Author Archives: AbStar921

About AbStar921

FAQs Q: Who am I? A: I'm an Australian actress, singer, and writer. Q: What's your blog about? A: I review/rant on musicals, tv shows, movies, theatre, whatever I feel like each week Q: Top three musicals? A: Into the Woods, Seussical and Once Q: Favourite author? A: Dr Seuss/JK Rowling Q: Harry Potter? A: Always... Q: Favourite Disney princess? A: Tie between Belle and Megara Q: Favourite roles as of 2015? A: Wendla in Spring Awakening, Megara in Hercules Q: The answer to life, the universe, everything? A: 42.

#metoo

August 2016

The Old Fitz Hotel Theatre, Sydney. My second attempt at watching Low Level Panic. A few weeks previously, my first viewing had ended at intermission when I had suddenly come down with a virus. But here I was again, this time ready to see Act 2. Low Level Panic by Clare McIntyre is a powerful masterpiece of theatre showcasing the subtle ways sexism bleeds into society.
As the first act concluded, I turned to ask my companion if he wanted a drink. Instead, I was greeted with the sight of tears streaming down his face.
“What’s wrong?” I was alarmed at this display of emotion. He was crying so hard I had to lead him outside.
“Have I ever made a woman feel like that? Have I ever made YOU feel like that?” He was nearly hysterical.

~

Every woman knows the feeling. A man who just won’t take no for an answer.  Who lingers, leers, follows, gropes, touches, makes some crude remark, licks his lips, asks how much you are…I could go on. And as always, every single time you get harassed or assaulted, it’s the same questions/statements we’ve heard a million times.
What were you wearing?
You must have led him on.
That’s just how guys are.
Lighten up.
How much were you drinking?
Learn to take a compliment.
Come on, you aren’t going to turn him down are you?
Give him a chance.
You were asking for it.
Well what did you think was going to happen?
You shouldn’t have been there/done that.
You’re lying.
You’re just trying to ruin his life.
Have you thought about what this could mean for him?

Even though I have never been raped, I’ve still heard a number of those things. Like every female who has ever existed past present and future, I’ve been hurt by men. I’ve woken up to sexually explicit messages or pictures from strangers.  The last time I dared look at my Others folder on Facebook, there were countless propositions. I’ve been leered at. I’ve been followed by men, sometimes in pairs. In August this year I had my path blocked by a male who later tracked me down at my day job. Just a few days ago, I was doing a corporate event dressed as Elsa with sleazy middle aged men asking for hugs, for me and my female coworker to come do the housework. Guys have made me their little conquest mission to take my virginity. Men have told me I can’t possibly be the manager at work and is there a man they can speak to instead? I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times men have yelled out “SMILE!”
And of course, I’m an actress/singer. An industry rampant with this sort of behaviour as we’ve seen with Harvey Weinstein and countless other disgusting individuals. Without naming anybody, I did my first professional show at 21. During the callbacks, girls were made to give lap dances to the boys. I am not making that up. I never knew lap dances were the way to tell if you can sing, dance and convincingly portray a character. But apparently, that’s considered appropriate behaviour for directors!

The first time I remember a man making me feel uncomfortable, I was about 5. It was someone I’d never met. He kissed my hand and told me how pretty I was. I didn’t even know how to react but I remember feeling scared and embarrassed.
Since then, it’s happened more times than I can count. But here’s my highlight reel, for lack of a better word.

I’m 9. A boy from school chases me around the McDonald’s playground, pins me down and says he wants to kiss me. I kick him off and get away.

I’m 12. My creepy teacher is always trying to get me alone in the classroom with him. Then he invites me to lean against his chest. I say no.

I’m 14. Walking home from school. A group of about ten boys from my class swarm around me in a tight circle. They ask me what my vagina looks like. About my clitoris. About all the boys I’m supposedly sleeping with. Would I ever sleep with them? I’m a desperately shy virgin. Male teacher laughs and tells the boys not to do that again.

I’m 15. Wearing a school uniform. A middle aged tradie wolf whistles at me while he drives by.

I’m 16. A boy in science class gropes me, then follows me onto the school bus and does it again.

I’m 18. A boy at school slips his hand down my uniform and starts sliding my bra off. When I push him away he replies coyly that he’s “Just keeping his hands warm.”

I’m 19. While working, a group of boys in their early twenties point at me and ask my male coworker “Can you ask that girl to show some breast?”

I’m 20. A man slows his car down and shrieks “I’d f*** you!” at me as I walk down the street.

