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Sam COOKs KISSmyBLAKartsCOLUMN – August 2007


I muse somewhat at the recent declaration that Australian Mainstream theatre is too white. HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA it took YAz loooonnngg enough!!

Its like one of those BINGO moments when the Bureaucracy puts out one too many rhetorical statements and you’ve filled the card with the next latest catch cry. Get “cultural diversity” 4 more times people and you too can have a card filled with imminent success.

Truth be told, we’ve been saying this for years, living this for years and getting nowhere fast.

All you have to do is turn on the telly and see how little we’ve progressed. Just sit through a dose of adverts and banal onslaughts of Neighbours and Home and Away to see how lacking we are in cultural diversity within the mainstream. We [Blak and Non Anglo] don’t exist in any form other than tokenism IF we exist at all. And whilst we celebrate the scant smattering BLAK and DEADLY mob who got mainstream gigs, we also know how hard it was and STILL IS for this mob to get any sense of equity.

What does alarm me though is where the advertising/media bods are going with the representation of blak in the casting of a black faces on television, it is now being seen not as an Indigenous one, or Indian or Maori or any other shade of brown, but what is a seemingly more palatable whitened afro face. It doesn’t appear to represent the shades of blak at all, yet it is the direction that seems accepted. So I guess casting has progressed right? cause you can now have blak so long as its not a certain blak. There I said it!

In a land lacking good meaty debate, saying this translates different when it comes from blak mouths. Saying it blak and calling the Australian theatre/media/arts sector on it gets you the black radical card and all too easily shut down. But when its said white, it gets published, publicised and at last, debated. Added to this, it becomes the new BINGO catch cry by the Bureaucracy, and an opportunity for a BLAK GOLD knowledge grab, which is evident in the numerous invitations to join my fellow Australian theatre sector colleagues to EXPLAIN and EDUCATE on “why don’t we have enough Cultural Diversity on our stages and in our audiences”.

Coming from white, it does seem an easy road to self congratulation. It definitely hasn’t hurt Ms Lewis in her ambitions. However for me it raises the even bigger and most obvious questions of WHY do we STILL have Anglo-centric companies telling the stories on behalf of non Anglo communities? There’s no shortage of great white hope pieces littering our stages, filtered interpretations of every possible non-Anglo theme or subject matter. These are STILL all too easily funded by Blak and Multi-Culturally earmarked pots of gold, without little or no return back to the community to which the story is themed upon.

So here’s a diversity strategy that’s not rocket science, if you want a story on Iraq, why don’t you engage the Iraq Diaspora to tell their story, If you want a story on the East Timorese Australian experience, why not engage the East Timorese nation to tell their own story. AND if ya want a BLAK STORY….weeeelllll you catch my drift.

But blak to colourblind casting. Yea I agree, sort of cause I’ve been saying it for years, BUT surely it doesn’t stop at the stage? Shouldn’t it also be colourblind directing, staging, administration, representation within the Australian arts sector?

One black face in a mainstream play is not colour blind. Nor is it when you find the blak funds to invest in one blak face to cast and then exploit that as a media angle to sell your show to a blak audience. Contrary to popular exploitation, colourblind casting is not a new means to new funds. And believe me, we’ve had countless examples of this <<<Dario Fo-faux-par at The Dreaming Festival>>>

The moral of that story is, IF you have to THINK about making a decision to colour-blind caste then you are NOT colour-blind casting.

As for the Hooked on Classics genre, truth be told not all blakfullas want to be Othello and voyeur into the space of a recent classic, when juxtaposed against 60,000 year old performing arts practises. But for the mob who do, in the ideal world they should be meritoriously cast instead of purposely ‘caste’. Then we will know we have moved beyond a racially embalmed society, who see blakfullas playing whitefulla classics as the “how quaint to see the blakfulla dressed up in the frilly get up” exotic, as opposed to “what an awesome performance by an amazing actor”.

BIG BIG difference.

But as always for me, it raises the BIGGER BIGGER question of - why the hell is Australian theatre doing Shakespeare in the first place? Doesn’t that fall into Museums budgets? Surely we do not need to keep wasting the bulk of the limited funds on remakes and remakes of archaic imports? What’s Australian in that?

If we were true to the make up of our Australian society we wouldn’t be even need this discussion and debate as we’d be getting on with it and our Australian stages would be funded for and littered with our Australian stories, representing our Australian society and we would be in receipt of acclaim and kudos meritoriously AND THIS is neither blak nor white – it’s the diverse cultural Australian palette – technicolour baby!!


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