Friday 7 October 2022

On working with Chris Goode: personal accounts and calls for action

This is a collective introduction to a number of texts written by artists, writers, actors and producers, who have worked with Chris Goode since 2011. 

For anyone who might not know, Goode was an influential writer, blogger, theatre-maker and director in British theatre. He was also an abuser who hurt many adult people, over many years. He misused his power as a director, employer and lauded artist, and wilfully obscured this through misusing the languages of contemporary performance, queer liberation, and safeguarding policy. As a consequence, for many years his abuses and harms were misinterpreted, overlooked and denied. 

Since 2017, a number of people who worked with Goode have been gathering to address these acts of harm and abuse, to bring them to light, and to prevent them continuing. Since his death in June 2021, this group has also worked to organise support for some with direct experience of his practices. This has included informal spaces for connection and reflection; fundraising for therapeutic support for individuals; and facilitated spaces for group conversation that can address ongoing conflict. 

The texts collected here have been written alongside and as part of these reparative efforts. While we endeavour to resist the culture of silence that surrounds Goode’s practices, we acknowledge the vulnerabilities of many who were harmed by this work, and the ways in which they might be harmed again by public writing. As we now open our conversation out to a broader community, we continue to prioritise the ideals of bridging and care. 

We hope that this complex and painful history can take on a legacy of learning, transformation and growth. We want these reflections to contribute to the growing dialogue of #MeToo across theatre and performance in the UK, and make a number of recommendations for change in the cultural sector. Goode was not unique in his abuse of power. Our personal experiences of harm in working with Goode, and the ways in which he made his collaborators complicit, motivate our desire that such harm should not be replicated. We act in solidarity with many people who resist exploitation, abuse, sexism and sexual violence, and who seek safe working conditions for all. 

The history we are writing is complex and full of unknowns. It is neither possible nor appropriate for any individual to tell the full story. Eschewing any singular narrative, four of us have instead written individual accounts of our experiences and understandings. We appreciate our different – at times contradictory – perspectives, and find them useful to comprehend how a culture of harm arose and was sustained for years. 

Rather than forming any definite or final word, we see these texts as a beginning. The work of processing requires time; understandings continue to emerge as the many people connected to Goode’s work share experiences with each other. We hope these texts might encourage more sharing, such that the broader community can continue to develop a rounded picture of a complex situation. With an eye on safety within the unregulated space of what is otherwise a personal blog, we are closing the comments box, but this blog will remain a space to which anyone who would like to address this history can contribute, whenever it might feel like the right time for that to happen. 

We would like to thank many people who have made this writing possible. We thank those who have co-organised with us over these years; the many individuals who have bravely entered into dialogue with us; those who have offered us care, support and guidance; those donors who enabled us to access counselling and conflict mediation; and the LGBT+ mental health charity ELOP. 

We apologise that these texts are not immediately available in audio versions: this will be attended to as soon as possible. 

In solidarity, and alongside and with others, 

Lucy, Maddy, Paul, and Xavier 

 

 * 


Please note: the following texts contain extensive discussion of coercion, manipulation, adult and child sexual abuse, and suicide. If you find these texts distressing, please know that you can reach out to these organisations for support. We are speaking here about the need to improve safeguarding, and ways to report abuse. If this is happening to you, or if you are worrying about someone else, please reach out for help. Get a friend to support you. Do it today.

 

Act on concerns, by Lucy Ellinson, performer with Signal to Noise, Chris Goode & Company, and independent works, 2005-2018 

Text here

Audio here

Silence is not an option, by Xavier de Sousa, Senior Producer at Chris Goode & Company, 2017 

Text here

Audio for part 1 here 

Audio for part 2 here

Accountability in process, by Maddy Costa, critical writer with Chris Goode & Company, 2011-2018

Text here

Audio here

On working with, and after, Chris Goode by Paul Paschal, performer with Ponyboy Curtis 2015-2016

Text here

Audio here

These texts sit alongside two articles, written by journalists Lyn Gardner for The Stage, and David Levesley for The Face.

Act on concerns

by Lucy Ellinson

 


Content warning


Below, I mention sexual abuse, coercion, rape and paedophilia, but only in the

context of them having occurred. I do not go into detail.


There are useful links provided at the end of this document.

 

Introduction

My name is Lucy. I work as a freelancer in theatre, usually performing in shows, sometimes making small projects. Writing here, I am speaking only for myself.

I am writing this in a dual capacity. First, I am an artist who worked with Chris Goode over many years and on many different types of projects: early fringe work, studio and main house shows, and lots of research and development. All work that I dearly loved making and in a time where we shared a friendship (I find that hard to think about now). It may seem contradictory when written down, but I also experienced some of his abusive behaviour and practices; I absorbed it, like others did. It always seemed like he might break if we didn’t. We fell out very badly in 2014, worked together again in 2017. I severed our relationship in 2018.

Second, I have been involved in a mutual support circle that includes adult survivors of Chris’s abuse. Since 2018 we have been trying to work towards accountability and sector change. I am grateful for the care, wisdom and compassionate leadership of the thoughtful people in this group.

I have been trying to understand how Chris manipulated the creative processes I was involved in and to ask tough questions of myself. I have also been trying to understand how he was able to continue hurting people for so long. I often hear people refer to our industry's ‘safeguarding system,' but I'm telling you: there isn't one. There are internal processes, people with expertise, knowledge and a lot of policy, but it isn't joined up. We need more. [Please note: I don’t make this statement about theatres and safeguarding with reference to work for young people and children: their processes are different, and I am not able to discuss them with any degree of authority.]

We need an energetic and united move to improve safeguarding across the entire theatre landscape. I believe the information drawn from our experiences can be useful to that effort.

This writing is in three parts: some brief words on Chris, a personal account and a call to action. I don’t wish to stir up unwanted attention and pain for people in need of healing or who were close to Chris. I hope that whoever reads this is supported. I have included links to resources for support.

Before I begin:


Speaking

  • There are places in this writing where I still need to respect confidentiality.

  • Many people have been trying to process this experience offline and prefer not to unpack it on social media. This is not what I mean by “silence”.

  • Many of us have different language for describing ourselves and what happened to us. That needs to be respected.

Sharing

  • I am still learning things which put memories and experiences into a new light.

