Do you know the man who has charm, and wit, and a presence unlike any other in the room? Do you know his charismatic one-liners? His banter that fits in well with whichever group of people he’s entertaining today? His ability to relate to you specifically, to make you feel special, important?
That man was one of my drama school tutors and he abused me.
My time at drama school was otherwise wonderful. It was everything it should have been: fun, stressful, empowering, confusing and thrilling. But it was also something it absolutely shouldn’t have been.
In the months leading up to my graduation, I said no, and no again, and then after a few sweet words my head was pushed towards his penis. I hadn’t had sex with anyone other than the men I’d loved in my two long-term relationships, then was pressured into having sex with this man I’d been intimate with for only a few weeks.
This affection had coincidentally found me when I was outside the pastoral care office, crying over the end of my 3 year relationship. The affection and attention continued a few days later when my flat and all of my belongings were lost in a huge fire. Before I knew it, I was into the week of my final drama school show and the tutor was everywhere I turned.
He asked if I had kept my costume from my final production of Spring Awakening where my 15-year-old character wore a school-girl skirt, shirt and stockings. When I said I hadn’t, he rummaged in the costume cupboard because it would really turn him on if I put it on and he fucked me in it.
He prayed on me at my most vulnerable, he used his position of power to offer a pretend stability when I had nothing left, he made himself indispensable. This realisation hurt. Sex was special to me and after all, I’d given my consent in the end. So it was my fault I felt this awful now. I’d said no a few times and he stopped, but his patience wore thin. After a surprise trip to my parents’ house over 3 hours’ drive away, I felt like I owed him. He pushed and I let him.
And then he was gone. After the promises of forever, of love, of ‘just give it a few months and we can tell everyone. Just wait until after you’ve graduated and we’re into the new school year’. I was forbidden to tell my best friend and when she found out whilst we were going through photos on my phone, I felt sick. I felt as though I’d let him down.
I went on with my life, but I was scarred. I was unable to trust, and sex had a whole different meaning to me. So did men in powerful positions. I didn’t know where my place was in the industry. I was soon to graduate and it was drilled into us how hard it would be. This tutor had confirmed the ambiguity of my position. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t true; he had assessed me for years and he knew how things worked so I looked up to him.
After this I was more careful, but the whole ordeal threw me into a destructive spiral of alcohol, withdrawal and irresponsibility. I’m under no illusion this was all because of the tutor’s actions. This was my first year out of drama school and funnily, none of these things happened to any of my friends in the same graduating year as me. I guess they’d been a little luckier in the tutor-student department.
A friend who was raped when she was younger and she told me I needed to report this – what if it happened again, to someone else? But in my mind, he hadn’t done anything wrong. Yes, he’d been a bit pushy. Yes, he’d prayed on me at my most vulnerable. Yes, he’d abused his position of power and trust but it wasn’t like he’d raped me. I said yes. So I didn’t report it.
Around two years later, it’s a few days after the Weinstein allegations broke the news. Articles started appearing on my newsfeed and one by Lucy Prebble particularly resonated. It was perfectly written and touched my heart so I shared it. A few minutes later I got a text from this dear friend who was checking in, making sure I was ok. She’d also experienced some kind of sexual advance, assault or abuse within the industry. She is someone I have always looked up to and admired. My heart ached for her. I cried. My heart ached for the other women who specifically experienced my tutor’s abuse and the thousands like us.
I never wanted to hurt someone’s career, but how can I continue to keep silent when I know everything I’ve experienced is a fraction of what other women have felt, or may feel in the future? What worries me most is that my first encounter like this was in education, somewhere we are broken down and built up and told we are safe. There are hundreds of vulnerable students that pass through drama school and uni doors every day, and tutors like this will pray on them.
I felt unworthy because I accepted sexual advances. I feel unworthy because I declined sexual advances. I feel like I don’t know who I am or what I can offer other than the one thing that has often defined my place within the industry over the last two years – what can be taken from me sexually. I feel disgusting. I feel unequivocally sad.
We must stand together and make you know that this is not acceptable. I don’t care if you blacklist me, or grade me down, or don’t give me the part I deserve or want. You are the problem and nothing else. If your decision on my early career path is based on anything other than my talent, then I don’t want it. Your decision, and your power don’t matter to me. You are nothing, except disgusting.