The boy I’ve been dating for almost eighteen months breaks up with me because “Women need to provide sex for men,” and I wasn’t ready.

I’m at my friend’s 21st birthday party. Her grandfather makes a pass at me. Later on he comes to find me and rubs himself against my body. He laughs. People at the party wave it off as him being a dirty old man.

I’m involved in filming a music video. The producer reaches for my chest asking where my boobs are because I’m the only one on the shoot wearing a high necked top.

I’m 21. The only passenger on the bus. The middle-aged driver doesn’t open the door at my stop. He tells me I’m hot. I have to ask him to let me out.

I’m 23. My 46 year old co-worker asks about my sex life. I ask him to stop. He calls me a bitch. He tells me I need to start having sex to get the dicks out of my brain and into my life. I’m called the perpetrator.

A random stranger comes up to me at the train station while I’m reading a book and hugs me. I have to shove him off. He giggles “I like hugging people”. It’s reported, but never followed up.

I’m 24 and trying on swimwear. An old man walks over and asks if he can take over the fitting. The older sales assistant starts lamenting my generation and how we don’t like “those comments” anymore.

I’m walking around the shopping centre/mall dressed as a Christmas Elf for work. A man slips his hand up my skirt.

The #metoo hashtag is surging on social media right now, but this is far from the first time sexual harassment and assault has come into the public eye in the last two years. There was the Stanford case where Brock Turner was given a ridiculously light sentence for sexual assault because he can swim. Prominent members of the entertainment industry have been exposed for the predators they are, predictably leading to shrieks of “THOSE WOMEN ARE LYING”. America currently has an orange self-proclaimed sexual predator in the White House and he of course has no end of defenders in his conduct towards women. This is a man who openly treats women like objects to be defiled and played with, who bragged about sexual assault in that revolting Access Hollywood tape (his victims were mocked with the hashtag #nextfaketrumpvictim), who dismisses women as gold diggers and still became President of the United States. Remind me again how accusations of sexual misconduct will ruin a man’s career? God help us.
Domestic violence is rampant in Australia. One woman every week is killed by a current or former partner and people just shrug and ask “Why didn’t they just leave?”
And of course, everyday sexism is screaming from all directions. We all saw the ridiculous carry-on when Jodie Whittaker was announced as the first female Dr Who. Female politicians are constantly questioned first and foremost on motherhood and fashion choices. Any woman who dares express an opinion online or try to do a job in a “man’s industry” is met with jokes, threats of rape/death and an order to make sandwiches. I’ll probably get a few for writing this blog.

Women have put up with this since the dawn of time and we’re all over it. Instead of teaching girls to not give men the wrong signals or how to prevent being raped, we should be teaching boys how to respect women. Enough is enough.
And yes I know, #notallmen and all that jazz. But if your reaction to any mention of sexism, rape, violence against women or the concept of mansplaining causes you to go into a foaming rage, maybe it’s time to take a look at yourself and think, “Does this make me sound like a Grade A douchebag?”
Catcalling is not a compliment. It’s not funny. It’s threatening and intimidating and it is NEVER ok.

Ladies, keep talking about this. It’s not acceptable in any situation. It was wrong in the 50s and it’s wrong in 2017. Men, call out your friends and co-workers. Be a man and treat females with respect. Not because you have a mother/sister/daughter, but because we’re all human.

And this may come as a shock to the faceless morons on the Internet, but that includes women.

 

 

Love is a Rainbow

Now that the bigots have run for cover after seeing the rainbow banner, I must ask you a question.

Have you ever been afraid to express your love to someone?

I don’t mean in the sense that you’ve not expressed your feelings to them, fear of rejection or the BS concept of “friendzoning”. I mean actual, literal fear of what might happen to you if you express any sort of affection to your partner. Fear of being mocked openly, losing relationships with friends or family, risking jail time in a country like India, or in Saudi Arabia, actually dying for it.

This is what the LGBTQ community faces on a daily basis.

Whether you agree with it or not is irrelevant. All I’m trying to do here is paint a picture here for you.

I’m a 25 year old female who’s been with my boyfriend for almost four years. We have no qualms in telling the world about our love.
We can walk down the street holding hands and nobody bats an eye.
We can kiss lightly in public without fear of a hateful comment or scornful glare.
He can give me that adorable doe-eyed look on the train without having to hide.
I can say he’s the one I want to spend the rest of my life with and I will never hear that it’s just a phase I’m going through.