  • Revelations over the years have created (for me) a sort of ‘speaking with hindsight’. I will do my best to be alert to this and be accurate about what I knew when.

  • Those of us who knew him are all in very different places in terms of knowledge about his behaviour, and our own healing. Many report feeling isolated, positioned ever so slightly differently, all facing – my words – “the wrong way”, so that none of us could ever see the whole picture of his operations at any one time. As such I believe that much more talking and listening needs to be done.

Warning

  • There are people with anti-trans-rights views who are seeking to exploit this painful situation by producing podcasts and the like under the guise of campaign journalism. I find this appalling. It is the self-serving exploitation of people’s trauma, and only more harm can come from it.

A partial view

  • There are many others, not represented here, and who I didn’t wish to spotlight, or speak for.

  • I will do my best to be kind, but I am angry. I believe these two things can co-exist.

 

Part 1: Background

I don’t wish to centre Chris Goode, but I do need to provide some vital context for anyone who might not know. Chris was an influential writer, blogger, theatre maker and director in British theatre. He was also an abuser who hurt many people over many years. That abuse and harm was hidden, wilfully obscured by his misuse of a) his power as a director, employer and lauded artist; and b) crucially, the language of contemporary performance in discourses around queer liberation and safeguarding policy. As a consequence, the abuse and harm he perpetrated was misinterpreted, overlooked and denied. Much of this isn’t widely known today and it is survivors and the people who have been harmed who carry that burden.

In 2021 that burden was added to when Chris’s participation in the repulsive, industrialised abuse of children was revealed to us all after he was arrested for possession of a significant amount of abuse images and video. He then evaded justice by ending his own life before being formally charged by the police.

When we learnt about his paedophilia, it was an indescribable shock. A horror. The news has re-traumatised adults already having to cope with their own experiences of Chris’s abuse and many more people across our sector who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. This trauma has been exacerbated by silence.

Chris Goode coerced and abused young adult artists. He committed acts of serious sexual violence. He showed no remorse for his actions. He worked all across our sector – in higher education and drama training institutions, experimental spaces, festivals and studio and main house productions. He published books and online writing. His influence was considerable. However painful and exposing it may be, we need to piece together how he was able to evade safeguarding in so many contexts. We need to identify the gaps, look into mistakes and how measures and processes failed and become aware of the techniques this abuser used (which others like him continue to use) to evade detection and oversight.

 

Part 2 A personal account

This piece of writing will address my experience of Chris Goode, over the years 2005-2014, and focus more on 2018-2022. It is intended to work with the Call to Action, that is the priority and purpose of writing.

I write this in solidarity with those who have not yet had an opportunity to speak.

 

2005-2014

There are other people who may wish to share more in the future about their experience of Chris (outside of Chris Goode and Company, or Ponyboy Curtis). I might at some point, as more context about a) the conditions we were working in when we started our careers might be helpful and b) it is important to convey why people wanted to work on these projects, in these rehearsal rooms, why many artists poured their hearts into the work and audience members connected to it. It was because we enjoyed much of that making and believed that what we were making had honesty and compassion at its core.

Something I’ve learnt over these recent years is that you can be in a room with people and feel it to be a kind and wonderful space, while not being aware of abuse and oppression happening for everyone in it. It is much easier to see now how and why Chris was able to charm people to work with and be loyal to him. At the time we were just making theatre.

My first acting job was with Chris in 2005, (he was just a few years older than me). I was starting out, zero confidence, no training and no clue how to get work. No pay/ low pay gigs mostly then but I was passionate about live performance and wanting theatre to talk directly to how we lived. 17 years later - there is so much pain.

I have heard “why didn’t you do anything?” and that is an important question. I have heard “why would you let yourself be treated like that?” but that suggests that the blame for abusive behaviour lies with someone other than Chris. That question creates shame and can prevent people from getting help.

I don’t describe myself as a victim or a survivor. But I did experience harm, through nasty, sometimes bullying behaviour, manipulation, refusal to pay me for work, verbal sexual harassment, an attempt to coerce for a nudity/sex scene, one physical assault.

I am not the only one. I'm still processing and I don’t seek sympathy or publicity. Nor do I suggest my experience is comparable to others, definitely not more important. I recognise my privilege. My motivation for writing any of this is to make people alert to the fact that this is happening all around us, all the time.

There were moments when I felt uncomfortable. There were moments when I felt he was messing with people. There were moments that when confronted, he would lose it. There were moments when I didn’t confront him and believed how he described things to be. There were others like me who felt like we were tasked with keeping him safe from himself. There were moments when I felt unsafe and kept away from people who now I think were not safe themselves. There were moments when I felt that my loyalty was being tested, only I didn’t think he would do something like that and I didn’t have that language at the time. There are many moments when I was told that my objections were actually a sign of an inner hatred of myself and my self-directed homophobia. When disagreement in the rehearsal room meant you got crushed. There were moments, toward the end of our relationship, when he was just so hateful in his actions, words and work; where he slipped his guard and forgot who I was but I saw him and what he was capable of almost-clearly, after 13 years.

I wish I had seen him for who he was earlier. I wish I had seen what others were going through, pursued questions about people’s well-being and paid attention to why I didn’t feel comfortable. I wish I had had the training that (by pure luck) I have now; more awareness, to look for the signs, be alert to red flags, join the dots.

Content warning: references to sexual abuse in this section

2018-2022 

 

2018

Disclosure and reporting:

In 2018 I heard a disclosure relating to sexual abuse by Chris. I deeply admire the courage it took to share this experience. I was profoundly shocked; the coercion, the abuse of power, the controlling and threatening behaviour and the sexual and psychological abuse were clear. With the permission of the person who made the disclosure, I was empowered to communicate it to someone who could help.

I was upset and I didn’t know what to do. I had been involved in Chris’s work for a long time, and my mind scanned back through the years for more people he might have harmed and abused. Questioning what I had seen and heard, I would go on to recall moments of personal discomfort and things said that had felt unusual. It didn’t yet make clear sense as part of a greater pattern. My focus was on the present moment. I had immediate support from two close friends, who I thank with every fibre of my being.

