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Cultural diversity being reflected on stage

9 May 20140 comments

Cultural diversity on stage-2Some of Australia’s major theatre companies have launched a bold initiative to better reflect Australia’s cultural diversity on stage.

Working across three states in an ambitious new partnership with not-for-profit organisation Performance 4a, Playwriting Australia is seeking to inspire a new wave of artistic voices from CALD communities.

“There’s a specific major shortage of Asian-Australian playwrights in Australia, and when we did some research a few months ago – we were looking for published Asian-Australian texts – we were able to find five out of thousands and thousands of play texts in Australia,” said Playwriting Australia Artistic Director, Tim Roseman.

“It’s a seismic problem. Work is being made but it’s not being made in a playwriting context and it’s certainly not reaching wide audiences,’’ he said.

To address this imbalance and develop new plays from perspectives rarely experienced in main stage Australian theatre, the Lotus Asian-Australian Playwriting Project will offer Asian-Australian writers access to a series of free playwriting workshops in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, and inclusion in a six-month mentoring program.

Performance 4a President and Executive Producer, Annette Shun Wah, said she hoped the project would provide new professional development opportunities for Asian-Australian artists.

“In the short-term I’d like to provide an opportunity for Australians of Asian background who’d like to learn some writing skills; the opportunity to come along and pick some of those up and test their ideas and their ability, and hopefully be inspired by the workshops to be more confident in their ideas. And from my perspective too I see that that process is a way of helping us identify the people and the stories that might have potential for future development,” she said.

“Once people have gone through the initial workshops, they’ll be mentored by established playwrights over a six or eight month period to develop their story into a rough draft. By the end of it I hope to have the rough drafts of plays that we can actually produce; so I’m really hoping that we’ll get a small number of plays by the end of this process that we can take to the stage,” Shun Wah said.

She stressed that the project was open to artists of all persuasions.

“I’d particularly like to invite people from other artistic disciplines who would like to think about telling their stories in a different way, whether it be prose writers, performance artists, choreographers who are interested in using text, musicians perhaps who are interested in exploring text. I’d like to open it up to people who already have an artistic discipline as well as people who are budding playwrights.”

Imara Savage is directing a production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors set in contemporary Kings Cross and with a cast made up of actors of Tongan, Italian and Palestinian ancestry.

“It would be very strange in the contemporary world if that city was in anyway homogenous, so I have ten actors playing a variety of roles and it was really important to me the genuine makeup of Australia’s contemporary society,” Ms Savage said.

“So that was the first reason. The second reason is, I suppose, because I am an Australian but I’m not Anglo-Australian and from my own perspective when I started out acting when I was a kid, I did a lot of acting because acting was something I wanted to do and I didn’t see a reflection on Australian television primarily but stage also, of people who looked like me. And I found that really disappointing and it was something I remember very strongly and now that I am in a position where I am able to make decisions, about whose put on stage, it’s really important to me who is on stage genuinely represents Australia today,” she said.