For many years, Toneelgroep Oostpool in Arnhem was a culture in which cross-border behaviour could take place. This concludes by external researchers, after dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of power by both the former artistic director and the business director.
Artistic director Marcus Azzini resigned his duties last June, after being accused of cross-border behaviour by former staff and trainees. Subsequently research committee Ten Brink/De Reu spoke with 25 men and 18 women, all (former) employee, (former) freelancer and (former) trainees.
The researchers received information from 53 reporting agents for the period 2008 – 2019, complaining about former business director Ruud van Meijel and artistic director Azzini of the theatre group.
The complainants accuse artistic director Azzini of flirting with them, trying to kiss them, or attempting to pursue sexual acts, the committee states.
“ This has mainly had an impact on detectors in connection with the relationship of power between them and the artistic director.”
Abuse of power
Victims also complained about harassment, bullying and abuse of power. They speak of a “pattern in which the artistic director ignored the employees, belittled them and treated them as “pispoaltjes”.
The abuse would have occurred mainly outside working hours. For example, at parties afterwards, or during cafe visits. Nor, according to the committee, Azzini did not set a good example in terms of drinking and drug use.
Allegations against former business director Van Meijel are about harassment, bullying and abuse of power. Employees would “be treated and treated unfairly regularly.” The complainants also spoke of belittling, humiliating, insulting, screaming and abuse of power. Some of the victims would have gone into therapy. Van Meijel now works as director of the Chassé Theater in Breda.
The experiences of the employees are “extremely painful”, according to Rinske van Heiningen, vice-chairman of the supervisory board of Toneelgroep Oostpool. “The experienced pain of the past can no longer be removed from those involved as a Supervisory Board and as an organisation. We deeply regret that,” writes Van Heiningen.
The artistic director would not remember certain examples. Nevertheless, “he found out from the reports that he has come too close and that the frequent combination of work and private risks involved,” the committee states in the report.
Previously, Azzini acknowledged that he made mistakes. “Apart from what my intentions have been, my behaviour has given rise to these reports. And Im sorry,” he said.
Van Meijel did not want to respond to questions from the Committee of Inquiry. “Both names are not mentioned because of the privacy legislation in the report,” says researcher Leo ten Brink.
Azzini, who already laid down his duties in June last year, is now completely leaving the stage group. “Whether a report is made against the two is up to the detectors,” says East Pole spokesman Gérald Rensink.