Monthly Archives: October 2016

The arts will survive

Last week I published an article about the recent cuts to funding for creative courses. When I wrote it, it was mainly to get my anger and frustration out on paper, and maybe inspire some emails to the feedback line. What I did not expect was the reaction my writing had.

Within days, it had gone viral in the arts community, shared more than 10,000 times on Facebook alone. My phone was constantly buzzing with new comments, shares, messages from people who had read it, and requests for interviews from reporters. I could barely keep up and was completely overwhelmed that my writing was resonating with people to this degree.
But I wasn’t done there. At the same time, I was frantically emailing the feedback line, and sending emails to my local member and the Minister for Education himself. It took a few days, but I did hear back from him (or his assistant), and I’d like to share with you what I received.

First, my email.

Dear Senator

I am a 24 year old actress working in all aspects of the industry. in light of your recent announcement to VET fee help cuts for creative courses, I would respectfully request that you do not go ahead with the bill.
To say you only wish to help ‘legitimate’ students is highly insulting to us as a whole. Have you ever enjoyed a film, a television show or seen a live performance? Have you ever marvelled at graphic design, or heard a piece of music you liked? Then you sir, have enjoyed the arts. And if you take away more funding, you will contribute to its continual destruction.
The arts of all descriptions are not a ‘lifestyle choice’ as you have claimed. Technically speaking, all careers are a lifestyle choice including the one you have chosen. By this logic I shouldn’t have to repay my current VET fee help debt for my Diploma in Music Theatre because I was not a ‘legitimate student’. But I know that won’t happen. These continual cuts to the arts by your government is what makes finding work hard. 
The arts is the very fabric of society. We hold a mirror up to the world, cause people to think and dream and in a lot of cases, re-examine themselves and become better people. By taking away VET fee help, you will be removing jobs from educators and taking away opportunities for talented individuals. Under these proposals only the very wealthy will be able to pursue their gifts. How in the world will this ‘encourage study’, as you claim? 
The arts teaches empathy, humanity and acceptance of all. We pour our hearts and souls into our work and we do it with the majority of the world fighting us tooth and nail every step of the way. 
Please take a few minutes to read my blog on the matter. 
I thank you for your consideration and welcome any response.
In response, I received this email. I’ve also attached a screenshot (with personal information blacked out for obvious reasons)
Dear Miss (Name)
Thankyou for your email of 17 October 2016 to Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training, concerning the exclusion of the Arts from the eligible course list. I have been asked to reply on the Minister’s behalf.
While I appreciate your concerns, the Australian government has a responsibility to ensure that tax payer’s money is well directed and spent in a way that offers the greatest benefit to the Australian community. To this end, access to VET Student Loans will be restricted to courses that have a high national priority, meet industry needs, contribute to addressing skills shortages and align with strong employment outcomes. This will ensure the Government’s investment in vocational education and training is better targeted and large loan amounts are no longer paid for courses that have limited public good.
The eligible course list is available on the Department of Education and Training’s website at http://www.education.gov.au/vet−student−loans. Stakeholders are invited to provide feedback on the composition of the eligible course list. 
Feedback must be sent to VETStudentLoansPeducation.gov.au by 23 October 2016 and entitled ‘Feedback on the eligible course list’.
Please bear in mind that any proposals regarding VET Student Loans are subject to the passage through Parliament of the VET Student Loans Bill 2016.
Thank you for taking the time to write to the Minister.
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Do you need a minute after reading it? I know I did.
I don’t know how people can make it any plainer to the powers that be. But a few things are clear to me and anyone else with a functioning brain.

1. They have not thought this through.

“Limited public good”. That’s the words they used. That proves that they do not see the arts for what they truly are, and when it’s explained to them, they still do not see the value and probably wouldn’t until there was no art. They seem indifferent to being responsible for the decline of jobs and the value art brings to society.
Imagine a world with no movies, tv shows, radio, paintings, art galleries, designs, jewellery, graphics, musicals, plays, music, anything creative. You can stop imagining now. I know I can’t bear to think of it for more than a few seconds. There’s little doubt in my mind that society would soon cease to function as it does. As I said, without art, life has no meaning.
Imagine for a moment that the government called sports a ‘lifestyle choice’ and referred to it as an illegitimate occupation.

angrymob

Artists impression

There would be a riot. National outcry. Everyone would be disgusted. Because in this country sport is practically a religion. What if everyone in Australia could embrace the arts like they do the football? Or cricket? Or the Olympics? I suspect the country would be a much better place.
Several years ago Australian acting legend Tony Sheldon was up for a Tony Award for his performance in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. An Australian actor. An Australian musical based on a beloved Australian classic. He was up for  a TONY AWARD, the Oscars of theatre, and we did not hear one peep about it from the media.
What if a sports star was up for some award, for throwing pieces of leather around while a stadium screams for blood? We would hear nothing else for weeks.
Tony Sheldon, who I had the honour of meeting briefly during the 2013 run of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, was playing Bernadette Bassenger, a transgender character so rarely seen and definitely in pop culture at that time. When’s the last time one of our own was up for a Tony Award? Why didn’t this honour get any attention? It was a tremendous achievement!