It is absolutely heartbreaking to me that so many don’t have the same freedom with the people they love.

Are you seeing the bigger picture here? Why should anyone go through life alone, without a partner beside them? Life is difficult enough as it is.
It’s not about plebiscites or the sanctity of marriage. I don’t recall seeing this kind of outrage when Married at First Sight was announced. People clamour for The Bachelor or Farmer Wants a Wife, although how many relationships from reality trash TV have stood the test of time?

Same sex marriage will not destroy the world. It’s had years to do that and we’re still here. Britain hasn’t imploded. New Zealand hasn’t ceased to be above sea level. It won’t stop straight couples getting married, the Bible being published, or cause church services to cease.
This isn’t about personal beliefs, it’s about empathy. The world at large has spent so long trying to label the LGBTQ community as just that. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, genderfluid, asexual. So much time is devoted to labels that we forget they’re people too. People who need to be loved as they are and deserve to be happy.

I wear my crucifix daily. I go to church on Sundays. But that doesn’t mean I (or anybody) have the right, responsibility or understanding to judge anybody else.
Personally, I see same sex marriage as a little more love in the world. Because that is what we need most.

Date with Disney

March 31st, 2017. We’d been planning this night for months. My partner and two of our dearest friends on a cheesy double date to the highly anticipated Beauty and the Beast.
We all met up, oh-so-Australian Malteasers in hand, and went to get the tickets in an episode which would prove to be more dramatic than the film. Here’s a detailed plan on how to make getting tickets far more complicated than it should be.

  1. Turn up and head to the kiosk.
  2. Discover that the next session is Xtreme Screen and the only seats left are in the very front row. Discuss as a group whether you really want to be that close.
  3. Check movie times across the road via phone. Race over to the other cinema only to discover that one is in 3D. Another group discussion follows.
  4. The theatre staff say that the ads are still playing at the 7:35 session and we can make it. Buy the tickets, rush in, and discover the film is halfway through the song Belle.
  5. Leave the theatre, get a refund and go back to the original theatre to get the Xtreme Screen tickets. Discover they have also sold out.
  6. After even MORE discussion, get tickets for the 8:45 session, now one hour away. Also the Xtreme Screen in the front row.
  7. Go kill time at San Churros where you order New York Cheesecake instead of churros.
belleface

WHY MUST EVERYTHING BE SO DIFFICULT?!?

At 8:45pm, we finally took our reclining seats and the film began. All those months of anticipation, all the excitement of seeing my favourite animated Disney film in the flesh, on the big screen.

I left in a state of mixed emotions and mainly asking “Why?” I don’t even know if I can actually decide how I feel about the movie.

angrymob

Here we go again….

Alright, alright, put your torches and pitchforks down for a second and relax. I don’t hate this movie. I don’t even dislike it. There were aspects of the film I absolutely loved. Aspects that were, dare I say, even a slight improvement over the almost flawless 1991 film. Credit must always go where credit is due.
That being said though, I can’t sit back and pretend that this movie even comes close to the brilliance of the original film or the Broadway adaptation. Nor can I ignore the glaring problems with the film.

In the interest of keeping my blog shorter than the Bible, let’s get down to some ground rules. First off, this is not about the debate over whether Beauty and the Beast is about Stockholm Syndrome or bestiality. Those arguments are irrelevant and frankly boring to me. Secondly, if you disagree, more power to you. For all criticism of any art form, good or bad, there’s always going to be conflicting perspectives and we should only learn from them.

The Original

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The animated Beauty and the Beast is bar none my favourite Disney animated film. Everything about it is almost perfect. The characters are memorable, well-written and interesting. Belle is arguably the best female lead in the whole Disney canon. Top three, easily. The movie engulfs itself in the fairytale and throws a few twists along the way. The villain is not your typical bad guy; he’s actually the town hero but failing to get his way turns him to more desperate and evil measures. The animation is spectacular. The music is one of the best scores ever written. It was the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Possibly it’s the reason we have a Best Animated category at all. (Time out – Moana should have won this year. I’ve been stewing over that for weeks! Ok ok, stay on topic…)
The point is, the 1991 original is about as perfect an animated film as you can get. So…really, why remake it at all? What was the reasoning behind it? I know Disney is all about live action remakes lately. And while I can understand the logic of wanting to ‘correct’ the mistakes of the past with Maleficent – which failed hard –  Cinderella or The Jungle Book, with a movie as good and timeless as Beauty and the Beast, it just really seems unnecessary.
But to be fair, it’s entirely possible for a remake to be great, and when I first heard of the remake, I was keen. Maybe a remake of Beauty and the Beast could focus on some aspects of the Beast’s past, or go into greater detail about Belle. I was open to it, and even kind of excited.

