Some of Britain’s most respected drama schools are facing allegations of sexual harassment, with students claiming they experienced or witnessed sexual assault and “inappropriate” behavior from teachers, including pressure to perform naked or in their underwear.
An investigative report into sexual impropriety in U.K. drama schools from The Telegraph has implicated the Guildford School of Acting (GSA) and the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA), among others.
One incident reported by the newspaper involved a visiting teacher to GSA, which is part of the University of Surrey, allegedly sexually assaulting a 20-year-old female student at home in front of another pupil. When the two students complained to another teacher, they were initially met with inertia. After complaining to a second member of staff, the visiting teacher was dismissed. GSA alumni include Celia Imrie (“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) and Brenda Blethyn (“Secrets & Lies”).
“We are concerned to hear these reports, and we will look into the issues raised,” said a GSA spokesperson, who said the drama school retains a full-time intimacy coordinator on staff. “While we cannot comment on individual cases, it is important to re-emphasize that our top priority is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff.” In 2019, the University of Surrey set up a platform to report issues including bullying and sexual misconduct.
At ALRA, which is actor Miranda Hart’s alma mater, an internal investigation has now been launched following reports that a teacher had sexually harassed students. “Sexual misconduct or harassment is unacceptable and we are doing all we can to stand by the victims and provide them with support,” a spokesperson for ALRA told Variety. “The allegations have been made against staff members who no longer work at ALRA.”
Similar accusations were levelled at The Poor School, a now defunct drama school in King’s Cross. The establishment was founded in the 1980s by a respected vocal coach called Barbara Caister and eventually taken over by her son, Paul Caister, who ran the school until it closed its doors in 2018. One former pupil, Daniella Lautier, told The Telegraph that Caister had allegedly “grabbed” her breasts while others accused him of having a fearful temper and bullying. Variety could not reach Caister for comment, but he told The Telegraph he denied the allegations.
At Essex University’s East15 drama school, meanwhile, students were reportedly pressured into performing naked or in their underwear, and teachers allegedly made sexualized comments.
“Looking back, I can see that the boundaries were trained out of us,” said one anonymous former pupil, who also claimed to have witnessed a female student pressured into simulating a sex act on a classmate. The school counts Stephen Daldry and Alison Steadman among its alumni.
In a statement shared with Variety, the school’s representative said: “Harassment and bullying are completely unacceptable. In May 2020 we reviewed and updated all our guidance on consent and behaviour in rehearsals and performance to ensure we create a learning environment which respects individuals, is based around ongoing consent and enables students to make choices for themselves. Our expectations of our staff and students are very clear and we will always take action if concerns are raised.”
The reckoning across drama schools in the U.K. comes after questions were raised regarding disgraced actor and director Noel Clarke’s behavior at the London School of Dramatic Art, where he was on the board of directors between 2011 and 2015.
Following a Guardian investigation into Clarke, in which more than 20 women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment, former students at LSDA reported that during at least one impromptu improvisation workshop, Clarke encouraged pupils to remove their clothing.
“We have worked hard to build up an environment at LSDA which is a safe space for all our students to learn and develop as both actors and individuals,” LSDA said via a statement on their website. “We understand that there is a power imbalance between students and staff, and it is our responsibility to always have the student’s wellbeing at the forefront of all that we do.” Clarke denies all allegations against him.