One of them was Wendy Hubbard, another of Chris’s long-term collaborators, who had directed many of his solo shows. Wendy worked brilliantly with actors, an area in which Chris had little skill. She, too, was horrified. With Wendy’s support, I contacted three senior female leaders in the industry and I was really nervous making those approaches, but they believed me. They were shocked and incredibly kind, and they moved swiftly into action.

I would like to pause here and say to any freelancers out there, particularly young or emerging artists: Yes, going to speak to people, especially people in positions of authority, can feel really daunting. But if you are in harm’s way or need to report a concern, please take a step in that direction. While part of our work in publishing these blogs is to ask our industry to make it easier to report things, there are ways to get help now. My advice is to get a friend to help you and never doubt yourself.

These meetings all happened within a few days of each other, and around them several things happened. I met with Maddy Costa and explained to her what I knew. She listened, took what I said seriously and shared that there were potentially other people who had expressed concerns about Chris. She offered to put us in touch, and during my lunch and coffee breaks at rehearsals, I emailed (clumsily), had phone calls and then went back to work and tried to keep it together. Each communication clarified the scope of the situation, which was much bigger and more frightening than I had originally realised: the abuse that Chris had perpetrated was extensive. He had targeted individuals and, through abusive work practices, hurt many people.

It was suggested to me that I should contact Xavier De Sousa, who had been a producer with Chris Goode & Company. I called him and explained what I’d learned, and he shared his experience of raising complaints while working for the Company – the actions he’d taken, the blocks he’d faced and how he’d been mistreated. I latched onto his strength then and have held on ever since.

 

Inquiry and confidentiality

Things continued to move quickly. Chris Goode & Company were sent a joint letter from the leaders I had approached demanding an independent inquiry into Chris Goode's practice. I don’t have knowledge of this process but staff responded with seriousness, engaging a consultancy firm to carry out the inquiry. Once it began, Chris Goode & Company were the entity first contacting people for interviews, which I assume was about GDPR and probably unavoidable but it was also off-putting. There must be a better way.

I met and was interviewed – another rehearsal lunch break – trying to keep it together.

Like many people, I invested a lot of hope in the inquiry. I didn’t know how it would play out, but because I knew that some survivors had taken part (which must have taken a lot of courage and strength), I assumed the report would be damning in its findings. I believed that it would bring justice, that it would stop Chris in his tracks and prevent him from being able to lure, coerce and harm other young people who just wanted to make meaningful art and start their careers. I believed that people in our sector would find out what he’d done to people and how he’d lied, or at least that everyone would pay attention. Of course it would – it was an independent inquiry, right?

During this time I struggled to balance my responsibilities. On the one hand, it was essential that people knew about Chris. On the other, I was bound to confidentiality, unable to speak publicly about what had been disclosed to me without consent. As Xav mentions in his blog, there are limited options when supporting adults who have every right to control how their information is shared. Questions can be invasive and people can be traumatised and made unsafe by contact with the police.

So here, the silence was mine, I felt stuck and I worried about what that silence was doing. I tried to speak to friends and colleagues that Chris and I had in common, but I was wary; I thought people would go straight to him, and I was counselled to be careful lest I accidentally identify someone. I took this very seriously: I was learning more and more about his threatening behaviour and capacity to lie and deliberately cause real harm (none of us knew about Chris’s paedophilia until 2021). This abuse – by someone who for many years I’d believed was incapable of such behaviour – was difficult to comprehend.

When I did talk to people during this time, I was guarded – too much so, I now think. I would say to them that I’d ended my relationship with Chris because of the harm he was causing and because of the inquiry, and that they should keep an eye on what came out in the report.

It was like they couldn’t hear me. Even months later, I’d see people conversing on Twitter and I couldn’t understand it. I felt increasingly afraid, and I started to become paranoid that no one would believe me if I did say something publicly. Deep anxiety and depression took hold of me.

The last time I saw Chris was in early 2018. I hadn’t heard from him for a long while, which wasn’t strange; he’d been vile and abusive when we’d worked together, and we weren’t on good terms. But over 2018 and 2019, I received two emails from him enquiring about friendship. I didn’t reply because I was afraid of what I would say. I felt a moral responsibility to challenge him directly. But I didn’t want to put people in danger. He blocked me on Twitter, and I didn’t hear from him again.

The Report

When the report finally came out in October 2018. it felt like someone had switched out the future that was meant to happen and replaced it with something different.

In the post-report process I had visualised, Chris Goode & Company followed the recommendations. Chris faced personal consequences for his actions, larger bodies with power and oversight stepped in and withdrew support from him as an artist (and therefore from his company). Survivors were empowered; able to influence the process; seen, heard and believed. Once some or most of this work was underway, I believed we would go public. From there, we would have a lot of organising to do to get any closer to some kind of justice.

The report was confidential, for the protection of survivors and people harmed. Campaigning or confrontation on Twitter (a platform where Chris had a lot of influence) might be, I agreed back then, potentially damaging to people’s chances to achieve accountability and justice.

But I was na├»ve. None of this happened. And it’s important to be real here: is there any precedent for a process like this in UK theatre? Possibly. But we won’t ever know about it because of confidentiality and the risk of legal action.

And now I think initial confidentiality agreements need to have flexibility, to be revisited and participants consulted, once it becomes apparent that patterns of abusive behaviour are ongoing and misconduct is evident. Otherwise: who is actually being protected here?

The inquiry and report had been carried out independently (my experience of the consultancy firm was one of sound, solid practice, ethical rigour and a thoughtful, intelligent grasp on the complexity of the situation. I remain grateful for what they did). But the Inquiry was limited – due to limited finances and scope.

Chris Goode & Company did begin work in response to a list of strong recommendations, they brought in freelance consultants to assist with dealing with one of them – the creation and implementation of a code of conduct. I didn’t know anything of this at the time but now looking back, I believe that the people contracted by the company were conscientious and diligent in trying to deliver this properly (as well as some figures within the company structure, who stayed with the process because of a commitment to seeing the work was done).

However, the company response to the report’s list of strong recommendations – at least as far as I’m aware – did fall under Chris Goode & Company management. So did oversight of that response and this risked the integrity of the process. The company had been built around Chris. His influence and reach were considerable across its workings. Many of his people were colleagues or fans. He was known to be angry and resistant when faced with dissent, and he was being investigated for, among many things, abuse of power.

