Program shines spotlight on sex harassment

Lights On teaches theater community

Lights On: Community Theatre Protection Task Force will offer its first workshop in April to help local theaters create a safe environment and deal with issues of sexual harassment and violence.

More than 40 people have signed up since the April 11 workshop via Zoom was announced on Feb. 22, according to Emelia Sherin, one of the founders of Lights On.

The task force started last summer after several women shared stories on social media and with the newspaper about sexual harassment and assault they experienced while working on productions at some area theaters. In many cases, they were minors when the incidents occurred.

“Whenever something’s happened in the past, they’d say, ‘We’re going to do something,’ but it’s all talk, no action,” Sherin said. “Now people can see we have a registration form, we have programming. We’re working hard to develop this as volunteers. No one’s getting paid to do this. We’re doing this because it needs to be done.”

The organization partnered with Compass Family and Community Services in Youngstown to provide counseling, education and support.

The workshop will cover some issues that are applicable in any professional situation, such as defining sexual violence and misconduct terms and addressing why survivors often don’t report problems, but it also will deal with issues unique to working in the theater.

“There will be content that pertains to auditions, blocking and choreography and understanding boundaries,” Sherin said. “And the actionable policies to put in place to prevent (problems).”

The 3 p.m. workshop will be led by Gina Marafiote, a licensed professional counselor who also is the volunteer coordinator with Millennial Theatre Company, and Nicole Zayas, a licensed social worker with a master’s degree in social work who also is active with Rust Belt Theater Company.

“Honestly, I really wouldn’t have thought this was happening within the theater environment,” Marafiote said. “Discovering that made me passionate to get other survivors to talk about what is going on … Everyone should feel comfortable, especially when it’s a volunteer, extracurricular activity. It shouldn’t be something where you have to be concerned about something happening.”

The workshop will last about two hours, including a 10-minute intermission, and will end with a quiz. Individuals who pass the test will be Lights On certified, Sherin said.

“They will walk away able to spot the signs of discomfort, able to hold themselves and others accountable and so much more,” Sherin said.

A theater can become Lights On certified if all of its board members and its staff take and pass the workshop.

The April workshop is intended for adults and will discuss distressing content; however, Lights On also is developing a program for children in grades K-12.

Participants in the workshop do not have to be affiliated with a particular theater, Sherin said, but it is intended for people involved in the theater community.

Additional information and a link to register can be found online at http://bit.ly/3dwOYjg. Additional workshops are planned.

“What I personally would like to see is everyone not only taking this seriously, but also for it to expand and spread the message through all community theaters,” Marafiote said.



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