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equity med ia enter ta i n ment & a r ts a l l ia n ce

AU T U M N 2010


Drama: asking the hard questions? Cat and mouse world of arts blogs Introducing Aunty Actor

Up close and personal with Tom Hern, Andrew Beattie, Fiona Harris, Cate Blanchett and Noel Hodda

Contact Directory Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance Equity Federal President Simon Burke Federal Secretary Christopher Warren Equity Director Simon Whipp Equity President, NZ Jennifer Ward-Lealand Alliance Membership Centre 1300 656 513 (Australia only) Alliance Inquiry Desk 1300 656 512 (Australia only) Equity Foundation Director Suzanne Culph Ph: +61 2 9333 0922 SYDNEY 245 Chalmers Street REDFERN NSW 2016 PO BOX 723 STRAWBERRY HILLS NSW 2012 Ph: +61 2 9333 0999 MELBOURNE Level 3, 365 Queen Street MELBOURNE VIC 3000 Ph: +61 3 9691 7100 BRISBANE Level 4, TLC Building 16 Peel Street SOUTH BRISBANE QLD 4101 LOCKED BAG 526 SPRING HILL QLD 4004 Ph: 1300 656 513 ADELAIDE 241 Pirie Street ADELAIDE SA 5000 Ph: +61 8 8223 6055

Short sensation: the cast and crew of Glenn Owen Dodds, which won the prestigious International Prix Canal+ award at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in France

supporters The Equity Foundation and the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance thank the following organisations for their generous support.

PERTH 123 Claisebrook St Perth WA 6000 Ph: +61 8 9227 7924 HOBART 379 Elizabeth Street NORTH HOBART TAS 7000 PO Box 128 North Hobart TAS 7002 Ph: +61 3 6234 1622 CANBERRA 40 Brisbane Avenue Barton ACT 2604 PO Box 6065 KINGSTON ACT 2604 Ph: +61 2 6273 2528 AUCKLAND 195 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby AUCKLAND 1011 Ph: +64 9 360 1980 MEDIA SUPER Locked Bag 1229 Wollongong NSW 2500 Ph: 1800 640 886 Fax: 1800 246 707 Email: administration@media

Patricia Amphlett, Caroline Craig, Monica Main, Simon Whipp, Simon Burke, Robyn Arthur, Roy Billing, Carol Burns, Mitchell Butel, Helen Dallimore, Jack Finsterer, Alan Fletcher, Kevin Harrington, Abbe Holmes, Lorna Lesley, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Jonathan Mill, Neil Pigot, Angela Punch-McGregor, Brooke Satchwell, Queenie Van de Zandt, Jeff Szusterman, Corinne Grant, Kerry Walker, Kym Ford, Paul Blackwell, Patrick Frost, Stuart Halusz, Tina Bursill, Chloe Dallimore, and Jennifer Ward-Lealand.

AUSTRALIANSUPER Locked Bag 4 HAYMARKET NSW 1236 Ph: 1300 368 118 Fax: 1300 368 881 Email: email@stasuper.australian

Photo by Elleni Toumpas

Members of your National Performers’ Committee are:



25 Super-fast future on a roll-out What will the National Broadband Network mean for our industry?

Message from the President


Message from the NZ President

Performers run out of puff Where there’s smoke…

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news Industrial wrap up


Piracy is picking my pocket Roy Billing on a very modern type of crime




opinion Acting is hard work. Getting paid is harder Stuart Halusz on the undervalued professional


Bounding on to a bigger stage Cate Blanchett on how the STC is selling Australia to the world


Time to stand firm Neil Pigot calls upon performers to lobby for proper funding


Going...going...gigs! The disappearing world of support acts



Do yourself a favour... Don’t stand in front of a camera without a contract!


What are you worth? Noel Hodda warns against non-Equity agreements




Harry Jensen? Who’s he? Tom Hern takes his first step as producer


POSTCARD FROM THE EDGE Kate Rees Davies meets up with her Equity mentor in LA


Annie Byron tours Dublin, Montreal and… Seoul


AUNTY ACTOR Introducing a new column: the doctor is IN!



features Jailing comedians is no joke The plight of Burmese satirist Zarganar


A town like Arthur’s Insatiable Moon on the rise


Have mouse - may get catty The world of arts blogs


Do not go gentle Andrew Beattie – it’s good knight from him!


columns UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL Childish fun for all Fiona Harris’ kinder surprise

in the back EVENTS Alan Flower’s casting hotpot




OBITUARIES We farewell Stuart Campbell, Monica Maughan, John McCallum, Rhoderick Walker