I now know that many people involved in the processes of the inquiry and the company response were manipulated by him, including freelancers and some staff at the company and some on the board. That he presented himself outwardly as ‘welcoming the conversation’ – but behind closed doors he despised the process and said so. I know now – this became apparent through his reluctant responses to requests for progress reports – that he was eventually able to wholly manipulate the company’s response.

The report was a lot to absorb, I had to read through it in stages because I was really struggling with the fallout in my mental health and I anticipated it being full of details about the abuse, this was unfounded due to the need to protect people from being identified. (A reminder here that people directly affected by Chris had no access to advocacy or counselling themselves.) I thought that the report tended to give Chris’s intentions more credit than he deserved (he didn’t deserve any, that would have been clear if the inquiry had involved interviews with more people) but it did contain clear evidence of misconduct and what I would describe as abusive practices. As I tried to reconcile what I knew with what I was reading, my faith dwindled.

I learnt that important voices weren’t part of the process. Some chose not to be, of course, it was absolutely the right of survivors to decide not to be interviewed; why should they have to relive their trauma? And why would they believe that an inquiry initiated by Chris Goode & Company could be effective, neutral or even fair? An invitation to participate asked people who were (at minimum) affected by misconduct to engage in a process that appeared to be organised and paid for by the perpetrator. I also learnt that important voices were never invited in that initial Chris Goode & Company email – sent to Company collaborators. I believe Chris is responsible for this.

There was a clear list of strong recommendations for the company in the report, including that some activities be stopped. These recommendations should have sparked curiosity (from people in positions of oversight especially) as well as the question “Wait – what does this mean? Is everyone ok?” This did not happen.

The report became another grey area that Chris was able to manipulate. I ask this question of all of us: what grey areas are now operating in the language of safeguarding that we as a sector have settled on using? What are we actually saying – and doing?

Some recommendations were strong and unequivocal, others felt adjacent or perhaps irrelevant to the way Chris worked. I remember thinking that it would be easy for him to ignore them. I remembered how many times over the years he had encouraged or demanded “risk-taking” from us as performers (‘risk’ being one of theatre’s favourite and most dangerously unspecific buzzwords) and how he sneered at the venues we’d worked at, taking the piss as soon as venue staff were clear after a meet-and-greet or health and safety/safe space messaging. Those kinds of things were always subtly derided.

It is important to note that in recent years, language around safeguarding and now well-being has become more present in how we talk about work. Back in the earlier years of working with Chris, this wasn’t so, so his use of similar language and the exploration of opening yourself up, sharing about vulnerable experiences, loss, trauma, identity, desire, made his rehearsal rooms and live work feel like a rare invitation to disarm. For audiences and artists alike it felt like a ‘safe place’ in comparison to the world in which we live. As he became more fluent in this type of language, the industry was developing its own safe-space terminology. And loved him for his. We were, as devising performers, sharing our experiences of being human, our vulnerable moments, mental health struggles, abuse, assault, feeling ourselves to be safe while in fact being put at real risk. He would use the “check in/check out” exercise – asking “how are you?” – and in the investigation argued that it was an adequate safeguarding mechanism. When days were difficult and he’d been horrible, I’m telling you that mechanism was worse than useless, it was used to crush dissent. He made “inappropriate comments” (verbal sexual abuse) frequently over the years, which I won’t describe here yet I remember him “holding space” for people to share intimate MeToo experiences. He joked privately about “not having been MeToo-d yet”. Thinking of that today turns my stomach.

Many of us had hoped for and visualised an outcome that meant Chris would not be able to hurt anyone any more. Instead, the company somehow, inexplicably, carried on being an NPO (they had paused while the inquiry was ongoing). Chris would go on (in 2019) to frame the experience through smooth talking Company PR online (don’t forget, “the Company” was pretty much him). His own version of events heavily quoted in our industry newspaper. This was warmly received offline, by fans and people who didn’t know what was happening. I heard people say “yes well it's tricky isn’t it” and thinking well of him for “doing the work”.

I think it would have been so helpful for there to have been curiosity in this moment, too. For people to have taken a beat and asked, “What is this? Is everyone ok?” But that didn’t happen, as far as I know. I don’t even know how many people knew there was an inquiry or what those who did thought of it. I don’t want to think that people looked away because this was happening to young men and queer people, making it “just LGBTQ+ stuff”. I don’t say this to shame or accuse anyone; I just think it would be worth taking a look, internally, at what was going on there. Chris had a hold over what people thought of him and his work, a powerful reputation that he’d cultivated for decades. It just would have been useful in that moment to have asked “What is this? Is everyone ok?” because these questions require a response, follow-up and action. We can all learn from that, me included.

 

2019

Holding Chris Goode to account

I am ashamed to admit that at this point in the timeline I went under; most of 2019 was a blur. I remember trying to work while simultaneously pushing this away and it not going anywhere.

Xav and other people affected by Chris gathered to hold him and the company to account. They did extraordinary work, writing letters in response to the report and its recommendations, following up, asking for progress reports and even intervening when somehow, inexplicably, Chris Goode & Company offered free accommodation for an upcoming artist at the 2019 Edinburgh festival.

This group worked incredibly hard, without support or access to advocacy or counselling. They just had each other. They should never have had to do it all alone.

Xav kindly kept in touch during this time, while I would reach out and retract. I worried that survivors might feel unsafe around me and perhaps be unable to heal, that I would contaminate their safe space because of my past connection to Chris. Furthermore, this connection still looked active online, and I was concerned that this could be perceived as validating him in some way, especially in the eyes of the amazing students and emerging artists that I worked with and mentored. Chris was still seen as a “maverick avant-garde theatre genius”, and I was someone they could talk to about his work. I was so unsure of what to do in any direction. I did seek out advice from friends in education and social care but there just weren’t any pathways. I felt broken, worried that I would break others with any decision I made, whether that meant speaking out or staying quiet.

Xav and the group laboured away. Demanding to see evidence of the safeguarding work that was promised. You can read about his observations and work in his blog.

We are still piecing together what exactly happened but I personally believe that:

  • Chris manipulated the process by positioning the code of conduct as the centrepiece of the company response.

