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Interview: Barbara Bartnik - MEAA Equity Wellness Forum


Interview: Barbara Bartnik - MEAA Equity Wellness Forum

Caitlin Ellen

A writer and an actor walk into a coffee shop. They sit down, they order their caffeinated drinks with alternative milk, and instead of writing what they believe to be the next big script, they have a conversation about the current Arts scene and what needs to change.

The punch line to this bad joke is the Equity Wellness Forum - the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance’s (MEAA) first public Q&A addressing bullying and sexual harassment in the performing arts. A free event held on the 22nd of October in the Space Theatre, invited actors, directors and innovators to answer questions about how the Arts industry has been affected by sexual harassment and bullying allegations over the past few months.

Jumping back to the writer and the actor -- Barbara Bartnik, actor and SA Equity Wellness Committee Member, was a speaker on the forum and the event organiser, who sat down with the writer to talk about the forum. We live in a post #MeToo/Weinstein world but since the public accusations and confirmations of Harvey Weinstein and a host of other notable figures, there are still ripple effects to be felt. In Australia, the most recent ripple is the implementation of the MEAA’s codes of practices in a number of Arts industries.

“I don’t think it’s the industry’s response, I think it’s their obligation.” says Barbara, “It’s their obligations to do these codes. The response was much earlier with Harvey Weinstein were theatres were taking action of ‘what do we need to do?’, ‘what do we need to change?’, ‘how do we make a safe and better working environment for everyone?’. Everyone was thinking about it because it was a massive point of history. Now, I feel in our Arts industry that a lot of companies are taking it as their obligation to collectively come together and say ‘what can we do now to make everyone work in a better environment?’. We haven’t always had a good environment and that’s shown in our many years of industry history.”

The history of the arts industry isn't great. In 2016, 26.3% of Australian performers reported experiencing bullying or harassment in the workplace. 2015 reporting showed concerns about evidence of stress, anxiety, depression, bullying, alcohol and drug use among performers.

“We just accepted it, we made excuses. We were afraid that we could lose our jobs, that we might lose some sort of reputation and contacts because everyone knows each other. It’s very difficult to speak out about these issues. But now, because we have these codes, it’s given us a sense of security. It’s given us a sense of greater belief and hope that actually, we can stand up for ourselves. Together, we can fight for our rights. We’ve worked many years to get here, many people have been fighting this fight. Now we have official documents that are able to help us.”

All of this and more was discussed at the Equity Wellness on Monday night, with the core focus of the discussion addressing the future of our Arts industry after numerous harassment claims. The forum pulled together a diverse group of speakers, all from different areas of the Arts industry.

“I think it’s really important to have a good mixture of people to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. This issue isn’t only for people in authority, it isn’t only for actors, it isn’t only for directors. Everyone in our industry experiences bullying or sexual harassment and we tend to forget that. We have a range of different people; older, younger, news grads like myself…”

Including Barbara, there were 9 speakers on the forum that were chaired by SA Equity President, Elizabeth Hay. The speakers:

Tiffany Lyndall-Knight, Actor/Director

Chris Drummon, Director/Brink Productions

Sarah Dunn, Director

Chiara Gabrielli, Associate Artist/Associate Producer/ActNow

Geordie Brookman, Artistic Director/State Theatre of SA

Kiara Milera, Writer/Director

Francoise Piron, Stage Manager/Australian Dance Theatre

Alexandra Frost, Director/Clinical Psychologist/Attuned Psychology

“This issue is very universal, you can say that almost every second person has experienced some form of bullying or harassment. It doesn’t have to be extreme, can be very small. I think that everyone has a right to be on that panel and speak their truth,” continues Barbara.

The MEAA’s Equity Wellness Forum - Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Arts was held on the 22nd of October from 6:30PM - 8:30PM at the Space Theatre. More information can be found here.