As Cate Blanchett’s award-winning performance of Tár continues to spark debate across the industry, we pass the baton to WildKat’s Olivia Brown to consider how she would manage this controversial and complex situation
One of the refreshing complexities of Todd Field’s remarkable film Tár is that it somehow manages not to take sides, leaving the audience with many questions, endless opportunities for debate and, to gauge from the reactions of many working in classical music, inevitable disagreements about its reflections on our industry. One aspect most of us will be unlikely to disagree on however, is that working with the brilliant but deeply flawed Lydia Tár, in any capacity, would be a minefield. What would it be like to be this EGOT winning artist’s PR as her world finally crumbles around her?
Thanks to Cate Blanchett’s extraordinarily accomplished portrayal of the titular conductor and composer, it’s not surprising that Tár seems very like a real person. So much so, that there have been reports of some cinemagoers hastily checking online at the end of the film to see if she was in fact a one-time Music Director of Germany’s leading orchestra (played here superbly by WildKat client, the Dresdner Philharmonie).
That’s just one part of the fascinating ambiguity at the heart of a film where actors play musicians and some musicians are actually acting. Another is that while we see Tár’s misdemeanours and become aware of her probable crimes, we’re also afforded glimpses of another side to this likely monster, including tender embraces with her wife and daughter. But, however endearing those moments are, when it comes to trying to present a positive public image for this particular artist as her dark past is catching up with her, there can be no ambiguity. No spin in the world is going to provide a quick-fix solution. But more equivocally, this would not be the time for a PR campaign.
Since the #MeToo movement swept through Hollywood in 2017, the classical music industry has had its own reckoning, with institutions and individuals being forced to address allegations of sexual harassment, assault, various other abuses of power and discrimination of all sorts. As a community, we are far enough along in the terrible uncovering of deplorable acts and crimes, in some cases perpetrated over decades but only recently coming to light, to know how allegations must be dealt with.
Crisis management is the process of anticipating, preparing for and dealing with disruptive and often negative events that may threaten an organisation or individual artists. The role of a PR is to handle the communications, advising on and activating a crisis management plan. The importance of arts organisations communicating zero tolerance when it comes to the issues raised in Tár cannot be underestimated. It’s not only the right thing to do. Their survival depends on it.
The orchestra and other institutions with which Tár is associated would therefore have no choice but to immediately create some distance from her, allowing potential victims to be heard and an investigation, ideally using outside professionals, to be launched. The support of those affected by an alleged perpetrator’s behaviour must always be the priority.
Where would that leave us, with Lydia Tár as a client? As alarming cracks begin to appear and the severity of the situation around her comes to light (ie her potential role in aspiring conductor Krista’s suicide, the rumours about favouritism within the orchestra, the video of her treatment of the young student at Juilliard, etc) I think our most likely step would be to advise that what she most needed at this time was a lawyer, not a PR. From both an ethical and professional point of view, it is the victims’ interests and public support of them that would take priority.
DUTY OF CARE
The initial fall out though, if we were already the conductor’s PR, would require swift and zealous attention. While still engaged as her representative, like it or not, we would need to determinedly fulfil our duty to our client, while we simultaneously fully assessed the new circumstances about which we’d been previously unaware.
For any situations where crisis management is the appropriate action, the first step of an organisation would be to establish a core team to be involved in handling it. If we assume that this is the action taken by the orchestra Tár leads, this might include any individual or spokesperson of the orchestra, management, their comms manager, members of the board and a legal representative. While there may be some reluctance on their part, we would seek to somehow be part of a conversation with them, perhaps even to assist with the development of messaging that would work for all.
To do so we would need to convince them that while of course we had our client’s interests in mind, we also had valuable and important contributions to make. In the eye of a storm, no one has perfect vision, and it’s easy to overlook things. A small but trusted range of voices can be useful and may help ensure that messaging is strong and coherent, anticipating a range of responses from the press, stakeholders and the public. It will not be in anyone’s interest, not their own or our client’s – and certainly not the survivors of Tár’s conduct – for the situation to be mishandled.
Olivia Brown is Managing Director at WildKat and manages the agencies five offices internationally.