2. They are attempting to do good by attacking the wrong people.

The main reason these cuts are being made is allegedly to stop sub-par courses taking advantage of students. I want to make one thing very clear. I am not against the idea of this. What I am against is the disrespect shown to the arts and the fact that quality courses are inevitably going to get caught in the crossfires here. Places like the Actor’s Centre Australia. Founder Dean Carey has built this college up for nearly 30 years to bring arguably the finest acting course in the nation, as well as part time courses, workshops and drop-in classes for working actors. Hugh Jackman himself graduated from here and is the proud patron.
I do not understand why genuinely good courses are going to be penalised. Furthermore, the people in charge of this decision have not consulted a single person in the industry itself while ultimately deciding the fate of so many. What is wrong with these politicians?

Colleges are going to have to rework their courses and get extra credentials in order to keep going and make the courses affordable. Educators are going to suffer. Students are going to suffer. The industry will suffer.

But we will not fall.

At the risk of sounding over-dramatic, the arts will survive. They survived the Holocaust and Soviet Russia. They survive communism and fascism. They survive indifference and disrespect. They survive budget cuts and limited funding. Because at the end of the day, art is what makes the world a better place.
The bill will likely pass parliament, and we will have to regroup. And we will. We will find a way forward until people see the light. Nothing lasts forever. And as long as artists push ahead with what they do, breaking the barriers and holding a mirror up to society, we will win.

Because

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see” – Edgar Degas

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls…The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web,” -Pablo Picasso

“It is through art, and through art only, that we can realise our perfection.” – Oscar Wilde

“Layer by layer art strips life bare,” – Robert Musil

I just wonder how much longer it will take for those blind politicians to see art for what it is.

So, we artists are no longer ‘legitimate’.

I haven’t been this furious in a long time, and I’m loathe to use my blog to comment on politics. But not today. With the recent announcement that our fearless leader plans to scrap student loans to creative courses, this might be the angriest blog I will ever write and I am not even sorry.

By all means, if you don’t know about this outrage, click here and feel your blood pressure skyrocket. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Finished?

Now where the hell do I begin?

The Minister for Education and Training says that this is a “lifestyle choice”. Well guess what buddy? ALL CAREERS ARE A LIFESTYLE CHOICE, INCLUDING POLITICS. That’s right kids, follow your dreams, pursue your gifts and talents, but don’t even think about the creative side of life, that’s just a hobby.

The Minister goes on to say that “VET Student Loans will only support legitimate students to undertake worthwhile and value-for-money courses at quality training providers,”

Excuse me while I go throw up.

hadesrage

The gloves are coming off, pal.

So, we artists are not “legitimate students.”
Our profession will not “benefit Australia economically”.
You want to “encourage students to study”….by taking away opportunities for the next Hugh Jackman, Jackie Weaver or Tony Sheldon, to name a few?

First of all, do you have any idea how economically viable the arts are? Of course not, because you’re far more interested in raising your own salaries, spending millions on detention centres and giving the sports industry every cent they crave. You made even MORE cuts to hundreds of art forms recently, in turn GETTING RID OF VALUABLE JOBS and that STILL isn’t enough for you. Now you turn your blowtorch onto students, universities and educators (yeah, remember them?) who are the ones that are going to pay for your disgusting arrogance.
To call us not ‘legitimate students isn’t just offensive. It’s not just insulting. It is an affront to our whole profession. And yes, it IS a profession, despite what the naysayers bray.

By your logic, I don’t need to repay my current student debt for my Diploma of Music Theatre, because in your mind, I wasn’t a real student. That would make my life a hell of a lot easier as I audition in a world of star casting and the never ending cuts to my industry made by you idiots. Sorry, I can’t even be polite about this. They are dragging the very soul of society, because that is exactly what the arts are.
So we aren’t legitimate. We don’t contribute to society, you say?
Tell that to the acting students who spend hours upon hours after classes are done every single day on pieces of theatre which can cause people to re-examine their entire lives.
Tell that to the actors who learn empathy and human behaviour by creating characters. Tell that to the painters who pour their hearts into their artworks. Tell that to the makers of the film Blood Diamond, who used the film medium to draw attention to the issue of the diamond trade and caused a worldwide demand for conflict free diamonds. Tell that to the dancers who work their bodies into oblivion doing pointe work. Tell that to the cruise ship performers who uproot their entire lives for 6-9 months at a time, often relocating to the other side of the world just to bring joy to others. Tell that to the musicians who invest years into their chosen instruments, getting calluses and vocal fatigue so they can perform at your stupid political events, and often for free.