The Cast

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All the characters in Beauty and the Beast are nothing short of iconic, and so it only seems logical that the remake have the finest possible cast as well.
When the casting was announced for the remake, I got even more hyped. Emma Watson as Belle? Makes sense. Ewan McGregor as Lumiere? Yes please. Kevin Kline as Maurice? I’ll watch that any day. Ian McKellen as Cogsworth? Absolutely. Josh Gad as Lefou? That works, obviously. Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts? Definitely. Living theatrical goddess Audra McDonald? I’m sold. I had no idea who Dan Stevens (Beast) and Luke Evans (Gaston) were and I admit that with no shame whatsoever.
Obviously this new cast had big shoes to fill, considering the treasure trove that was the original voice cast. Paige O’Hara (Belle), Robby Benson (Beast), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts), David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth), Richard White (Gaston), the late Jerry Orbach (Lumiere). But there’s no reason to assume that they can’t reach and even surpass the original.
My verdict? Everyone in the remake is at least watchable. Some are better than others, and this is mainly due to screen time and the writing. Which brings me to….

The Characters

Belle

In the original, Belle is a role model for the ages. She’s kind, but she has her limits. She’s smart, but doesn’t show off. She’s beautiful, but there’s a lot more to her than that.People talk about her, but she doesn’t let that stop her from doing what she loves. She knows she’s destined for greater things and desires something greater than herself.
Emma Watson was a very fitting choice for Belle, not least because of Hermione also being a massive bookworm. And I’m just going to say here, I think Emma Watson is a decent actress, an inspirational person and beautiful both inside and out.
Her performance as Belle is…ok. She certainly knows the character and heaven knows she’s trying. But compare this performance to the animated version and you will be sadly disappointed.
In the original, the way Belle is animated and voice-acted gives her a real identity and they make it absolutely clear that she is unique. She is the only character in her town that wears blue until the Beast shows up. In the remake, Belle is not the only one wearing blue, and not a lot about her really stands out as different. She talks to more people, she doesn’t really act any different, she doesn’t even read that much. In short, she’s not as interesting.
And yes, let’s get to the elephant in the room. Emma Watson’s singing. Um…how can I put this….it was terrible. I’m not even sorry. She cannot sing and anyone who tries to convince me otherwise is fighting a losing battle. And yes, I can judge since I have a qualification in music theatre and have been singing professionally for over seven years.
Not only was her voice shaky, hesitant and auto-tuned beyond belief, but there was zero acting involved and she also sounded like she was trying to imitate an American teen pop sound as opposed to a grand musical theatre style. Sometimes, like the case with The Rock in Moana or Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables, a non-singer can use charm, charisma, or just incredible acting skills to the point where a not-so great sound doesn’t actually matter. Emma Watson does not do this. It’s really uncomfortable to watch and not pleasant to listen to. Add to the fact that the original film had Paige O’Hara, and the original Broadway production starred Susan Egan, and there’s just no way in the world to make such bad singing redeemable.

Frankly, I’m sick to death of Hollywood casting people who can’t sing (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, anyone?) in musicals. If you cannot sing, you have no business being in a musical, let alone one of the most beloved musical films ever. I say either cast real singers or bring back dubbing!

The Beast

Oh movie. You tried so hard to make the Beast have more of a backstory. You were so close. You mentioned that the Prince only became selfish because of his father’s influence brought about by his mother’s death.
So why in the name of all that’s good and holy didn’t you explore it? It went absolutely nowhere. This could have been fascinating to watch. We could have seen a major character arc, explored the parental influence, commented on the fact that the servants apparently sat back and allowed this to happen. The ‘flashback’ was so brief it was blink-and-you-miss-it! Also, the animation in the original had a zillion times more emotional expression than the CGI thing you stuck on the screen. When Belle sees Maurice is in trouble through the enchanted mirror, the animation shows the Beast actually struggle with what to do, and ultimately make a very painful decision. When Belle arrives at the castle, you see the regret and even awkwardness on his face. You can see the loss of hope when Gaston arrives to kill him. He’s given up. Then when Belle arrives, you can see the resolve to fight back. I could go on and on about this, giving examples of moments with ALL the characters. You feel the changes and emotions through the music, the acting and the drawings. It’s shown, not told and this is why people loved the Beast so much to begin with. He was freaking interesting!
With the remake, the lack of expression makes it harder to have any chemistry between Belle and the Beast. This Beast wasn’t bad by any means…he’s just not as compelling to watch.
However, to be fair, it made a lot more sense for the Beast to be educated in this context, since that makes sense with the time period and also gives him and Belle some more common ground.

Now let’s get to the absolute best things about the film!

Maurice

I think my mother put it best “I’d watch Kevin Kline do a Coke ad,”
If Kevin Kline has ever given a bad performance, I’m yet to see it, and this film is no exception. He is absolutely beautiful as Maurice and the way he’s written makes the character so much more believable that the original. As mentioned before, he creates music boxes instead of inventions. He’s slightly eccentric, but nowhere near the bumbling fool of 1991. He was brave and could stand up for himself. He has a backstory (although why did he insist on keeping it secret?), he clearly loves his daughter, he’s really fun to watch and that song he sings in his introductory scene…it was magical. He was absolutely perfect in every way.

Gaston and Lefou

I have zero complaints about these two also. Not only are Luke Evan and Josh Gad having the time of their lives in their roles, but Gaston and Lefou have been expanded and made more realistic for a live-action retelling. Gaston being a celebrated soldier makes a lot of sense and having Lefou being given a moral dilemma was quite enjoyable. Every scene with them made me laugh hard.

And in terms of the alleged LGBT moment….I honestly don’t understand why people were having a heart attack over it. It was so unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Objects

The objects are fine in the remake and they look great. The acting is good, the designs work, they have some fun moments. You have no trouble believing that this is how people might look if they were turned into these items. But I do have one MAJOR gripe that I simply cannot let slide.

Broadway star Audra McDonald is in this movie. She is a living legend. The woman has the voice of an angel and her acting skills are nearly unrivalled. She could sing the phone book from 1998 and make it enthralling. She has SIX Tony awards, more than anyone in human history. She’s also the only person to win a Tony in every acting category.
How dare you only give Audra McDonald about 6 lines. Shame on you.

Essentially the characters are a mixed bag and so is…..

The Story

How can I put this? The movie is almost twice as long as the original yet it felt like it was on fast forward. At times it seemed like an almost shot-for-shot rehash, but all the important moments were almost glanced at.
I didn’t feel there was a single moment when Belle fell in love with the Beast or vice versa. In the original, the Beast knows right from the get-go that Belle could be the one to break the spell. He doesn’t give her a room and actually gets angry at Lumiere for letting her out of the dungeon. He doesn’t invite her to dinner until she’s in her room refusing to come out. He expresses absolutely zero desire to get to know her. In the original, he gives her the library as the most grand romantic gesture possible. He seemed almost bored in the remake. I didn’t believe for a second that they were forming a connection, as none was shown through looks, music or acting. How can the pacing and emotional journey be so superior for an animated film where there’s all kinds of time constraints and restrictions? The original felt like the story was moving, like characters were actually doing something and changing.
That is essentially the main flaw with this remake. It is banking on the fact that you’ve seen the 1991 animated film. This is why characters aren’t as interesting or fleshed out. This is why the most crucial elements of the story are treated as an afterthought. It’s like they thought it wasn’t necessary to throw effort into certain scenes.
There were potentially great plot points that could have been added but were practically glossed over. There was a pre-release mention of Belle being an inventor while Maurice made music boxes and I was totally down with that. But come the movie, and it’s barely even mentioned. The laundry device she supposedly makes appears for about ten seconds. We don’t know how she came up with the idea, how she put it together, or if this is something she does regularly. This could have been an added dimension to an already good character. It was missed. There was a moment where Belle was teaching a little girl to read, which was a lovely scene. But again, ten seconds later and it’s never brought up again. The little girl never reappears and it’s never explored why she would approach Belle.
But the added tangent I actually despised was the scene where Belle and the Beast go into that ridiculous magic book. That was completely pointless and felt like an entirely different movie. Aside from that appalling “tourist” joke which dragged you completely out of the moment, why did this enchanted book even have to be there? It was never mentioned again. Supposedly the Enchantress left it along with the rose and I assume the mirror since the remake never actually said where the enchanted mirror even came from. Again, they rely on the knowledge of the original.
And ok, Belle’s mother died from the plague. Fair enough. So what does Belle do? She brings back that rose pen thing which is presumably infected with plague bacteria and is now going to spread death and destruction everywhere.

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Congratulations Belle. You’ve doomed the entire village.

And finally, the music. I was sorely disappointed and confused as to why on earth four new songs were written for the film when there were six new songs added to the stage musical.
Though I could stomach the lyric changes well enough, the film’s new songs were generally just not as good. The reason the new songs worked well in the stage show was because they were based in the instrumental score so everything tied together. Home, Maison Des Lunes, No Matter What, A Change in Me, Human Again, If I Can’t Love Her. I was dying to see that last song on the big screen. It’s a beautiful piece of music and a great moment for the Beast. I’ll admit I have a soft spot for Evermore, the Beast’s new number, and the moment in the film was a good spot for a song, but it just didn’t have the power that If I Can’t Love Her had. I sincerely wish that they had simply incorporated the Broadway tracks into the film. That would have been fine. Although I’d be lying if I said I wanted to hear Emma Watson’s attempts to sing Home.

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I know, Alice. I know

I realise this review is sort of all over the place, but so is the movie. It seems like the film is trying to be a carbon copy of the original we love, and also be it’s own thing. This half-half leaves an inferior remake behind, trying to fix what was never broken.

Beauty and the Beast did not have to be remade, but it has been, so hopefully you can draw your own conclusions and decide whether it’s worth the two hours. I’m glad I saw it, but I can’t say I’ll be rushing to see it again and again. If you go in expecting a masterpiece you probably won’t find it. You’re more likely to come out appreciating the original masterpiece a lot more. Or maybe you’ll find it a delightful film. Either way, be my guest.

Top 10 Simpsons Treehouse of Horror

I’ve been waiting a long time to do this list! The Simpsons is without doubt my favourite TV show of all time. I don’t watch it much anymore (lack of pay TV), but on the rare occasion I do catch it, it’s not that bad. Of course, the show is nowhere near as good as it was but I wouldn’t call it terrible. The characters are still there, I still laugh, and there’s the occasional good joke.

But of course, what we’re talking about today is the Halloween episodes. When I was growing up, Halloween was purely an American tradition, and all I really knew about it came from, you guessed it, The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror.
Even today, the Halloween specials are a must. From parodies to an all-out cartoon gore-fest, we wonder what the writers will do this year. And I’m going to count down the best segments today.

A quick disclaimer. This was probably the hardest list to select. They’re that good. ALL of the segments are great in their own way.
These are the ones that I personally enjoy the most. For a moment to qualify, I need to have seen it entirely.

What will be on the list? Let’s get started!

10. The Shinning (Treehouse of Horror V)

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The family become winter caretakers at Mr Burn’s hotel. However, he has cut off the cable TV and destroyed any Duff Beer in the house, causing Homer to go crazy.
The Simpsons have done hundreds of great parodies over the years but this is one of their best. Even people who have never seen The Shining are able to appreciate the jokes.
From the blood in the elevator to the iconic “No TV and No Beer Make Homer Go Crazy”, there’s never ending laughs while still paying homage to Stanley Kubrick.

9. Easy Bake Coven (Treehouse of Horror VIII)

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In the year 1692, the town of Springfield is now Salem in the grip of the infamous witch trials. At a town meeting, Goody Simpson is accused of being a witch, and later at her kangaroo trial, it’s revealed that she actually is. Marge joins her fellow witch sisters Patty and Selma, and they plan to eat the town’s children. Thanks to the Flanders’ quick thinking, the witches start asking for treats instead, thus beginning the trick or treat tradition of Halloween.
Maybe it’s because The Crucible is one of my favourite plays, or maybe it’s the fact that as an Australian I never got to go trick or treating as a child. But this segment really does make me laugh years later, and I get more of the references now that I’m in my twenties.
Incidentally, is there an age restriction on trick or treating? Now that Halloween has come to Australia in a big way, I may just get my chance…

8. Time and Punishment (Treehouse of Horror V)
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Remember this classic? Homer, while repairing the family toaster, accidentally creates a time machine. Despite his best efforts, he manages to alter the future in horrifying ways. Swatting a mosquito makes Ned Flanders the maniacal world dictator. Accidentally killing all the dinosaurs causes a seemingly perfect world, but donuts apparently don’t exist.
Yes, like everyone else, the scene where Homer misses that donuts rain from the sky absolutely breaks my heart every single time. And I will always laugh at “Oh, I wish I wish I hadn’t killed that fish,”
The scenarios the writers and animators come up with here are beyond ingenious and hysterically funny. James Earl Jones’ cameo as Maggie’s voice is great. And you really do wonder how Homer is going to get out of this mess. The ending of course, is perfect and while it’s unlikely any of my readers haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it here. It’s just a wildly creative and fun segment.

7. Homer3 (Treehouse of Horror VI)

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How could I not put this one on the list? It may be a tad dated now, but the computer animation of this episode was absolutely groundbreaking for 1995.
While attempting to hide from Patty and Selma, Homer stumbles upon the third dimension behind the bookcase, but sadly makes the world collapse on itself and he ends up in – how could we ever forget? – the real world.
The set up is great, the animation still looks cool, the background is crammed with in-jokes and easter eggs, and it’s still hilarious 21 years on. Homer’s foray into our world is probably the most memorable in the history of the show and despite the lack of closure in the ending, nobody really cares. It’s one of the most famous segments in all the Halloween episodes and for good reason.

6. The Devil and Homer Simpson (Treehouse of Horror IV)

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For a long time, this was my favourite Treehouse of Horror segment. While I may have changed my mind about that, I still adore this segment.
Homer, in sheer desperation, sells his soul to the Devil (Ned Flanders), for a donut. Later, when the Devil comes to claim what is his, Lisa asks for a fair trial. But Homer first has to spend a day in Hell, where he is subjected to eating all the donuts in the world (we all know where that would end up). By the end, Homer’s soul is legally found to be Marge’s property.
I love this episode for the set up, the clever jokes and the scenes where Homer is in Hell. Even the deleted scenes revealed in ‘The Simpsons’ 138th Episode Spectacular’ are a riot. I may have a new favourite now, but I will always have a special place in my heart for this one.

5. Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace (Treehouse of Horror VI)

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I will freely admit that I have never seen A Nightmare on Elm Street because I am too much of a coward. And when I first saw this episode at twelve, it did freak me out slightly (I was a sensitive child, ok?)
But now that I’m older and slightly braver (well, brave enough to not get spooked by The Simpsons), I can appreciate the merits of this segment. The parody. The hilarious indifference and bureaucracy of the parents and teachers at the school. The scenarios where the children die, and how Maggie ultimately saves the day with her trademark pacifier. It’s a ton of fun every time.

4. Nightmare Cafeteria (Treehouse of Horror V)

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Yeah, I know I’ve put all three segments from Treehouse of Horror V on, but hey, give me a break. It’s arguably the best Halloween Special of all.
Due to budget cuts and overcrowded detention halls, Principal Skinner and the faculty at Springfield Elementary start cooking and eating the misbehaving students, and soon only Bart, Lisa and Milhouse remain.
This one is just straight up funny. Despite the horrifying scenario and gore, the jokes come thick and fast. And they’re all great. The Joy of Cooking Milhouse. The free-range children. Grade F meat. And of course, one of my favourite jokes involving Marge ever!
“Listen, kids, you’re eight and ten years old now. I can’t be fighting all your battles for you…no buts! You march right back to that school, look them straight in the eye and say ‘Don’t eat me!'”

3. Bart Simpson’s Dracula (Treehouse of Horror IV)

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The Simpsons are invited to dinner at Mr Burns’ mansion. Lisa begins to suspect that Burns is a vampire. Bart and Lisa stumble upon his secret lair, and Bart is turned into a vampire.
Vampires are a staple in horror, and The Simpsons take full advantage of all the possibilities here. And of course, there’s some of the most memorable jokes in the show’s history here.
“Kill my boss?!? Do I dare live out the American dream?”
Oh Lisa, you and your stories. Bart is a vampire. Beer kills brain cells. Now…let’s go back….to that building thingy…where our beds and TV….is,” the attempt to kill Mr Burns and then of course the ending where the head vampire is revealed.

2. Dial Z for Zombies (Treehouse of Horror III)

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While attempting to resurrect Lisa’s dead cat, Bart accidentally unleashes zombies….sorry, the living-impaired, on the town. The citizens are turned one by one and it’s up to the Simpson family to reverse it.
There’s little need to go into detail here. We all know this episode. We all know the jokes. We all know every single moment. It’s just a complete riot.

It’s time to unveil number one, which you may have already guessed, but first, some

Honourable Mentions

Monkey’s Paw (Treehouse of Horror II)

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Terror at 5 1/2 Feet (Treehouse of Horror IV)

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Attack of the 50ft Eyesores (Treehouse of Horror VI)

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Desperately Xeeking Xena (Treehouse of Horror X)

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1. The Raven (Treehouse of Horror I)

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Admit it. You all knew this one was coming. And how could I not select this as my number one? Ask anyone in my generation and I guarantee that this episode is how we know about Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven.