THE LAST WORD Damian Callinan confronts the sooty elephant in the corner


ON THE COVER Damian Callinan goes all out in touring bushfireravaged Victoria. Photo: James Penlidis





or most unions, the years of the Howard government presented many industrial challenges. Industrial laws made the work of unions increasingly difficult and the era was characterised by a struggle to maintain the status quo, with little, if any, gains made. Equity is proud of its history during this difficult era. Minimum wages in film, television and theatre increased by almost 50 per cent over the past decade – well above the rate of inflation. Also, as a result of Equity’s industrial campaigns, residuals on Australian films have been introduced for the first time and residuals in television have been markedly improved. Equity, with industry partners, was able to persuade the Howard government in its final years to introduce the Producer Offset, which has seen the number of films produced in Australia rise from 15 a year a few years ago to 50 last year. Film budgets have also risen. That is not to say that challenges weren’t faced and mistakes weren’t made. The most marked of these were the changes to the travel allowance provisions agreed in the last theatre agreement. As we face a new industrial era under Fair Work laws there are new opportunities. Performers can choose to harness these opportunities and take advantage of them. But the laws do require that the union doesn’t operate in a vacuum. For changes to be made performers will need to be standing by – and with – Equity all the way. What could some of these changes be? Getting a minimum 11-hour turnaround in film and television instead of the current 10? Getting back the travel arrangements in theatre as they used to be? Better residuals in film and television? All these things are possible if performers step up. The most immediate industrial challenges remain in

advertising. I am heartened by the success of the Offshore Commercials campaign. Australian performers have been on strike in this area since August 7, 2009. All commercials for overseas release produced in Australia since that time have either been on the old agreement, or on other terms agreed between the producer and Equity. Late last year we also heard that the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA, which represents the clients of advertising agencies) is proposing to rip up the Standard Advertising Contract, which ensures that performers are paid additional fees if commercials go beyond the original agreed usage, in different media or for longer periods or in different territories. The AANA is proposing a buyout of all rights in advertising. Of course, new times call for new answers and new media uses of TVCs, and commercials made specifically for new media, are challenges faced by all performer unions. Ensuring a fair share for performers in new media advertising is going to be at the heart of any discussion between Equity and advertisers. Gains in policy are also possible. What about the moribund state of theatre funding in this country? How should we respond to the government’s proposal to make it easier for film and television producers to use ever-greater numbers of overseas actors in Australian productions? And what about the long-promised performers’ copyright? Gains can be made in these areas too and I look forward to working with increasing numbers of you as we face these challenges ahead. The more we can all work together, the better the outcome will be for all Australian performers.

Simon Whipp Director, Equity



Photo: Alex Vaughan

COVER PHOTO James Penlidis ADDRESS Equity Foundation, Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, 245 Chalmers Street, Redfern, NSW 2016 WEBSITE ADVERTISE Call Melissa McAllister on 1300 656 513 or email SUBSCRIBE email DISCLAIMER The views expressed in this magazine are not necessarily those of the Equity Foundation or the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance. equity is Australia’s major publication dedicated to Australian performers, about performers, for performers and by performers. To contribute email EQUITYTHANKS Andrew Beattie, Roy Billing, Julia Billington, Kate Blanchett, Graeme Blundell, John Bolton Wood, Annie Byron, Damian Callinan, Travis Cotton, Alan Flower, Lindsay Foyle, Stuart Halusz, Fiona Harris, Tom Hern, Noel Hodda, Tom Gellett, Victoria Morgan, Bruce Morrow, Rawiri Paratene, Neil Pigot, Kate Rees Davies, Mike Riddell, Lee Tulloch and Sara Wiseman

message from the president

Photo: Alex Vaughan


’d wish you all a Happy New Year except apparently it’s bad form if you do it later than Australia Day. So how about, “Here’s to a great decade ahead for us all and for Equity”! And at the very beginning of this decade I’m focussing on the strength and unity we derive from being part of a broad community of performers. This community can be right on your doorstep or stretch across the world. Locally, as I write, a record 140 incredibly generous performers are preparing for the 12th year of Hat’s Off! with a retrospective concert featuring a star-studded line up of Australian musical theatre, comedy, dance and cabaret performers, all donating their time and talent to help raise much-needed funds for ACON and BGF. Sometimes issues that seem a million miles away from the life of an Australian performer can be brought very close to home. When Equity met with the Zimbabwean branch of Actors’ Equity we soon learned that their needs were more basic, more urgent: uppermost on their wish list was clothes – new or second-hand, adults’ or children’s – they asked us to send whatever we could find. And performers responded with mounds of clothes, including a few of our leftover ABC campaign t-shirts. I wonder what they will make of First Dog On The Moon in Zimbabwe? The international performing community is reaching out to Zarganar, the Burmese comedian, who we profile on page 7. He has been jailed for 35 years. His satire got him into hot water with the Burmese military junta, but his major “crime” was being a social activist – raising aid and international concern for the devastating tragedy facing his fellow countrymen. The feeling of community among performers sometimes resonates most strongly through the associations that our unions have with each other. You might recall that back in 2008, at the Australia: You’re Watching It conference that we hosted with the ABC, the Australian Children’s Television Foundation and Screen Australia, we were delighted to

welcome, as an advocate for Equity’s position, Steve Waddell, the national executive director, Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA). Steve put the case for local content from an international perspective and talked about how, in the context of the review of local content in new media production in Canada, ACTRA is lobbying to set a levy on internet service providers. Recently I got to return the favour when working in Toronto (reprising my role as Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music in Toronto – no it wasn’t “Climb Every Mountie!”). I was invited to speak out in support of ACTRA’s campaign for more local Canadian content; you can read about it here: Intra-union relationships are all about working together, learning from each other and shamelessly ripping off each other’s campaigns whenever you can! And much closer to home, for me at least, it was when about 200 performers gathered in February to celebrate the life of the wonderful, crazy, brilliant actor and photographer Stuart Campbell who we lost late last year. Each of us brought a favourite 10x8 headshot taken by Stu at his Bondi apartment. One by one we pegged them on the Hills Hoist erected in the foyer of the NIDA Theatre especially for the occasion. There was much laughter, many tears, but such community.

Simon Burke Equity President

message from the NZ president

Photo: Gary Baildon


new decade and a new edition of equity – two good reasons to reflect on what sort of union we want to continue to build here in New Zealand. I’d like to see our NZ Actors’ Equity become a respected and powerful force – part of a flourishing industry in which we work towards the telling of our stories on stage and screen, both here and around the world. How do we achieve this? It is up to all of us. Make sure you are a member and that you stay financial. Talk to other performers about your union, and also to others in the industry. There’s no secret about what we’re trying to achieve – we’re after a fair and viable industry that performers in NZ can contribute to and feel proud of! It is a simple formula: the more of us that stand together, the more we can achieve. Together we can fight for jobs for NZ performers and for better pay and conditions for all of us. Together we can lobby government to build our industry and together we can work with other industry groups toward common goals. Make your voice heard, get involved, be a doer! This is the year to gain some momentum with Equity’s professional program in NZ. In the next short while we are planning to launch a great program for our members – one that we hope you will want to take part in. And we’d love to hear from you – if you’ve got a great idea for a workshop, or a wish-list of

people you’d like to do a masterclass with, let us know. Consider writing an article for this magazine – loads of NZ performers have already done so and it is a real thrill to see your name in print in a magazine by, and for, performers just like you! Keep informed – make this the year that you regularly check the website for news and information on the latest campaigns and discounts and to see what other performers are up to. If you haven’t already done so, drop into our Ponsonby Road office in Auckland and say “hi” to our organiser, Frances. And come along to one of our popular Green Room events, where you’ll hear all the latest industrial news and find out what events are coming up. So come and have a drink and catch up with your community.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand Equity NZ President


industrial wrap up Spring Awakening

First taste of power: cast of STC’s Spring Awakening stood together to protect their rights

Thoroughly modern awards

The federal government’s new Modern Award system took effect from January 1 this year. For Alliance members, more than 50 awards from the previous system have been replaced by less than 10 of the modern awards. Importantly, however, this does not affect the existing enterprise and industry collective agreements that cover most Alliance members. The Alliance has posted the relevant modern awards for our industries on our website:

Alliance defeats SPAA cuts

SPAA was seeking to cut the Extra rate from $153.02 to $114.15 under the modern Award. Fair Work Australia has ruled in favour of the Alliance’s defence of extras and maintained the full rate. SPAA also sought to remove $226.35 in residual rights payments from the modern award but again Fair Work Australia has ruled in favour of the Alliance and maintained the rights payment.

Offshore commercials update Equity has successfully negotiated with the producers of offshore commercials for Mitsubishi and Mercedes to be made in Australia on terms identical to those in the Offshore Commercials Agreement 2005. Negotiations regarding other commercials continue.

