High-risk work in circus, dance and theatre

Theatre Info Finland (TINFO) carried out a survey called Power, Responsibility and Equal Treatment for employees in the fields of circus, dance and theatre. Its purpose was to examine the achievement of equality and equal treatment and the occurrence of emotional abuse, discrimination and sexual harassment in these fields. In the light of the survey results, performing arts are a much less equal and non-hierarchical field than is generally believed. Circus, dance and theatre can be seen as fields where employees are exposed to the risk of mistreatment. Employees in these high-risk fields often have temporary employment contracts or are hired to carry out specific assignments.

Judging from the survey results, the most serious issues are related to the high prevalence of emotional abuse and discrimination. In addition, there is lack of intervention into inappropriate behaviour: too often, people keep quiet and ignore the situation.

Of the respondents, 20% had experienced emotional abuse often or continuously, and 13% had experienced discrimination because of their age or labour market status, for example. More than 10 people out of the 526 survey respondents, or 2%, had experienced continuous sexual harassment. More than half (53.5–57.0%) of these cases had not been addressed in the workplace.

The respondents were also asked how often others had been subjected to mistreatment and to assess their own behaviour. The level of self-awareness of inappropriate, discriminatory behaviour and sexual harassment is low in these fields. Of the respondents, 21% said they had subjected others to emotional abuse (20% infrequently, 1% frequently), 11% had subjected others to discrimination (10% infrequently, 1% frequently) and 6% had subjected others to sexual abuse (infrequently).

Of those who had experienced discrimination, 52% reported their age as the reason, 51% reported another reason, such as personal qualities, and 44% reported their labour market status as the reason. Those who had experienced discrimination because of their appearance (18%) were found among dancers and actors in particular. Age discrimination had been experienced both by young and older employees in various professions and by women in particular. Performing artists are subjected to equality issues related to age, women more often than men.


The number of respondents in the survey was 526. Of the respondents, 68% were women and 28% were men, while 2% did not want to disclose their gender. Finnish was the native language of 88% of the respondents, while 10% were native speakers of Swedish and 2% were native speakers of another language. The questions were available in Finnish, Swedish and English and could be answered in one of these languages.

The respondents represented a broad range of performing artists working in the fields of circus, dance and theatre; employees involved in planning work in the arts; technical and administrative employees; and employees involved in teaching and research in various labour market positions. The questions were based on the premise that permanent and full-time employment contracts are just one form of employment and not the norm.

The causes lie deep in the structures

Employees in the fields of circus, dance and theatre are increasingly moving between labour market positions under various forms of work and employment: fixed-term employment relationships, gigs, hourly rates, rehearsal-specific or performance-specific rates, grants and self-employment. All of these fields suffer from and struggle with insufficient funding and increased efficiency requirements. Perceived influence is related to the employment relationship.

Permanent employment under a collective agreement means better equality, while an uncertain labour market position exposes employees to the risk of mistreatment. Inappropriate behaviour and the abuse of power are easier to address under the security of a permanent employment relationship.

Many respondents reported problems related to financial and structural inequality in the field of performing arts. Frequently reported issues included inequality in education and a hierarchical and non-transparent work culture, as well as non-transparent recruitment and salary policies. Employers’ statutory responsibilities, as well as statutory equality and non-discrimination programmes, which large employees are required to have in place, were regarded as ineffective formalities that are not monitored in any way.

Improving an unhealthy work culture

There is a severe shortfall of information and identification field of performing arts. Despite legislation, as well as instructions and operating processes that are easy to find in case of emotional abuse, discrimination and sexual harassment, some workplaces are helpless or people do not know how to address such situations. The respondents to the Power, Responsibility and Equal Treatment survey stressed the importance of solidarity and peer support in situations where the employer does not seek to resolve issues.

The special nature of work in the arts has been used as an excuse to condone misconduct silently but consciously. The results of the survey provide us with information and suggestions to make our work culture healthier. This is a question of collective responsibility, as well as decision-making and guidelines related to cultural and art policies.

A framework for high-risk work – from survey to measures

The results of the Power, Responsibility and Equal Treatment survey are only the beginning of the work that needs to be done. The survey was not carried out just to gather information; its results are intended to provoke discussion and, most importantly, action.

The survey report lists measures to create a framework for high-risk work in the field of performing arts. The suggested measures are intended for providers of public funding, decision-makers in cultural policy, various types of workplace communities in the field, supervisors and providers of education and information.

Equality and equal treatment must be taken into account more extensively than before in policies and decision-making. The measures are intended to make work in the field of performing arts more equal and equitable. The work to increase equality and eliminate discrimination must aim for a transparent, fair and ethically sustainable work culture.

TINFO will carry out additional small-scale studies based on the survey response material, which offers plenty of opportunities for further research.

The partners doing the survey with Theatre Info Finland (TINFO) include Centralförbundet för Finlands Svenska Teaterorganisationer (CEFISTO), Trade Union for Theatre and Media Finland (Teme), the Finnish Actors Union, the Finnish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild, the Theatre Centre, the Association of Finnish Theatres (STEFI), Globe Art Point, Dance Info Finland and Circus Info Finland.


Image 1: How frequently have you experienced a) emotional abuse, b) discrimination and c) sexual harassment in your work or during recruitment over the past three years?

Image 2: Has this a) emotional abuse, b) discrimination and c) sexual harassment been addressed?


Appendix, in Finnish:
Power, Responsibility and Equal Treatment – Equality and equal treatment in performing arts (Theatre Info Finland TINFO, 2019)


Enquiries about the survey:

Theatre Info Finland (TINFO), Hanna Helavuori, Director, hanna(at)tinfo.fi, tel. +358 44 363 1722, or
Mikko Karvinen, Research and Administrative Coordinator​​​, mikko(at)tinfo.fi, tel. +358 50 353 7874