Bectu launches campaign to tackle anti-social behaviour in UK theatres 

5 April 2023

Theatre union Bectu has today launched a new campaign, Anything Doesn’t Go, to tackle increasing and extreme anti-social behaviour from UK theatre audiences. Find out more about the campaign here. 

The campaign follows the union’s recent release of survey findings, in which over 1,500 theatre workers across the UK reported regular incidents of violence and physical aggression; sexual harassment or assault; mass brawls; assaults on staff or other members of the audience; defacing or damaging venues; racial slurs; and more.  

Over 90 per cent of respondents had personal experience of bullying, violence, intimidation, harassment or abuse at work, and nearly half of respondents were considering leaving the sector as a result. 

The union, which represents front of house and backstage theatre workers across the country in roles such as hospitality, box office, stage door, sound and lighting, is now urging theatre workers, venues and members of the public to sign its ‘Safer Theatres Charter’. 

The charter calls on venue management to take a more proactive, thorough and zero-tolerance approach to anti-social audience behaviour through clearer policies and procedures on unacceptable behaviour, pushing for safe staffing levels and adequate training, and the use of security measures where appropriate.  

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: 

“We’re not just talking here about someone singing a bit too enthusiastically during a performance or playing on their mobile phone. Much of the behaviour our survey uncovered is truly appalling – slurs, physical assault, defacing venues, racially-motivated aggression. No one should have to deal with this at work. 

 “Everyone deserves to be respected in their place of work – musicals, comedy shows and immersive productions are no different. People are coming to work fearing for their safety, facing regular abuse and struggling with the mental toll this behaviour can take, often with insufficient training or support.  

 “It is clear the industry needs to do better by its workers and we are calling on venues and industry bodies to commit to working with us to tackle this issue. Theatre professionals work incredibly long hours and are some of the lowest paid in the creative industries. That they are expected to put up with this behaviour simply while doing their jobs is wholly unacceptable.  

 “We ask everyone who works in or enjoys going to the theatre to sign our Safer Theatres Charter – audiences and workers deserve a safe theatre environment and it’s critical that we all stand together against this sort of behaviour.” 

Senior front of house staff and Bectu member Joe Postlethwaite said: 

“Throughout my years working in theatre I have experienced many instances of unacceptable behaviour. What was once a rare occasion has now become far more common.  

“Over the last two years I have experienced and witnessed harassment and violence towards myself and my colleagues. Those of us with a passion for theatre want people to join us in experiencing some of the best live entertainment the world has to offer in a space that is safe and welcoming to everyone.” 

Testimonies from theatre workers from Bectu’s recent survey include:

Whilst working in theatre venues on the West End in London I have been punched, hit across the face, verbally abused with phrases such as ‘bitch’ and ‘f***ing bastard’.  

I have been personally threatened with assault and sexual assault by a patron while working as a supervisor. I felt so unsafe, I had to leave early and get a taxi home. 

I have been hit, kicked, spat at, sworn at, had insults relating to my sexual preferences. 

I am due in court as a witness to a mass brawl that occurred last year in one of our venues. Patrons attacked our security team which led to police cars and riot vans attending the venue. This has had a severe impact on my and my team’s mental health. 

Why am I putting my safety on the line for the amount I’m being paid? When audience members complain about front of house staff not doing enough I wish I could explain to them the impact that their behaviour has on my mental health. I am not a punching bag. I am a person. 

I feel less safe now than before the pandemic, finding people more extreme and violent. I have thought many times about dropping my career in theatre because of the effect on my mental health. 

You can read more first-hand experiences from theatre workers here

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Anything Doesn’t Go

Tackling anti-social behaviour in UK theatres