A simultaneous parody and homage to a masterwork, The Raven manages to give us everything we love about the Halloween Specials right at the very beginning. It’s funny, full of clever references and still maintains that slightly spooky feel which keeps us on edge. It satirises the work but never to a point that’s insulting or degrading. It managed to give us a genuinely new take on a very old work and keep it alive in our memories to this very day.

With Halloween well and truly dusted and a nasty horror story looming over America for the next four years, I can’t help but wonder what the Simpsons will have in store for next Halloween….

America, You’ve Let Us Down.

When Australia woke this morning, we heard the inevitable jokes about being in the future and therefore knowing the election results. We ruefully laughed and carried on about our day. But now, we are going to bed knowing that Donald J. Trump is going to be the 45th President of the United States.

I really believed you were better than this, America. That as a nation, you were past the bigotry and hatred this maniac was spewing. We all did. We all wanted to think that there was no way Trump could win. No way.
But you’ve elected him, as the whole world watched in horror.  And make no mistake, we have watched in horror since day one.

We saw Trump call Mexicans ‘rapists’. We saw him advocate for war crimes in the fight against ISIS. We saw his hateful rhetoric against all who disagreed with him. Muslims. Immigrants. The media. We have seen his never-ending misogyny on full and proud display. We saw him declare ‘America First’, conveniently forgetting that America is not the only country in the world. We saw him vow to build a ridiculous border wall and ban Muslims from entering America. We’ve known him to be a revolting human being all along. A scam artist, a narcissist beyond belief who cares only for himself. As each scandal plagued his campaign, we all thought “Surely now he will be derailed and we can see an actual election,”

But it was not to be. However you may try to explain or justify this choice, America, the cold hard fact is that you have elected a racist, bigoted, sexist, dangerous, unqualified, inexperienced, narcissistic, sexual predator as your next president. A man who accepts the endorsement of white supremacists, who openly brags about sexual assault, who hasn’t got a single plan to rule a line never mind a country. You have chosen him over a woman who actually knows the ins and outs of government and the presidency.

Hillary Clinton is not perfect by any means. Personally, I much preferred Bernie Sanders. But she is more qualified on experience and achievements alone than anyone else who has ever run for President.
In the face of this bully, Hillary Clinton bravely faced up to every attack, as she always has for the last 25 years. While the media and Trump were obsessing over her emails, she kept going. When Trump and his cronies tried to blame Hillary for her husband’s behaviour, (which she is NOT responsible for), she held her head high and focused on the issues. She pushed through while suffering pneumonia. She kept her resolve when Trump tastelessly exploited women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. She prepared endlessly for the debates and absolutely wiped the floor with the idiot who isn’t even fit to stand in the same room as her. This is a woman who has fought for healthcare, women and children, and has dedicated her life to the service of her country, regardless of how you feel about her. Whereas Trump has devoted his life to scamming and cheating his way to the top. He serves nobody but himself and he hasn’t got a clue about politics. At least President Eisenhower had leadership experience under his belt; he stared down Hitler for crying out loud!

“Make America Great Again’ was his slogan, without a single concrete plan on how to do so, except by putting America First in every way. The problem with this nationalist rhetoric is that America is NOT the centre of the universe and it never has been.

Trump is proud of his terrible personality. Proud of his hate and downright dangerous ideology. He claims his business success makes him the best choice for the job. You can’t run a country like you do a business, especially when you’ve managed to bankrupt four casinos. I literally don’t know how that is even humanly possible. How do you do that?

I know what people will say. “You’re Australian, what does it matter?” Well, it does matter. America is a global superpower and what they decide affects us all. If World War 3 breaks out because President Trump gets a little offended by a tweet, nuclear weapons will mean that nowhere is safe. And Australia is far from perfect in terms of politics. We’ve gone through five prime ministers since 2007 because our government keep fighting like preschoolers.

We’re all reeling from the decision you’ve made today, America. Despite all the signs, the clear warnings, the seemingly obvious choice of who should be elected, you’ve done your own Brexit. Instead of going forwards, you’ve gone right back. Instead of thinking about what this means for the world, you’ve chosen a despicable human being to lead your country. Whether this is because you just didn’t get out and vote or you actually wanted Donald Trump to be President, there’s no turning back now.

But to the people who voted against Trump, Australia is very nice this time of year.

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.

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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.

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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.