Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Let's Talk Stalking

January 2016 is National Stalking Awareness month, and naturally, Leonard has something to say about that.  But first, a story.

Once upon a time Princess Leonard Leonora was cast in a show playing an actual princess.  The show came at a very difficult time; Leonora was in the midst of a very public, very messy divorce.  Leonora's ex had also been cast in the show; at the time of casting, they were still married.  Leonora's soon-to-be-ex-husband quickly dropped the show before rehearsals started, during the divorce process.  Leonora couldn't understand why.  Their characters barely had any stage time together, and when they did, they hated each other; where's the acting part?

The night immediately after said soon-to-be-ex-husband dropped the show due to impending divorce, I got a call (while performing elsewhere).  The caller was from one of my future cast mates suggesting we get coffee or lunch together sometime soon, since we would be working together.  It was at this time that my "silent alarm" went off, for a couple of reasons.

  1. People using the cast contact list for non-work-related reasons should be treated with suspicion.  One must have a very good reason to use a work distribution list to contact a near-stranger for something personal.
  2. For whatever reason, this man, this cast mate, gave me that knot in my stomach.  My inner alarm said, "DANGER WILL ROBINSON!"  And I should have listened.  But I didn't.
As I've written before, we (especially women) are too often taught to "give people the benefit of the doubt," even despite our gut reactions.  This man never once said the word "date," which was good because I had no intention of dating him, ever.  It's just a friendly coffee between friends, right?  Except we weren't friends.  I barely knew him.  It's possible that we could become friends during the rehearsal process, but we hadn't started rehearsing yet.  So against my better judgment I agreed to a coffee meet.

We had coffee on an afternoon, and it was weird.  I still had that silent alarm going in my head and gut, but I did my "due diligence."  I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  I had coffee; I was polite.  And I had no intention of ever doing more than that, besides doing a show together.

Now it's been some time since these events occurred, so you'll have to excuse me if they get out of order.

We started the rehearsal process, and this man kept paying me undue (unwanted) attention, but not always the positive kind.  One night during rehearsal he called a stop to the scene just as I was opening my mouth to say my line -- more than ten times in a row, at the exact same time every time, breaking character.  (Typically actors only stop when the director asks them to stop [or "hold"], and he was most definitely not the director.)

Before we broke for Thanksgiving, he brought me "gifts":  a sparkly glitter tiara that said "BITCH" on it and a copy of the book Even Cowgirls Get the Blues with the "instructions" that I should read it during our holiday break from rehearsal.

Once, he asked me if I could be backstage when he got done with a scene to help him "calm down" like "Alice would to Henry" (our characters' names).  I actually started to laugh out loud because I thought he was joking.  I, of course, said no; I was on the other side of the stage getting ready for the next scene (not to mention the outrageous creepiness of the request).

One night he claimed that the train of my dress was ruining the scene because it was in his way.  I offered to try to move it a bit out of the way, but we had a small 4x4 platform we were on; act around it.

During the rehearsal process, he started a thread on a local theatre discussion board about on-stage kissing, and then he forwarded to my e-mail all of the responses, first saying he was "just trying to give some advice."  When I asked him to please stop emailing me, he claimed (repeatedly) that I was "ruining the scene" (where we had to awkwardly kiss; the kiss was supposed to be awkward and brief).

One night at rehearsal he screamed at me from across a staircase (during a break):  "I'm just trying to discuss what's going on between us!"
To which I yelled back, flabbergasted, "There is NOTHING between us except air!"
"I'm just trying to be your friend!" he yelled.
"I'm friends with the rest of the cast, they don't feel the need to talk about it!" I said.

And that night he called my phone.  All of my phones.  My home phone, my cell phone, leaving a message on one, then calling the other when I wouldn't pick up, nearly non-stop for over an hour.

At some point during this, yes, I should have spoken up; I should have talked to our director.  But I didn't want to rock the boat.  I wanted a good show.  I didn't want to be accused of being a "diva," of being "hard to work with" (Princess Leonora no longer gives a shit about those things, especially when personal safety is on the line).  And I thought I could "handle it"; I thought he'd just go away.

Then a friend of mine lent me a book of his, Obsession:  The FBI's Legendary Profiler Probes the Psyches of Killers, Rapists, and Stalkers, and Their Victims and Tells How to Fight Back.  
I still get chills when I realize/remember that a book outlined, step by step, what was happening to me right then and there.  Here are some key points:
  • The giving of unwanted gifts is literally a textbook sign of stalking
  • Assuming there is a relationship where none exists is also a sign
  • Explosive, unpredictable behavior (what the rest of us might call "mood swings")
The final straw was during a performance, in the dressing room, when he called me a "cunt" in front of the rest of the cast because -- frankly, I don't remember why.  I don't think it matters why.  The man had problems "acting around" my dress; it's not like he was a stable entity.  The director called my home repeatedly that night to make sure I was okay; she was very worried when she couldn't reach me (I was actually sleeping elsewhere that night).  She told me to just try to avoid him as much as possible (which I was); the run was almost over.  But not before he also contacted my ex-husband via e-mail to complain about what a bitch I was.

My soon-to-be-ex-husband had to call me up to ask if this was true?  Was I being a bitch?  Was I saying horrible things about him (the ex-husband) in front of the cast?
My response:  "We're going through a divorce.  Of course, I'm saying mean things about you.  Who wouldn't?"  Then I proceeded to detail all of the shit this man had done and said over the course of the past couple of months, ending with "this probably wouldn't have happened if you had not dropped the show.  I doubt he would have done it in front of you."
An immature response?  Absolutely.  I'm not going to defend that choice, especially as it's not the point here.

The point is:  I should have listened to my gut.  I should have spoken up at any point during the above actions.  If you feel uncomfortable around a person, it shouldn't have to take them calling you a "cunt" for people (including yourself) to realize something is wrong.  Stalkers are real.  Stalkers exist. Stalking is considered a crime in all 50 states. It is a very big deal when someone does not respect the boundaries you have set.  And it is a very big deal when someone exhibits just one or two of the behaviors list above, let alone all three.

If you feel uncomfortable around a person, if they are beginning to exhibit stalking behaviors, please follow these steps:
  • Listen to your gut.
  • Document everything.  
  • Set firm boundaries with the person.
    • It's very possible a person you are required to interact with does not realize they overstepped a boundary.  It's still okay to set boundaries and to let them know they have overstepped them.  That does not make you a bad person, a bitch, a tease, or a cunt.
  • You have not overreacted.  It is a big deal, and if you don't speak up about your boundaries, no one will.
  • Speak up to the person(s) in charge, louder and louder until someone listens.
    • Go up the "food chain" if necessary.
    • Even if you are not asking for repercussions for this individual, people need to be aware of what has happened.
  • Remember:  it is not your decision whether or not the behavior is stalking.  You don't have to have the pressure to make that judgment call; that is the job of a law enforcement official.  It is your decision to realize that something is not right, that someone is overstepping your personal boundaries -- physical, emotional, or otherwise -- and to speak up about it.
  • Everyone has the right to feel safe at their place of employment, in their homes, and frankly, in everyday life.
Leonard has more stalker stories, but the above is one of the worst.  I also have another story from a former colleague, but it is not my story to tell.  I can tell you that the part that made me livid was when our mutual supervisor (also a woman) basically told my friend to "not worry about it," that it "wasn't a big deal," to basically "just ignore it."

Fuck that shit.

Should someone tell you that, feel free to tell them that Leonard said "Fuck that shit!" I will happily send them a Strongly Worded Letter about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment