Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Harassment at Spoleto 2010

June 1, 2010

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Pamela and I have been attending Spoleto events, as well as non-Spoleto productions at the Gaillard Auditorium for more than 25 years. I am writing this letter to inform you of my decision to never attend any Spoleto event or Piccolo Spoleto event in the future, nor will I attend any event held at the Gaillard Auditorium in the future for the following reason.

On the evening of Saturday May 29, 2010 I attended the Spoleto performance of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. I bought as soon as they went on sale and was really looking forward to seeing my friend, Robert (Bobby Carter), dance again. As usual, with any performance I attend, I carried my camera with me.

During the performance I took many photographs. I normally put my camera on the sport setting due to the rapid movement of the dancers and adjust the exposure to get the correct lighting so I don’t have to use my flash. My camera also allows me to close the LCD viewfinder so there is no bright light distracting other patrons. Since I had not seen any signs asking requesting no photos, nor were there any statements about photography on my ticket and the fact that there wasn't a bag search at the door, I felt that as long as I didn't disturb anyone it was fine to take photos.

After the performance we were one of the last people to leave the theater. As we exited the theater door I was approached by two older women. One of them asked if I was "on the board". I said "What board?" and she said "The Spoleto Board of Directors" I answered "No, why?" and they both started telling me that "they" prohibit any photography or video of Spoleto performances. I asked them where this was stated. At that point, one of the women walked away.

Again, I asked where it stated that I wasn't allowed to take photos. The woman (whom I later found out was named Gisela X) said "You were taking videos during the whole show. I watched you the entire time!" I then stated "I didn't take any videos of the show" and she followed up with "Yes you did! I saw you!!" I then handed her my camera and said "Here, if you find any videos of this performance on my camera I will give you $100 right now!" She just looked at me and continued to talk about how I broke "the rules" and again I said "where are the rules posted?"

I told Mrs. X that before the performance they made an announcement that no flash photography was to be taken. I asked her if she saw me take any flash photos. Again, she was silent. I told her yes, I took photos for personal use and that if it was an issue then someone should have approached me during the two intermissions instead of her harassing me at the end of the performance. I asked her how she was associated with Spoleto and she told me that she was on the Board of Spoleto.

At that point Mrs. X companion approached her and led her out of the theater. I was so upset about being accused of doing something that I didn't do that I insisted on knowing where these rules were posted. Her companion turned to me and yelled "Why don't you just drop it!" I could not believe that I was the one being harassed and they could not even justify approaching me!

While walking up the aisle of the auditorium Mrs. X turned to me and asked "Where are you from?" and when I responded "Here" she asked "How long have you lived here?" in the most condescending uppity tone I have ever heard from a human being. I asked "What does that have to do with anything?" To this day I'm still puzzled about how where I live, or where I am from has anything to do with this woman approaching me, harassing me and embarrassing me in front of theater patrons!

I told Mrs. X that I was very happy to be from Charleston and thankfully since I am, I know that this city is welcoming and friendly. If I were a tourist and this happened to me, I would be so disgusted and would never want to visit again because of her condescending attitude. Mrs. X's question about where I am from insinuated to me that anyone that isn't a native is beneath her. Charleston is voted the friendliest city each year for a reason and thankfully the people that vote have not met Mrs. X!

While heading down the stairs of the theater I asked her what her name was. Her companion snapped at me at said "We aren't giving you our names!" and I said "Why not?" and Mrs. X turned around and said "Would you like me to get the President of the Board to settle this? She's right over there!" I answered "Yes! Please go get her! I would love to talk to her about all of this!" Again, Mrs. X was silent and kept walking. At that point I was a little suspicious because I had called her bluff several times and she repeatedly cowered and retreated.

Again, I asked her for her name and she said "Gisela X". I told Mrs. X that she had not heard the last from me and that she had ruined my entire evening.

When I went home I looked in my Spoleto program for Mrs. X's name and didn't find it anywhere. I thought that was odd since she said she was on the board. I asked my Partner if that is what she heard and she confirmed that yes, Mrs. X stated she was on the board of Spoleto.

From my research regarding Mrs. X I discovered that she is, in fact, NOT on the Spoleto Board of Directors, as she said. My search did not turn up Mrs. X anywhere or any board regarding Spoleto. Where I did find her was on the list of the league members of the now-defunct Charleston Symphony Orchestra. I'm not quite sure how that gives her the authority to approach Spoleto patrons and harass them for taking photos.

My photos are located at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/skitpero/sets/72157624175194254/. They are copyrighted, non-downloadable and are for my own personal and private use. I did not take video at the performance and Mrs. X had every opportunity, at my suggestion, to check my camera for video.