And tell that to me, a 24 year old actress two years out of studying who just completed an eight month contract performing theatre in education in schools around the country. Oh yeah, did you forget? Art teaches people. In this case, I was fighting the bullying epidemic on the front lines. Talk about how ‘illegitimate’ my work is to the children who came up to me after these shows in tears, saying that they now could see that they had the power to stop bullying, or sharing their stories of abuse with me.
But my work is a ‘lifestyle choice’, according to you, Minister for Education. Hilarious how as a minister for education, you are doing everything in your power to prevent it. You honestly think it’s easy, memorising 9, yes, nine different plays to perform on any given day, at any given time, in any possible combination, in any possible location at a moment’s notice? Nobody expects you to memorise every ridiculous speech you give. I’d like to see you political bigwigs educate children through theatre without talking down to them. Let’s watch as you keep your energy at the right level, never let it drop, all the while being focused on the story, your co-actor and the audience. All the while you have to be entertaining so they don’t lose focus, but never let it get out of hand and always, always, always focusing on delivering your message in a way they can interpret and apply to their own lives. And I am able to do this because of the training I received. Which was only possible because of VET fee help.
At the same time, I was constantly away from my home. My family. My partner. My dogs. My world. I put a lot of things in my life on hold because I believed in the message I was being paid to spread. To hear this utter BS about how this is not ‘legitimate’ causes more rage than I can describe.

And what about the other sides of the industry? Like theatre and musical theatre, some of the most underrated arts forms in existence. Why is it that we only ever seem to get the same old revivals of Annie and The Lion King? The masterpiece that is Next to Normal, about mental illness, was pulled just weeks before it was due to premiere in Sydney. It was cast, rehearsed, designed. How many productions will need to get cancelled of Jekyll and Hyde before we finally see it? Why was the Imported Artist Agreement not renewed, taking away opportunities for Australian artists? The current production of Aladdin has two Broadway performers. My Fair Lady brought people from the West End. Other productions like Wicked and Anything Goes cast non-actors in lead roles. Several years ago, while exceptional performers were on call for roles in Rocky Horror, the producers sought to cast people with at least 10,000 Twitter followers. No joke.

Of course, Matilda is doing very well. “Matilda is just what Australian musical theatre needs!” all the reviews crowed. But let’s look a little closer. Matilda, written in 2010, premiered on the West End in 2011. It’s written by the great Tim Minchin. By the way, he’s Australian. It’s based on a beloved book and movie, and was a smash hit in both London and on Broadway.

Why did it take five years to come to Australia?

Seriously, think about it. Tim Minchin is an iconic figure in our ever-shrinking arts industry. Matilda is by Roald Dahl, one of the number 1 children’s authors out there. Nearly every kid has read the book or seen the movie. From a business point of view, there’s pretty much no way in the world it could fail. And leaving the financial side out of it, this is still a fantastic piece.
Nobody in this country outside of our industry seems willing to bring out new and exciting theatre. Or heaven forbid, invest in our OWN pieces. Ever heard of The Hatpin? Or LoveBites? Yes, those are two wonderful contemporary Australian musicals you’ve never heard of.
When a successful Broadway/West End production finally jogs sweatily behind the bandwagon and arrives on our shores years later, it’s normally an exact replica of the original stagings.We’re rarely allowed to direct freely or come up with original designs. Of course we get the odd exception. Like my old nemesis Love Never Dies. Remember that trainwreck of a show? You know, the show Broadway rejected? The one that’s STILL not gone anywhere? The one with a terrible script, and insults the audience and characters every second? Millions of dollars were burned into trying to make that show worth looking at. Hundreds of invited, and non-paying patrons flooded into the Capitol Theatre and patted themselves on the back for supporting the arts, when every waking minute seems bent on destroying the entire industry. And I have just about reached my breaking point.

Of course, we have independent theatre companies like Squabbalogic and Sport for Jove, truly brilliant companies that bring exciting, fresh and innovative theatre. But they struggle for funding.

Where’s the government support for them, if they are so brilliant? It’s nowhere. And it’s independent theatre that’s saving the industry right now.

We pour our hearts and souls into our work and we do it all with the majority of the world patting us condescendingly on the head and saying “Isn’t that cute?”
We do it every day knowing we are setting ourselves up for rejection. We do it knowing that we are being critiqued on our looks and marketability. We do it knowing there is no guarantee of success. We do it knowing our country’s government and culture is fighting us tooth and nail every step of the way. But we do it because that one “yes” makes it all worth it. We do it because we believe in the arts. We do it because we’re courageous and make the hard choices that society needs to keep moving. We do it because we want to make a hat, where there never was a hat. We do it because without the arts, life has no meaning. And you are selling everything we do short.

Before I wrap up, I want to plead with everybody in the industry, and everyone who loves the arts to flood the email feedback line with emails. We have GOT to fight this. Contact the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Don’t take this lying down. It’s time to stand up for the industry because without us, we wouldn’t have one. Click this link (VETStudentLoans@education.gov.au) and let loose at them. We only have until October 23rd.
Let’s begin.