The producers of Jersey Boys, currently playing in Melbourne, found themselves 6


New collective agreement

Throughout 2009 Equity met with live theatre casts from all over Australia to seek their opinion on what should be included in the new Performers’ Collective Agreement. As a result we will be seeking such things as an increase in per diems from five days per week to six, a change to travel provisions so that performers who are away from home for more than seven days are provided with cooking and laundry facilities, and an increase in the loading for a second Sunday performance to 200 per cent. Formal negotiations with Live Performance Australia will commence in February and Equity will take performers along to these negotiations in order to have people on hand to discuss how the provisions in the agreement affect them. Negotiations are expected to take a few months, so it will be an interesting time for performers.

More Awakening

Another success for the Sydney cast of Spring Awakening came when a group of cast members from elsewhere in Australia, who were not being provided with accommodation or per diems, stood together to ensure they received their entitlements. Members should be aware that under the theatre agreement, if you live outside a radius of 110 kms from the capital city in which you’re working, you are entitled to accommodation and per diems. Producers are in breach of the PCA if they induce you to say, for example, that you’re Sydney-based if they know you live in Newcastle. The affected members from Spring Awakening are now being given accommodation for the rest of the show’s run, being reimbursed for rent they’ve already outlaid, and are receiving per diems. Another great result from some of Equity’s youngest members.

Opera Australia

Opera Australia has flagged with the Alliance that it wishes to discuss possible use of overseas artists on Opera Australia productions other than those on the main stage. The Alliance will meet with the new artistic director Lyndon Terracini to discuss this, possibly disturbing, new direction.

The Killer Elite

In the summer issue of equity we reported on difficulties in reaching an

agreement on the issue of residuals with the producers of Tomorrow When the World Began. These negotiations continue. Meanwhile the same producers are seeking to make a film called The Killer Elite. Negotiations on this film will be dependant upon agreement being reached with Tomorrow. Equity is working with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) to reach agreements on these productions. In the meantime agreements have been reached on productions of Scorched and Happy Feet 2 for SAG-style residuals to be paid. Performers are advised not to accept engagements with either Tomorrow When the World Began or The Killer Elite until similar agreement has been reached on these productions.

New Feature Film Agreement

A new Feature Film Agreement is up for negotiation and throughout 2009 Equity met with casts to seek their opinion on what should be in it. This feedback was discussed at the November meeting of the National Performers’ Committee and as a result the Alliance will be seeking a new agreement that considers such things as increased turnaround, increased superannuation and improved residual payments.

Residuals paid out

The Equity Trust collected residuals of $2,338,241 and distributed residuals via 630 cheques for the quarter ended 30 November 2009. This included payment of close to a million dollars for Pitch Black and $800,000 for Nim’s Island. A complete list of residuals for local and offshore theatrical and tv titles can be accessed through our website FAQs: The FAQs include a list of performer’s names and production titles for which residuals are held in Trust Account. If you have acted in any of the productions listed and your name is on the list, please contact You will be asked to provide a Statutory Declaration to prove your identity and a copy of your contract or pay slips for the production you worked on so we can establish your entitlement to the residual money held. If you need further clarification email

Photo: Brett Boardman

Oh what a result!

with a fight on their hands when they attempted to make a tv program about the show without first seeking the consent of the cast or offering them payment. The cast insisted that there needed to be an agreement to set out the conditions under which they were prepared to participate. They also insisted on discussions about payment. After weeks of lengthy negotiations, the producers realised the cast weren’t going to back down on the issue, and suitable agreement and payment ensued. The producers would now be well aware that the cast of Jersey Boys don’t just talk the talk.

The young cast of Sydney Theatre Company’s musical Spring Awakening had their first taste of the power of the collective when they negotiated with STC for the use of recorded material from rehearsals on Facebook and on the STC website. As a result of their united stand, STC agreed to enter into a separate agreement to cover performers for this use. The agreement included clauses giving the cast 24 hours notice of what scenes would be filmed, the benefit of a run-through of these scenes and giving individual performers veto over the use of material they weren’t happy with. Given that theatre companies and producers are increasingly looking for new ways to market shows, it is great to see this doesn’t have to mean the erosion of performers’ protections.


emember when The Chaser’s War on Everything staged a fake motorcade through Sydney’s CBD during a meeting of world leaders at APEC, with Chas Licciardello dressed up as Osama bin Laden? They were stopped near the Intercontinental Hotel where then US President George W Bush was staying. They were arrested and charged with offences under newly enacted APEC legislation. The charges were eventually dropped and the show went on to blast across the world on YouTube and make ratings history for the ABC. At around the same time Zarganar, one of Burma’s best-known comedians, was being thrown in and out of jail for telling jokes that go like this…

