Feature: Pour and Serve – An Immersive Pub Tale of Sexual Harassment

A part of Hope Street Ltd’s On The Verge Festival, which champions daring performances in unusual places, Pour and Serve is an immersive theatre experience by Manchester-based writer and performer Caitlin Gleeson. It’s a show that takes place in a working bar, for six audience members at a time, who sit at the bar whilst being served drinks and told stories about sexual harassment.

The show is particularly topical – with allegations against Harvey Weinstein piling up, and the many women of the #MeToo campaign speaking up about their own experiences in dealing with sexual harassment, it comes at a time when it seems we’re finally publicly talking about a problem that has been ignored for too long, and talking about it on a huge scale.

According to leading charity Rape Crisis UK, nearly half a million instances of sexual assaults take place every year in the UK. Everyday Sexism has also asserted that over half of women experience sexual harassment at their place of work, and shared stories from women who want to tackle the stigma around the topic.

A taboo still remains around talking about these experiences, and although sites like Everyday Sexism have become an important platform for talking about, and sharing experiences of harassment and assault, Pour and Serve seeks to begin a conversation about the language of it.

When asked about the focus of the show, Caitlin shared that “Pour and Serve focuses on the language of sexual harassment, and how the words we use have real, physical consequences, even when we might not intend them to.”

Caitlin’s own experiences, whilst working behind a bar or in customer service, have heavily influenced the script. “It’s made up largely of things that were said to me while bar tending,” she explained. “I’ve worked in bars or some form of customer service for a lot of my adult life, and in every single job I’ve encountered sexual harassment. A lot of it seems quite harmless, but it can really quickly turn from banter to something a lot more threatening.”

It is that sense of threat shared by women subjected to harassment that Caitlin wants to convey to her audience. “I think that fear is one of the worst things about being a woman working in a public facing and male-dominated environment,” she says. “Sometimes you never know if someone thinks they’re joking, or if they actually want to hurt you”.

Caitlin places her own experiences with sexual harassment within a wider context – although this is a small, intimate show, it aims to express that “the banter you hear a lot in bars, even when meant as a joke, is part of a much wider system of violence against women – it doesn’t exist independently and we should question why it’s so commonplace. I wanted to use my experiences in something and I think the question motivating this show is why do so many people seem to think this (behaviour) is okay?” Although Pour and Serve is about Caitlin’s experiences in bars, she describes it as “just the tip of the iceberg; women experience sexual harassment in very different ways, especially at society’s intersections, but I hope that it can be a starting point for discussion and change.”

The show has received a lot of support, both emotional and financial – it was fully crowdfunded, raising £1215 in just three weeks. Crowdfunding a show was a new experience for Caitlin. “I had no idea what to expect and it was a lot of work making sure the campaign had an online presence,” Caitlin explained. “I was a little bit surprised to reach my target but so many people were really generous with their donations and said some really kind words – it was actually quite a lovely experience in the end. And I think it was also a great way of raising the profile of the show.”

When asked what she’d like the audience to take away from the show, Caitlin expressed “Well, I think the main thing I’d like to come from Pour and Serve is conversation. Obviously, I would love if it I managed to end all sexual harassment and violence but that’s clearly not going to happen overnight, and I definitely can’t do that on my own! But then, changes in attitudes sometimes happen slowly, through conversation and understanding, and humanising the problem, and (having) time and space to reflect.”

Polite discourse aside, it isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be angry about these issues, Caitlin adds. “We absolutely should, but I hope that with Pour and Serve I show that sexual harassment isn’t something that only evil, twisted monsters do, but something that is quite ingrained in our society and so, I think we need to understand how these words and actions operate before we can start to change them.”

Pour and Serve played at the Masonic Hall, Liverpool from October 19-21.