Striving to create and maintain a work environment characterized by mutual trust, creative exploration, and artistic freedom, Monumental Theatre Company has developed an 18-page policy against discrimination and harassment that is a landmark in DC-area theater. The robust new policy provides a comprehensive, trauma-informed, and victim-centric approach to complaint reporting, investigation, and resolution and can be readily adopted by other theaters.
Underlying the policy, said a statement, is Monumental’s recognition that “all company, board, and audience members must work together to create a safe space for each other, including taking responsibility for the power we each have over others and treating all individuals with whom we come into contact during Monumental activities with dignity, decency, and respect.”
Said Co-Artistic Director Jimmy Mavrikes: “We pledge to implement progressive methods for keeping our community safe—everything from hiring consultants such as intimacy directors to evaluating our policies on a yearly basis.”
Co-Artistic Director Michael Windsor added, “We’re adapting our best practices to ensure the security, well-being, and inclusiveness of all Monumental community members.”
“At Monumental, we find adopting this policy to be an imperative step and hope that others will seek to develop similar policies,” said Beth Amann, Managing Director. “And we are grateful to have board member and civil rights lawyer Kaiya Lyons guide us through the development of this policy.”
Of the new policy, Lyons said: “One of the most common impediments to eradicating inappropriate or illegal behavior in theater is the absence of a clear and communicated process for reporting misconduct when it occurs. As a lawyer and thespian, I am proud that Monumental has taken a definitive, proactive step to empower its community members and create a culture of safety, equity, and inclusivity.”
Monumental’s policy was developed independently but was informed, Lyons said, “by a detailed review of numerous publicly available safe-space documents and concern resolution processes from a variety of theaters and industry organizations in the United States and abroad, including the standards developed by Not in Our House Chicago and Not in Our House DC.
“In creating this policy,” Lyons continued, “we were able to carefully distill these best practices while going a step further to promote and protect our community members using my unique perspective as a lawyer with experience litigating employment discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation cases.”
The company started working on the document in September 2020. Describing the company’s internal process, Amann explained, “We had a harassment policy in place previously and a cast representative model that mirrored the Equity deputy system for reporting bad behavior, but we wanted to go further.
“The policy was created by and reviewed by our staff, board, and artistic advisors,” Amann continued. “Everyone contributed in some way, and it was great to have Kaiya on board to make sure we were able to base this policy in the law and the realities of what we can actually control. We met multiple times in groups of different sizes, went through several versions, and agreed on the final version as a group.
Can other theaters adapt this policy document for their own use? Short answer: Absolutely. “I would love other theaters to take our work and build their own policy off of it,” said Amann. “We have been guided by several other companies over the years, and I would be happy to pass that kindness on to another company—especially when it comes to work that will support our artists and strengthen our community. We hope that this policy can serve as a model for other theaters in the DMV area and beyond.
Explaining the important legal context of this policy for a small theater company such as Monumental, Lyons said, “Federal employment discrimination laws only apply to businesses with 15 or more employees. Monumental does not meet that baseline requirement, so there really is no legal duty for the company to take any action to protect their community members from the insidious forms of abuse that too often occur, unchecked, in our industry.
“This policy is meant to bridge that gap and empower our artists, staff, volunteers, and even audience members to be able to call out misconduct when they see it and for us to take definitive steps to protect our people from discrimination, harassment, and otherwise inappropriate conduct,” Lyons emphasized.
“It’s imperative that other small theaters, regardless of their profit structure, take similar steps to ensure they are proactively helping individuals come forward in a safe, confidential, and unbiased space and taking definitive steps to eradicate misconduct from their communities. And we hope that MTC’s policy can take some of the guesswork out of that process for them.”
To read the entire Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment, click here.
About Kaiya Lyons (in her own words)
Prior to joining the MTC Board in the spring of 2020, I had been advocating for theaters to institute protections against discrimination, harassment, and misconduct online and in my work on the board of another area nonprofit theater company. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, I interviewed numerous Minneapolis theater and improv artists, including board members of Fair Play MN, for an investigative legal article on how theater and the law collide to protect serial predators and silence their victims in response to a large controversy in that community sparked by a Facebook group post warning others against working with a serial sexual predator in the area. This experience demonstrated for me how badly theaters, especially small regional and community theaters, needed not only a model safe space policy but also an effective and equitable model complaint reporting and resolution procedure they could use to ensure no one has to choose between staying silent, or risking the retraumatization and reputational harm that so often comes with naming bad actors on social media. Using my combined experience in civil rights, domestic violence, and employment law, as well as my perspective as a member of the theater community, I began working to develop a simple but effective safe space policy as a board member of a local nonprofit theater company in 2019 and early 2020. However, when I presented this policy to the board, I was met with resistance. After I was told that the board would only approve a vague statement against misconduct without requiring cast members and volunteers to agree to abide by the policy or provide information on how such misconduct could be reported, investigated, or resolved, I stepped down from the board in protest. It was shortly after this experience that I joined the MTC Board and was given permission to develop what has essentially become my dream policy against discrimination and harassment. I am incredibly honored and thankful for this opportunity and I hope our policy can serve as a model for other theatre community leaders.
A little background on me: I graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 2016 and have been working in civil rights and public interest law in DC and Minnesota ever since. I am currently a staff attorney at the American Association for Justice, an international coalition of attorneys and legal professionals that works to protect victims’ rights and strengthen the civil justice system. However, theater has always held a large part of my heart and my free time. In the early 2010s, I co-artistic directed a student theater company, Forbidden Planet Productions, at GWU with the current associate artistic director/casting director at Olney Theatre Center, Jenna Duncan. During my time at GWU, I also wrote and directed a play based on the music of Kerrigan & Lowdermilk. In law school, I wrote and performed in annual, full-length, legal musical parodies produced by the Theatre of the Relatively Talentless (TORT) at the Pantages Theater in downtown Minneapolis. More recently, I have worked as a part-time house manager at the Folger Shakespeare Library since 2016.
About Monumental Theatre Company
Monumental Theatre Company, winner of the 2018 Helen Hayes John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company, is a professional, nonprofit theater dedicated to promoting, producing, and providing platforms for millennial artists. They work to develop new works, new views on established works, and the next generation of theatergoers in the Washington, DC, community.