Student theater groups revise code of conduct regarding consent, conflict resolution

Senior Abigail Schmidt, the president of 3Ps, poses for a portrait on the stairs of Tisch on April 17, 2017. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily Archives)

Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault.

Torn Ticket II and the umbrella organization of which it is a member, Pen, Paint, & Pretzels (3Ps), have updated their student codes of conduct to include guidelines on consent and conduct, according to Torn Ticket II President Claire Mieher.

Mieher, a senior, said that the purpose of the code of conduct is to increase safety and raise awareness for performers.

“My main hope is that it makes people, especially directors, more aware of conducting themselves in the rehearsal room and [that it] also creates a safe environment for people where they feel like there are these rules and regulations set in place,” Mieher said.

The change in the code of conduct is a response to student feedback to include more guidelines about consent and suggestions by a director who has experience in dealing with issues surrounding consent, according to Mieher.

Abby Schmidt, the president of 3Ps, said that Tufts’ student theater groups’ revisions follow a similar trend in the theater community.

“I think a lot of theaters around the country are grappling with the same thing because [theater is] something that asks you to be really intimate with people both emotionally and sometimes physically,” Schmidt, a senior, said. “There’s a lot of improvisation and touching people without having planned it.”

Schmidt said that the new guidelines are based on the Chicago Theatre Standards, an existing document that has been adopted by many theaters around the country. The standards include protocol for how to handle issues including compensation and sexual harassment. Schmidt and Mieher implemented sections of the Chicago Theatre Standards into their code, including parts on identity and cultural personhood and on how to disclose sexual content and nudity, according to Schmidt.

She also said that they received help from Tufts’ Center for Awareness, Resources, and Education (CARE) office.

“The thing about theater is [that] you have to deal with a lot of these hard issues,” Schmidt said. “[You have] plays that deal with stuff like racism or sexual assault or a myriad of these kinds of tough issues, and that’s not something that you can or should avoid. When you try to avoid difficult subjects, you’re kind of negating the point of the arts.”

A six-page-long draft of the guidelines has been implemented since late January, but the document will be revisited and edited later in the semester after Mieher and Schmidt receive feedback, according to Schmidt. She said that, among other suggested changes, they plan on condensing the document to make it easier to understand.

“We’re going to test it for a semester [to] get people thinking about it,” she said. “Then we’re going to see how it goes and we’re going to update and change [it to] make it our own after that.”

Before the groups’ productions this semester, the entire cast read through the guidelines and signed the code of conduct, Schmidt said.

Schmidt said that she believes that these changes will have the most impact on the audition and casting processes.

“A lot of people don’t read the whole script before they sign on to the show,” she said. “The big thing that I think these guidelines do that I’m most excited about is they make it very systematically clear what you have to disclose … and make sure everything is transparent and everyone is aware and ready to tackle whatever is in the script.”

In addition to the updated student code of conduct, both groups also created the position of a cast representative to bring the worries of cast members to the attention of the higher-ups, Mieher said.

“That’s a person who is chosen from the cast by a vote of only the cast,” she said. “The idea is that they would take the concerns of anyone in the cast and talk to the director and stage managers so that people feel comfortable going to someone who who does not have authority over them necessarily.”

3Ps and Torn Ticket II also created a conflict resolution path to go along with the new code of conduct, according to Mieher. She said that the path lists different levels of people to talk to or contact if there is an issue in the rehearsal process.

Additionally, these student-created guidelines inspired the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies to create department wide guidelines on conduct and consent in general, according to Department Chair Heather Nathans.

“Our faculty has been inspired by the students’ project and our Season Selection Committee is currently working on a department-level version of the guidelines,” she said. “We were excited that the expansion of the guidelines offered us a chance to be transparent about our values as a faculty in creating respectful working environments.”

Nathans said that the department guidelines are still being edited and will be presented to the faculty for feedback in a meeting later this semester.