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Mid-Term Report: Safety in the Performing Arts Research Project

Updated: Dec 27, 2022


Before we received the IFA Research grant, we had already begun our work in safety research into the performing arts in November 2021 when we launched the short-form survey of the Safety Research Study.


Building on our experiences in the arts, we thought the best way forward was to hear from as many voices as possible in Indian arts. We wanted to hear from practitioners, performers, creators, administrators, and organisers in the arts.


Preparing the Survey


The research started with a fundamental question: “Is there a need for safety practices in the performing arts?” Despite the outcry from the #MeToo movement and widespread support and demands for safer working environments for women, there has been little visible change in the . Safety practices for groups remain a one-time workshop or a day of very boring housekeeping.


We knew that without data we would not be able to make an argument that safety practices are desired among individual practitioners. So, we built our safety survey with the goal in mind of being able to:

  1. Identify whether practitioners believe there is a lack of/need for safety practices in the arts.

  2. Identify whether practitioners are aware of how to protect themselves when working on arts projects with an institution, arts organisation or individual collaborators.

  3. Identify whether arts practitioners wanted resources to keep themselves safe while working on arts projects

  4. Identify whether arts practitioners would know where to get safety resources that could be applied to their artwork.

We faced multiple challenges when drafting the survey. We wanted to ensure that filling a survey on safety should not feel intrusive, exploitative or accusatory in any way. We also wanted to make sure that users could choose to remain anonymous so that they could share freely or choose to share their identity. We also wanted the survey to feel as inclusive as possible to multiple gender, professional, regional and linguistic identities. We took several attempts to fill up the survey ourselves before presenting the survey to a wider audience.


Reflections upon releasing the survey

While initially we received wide engagement and responses, over the following months the number of responses kept dwindling. The next challenge for us will be to continue outreach to ensure we can reach a target of 900 arts practitioners to include their responses.


In order to keep the amount of time required to fill the survey manageable we had to prioritise multiple choice questions over longer essay answers. Although we asked respondents to indicate whether they would like to have longer conversations and share specific incidents that occurred while working in the arts, due to personal difficulties we have not yet been able to follow up with respondents. We are endeavouring to begin the process of reaching out to the respondents who asked to share their stories starting in January.


With the initial results collected we also began a process of analyzing the data. What follows are our initial findings:


Based on our survey results, first - there is a scope and need to define “safety in arts” in a more clear way to help people solve for it.


87% of respondents choose physical, mental, legal, and financial together when asked for which aspects according to them fall under “safety in arts”

56% of them have observed rules, discussions, policies around the aspects of safety in their practice, institution or project, but only under very specific circumstances, or they are incomplete as mentioned in the responses (quoting directly from responses): “Yes, but only when mandated to by my UK based university. A lot of these considerations were never present beforehand – whether it was about trigger warnings for performers, or confidential health information shared with the director to make a rehearsal room more aware and safe”. ”While physical and financial (and to some extent venue) aspects are discussed / paid attention to relatively more, in my limited experience I feel there's a lack of awareness around and access to safety in the performing arts industry as a whole, primarily in the independent experimental performing arts space”. ”According to me the safety is never thought as a priority what remains of more attention is having a space to perform and secondly the Performance. So these safety options are something that artists should be made aware off”. ”To some extent, but not as much as it should be”


31% stated that no forum was available to bring up instances of discomfort, and disrespect, to your rights and safety.

  • 5% said that yes it is available but they did not use it. 44% also stated that whenever they observed the availability of such resources they are respected and followed - hence we can safely imply that if some resources are available, people are likely to use them.

  • 11% openly wrote about why it is not present, or even if it exists in some form, it is not very easy to use, or is dependent on the facilitator like: “Most often, it is just a matter of directly speaking up. Haven't seen a specific forum to express discomfort. The speaking up then depends on how well accepting I perceive the space / facilitator / director to be”. “Usually it's a personal discussion with the director/ producer. But often we are hesitant because of the awkwardness or power dynamics.”

24% of them do write about the challenges with the available resources and how they can be made more useful. For example (directly quoting from the survey): “In my group, yes... But i have worked with other groups and i observed that this type of safety is not usually following by the theatre industry” “It is not that people do not wish to have these norms in place but most of the time the resources are so less that people end up taking extra responsibilities making them compromise with their basic rights.”