  • A series of staff resignations led to organisational tailspin, which blighted Chris’s company work but also consolidated his power; enabling him to pause the work on that same code of conduct. This is even said by him, in The Stage (2019).

  • Chris name-dropped respected professionals that weren’t actually contracted to do anything. There is still a lot of haziness for me around this, but this is my educated guess.

  • Abused, harmed and affected people were the ones having to carry out oversight and hold the company to account. This should never happen.

  • Abused, harmed and affected people in order to hold the company to account, ended up having to communicate with the abuser. They were able to do so anonymously but this does not afford adequate protection.

During this period, as I mentioned, I tried to keep working. But it felt like there was a hole in the centre of everything. An emptiness. It took a while to realise that that emptiness was probably me. Because of my long collaboration with Chris, he would come up a lot in conversation, and I would either shut down or flinch and scrape to get away.

Sometimes I would engage; this often meant me sharing, followed by awkwardness, which I read as disbelief, denial and possibly homophobia. It made me less confident to proactively make these conversations happen. I wish I could go back and change that, toughen up some. I would share with people who asked about him in relation to work I was also involved in. I was extremely anxious that he would be working with younger artists again.

Sometimes I was approached for a specific conversation about people’s own concerns and about things someone had “been hearing about", and I noticed that these conversations were becoming more frequent. But this was completely unsustainable, as well as ineffective. It only led to his name being silently added to that long list of people in our sector who abuse, harass and bully – a list that exists only in people’s heads, because we have no power to do anything about it - and even if we do – we’ll get sued.

I couldn't see a way to speak out publicly without retaliation or repercussions for individuals who didn’t want to be identified. I felt fearful of Chris. Such were people's strong protective feelings for him that I didn't think I would be believed if I said anything publicly. I found myself saying, "Our relationship is over because I think he is a danger to people. Please, ask to read the report."

Sometimes people got it. But all these quiet warnings, in between the line readings, reshuffles and withdrawals, it does us no good. It isn't safeguarding. It’s abuser management, damage mitigation.

I’ve spoken about my mental health a lot here but I didn’t really clock what was up until doing an interview with an industry newspaper about a show I was performing in. I was self-conscious anyway (don’t love interviews), but particularly in regard to Chris coming up in conversation, as it generally did. (Much as I wished for everything to be known and discussed transparently in our industry press, I didn't have survivors’ consent, and I couldn’t drag my colleagues and employer at the time into the situation. I was meant to be talking about the project I was working on). I managed to get through it, but in a moment of chat afterwards, Chris Goode’s name came up. I tried to bat it away by saying that I had a lot of “Chris-s” in my life – something daft like that. But when I read the article he was named as a regular collaborator of mine. I have no idea why – he wasn't even involved in the project. I had an immediate and full panic attack (I still have them because of all this, though fewer now, thankfully). I understood then that we were in trouble. All of us. Because this was just how things were now, and we didn't have anywhere to go.

The year ended with me recovering from an injury and emailing with Xav, who sent me Chris’s latest “response”. 

 

2020

Xav and I reconnected. We both noted that, thankfully, conversations with people asking questions were becoming more frequent, but that the inquiry had clearly not been able to contain Chris. He, the abuser, was now in control of the process of creating safeguarding for his company. Because of the threat he posed, we knew our next step must be to move from private to public information-sharing but we didn't yet know how. Or if we’d be empowered to do so. Then the pandemic began, and like everyone in our industry and communities, our work was cancelled or adapted or became entirely about fighting fire.

 

2021

Content warning: references to rape, paedophilia and suicide in this section

In March, Xav and I reconnected again; we'd both seen the incredible work that Helen Raw was doing in keeping the industry engaged in MeToo justice and sector change work.

In the same month, something happened that freaked me out and helped me see things with clarity.

I saw a tweet of Chris’s (he'd evidently unblocked me at some point) that referenced the horrific kidnapping, rape and murder of a woman walking home in Clapham by police officer Wayne Couzens (I’m omitting her name purposefully so as not to create any attention/draw her family into this). It instantly made me feel panicked and physically sick. At that time, there was a collective call for men to do something about misogyny in their circles and intervene when other men abused women or circulated hateful material. For his part, Chris cited his 2014 play Men in the Cities as an example of courageously facing up to and exploring misogynistic, violent and abusive behaviour by men. I can't remember his words precisely, but I believed he was trying to use that moment of anguish, horror and fear to elevate himself as a progressive moral example who was doing the work. It would have been egotistical even if he wasn't an abuser, but I was horrified – unable-to-breathe horrified – that someone I knew to be guilty of secretly and repeatedly committing the most serious violent sexual crimes was promoting himself as an ally to women who were calling out that same violence. It wasn't just a repugnant act: it was a signal of his utter lack of remorse and any sense of responsibility, perhaps even of delusional thinking. I was deeply worried that he was active and dangerous again.

It felt clear that there was now no choice but to go public. Xav and I connected, we hadn't worked out anything, but we started reaching out to some survivors we were still in touch with to see how they felt about making some kind of a public statement (by this point, many were understandably exhausted and needed time away). Slowly, we arranged a date to meet.

Before it arrived, I became aware that Chris had been in hospital. I didn't know what for.

At each point during this short period in spring 2021, the image I have in my head is of an elevator dangling in a lift shaft. With each revelation, another support line breaks, plunging you further down. You are jolted and left dangling. You don't imagine it can get worse, and then it does.

During this period, I can’t remember precisely when, a piece of paper saying that (paraphrased) “abusers work here" was left on the door of a theatre. Chris's name was on it, along with others.

I then learnt from a friend that he had been arrested. I assumed this meant an adult survivor had come forward.

Friends exchanged calls as we tried to understand what had happened, and it didn't take long to discover the real reason Chris had been arrested: possession of child sexual abuse images and video. He was to be charged soon.

There were a lot of calls now, and the nature of them changed; increasingly, people needed help and emotional support from one another, friends and former colleagues. People made an effort to make sure vulnerable individuals had people to speak to, whether we knew them or not. We worked to piece together the perspectives of this broken constellation of people facing different ways.

