Arts and Cultural, Professional Development

Australian Theatre Forum 2015 (ATF2015)

Sydney, 20 to 23 January 2015

First of all, I would like to say thank you to Australian Theatre Forum team for making the effort to implement Deaf Access Strategy and to organise Auslan Interpreters for the forum.  I really appreciate it and I am impressed as most conference I have been, I has to advocate for access.  This time, I didn’t and I feel privileged to have access organised for the forum.

Also I would like to say thank you to Access Arts Inc for partially funding the trip to Sydney to participate in Australian Theatre Forum 2015.

I am sure you have been following my Instagram and Twitter to hear key messages that has been raised from ATF2015. It has been a big three and half days of many conversations and attending breakout sessions and keynote speakers. The keynote speakers mostly talked about their story and what they have achieved on their journey.

The sections that I listened in: ATF2015 Schedule

I won’t provide an in-depth summary of each session as some theatre practitioners are already doing that.

Keynote speakers

All the keynote speakers shared their stories of their journey in the arts industry.  All the keynote speakers are inspirational in achieving their goals.  The following keynote speakers were:

  • Rachael Maza whom is currently the artistic director of ILBIJERRI Theatre Company.  She spoke about her journey from being a graduate of WAPA to being involved in Australian film, television and theatre industry with performance credits including the AFI award winning Radiance, Cosi and Lillian’s Story.  One of the topics Rachael spoke of is: “Examining the difference between cultural appropriation & cultural exchange of aboriginal theatre and arts”.
  • Richard Frankland is a Jack of all trade in Arts and Cultural Industry and he will continue to inspire younger generation of indigenous people.  He has written, directed and produced several films, directed and performed in theatre and is working as cultural consultant. “We are all equal but celebrate being different” was the answer Richard gave to the question about diversity and inclusion.
  • Rhoda Roberts has written, produced and directed some of Australia’s most important public productions including the Festival of the Dreaming in the lead up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.  Her journey had positive and negative moments that make her who she is today. She stated for younger generation coming into the industry, “We need to listen to all these young people who are coming into our industry. They have vision.”
  • Frie Leysen is a fearless champion of the arts and contributes to innovation in international theatre.  She spoke about her journey of creating work internationally. As she said at the final keynote speaker, “Artists must be disturbers, not pleasers”.

Current Climate – business model, commercial approach, philanthropy, risks

Panel session for philanthropy, what is the risks and smashing silos seems to have similar themes.  The theme is, what can we do in this current climate for theatre companies and independent artists to succeed or fail in this arts and cultural sector.  Most theatre practitioners are concerned with the decline of local/international theatre work due to inability to make money and lack of audience for their theatre.  The talk of sales from box office is critical to the success of the production.

The question is should we take the risk to make experimental arts or should we become traditional artists?  Do we need to include diverse artists? Well Frie Leysen said, “artists needs to be disturbers, not pleasers” and I agree with that.  I would like to see mainstream theatre company take on an artists that are not from specified background to ensure that the theatre production is presented to beak the mindset of the “elitist” people.

The answer from few keynote speakers is to take the risk and hope for the best.  You just win or lose – it is an unknown arena.  People are constantly worrying about money to produce work – one person mentioned; we need to think like commercial transaction to gain profit and to make money from the work we sell.  You just need a good business person and a good artist to make it work.  You can’t have one without the other.

Other advice is to stop giving free shows/workshop/services unless you can afford to lose some money to sustain your business.

Diversity and Inclusion

The topic of diversity and inclusion seems to the theme across the forum schedule.  It is two way street for these topic – you must give to gain something in return. Basically, I am constantly requesting for access so I expect the people to provide access to ensure that I can participate fully as an artist, audience and practitioner.

For me being involved in this industry, the mindset of majority of the people needs to change.  A great example is the screenshot from mobile based Sydney Festival website for Nothing to Lose.


I am literally over the abuse of the word – “diversity” and “inclusion”.  Both terms are very board.  Why not start thinking about how to provide access to a diverse community?  Spoken language other than English?  Sign Language?  Audio description?

Inclusion does not mean building a ramp and making my company an inclusive company or providing a safe space for disabled artists.  That is what frustrates me on daily basis.  To think about inclusion, you need to think about access for people – you need to include an annual budget for access and this includes sign language interpreters (for both deaf and deaf-blind people), audio description and captioning.  These three accesses require ongoing costs for access. Maybe there are other ongoing accesses that I am not aware of, should be included.

Diversity … diversity is very broad and what aspects of diversity do you really want to achieve? I am actually baffled about this breakout session and I do not know why you need to discuss the pathway to diversity. Really, everyone has their own journey and we should all treat each other equally within the arts industry.  Like Richard Frankland said, “We are equal but celebrate being different”.

This topic should have an issue attached to what aspect of the pathway to diversity that the theatre makers really want to explore.   As someone said, “we need a diversity officer” within the big theatre company – I am like, no, no, no!  Why?  Diversity officer would have to look after women, disabled, deaf, queer, GLBT, men, cultural (Asian, African, India etc), and so on – that is very broad. For me, we need to think about what aspect of the diversity that seems to be problematic in the theatre company. Is it recruiting process? Is it access? Is it cultural awareness?

My question for you people considering diversity and inclusion in theatre, I would like to know what have you done to dispel the mindset of “elitist” people?

Future Topic/Questions to consider?

The areas that I hope to explore at the next ATF2017 includes:

  • NDIS and theatre/independent artists
  • Post-2016 higher education in theatre/drama/technical production
  • Achieving human equality and access in theatre– what has been done to achieve human equality in the industry?  Access for deaf audience?  Aboriginal artists?  CALD? Encouraging the growth of deaf artists like myself?
  • Skill and experience gaps for deaf/cultural/disabled artists?
  • How have we moved away from the terms “diverse” and “inclusion”?

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