Resources Created


Based on our findings and requests received we have created the following resources in the area of safety in the performing arts:



Safety Practices for Arts Managers

Working in safety in the arts covers a wide range of topics — this workshop focused on how to get started, how to ask the right questions for your context, and how to communicate your goals and targets with other members of your organisation. Some of the topics explored included safety for the members of the organisation, the space where performances or events take place, and the safety of the audience attending the event




Accessibility for Artists

Presentation This workshop for the Serendipity Arts Festival 2022 covers accessibility planning for artists across different arts forms. From practical things like writing accessible language, of incorporating trigger warnings and creating audio descriptions of artworks, to best practices related to venue preparation, audience flow, communication, and production management were included.



Mental Health in the Workspace

This free resource is built upon our work in applied improvisation with large organizations. The downloadable presentation includes theatre games for co-workers to set healthy practices to conserve and discuss mental health in a professional setting. They work in both an online / virtual setting as well as an in-person setting.




An Introduction to Intimacy Training

This article give you an introduction to understanding how to facilitate a safe environment for performers to create and execute intimate scene work. This includes scenes of a sexual nature or that deal with physical touching between performers




Brochure for Research Project

This brochure serves as an introduction to the research project, including information on its research methodology and expected outcomes. It also highlights the different ways in which people can get involved in the project.




The Safety Do-Re-Mi Song

A song created by the team that puts the Kaivalya Plays safety practice into an easy to remember tune.




Legal Safety for Artists

As part of our Theatre Management Fellowship, we invited advocates Niranjan Kaur and Rishabh Sharma to share insights into legal issues such as contracts, copyright and safety practices from the context of working artists.



As part of the survey, the following 4 resources are the ones people will likely refer to while thinking about safety practices:

  1. In person rituals, or processes during rehearsals

  2. Informal checklist or code of conduct

  3. Formal contract of terms and conditions

  4. In-person training or onboarding sessions

Resources that are added to the portal corresponding to the top 4 resources stated in the survey response are as follows:


Public Portal for the Project



The development of a publicly accessible resource library is central to the research project, as one of the big findings of the survey pointed to a severe lack of knowledge and resources around safety in the performing arts.


As we began to work on the first iterations of the portal, we knew it had to be something simple-to-use, functional and intuitive. At the same time, it had to communicate different aspects of the research so that a visitor feels confident in using the resources.


The first draft of the portal is currently live on www.arts-safety.org


It contains an overview of the research project, the team and the progress so far. Additionally, we have a dedicated page for the short survey to reflect the data insights as well as a page on how different stakeholders can get involved.



Finally, we have the resource library which currently hosts 50+ resources. This includes blogs, guidelines, templates and more.


You can see it here: www.arts-safety.org/resources


Users are currently able to filter these resources by topic, focus, owner, year and keywords. In the future, we will add filters around location (state vs country) as well as language (once we are able to add resources in different languages)


Going forward, we are hoping to add 15 resources every week to the portal and continue to work on making this vast set of information easily searchable, filterable and accessible for visitors. We are also hoping to engage the community more strongly so that they contribute resources on the portal.


The next big goal is also to integrate multiple Indian languages into the website, which requires us to translate the web interface and pages.


Case Studies


We have had the opportunity to apply our safety practices based on improv and theatre games in 2 cases so far. The following is a summary of the work so far.



CASE STUDY 1

Drama School Mumbai, India

Ensemble Building


When Drama School Mumbai began a blended program for performers this year, Varoon was approached to offer an ensemble building programme for the batch. Divided into two sections, Varoon was given the opportunity to create a curriculum built on safety practices at its core.


The 2 month long programme allowed Varoon to work three times a week each with two different classes to test the Kaivalya Plays safety practices for new students in the arts. The programme faced multiple challenges. The students were entering a formal institutional training environment for the first time and demonstrated a willingness to challenge and question the practices being explored.


The first step of the process was for the students to create a document that defined what their goals for collaboration would be, the roles they would wish to play in collaborative work with other students, what worried them the most about that collaborative work, and what their emotional outlook was for the upcoming work. This document would be referred back to throughout the course to ensure the students had a way of marking their progress.