It felt like the news would become public soon (I myself found out quite late), the thought of anyone finding out via Twitter was awful. Chris had been so completely out of my life since 2018 that I didn’t even know some of the people he’d recently collaborated with, much less how to contact them. Recent colleagues, long-term collaborators, organisations that had worked with him, particularly those that had community casts in (it felt like many people in that context might feel vulnerable and unsupported), many many people connecting on the phone. Credit to the organisations that started putting together plans to support people. There were a lot of us connecting, creatives, designers, deputy stage managers and companies and supporters from the early days; assistant directors that he'd exploited and treated like crap; friends and colleagues who had experienced abuse themselves and who might need advance warning and support.

A lot of care extended to one another. A lot of care extended by those themselves suffering most deeply.

Long days and long conversations. Shock. Tears. Calls always ended with, "Ok, what can I do? Can I call someone? I'll think about who to reach out to…" Even in the moment of learning the news, people’s first thought was of others who might need support.

This fills my heart, all these freelancers. It was "is everyone ok?" in action.

Another line in the lift shaft broke when an article in The Stage announced that Chris Goode & Company was closing due to "personal reasons". He was lying again, and again it was hard to breathe.

Then another: I received a call from Maddy, who told me that Chris, rather than face police charges as he was meant to, had decided to end his life and avoid the consequences of his actions.

We drew up a list of people we felt we had to call. After a few calls, I realised there was no way we could contact everyone who would have appreciated a personal message or phone call. (I never heard from Chris Goode & Company, whatever it was at that point. There was a hole where duty of care should have been.)

Xav, Maddy and I did have that meeting with the group, and I was so grateful to be together, I hadn't before. We were in shock. We didn’t do anything in particular; we just spent time together. It was apparent we all needed proper support.

When the news of Chris’s death went online, so many people responded with pain and shock, expressing their love for his work. It was understandable – they didn't know about his arrest, his abuse of adults or his paedophilia, which we had just learnt about and were still reeling from. It was painful for them. It was also painful for those he had abused, people I don’t even know, but whose tweets I saw. People who had been gaslit, ignored and silenced and who remained unsupported. They watched as these tributes were made.

The next day, there was another article in The Stage. This one was about his arrest and paedophilia. Online, everything went quiet. I saw the generation that grew up with social media tweeting, understandably, that they were frustrated that people weren't talking more because it was so important. I also saw generations, mine included, for whom the idea of processing something so devastating and raw “out loud” – that is, on social media – was inconceivable.

Offline, it wasn’t quiet. Offline, things were raging. There were emergency meetings in theatre organisations. Trustees and talk of brand toxification and then…?

Theatre workers, audience members, and the communities around us were reeling with shock and fear. Many people found themselves scanning back over the years, searching for sense, danger they’d missed and information. They needed time to process, and a process – a place to put their questions, find answers and experience their feelings.

Offline, survivors of abuse – including childhood sexual abuse and abuse by Chris – were suffering. The quiet they experienced looked and felt like distancing and secrecy. The quiet, day by day, was turning into silence. They, too, needed a process.

They – we – are still waiting.

It is an impossible conversation. But the abuse Chris perpetrated, which went on for years, relied on silence and secrets, shame and distancing and denial. It continued because of the hole where useful curiosity should have been. It grew because of that emptiness where action, follow-up and difficult questions needed, so very much, to be.

In the immediate aftermath of Chris's death, we reached out to people for urgent help. We needed to organise counselling support for survivors and people affected by Chris who were re-traumatised by the revelation of Chris's paedophilia and who hadn't yet been able to access support. If that last point is surprising, remember: Freelancers can't afford therapy. Nor can they access employee assistance programmes, and freelancers who aren't union members aren't eligible for union-subsidised 6-session short-term counselling.

We talked to a lot of people to try and make this happen. We tried to contact the remaining people in post at what had been Chris Goode & Company. We contacted organisations who knew us, who came to Zooms and listened to us unpack our experiences. We wanted to start a conversation on how we could usefully share our experience of Chris – as we put it then, "Rather than positioning ourselves as carriers of this painful history, we are keen for information to be shared with a wider theatre community seeking greater understanding."

Some organisations listened. I think some of them thought that by listening, they were helping. But arranging and taking part in these Zooms took a lot of time and so much effort; it was a job. And it was draining for us to unpack everything over and over. For some, it was traumatic. At the time, the only way I could think to express it was "We need someone to scoop us up".

We made contact with a provider, the
East London Out Project (ELOP), a holistic LGBT+ centre that offers a range of social, emotional and support services to LGBT+ communities – and they were incredible. A plan was created to support people. They understood our situation and prioritised people getting support ASAP. To cover the cost, we decided we would have to just jump in and commit to future fundraising. But how? Beyond us there were others, in more precarity, to think about too.

I am extremely grateful to Royal Exchange Theatre, The Yard, Theatre in the Mill, Royal Court (and some individuals I can't name here) for the various ways they gave help. I am grateful to the Arts Council for taking us seriously and listening compassionately and bringing us into the work of Raising A Concern.

We were fortunate to get that help, but it took a lot of work. It took an unexpected act of deeply kind individual giving.

It shouldn't have been that hard.

There was a hole where duty of care could have been.

 

2022

This year, we had conversations with some former freelancers and staff of Chris Goode & Company, some of whom only worked for the company for a short time. I am thankful they were willing to meet, this provided useful information that needs to go somewhere.

We learnt a lot about Chris's manipulation. We learnt about his willingness to steal from the reputations of respected theatre professionals in order to protect himself and project a false image of work being done on safeguarding. We learnt how things could be done differently.

There is much, much more to learn, and this short period of reflection and self-examination is only the beginning. I don't know the inside of people's heads. Or how we as a sector are to navigate the turbulent times ahead, yet more government cuts, bitter economic challenges, misinformation, reactionary backlash.

But I do know that institutional silence, kicking this can of "What to do about abuse?" down the road (again) only means that we'll return to this place of extraordinary pain again, which will mean more lives deeply affected and more people damaged.

We can't let that happen.

There are many already working on this. There are a lot of really observant and thoughtful theatre workers who for various lengths of time were involved in Chris's work – before and during Chris Goode & Company and in independent projects. There are many more involved in commissioning works, making shows happen and supporting productions in countless ways. Many people beyond us, who have their own experiences, observations and knowledge to share.

We are ready to make our experiences count.

