Top drama schools which count stars including Miranda Hart among their alumni are being investigated over alleged sex abuse.
Claims that teachers groped students’ breasts and forced them to perform naked have been made against a number of the UK’s best acting academies.
It comes at a time when the industry’s approach to the issue is back under the microscope, with leading actor and director Noel Clarke accused of behaving inappropriately with 20 women earlier this year. He denies the claims.
The British Actors Network said it received more than 300 testimonies of bullying, assault or sexual harassment either at a drama school or in the industry itself.
The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA) said it was ‘heartbroken’ after confirming allegations against an ex-member of staff.
The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA) said it was ‘heartbroken’ after confirming allegations against an ex-member of staff
Allegations have also been made against staff at the Guildford School of Acting at the University of Surrey
In an investigation into harassment at UK drama schools, the Telegraph reported a former teacher at ALRA had been accused of sexual misconduct.
In a statement the school, which is based in London and Wigan, Greater Manchester, said an internal investigation was under way and called for anyone with information to come forward.
The school said: ‘The wellbeing of our staff and students is of the upmost importance. We have emailed all staff and students across both campuses to offer support and share our reporting options and policies.
‘We have invested money in further support spaces for staff and additional counselling support for students. We ask that anyone affected does not hold back from asking for a space to speak, we will work as quickly as we can to find you support and listen to your concerns.’
The school, which counts Miranda Hart among its alumni, said it has set up an email address for people to report misconduct, with only senior staff and the ALRA board able to access the messages.
It also said it has an anonymous online portal for complaints.
The school added: ‘Any information that comes to light within this investigation will be shared with the relevant authorities and we are already working to make contact with the appropriate people.’
It said it has a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment and bullying and an ‘equality, inclusion and cohesion lead’ will ensure ALRA ‘takes accountability for any failure’.
The Graduate Advisory Board, made up of recent graduates and including two female members, is aware of the allegations.
Meanwhile, another educational venue, the Guildford School of Acting (GSA), has also been the subject of serious allegations, after a female student said a visiting teacher sexually assaulted her at home.
That particular claim is alleged to have occurred in 2018, but accusations of students being put under pressure to act naked or in underwear during rehearsals and performances date back two decades.
Victims said that even though they voiced concerns and discomfort, they were still made to do so in some cases.
One told the Telegraph: ‘There was no option to say no when I was studying. Being naked was normalised. I don’t think any of us realised how odd it was.’
GSA’s almuni include EastEnders’ Emma Barton and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel actress Celia Imrie, though they, as well as Ms Hart, have not been named as victims of alleged sexual abuse.
Elsewhere, students at Essex University’s East 15 drama school reported sexual comments being made to them during classes, while some at The Poor School in London, which closed three years ago – are said to have had their breasts groped and been bullied by senior leaders.
The University of Surrey and Essex University – which run GSA and E15 respectively – said they will look into the claims and that they do not tolerate harassment and bullying of any kind.
The allegations of misconduct at drama schools come at a time the industry’s approach to the issue is back under the microscope, with actor and director Noel Clarke (pictured) accused of behaving inappropriately with 20 women. He ‘vehemently’ denies the claims
A Surrey spokesperson said: ‘We are concerned to hear these reports, and we will look into the issues raised.
‘While we cannot comment on individual cases, it is important to re-emphasise that our top priority is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff.
‘GSA has a full-time member of staff who is a trained intimacy coordinator and works with our students in and out of studio to address any concerns they may have.
‘Should students feel uncomfortable with anything that happens on their programme, they can also request a confidential meeting with their personal tutor, programme leader and access the comprehensive student support services available.
‘To further strengthen our safeguards, in 2019, the University launched Report + Support – a platform for our students, staff and visitors to report any issues concerning bullying, harassment, hate crime, sexual misconduct and violence.
‘We regularly encourage students to use Report + Support or to contact our security team to alert us to any unacceptable behaviour, which will never be tolerated at the University of Surrey.’
An Essex University spokesman 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.’
ALRA’s statement added: ‘The organisation has undergone radical change over the last few months with a restructure, training, an external investigation into historic complaints (centred on but not exclusively related to racism) and a review of policies.
‘Many of these areas are scheduled for regular review so that we can adapt to serve our students to the highest possible standard. We have acknowledged historic failings over racism and we take sexual harassment just as seriously.’
The allegations of misconduct at drama schools come at a time the industry’s approach to the issue is back under the microscope.
In April a report in the Guardian said leading actor and director Noel Clarke had been accused of behaving inappropriately with 20 women.
Clarke ‘vehemently’ denied sexual misconduct or criminal behaviour, but will be seeking professional help and has apologised ‘deeply’ for his actions.