s a result of pandemic-related frustration, but it seems like people have forgotten how to be kind and respectful towards those who are working,” she said, adding that theatre management companies and venues should take more initiative to “establish clear expectations” for audiences. Other issues raised included loud talking and filming during performances, as well as the rustling of candy wrappers.
Bectu is launching a Safer Theatres Charter in the UK, which calls on theatre management companies to do more “to create a safe environment for audiences and workers.” Venues are being asked to commit to five pledges, including announcing behavioral standards expected from audiences before shows and on tickets, publishing risk assessments regarding safe alcohol consumption in theatres, and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy on antisocial behavior.
The survey also revealed five alarming incidents reported by the theatre staff:
- Refusal of entry resulted in a theatre worker being spat at by a group who did not have enough tickets for the performance.
- A colleague of a worker was punched in the back of her leg while trying to assist a drunk person in getting out of their seat, and was later threatened and almost choked.
- A worker reported being sexually assaulted by a drunk patron who kissed their neck.
- Workers were racially abused and verbally harassed by customers who were told to stop singing or were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This resulted in workers being scared to walk to their cars after their shift.
- Some theatregoers have claimed entitlement to behave inappropriately due to the high cost of their tickets.
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