We – British theatre, from makers to administrators, individual freelancers to large organisations – need a space, a process, in which we can work together, roll up our sleeves and share what we know, learning from failures by holding them up to the light and studying them.

In this way, we can build robust, interconnected and dynamic systems that support survivors and stop abuse.

We can create a survivor-centred and properly resourced action plan to effect the radical cultural shift needed so that abusers are no longer empowered and protected.

We can create a culture-making environment where abuse cannot hide in the shadows. Where it is detected, reported and stopped.

We can, in our places of work – from official rehearsal rooms to the unseen spaces beyond them –
identify and remove all barriers to reporting abuse and be ready to support survivors and their networks, so that they do not have to hold it all, as so many do and as we have done.


What follows is a call for action that contains some specific recommendations to this end.

 

Part 3

CALL FOR ACTION

We need a full-sector, survivor-centred, inclusive and transparent conversation. This section is intended to contribute to that with a number of concrete actions steps, followed by some remaining questions. In compiling these steps, I have used the following guiding principles: 

 

We need a resourced process where teams communicate with one another, sharing findings, practices, useful models and working proposals. We need to be willing to commit to public-facing communication so that our future workforce, the communities around our work, audiences and international contacts can access the conversation.

 

Across all of these exchanges, there must be commitment to safe-space policy, structured support, confidentiality and agreement to share findings, particularly when handling people’s experiences of abuse and harassment.

 

I know that important useful work on safeguarding already exists, and I recognise that people have put a lot of effort into it. I know that institutional silence does not necessarily mean the work isn’t being done internally, and that some situations stay quiet because of legal complications. But I also know that for many reasons – among them, organisations being stretched beyond capacity, government cuts, Covid-19, defensiveness and staff shortages – we still need to bring it all together. And many freelancers feel left in the dark.

 

We would love to hear from anyone who is already working on this. We would like to amplify your good practices and engage and assist you in your work.

 

Steps we can take together

  • Value the small steps: identify and implement the practical changes we can make now.

  • Share and improve upon efforts that have been made to address safeguarding over recent years, whether they were successful or not. Many individuals and organisations have been committed to this aim, and the information they can share, successes (and in particular) failures is useful data.

  • Consult with other sectors and industries (education, sport, voluntary and community-based) to share information on working practices and tackling challenges.

  • Release the defensive holding position that many institutions find themselves locked into. Ask what the obstacles are, from risk assessment to recruitment to response. Disallowing fear will help stop the silence.

     

TRAINING

The quickest measure we can take right now is to remove financial and access barriers to high-quality training. Due to the high costs involved, freelancers and students cannot afford the training that is currently provided to select staff at organisations and venues. Deaf and disabled freelancers are shut out.

In addition, we can:

  • Consult with and listen to stage management. Equip these freelancers by providing free training. Too often, stage managers and company stage managers are simply assumed to be responsible for reporting. Yet the people in these roles are also subject to abuse themselves, and under pressure to deliver, whether freelancers or in a permanent position.

  • Provide free and accessible resources and training tools on how to recognise harm and offer assistance when you suspect that abuse is occurring.  Refresh this training regularly. (The Lyric Hammersmith offer their training for free to all freelancers they engage for example).

  • Provide free and mental health first aid training and seek out / share materials and resources from authors and creators with lived experience, not just the MH first aid standardised training, generic NHS resources or general well-being material.

  • Make this training compulsory for students in drama schools and training institutions and as part of freelance recruitment processes and company orientations. Require that directors who are commissioned provide proof of having completed this training.  Require that funding recipients have completed this training.

  • Include in training packages: anti-racism training & resources, Deaf awareness, Neuro Diversity Awareness and Disability awareness training. They are not luxury extras, they create healthier, safer, more successful workspaces.

  • Extend this reach beyond the walls of the theatre by identifying practical ways to reach the most vulnerable creators and workers in your neighbourhood. Where are the actors who are marginalised, those who are not currently working in your rehearsal rooms, or walking past your green room noticeboard? How can you get the training to them? 

 

REPORTING – Make it easier to report and offer robust support:

  • Provide multiple / flexible reporting options for people experiencing abuse. People need different ways to take this step.

  • Make it easy - test that the terminology you are using is clear. Produce simple “how to report” guides in accessible, shareable media.

  • Establish and communicate a clear reporting pathway (both internally and including potential referrals to external authorities). Asking people to step into the unknown prevents people coming forward. Share the process.

  • Ensure any survivor or supporter that raises a complaint will be able to do so anonymously and give them the option of bringing a third party to the conversations.

  • Ensure that personalised support such as counselling and advocacy is available for people who have disclosed or reported abuse. Make it flexible and make it available long-term if necessary. Centre the person’s needs and access requirements.

 

BOARDS – Reconsider responsibility

  • Reconsider the role and responsibilities of boards and advisory boards in relation to safeguarding. What are the human costs of defensive decision making? 

  • Create clear access to board members for reporting and whistleblowing scenarios. 

  • Provide robust, compulsory safeguarding training for individuals becoming trustees so that this difficult work is centred and prioritised by all board members (not just designated officers). Update the training regularly.

  • Commit to investigating concerns, don’t wait for them to become “clear complaints” that your recognise according to your formal processes.  Enlist a third-party organisation for support.

  • Seek out and work with thorough oversight – including by funders – in looking at the decision-making processes of board and advisory board members, so that we no longer have situations where abusers are paid off and sent away, free to work for adjacent organisations in the sector. No more quiet goodbyes for abusers moving on to pastures new.

  • Be accountable to an independent standards authority (if and when we get one) about your recruiting, training and complaints procedures.

 

EMPLOYERS/EMPLOYMENT – Talk to find solutions to the tough challenges

  • As part of your recruitment process for freelance directors, check for references and evidence of prior complaints around conduct before hiring. Just as you would for full-time, contracted employees of theatre organisations. This must include drama schools and training institutions. (Chris Goode was working in drama schools).

  • Require participation - or proof of participation in safety training (as mentioned above) before directors receive commissions. (Theatres and HR departments: If a director objects, ask why. Actors and creatives: ask yourself if you would like to work with directors opposed to training that would alert people to abuse.)

