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.
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.
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.