GUEST BLOG: Katerina Watson: Chateau Marmont

In this blog, Katerina Watson, writer of Chateau Marmont, shares the story which inspired the show and how an industry we know and love relies on sexual coercion.

Chateau Marmont is one of two shows developed through The Brand Nouveau Initiative; Nouveau Riche’s new attachment scheme that aims to nurture and develop the next generation of theatre practitioners.

Catch it on Friday 3 & Saturday 4 May. Click here for more information.

“I’ve got you an audition for [insert name of popular fantasy show here].”

I did a little dance in the storage cupboard of one of my many heinous temp jobs. Sure, my charity-shop shoes were depositing some sort of ominous grey powder between my toes and I would be toasting the news with a squashed cheese-only sandwich, but none of that mattered. I had been summoned by the iron throne – and all of this would have been worth it.

“There’s an issue though…you’d have to cut your hair.”

I confirmed I would shave my head for a part at that point.

“Great! It’s to be a naked body double. They’ll superimpose the actress’ face onto yours, oh and it’ll be an open set so the public will be there and they will have their iPhones.”

I’d love to say that I hung up immediately with my dignity fully intact, but I didn’t. I wrangled over it, cried to my partner and finally said sorry-no-thank-you-but-please-keep-me-in-mind…I was surprised by how many of my fellow actors thought I’d made the wrong decision, shouldn’t you be doing anything to get ahead? At least you’d meet the director.

 

And that was just the tip of the iceberg. It is, apparently, completely acceptable to be asked to strip into a bikini on camera to jump up and down on a wooden chair as if it’s a lilo. Completely appropriate to be pinned down by your fellow actor under the instructions of a director for an improvisation. Or for a producer, who’s wife just happens to be away, to invite you to discuss work further, in private.

I’ve known actors of both genders who have been bullied, groped and coerced into scenes they didn’t feel comfortable with. This doesn’t happen in isolation, these events are propped up by a vast and legitimate structure where no one wants to rock the boat. Where success and fame grant you immunity. Where we’re now suddenly shaking our heads – well of course you shouldn’t audition in hotel rooms! Like we just realised that a job interview where the candidate sits on a bed isn’t grotesquely inappropriate. The structure only works through complicity and I wanted to extend that beyond the industry and out into the audience…were any of us truly surprised when the allegations came out? Didn’t we all know this to some extent already?

I wanted to set the play in the grey area surrounding sexual coercion because at heart it’s a negotiation of power. It’s about an expected transaction – I can change your life, how badly do you want that and what you can you offer me in return? Chateau Marmont is about the wrangling of personal morals and blurring of demarcating lines.

Ultimately, it’s an examination of the personal cost of a dream so powerful that a $41.7 billion industry rests upon it.