Editor’s note: potentially identifying information removed on 26 October 2017.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.
3 thoughts on “Feature | ‘I was abused at drama school.’”
This is sickening. Brava lady for finding your voice and speaking so eloquently about your abuse. Have you reported him to the school you attended. Fuck his career! He’s already fucked the beginning of yours and others. That is WRONG. No guilt. No self blame. HE is in the wrong and has at the very least broken the terms of his legal contract let alone his ethical one. Love and strength to you…x
I’ve just read this and feel sick to my stomach. I was undoubtedly at the same drama school as this brave young woman and was there at the same time but as part of a different cohort. When the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke I also felt troubled. The way one of the acting tutors on my course behaved towards me, singling me out and paying me special attention made me feel uncomfortable and like he had abused his power.
I was vulnerable and he frequently waded in on my personal problems, using that as an excuse for a lot of one to one time. He was constantly around me. I was never attracted to him in any way and, in my naivety, initially I thought he was acting as a trustworthy older male figure, looking out for me. A bit like a Dad. But I know now that’s not the case. He constantly tried to tell me who I was and got inside my head, making me believe things about myself that weren’t true and which took 2 years and professional counselling to get out of my head. He tried to make me feel like he was the only one who understood me. Like he was my “cure”. Luckily, I never believed him and didn’t want him.
Every “tutorial” ended with a hug where he’d press his whole body against me, turning my stomach. On two occasions when I tried to break off he just held me tighter against him, making me feel trapped. I couldn’t move. I didn’t feel that I could say I didn’t want this “special attention”. He was assessing me, casting me and he was so “nice” to me that I felt like I owed him. I actually felt sorry for him. We never had any sexual contact, thankfully, but looking back I can see he was grooming me, indicating a couple of times that he was interested in a relationship with me. The pressure got greater towards the end of the course and at a time when I was at my lowest point. The more broken I became, the more he was around me, not taking no for an answer when I tried to get out of being alone with him.
There’s a lot I could say here about the ways he crossed the line, little sexual comments he made here and there and about how he tried to manipulate me psychologically but I am afraid of identifying myself. For now. He was and is a man who has considerable power and influence in the industry. Potential employers think highly of him, as do lots of former students who didn’t have these kind of experiences of him.
Most of my year left thinking the world of him. I left drama school feeling broken and like there was something wrong with me, thanks to this man.
Reading the post above, I’m convinced it’s the same tutor. The author of the post says; “This was my first year out of drama school and funnily, none of these things happened to any of my friends in the same graduating year as me. I guess they’d been a little luckier in the tutor-student department.” I’d say don’t be so sure.
I found out a couple of months ago that the man I’m referring to had a sexual relationship with yet another student at the school at the same time I was there. A student who was very vulnerable thanks to mental health difficulties and her story sounds very similar to the one above. This man has had other relationships with students before. He doesn’t seem to have relationships with women his own age…why is that? Why target the most vulnerable of his students?
When I found out about the other student, the person who told me said “Yes, but it wasn’t like he was just using her for sex, they were sort of in a relationship.” But that’s the game he plays, he makes these young women think it was their idea, that they wanted it. That’s how he gets away with it. It’s not rape if you consent is it?
But it’s still abuse. It still affects you years afterwards. Makes you feel dirty, used, stupid and afraid to trust. Especially around men in theatre. He knows what he’s doing. He’s sick. He’s a predator and he will do it again. One day the truth will come to light and there will be women ready to speak out about what he did to them.
Thank you for sharing your story, you made me feel less alone. You are braver than he will ever be. I hope you find healing and don’t let him stop you from achieving success.
I am truly grateful for your bravery and so sorry. I believe there is a systematic failing in drama schools right now. With the metoo movement exposing those abusing their power in the industry i feel we need to tackle the root of the problem and that is the fostering of inappropriate not to mention illegal behaviour in drama schools.
I am Currently researching this dissapointing and far too comonplace lack of support and abuse of power. I would love to speak with you further. I understand the bravery it has taken to step out this far.
Thank you Ben