I am appalled and offended at the way Mrs. X publicly chastised me and scolded me for taking photos. Like I mentioned before, I called her bluff several times and she repeatedly did a back-step when confronted. Obviously she had nothing to back up her bullying.

Due to the way I was treated by Mrs. X, I will no longer be a supporting Spoleto patron in the coming years. I also will no longer be attending any productions held at the Gaillard Auditorium in the future and will advise my friends to do the same.

I have no idea who Mrs. X is (or who she thinks she is for that matter!) but she certainly is a person that should be ashamed of her condescending attitude toward people she doesn't know.

All of us know that the Spoleto Festival brings in thousands of out-of-towners to OUR wonderful city each year and if it wasn't for this, the festival probably would not survive. When Mrs. X questioned where I was from it was quite clear that she assumed I was a tourist and that I was not welcome in HER city. For that, I would gladly challenge Mrs. X to a test on Charleston knowledge any day of the week!

If the Spoleto policy or the Gaillard Auditorium prohibits non-flash photography then I think it should be obviously stated. There is no indication on any of the tickets I purchased this year, no one stopped me at the door when I carried my camera in the building, no one approached me at either intermission during the ballet and before the performance the Trockadero's (although in a comedic fashion) stated no flash photography, which I didn't, and never do.

Thank you very much for your time.

Former Spoleto/Gaillard Patron

**I sent this letter to all contacts listed on the spoletousa.org site, Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. as well as the Charleston city contact for the Gaillard Auditorium. I have also sent a snail mail letter to Mrs. Gisela X acknowledging the cc's.

You know, you just can't treat people like this! It's a shame that she didn't learn this at a much younger age!**

If you have the chance to see The Trocks perform DO IT! Their skills and grace are incredible! It's so amazing to see Bobby (as well as the other members of the troupe) dance en pointe! He's come such a long way since our Treehouse days!!

Aren't they gorgeous??


Beth Niquette said...

The photos are quite lovely.

I think you've done the right thing letting the president of the group know what happened to you. How much you want to bet they throw out that couple of idiots when they find out what they've done?

It seems obvious to me, that by their bold actions that they must have done this before--you know, they seemed to have no fear in approaching you with this lunacy.

Tch tch tch--some people get quite drunk on power, don't they?

Pamela said...

I received a response from a representative in the Spoleto office:

I apologize for your unpleasant experience at the Festival’s presentation of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo on Saturday May 26. We do in fact have a “no photography” policy at all Festival performances. It is currently published only in the Festival Program Book on the leading page of the event pages. The Program Book is distributed to all patrons free of charge at each performance. Since the policy is difficult to locate, we will now make sure the policy is announced in advance of each performance along with the cell phone silencing reminder.

While I can’t reconstruct the conversation you had with Ms. X, the policy clearly should have been communicated to you in a polite way by a representative acting on behalf of the Festival, preferably during one of the intermissions, as you suggested.

Ms. X is not on the Board of Directors for Spoleto Festival USA. She does volunteer with the Festival as an usher and a house manager, but was attending the performance as a patron that evening and was not acting in an official capacity. I did follow the link to your flickr posting and, while the photos are for private use only, I did notice that there were well over 260 photos of the performance posted on the site. While you were not using a flash or taking video, I would imagine many patrons could have found the frequent use of the camera disruptive.

As you state, the Festival’s policy on photography should be more clearly communicated to our patrons and we are improving that policy immediately with pre-performance announcements. Since Ms. X does have a volunteer relationship with the Festival, I will speak with her and ask that she direct any future concerns to the ushers or house managers on duty.

I hope that you will reconsider your decision to and will join us for future performances.

Here is MY response:

Thank you for your response.
The conversation I had with Mrs. X is verbatim, minus a an expletive or two, out of sheer anger, on my part. I have no reason to embellish.

I'm VERY glad that you are now announcing the "no photography" rule at each performance. It will definitely alleviate confusion in the future regarding your policy. Also, I can't imagine that my photo taking was disruptive since I was sitting between two people I know (who didn't mind) and there is no sound or lighting on the camera. You would have thought if I was bothering someone they might have tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to refrain.

As for future Spoleto performances, sadly I will not be reconsidering my decision. I would never want to risk another encounter with the most pompous woman I have ever met. I have stated how I feel regarding the harassment and embarrassment caused by Mrs. X to the appropriate authority (your offices) and have also shared this story with my friends and family across the globe via my blog. As far as I'm concerned the situation is over and Spoleto exists only in my past.

Have a great day!

Thank you,

Clytie said...

You GO Pamela!!!

If I ever have a problem, I want YOU to write my letter!

You did an extremely good job, and I'm glad they have changed their policy. I don't think I would go to future concerts there either, though.