Class Structure:

The classes were also structured in a manner so that students were always reminded there would be a time and place to share concerns and difficulties. Each session began with a check-in which would vary from class to class, but each activity had to fulfil three requirements:


  1. That the facilitator and other students could verify that audio and video was working correctly.

  2. That we could get a sense of how the student was feeling from the tone, enthusiasm and/or engagement with the exercise.

  3. Give the performers a sense that the work has started and had to treat all activities from that point on as professional work.

From there the class would introduce a main concept that had to be practiced. For example, one session would be dedicated to just teaching the concept of saying “No” in a professional situation. Another session would explore the basics of consent and intimacy. The lessons had to include activities done in a big group, in small groups and in pairs to allow the students to apply the lessons practically and through games.


Later, 15 minutes would be dedicated to questions to allow the students to share their challenges or confusion with the work presented. On many occasions, students would express disagreement or point to their discomfort or to the aspects they thought were indispensable and helpful.


Finally, a close out activity would be required to ensure that the students knew that the work is completed and everything that follows would be their own responsibility and outside of the responsibility of the teacher or institution.


The process is ongoing and we will be revisiting the results through feedback forms for the students.


Attached HERE is the curriculum of the course.



CASE STUDY 2

Vanderbilt University, United States

Improv for Difficult Conversations


We conducted a second case study during our ongoing work with Vanderbilt University in Tennesee, USA for the Asian Studies department under Dr. Divya Chaudhary. For the 2022 Fall semester, we were asked to create a program held over six 50 minute sessions for 9 intermediate level students of their Hindi-Urdu language programme that would allow them to safely discuss difficult to broach topics such as caste identity.


Along with the challenge of creating a safe environment for sensitive discussions on caste, since the sessions were being conducted for Hindi and Urdu language students, there was the additional challenge of offering tools and instructions in simplified Hindi. Initially, Varoon struggled to find a way to match language learning goals with the more demanding requirements of creating a safe environment to talk about caste. After two sessions, Dr. Chaudhary and Varoon revised their topic choices and allowed students to select which topics they wanted to discuss. From here on out, it became more feasible to focus on communication goals when discussing difficult topics.


The process of applying improvisation games to the process of having difficult conversations resulted in the following observations:

  1. De-emphasizing the need to be correct in terms of grammar or pronunciation when speaking and to focus on the content of the message the student wished to share. When the students felt that others were listening to what they were trying to convey, their intention and message, rather than the language, they were listening with a greater amount of perceived empathy, which allowed students to speak out without Requiring students to repeat the points made by other students before adding their own, built on the principle of “Yes-and” in improvisation. By repeating the last thing someone says, we give the speaker the sense that they have been heard and acknowledged before responding with our own ideas. This allows for a less hostile environment when disagreeing with someone else’s views.

  2. Moving away from questioning each other. A basic tenet of improvisation is to not ask our performing partner questions, since this creates pressure on them and puts them at risk of having to make all choices and decisions. In the same context, when having a difficult conversation, if we interrogate each other we create a hostile environment where we force the person responding to become defensive. However, when we create games with the restriction that the participants can only speak to each other in questions, we can demonstrate the ineffectiveness of questions in a less abrasive and more fun way.

Attached HERE is the presentation document used to facilitate a session that covers all these points. This project will continue in 2023


Key Reflections



Along with personal difficulties (two researchers lost a parent in 2022), we have also struggled to begin our outreach into inviting organisations to participate as case studies for the research. A great deal of the struggle has been self-imposed where we want to ensure that our approach comes across as neither preaching to organisations about their lack of practices / nor should it feel like an interrogation into where they have failed. We have endeavoured to speak in a language that is inviting, non-threatening and offers organisations an opportunity to share their experiences and difficulties with us. We are trying to model our efforts on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that emphasised “gathering evidence and uncovering information—from both victims and perpetrators—and not on prosecuting individuals for past crimes,” [1]


From the data we have gathered we have been able to observe that we need to do more to reach out to groups and practitioners outside of Delhi and Bangalore, which is where we have received the highest number of responses.


We also have to ensure that we reach a wider array of art forms, since most of our respondents appear to be theatre practitioners. We will now focus on reaching out to different disciplines in our upcoming outreach.


We have also accelerated the process of adding resources to our websites, since a key finding so far has been that practitioners wish for more resources for personal, emotional and physical safety but do not know where to find resources.

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