TheatreMcLean actors sexually and verbally harassed during Much Ado About Nothing previews

Following verbal sexual harassment and bullying during previews, TheatreMcLean performers suffer mentally


Tara Pandey

Seniors Arielle Elise and Kate Fontaine, as well as junior Micah Pierce, all had key roles in TheatreMcLean’s production of Much Ado About Nothing.

On November 15, during play previews for TheatreMcLean’s Much Ado About Nothing, a group of teenage boys in the audience verbally harassed several female students, shouting sexual and body shaming comments and making sexual hand gestures. While TheatreMcLean performers are trained to ignore mockery, the comments and actions of the victimizers were impossible to look past.

“Some [audience members] can say rude things, but this time it was particularly surprising because there were lots of students in one section saying very offensive harmful things, especially towards our female cast members,” said Elizabeth Nourse, who played the role of Sexton. “Normally, we are told to brush it off, but since there was evidence that we had of people [filming,] we really wanted to make sure that we held them accountable.”

The victims of such harassment felt berated, as many were brought to tears after exiting the stage.

“As aspiring actors and actresses, it’s really hard to listen to [verbal harassment and sexual comments] especially when you can’t do anything about it,” senior Miranda Simpson said. “You’re on stage and we all go into previews and we’re really weary about the fact that this could happen. Watching this happening right in front of you and just having to stand there and listen to it. I love previews, and it just ruined the entire thing. We all came on stage, and it made us feel stupid for something we had worked so hard for something we genuinely had worked so hard for.”

While judgment from the crowd isn’t uncommon, this incident is significant because the comments were of sexual nature. Female actors were targeted through crude comments. Moreover, cast members were body shamed for the way they appeared in costume. The perpetrators were accused of taking inappropriate photos and videos.

“We went up to the admin, and they went through the necessary channels on how to handle it,” TheatreMcLean Director Phillip Reid said. “The people who did this were taught to, and it’s one of those things where we’re still waiting [to see] what happens. It’s also one of the things where evidence has to be there, and it then becomes a ‘he said she said’ situation. It’s really, really tough.”

The McLean administration took action against the perpetrators, but there has not been anything publicly released about the actions of the boy’s behavior.

“Can you see all the time in those posts [on Schoology] disciplining us at sports’ [events for singing during the National Anthem] advocating football games and all that stuff?” junior Nathan Bass said. “[Administration] puts so much more funding into the sports communities, and it’s overall such an emphasized point of our schools. You can just see how much they would care. I definitely believe that this sort of represents a general favoritism.”

However, this instance draws attention to a larger issue. Students who participate in performing arts feel that their work is undervalued in comparison to other activities at McLean.

“The theater should be a safe space, and it does not become a safe space when people are commenting or saying things in the auditorium because it takes a lot of courage and energy to get up on stage,” Reid said. “It’s really tough when, when anything happens in the theater, and it rattles you, you know, and so that was just such a bummer.”