  • Work together with other theatre organisations and professionals in HR and executive management positions to identify the challenges in employment law and real-world blocks that employers face. Seek expert legal advice from beyond our sector.

  • Our current situation means that freelance directors who are perpetrators are protected - and thus enabled to be repeatedly rehired. What can we do about this? Given the high levels of abuse in our sector, is it unreasonable for potential employees to be required to show evidence of their safe record? How will that be managed? In regards to references, what formal, responsible and legally sound process can be created to share information about a known perpetrator?

  • Keep the knowledge in the organisation (and out of your head). What do you do when you leave your post? There needs to be a process.

 

SUPPORTING & ADVOCACY


Experience with Chris Goode shows that we need to develop practical strategies around third-party involvement for complaints processes, investigations and inquiries. And that there need to be consistency across the four nations of the UK> By “third party involvement” I mean assigned individuals, teams or “neutral” organisations who could be called in to provide or ensure the provision of:

  • Advocacy, advice and support services for individuals making complaints; some theatres already doing this work call this providing a “guardian”

  • Obtaining resources and structural support for proper management of processes

  • Providing Independent oversight, monitoring of processes and delivery of outcomes

  • Acting as a communication buffer who can relay messages between parties (this is active safeguarding)

  • Reporting to funders such as ACE and ensuring that the message is getting through successfully

  • Ensuring that ethical standards around confidentiality, transparency and inclusivity are upheld, including a) a commitment to regular, public-facing communication; b) consciousness of how marginalised and racialised individuals experience the process; and c) the provision of full access to the conversation for disabled and Deaf participants and communities.

 

CULTURE SHIFT: All of us play a part

  • Chris Goode was repeatedly described as a “genius”. Refuse to perpetuate “genius culture”. Let’s change how we talk about artistic achievement – it is steeped in all kinds of privilege.

  • Replace shame, fear and defensiveness about mistakes, with a culture of understanding what went wrong and sharing information.

  • See safeguarding policy as a sector-wide, open-source, living thing. Strive to make it better. Safeguarding policy isn’t just a pdf, a policy document or a disclaimer. It is your neighbourhood, your past, present and future communities. It is all the places you can’t see.

  • Harness the power of freelancers. Freelancers are powerful, we move around all the time and we can do a lot of good. We are 70 percent of our workforce. Imagine what could happen if 70% of our workforce were empowered by training in how to identify where abuse might be happening? What could happen if 70% of our workforce were trained to be more aware of people’s needs within a rehearsal room environment?

  • Empower our future workers by communicating and including them. Drama students, new graduates, untrained actors, especially LGBTQ+ young people are unseen and working in unrecognised creative spaces. Their employment situation and working conditions are precarious, and they are vulnerable, particularly given the career stage they are in. This is particularly relevant to Chris Goode’s abuse. (In many cases students are fighting for justice on their own).

  • Push back against any reactionary backlash - online, in government policy making and in arts programming/funding decisions. In regard to Chris Goode, stand with LGBTQ+ makers. Radical queer theatre was NEVER the problem: Chris’s abuse and exploitation was.

  • Embed the need for useful curiosity. In leadership training, normalise questions like “Wait – what’s going on? Is everyone ok?” and “What can I do to help?” If you’re the chair of an organisation, consider it your role to ask questions and extend care beyond what is written in the organisation’s constitution.

  • Venue/freelancer power relations have been much discussed over lockdown (thanks to all the people who have worked so hard on this). Let’s reconsider what leadership can be. What leadership models do we have? Collective working, co-operatives and mutual support networks are powerful, experienced, diverse and rich in talent. “How do we work / together?” is a creative question.

  • Men: work to dismantle patriarchy and sexual harassment, abuse and male violence in our industry and wider society. If you’re afraid of centring yourselves in MeToo conversations, remain active, be directed by people of other genders, offer support in the form of resources.

 

Questions and points for development

  • How can we adhere to confidentiality whilst remaining engaged and dynamic in dealing with a particular process or complaint? (I believe this is a hugely important question for people in organisational structures and processes and those in management roles. People have reported to me that they feel “stuck” once a report has been made – that it hits a ceiling and their options are limited).

  • How can we provide immediate and personalised support (i.e. counselling and advocacy support) for people who have bravely come forward to report and disclose? Employment Assistance Programmes don’t work (because each time you call, you may end up speaking to someone different. You can’t ask a survivor to unpack their experience of abuse every time they call).

  • How can we provide the long-term support needed for lengthy and isolating inquiry/complaints processes? (A type of support that can grow and remain flexible with the needs of the survivor/complainant, as their needs and capacity to engage will differ throughout their journey.)

  • How do we make all this freely available (and I mean available-as-in-accessible) for Deaf and disabled people? BSL users are frequently required to contact services and use email, rather than have BSL in person counselling provided, for eg.

  • With regard to personalised support plans, how do we ensure that someone who is marginalised and experiences racism, homophobia or transphobia isn’t partnered with a counsellor or advocate who they don’t feel comfortable or safe with? (These oppressions are present in counselling and advocacy services).

  • What do organisations need during these processes to make sure they can deliver a thorough, exhaustive inquiry? (Here I’m thinking particularly of independent companies with their capacities already stretched.) Investigation rightly takes up space and time, which means resources taken away from company operations. I’m not saying perpetrators should be offered support, but rather that complaints and investigations would be conducted with more rigour if there were more resources for the management of these processes. 


These are just a few starting points. If we – the entire sector (individuals, companies, large/small organisations, funders across the four nations) work in a united, action-oriented way, all are within our power. There are a lot of wise people in our sector, including experienced freelancers, people in HR and management. Many people have lived experience of survival and trying to hold abusers to account; we can advise on how we can make this happen. We are ready. We just need resourcing. 

We are a sector of collaborative workers, problem solvers, strategists and communicators. We design processes, use feedback tools, value innovation and aim to be reflective and responsive. We can stop the silence and remove shame and defensiveness from the equation. We can be intensely powerful and effective in keeping people safe from harm.

 

Doing this is not optional. It is our responsibility.

 


Relevant links

Resources:

Anti racism touring rider resources (please note this is not anti racism training)

Equity sexual harrassment toolkit this is pitched toward women but many of the resources can be accessed by all genders.

News articles:

Reporting (vulnerable adults and children):