Cartoon by Jon Kudelka


Burmese comedian Zarganar is serving a 35-year prison sentence for his jokes and social activism and performers in Australia and New Zealand are being asked to help get him released

George Bush, Hu Jintao (China’s president) and General Than Shwe (Burma’s military leader) visit God. Bush: “When will the US become the most powerful nation in the world?” God: “Not in your life” (Bush cries) Hu: “When will China become the richest nation in the world?” God: “Not in your life” (tears from Hu) Finally, Than Shwe asks when his country will have enough water and electricity. God breaks into tears and says: “Not in my life!” Zarganar has been imprisoned four times and in 2006 was banned indefinitely from performing in public or taking part in any entertainment. In 2008, Cyclone Nargis flattened the Irrawaddy Delta, a tragedy that killed more than 150,000 people. Zarganar led 400 comedians, actors, writers, directors and social activists, who delivered food, water, blankets and radios to some of the most remote villages in the delta. Zarganar also spoke on the BBC about the impact of the tragedy and the public’s frustration with the inaction of the military junta. As well as soliciting donations and handing out aid, some of the volunteers filmed the conditions and circulated them by email and CD. These gave the lie to the government’s claim that the disaster was under control, and added to international anger at Burma’s refusal to allow foreign emergency workers into the Delta. Zarganar’s house was searched and he was to sentenced to 45 years in jail, including 15 years for violating Burmese Electronics Law. The Electronics Law bans Burmese citizens for using the internet to send information, photos or videos critical of Burma’s military junta to foreign audiences. His sentence was reduced on appeal to 35 years, which he is currently serving in Mitkyina Prison in the northern Kachin state. The prison is isolated and 1400kms from his family. Zarganar’s experience goes to the heart of what can happen to a performer when they are persecuted for their social activism. Consider what it would mean if a performer like Max Gillies were

hauled off to jail every time he put on a Bob Hawke wig and made a critical comment about a politician. Under such a regime the entire cast of Keating! would be doing time. The Wharf Review’s Pennies for Kevin would be a very short show. And if every performer who helped out in a bushfire, flood or earthquake appeal was prosecuted for their social activism and getting a kick in about how government could and should do more, then police stations, courts and jails would be overflowing with performers. The International Federation of Actors (FIA) has taken up Zarganar’s cause and is working to raise the profile of his situation. In 2008 the International Committee for Artists’ Freedom (ICAF) nominated Zarganar for the Freedom to Create prize for Imprisoned Artists. He won and the financial assistance that came with the award has supported his family and provided him with food and medication in prison. Despite this help, Zarganar’s health is suffering. FIA is campaigning for Zarganar’s release, arguing that his imprisonment is in contravention of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The Free Zarganar Campaign aims to further highlight Zarganar’s cause, mobilise worldwide opinion and press the Burmese military leaders to release Zarganar immediately. And they want our help. In this issue of equity we enclose a postcard that is one of 200,000 produced by the International Committee for Artists’ Freedom (ICAF). The postcard is designed to let the Burmese government know that the international community is watching their treatment of Zarganar. Please use the postcard. Let Burma’s generals know that we are watching them and that we will not stand by while they persecute a performer. Talk about this to other performers. The more people that know about this the more effective we will be. And if you’d like to find out more about Zarganar go to or EQUITY 7

Young at heart: Mike McLeish and Fiona Harris

content and direction when you make the effort to film something yourselves. Kate and I set about chopping the pilot script down to a 15-minute excerpt to film, making sure it still had a through storyline and displayed a good representation of the characters and the conflict running through the overall series. We then assembled our cast and crew and started putting together a props, costume and shot list for the two-day shoot. As with most projects that we tackle, we set a date or deadline for ourselves and then run around madly to make it happen. Amazingly, we found a weekend in December when all of the cast were free and, just as importantly, our location was available too. And so, over the course of a weekend seven actors, a small crew and 18 children descended on Poet’s Grove Family and Children’s Centre in Elwood to film some sample material for a narrative comedy series I had written. Our cast was made up of actors Kate and I had worked with before and knew to be talented, professional and funny. With Dave Thornton, Emma Leonard, Mike McLeish, Brett Swain, Kate and myself playing the roles of the dysfunctional staff who run this fictional centre, we set about breaking down the script and figuring out the best way to make the most of the two days, without making people sit around for hours on end when they weren’t being paid! Organising the kids – to play kids – proved less difficult than I’d first imagined. When I approached the parents of my daughter’s prep class to ask if they’d let their kids be filmed playing in a kinder for two hours, I found that most of them were more than happy at the idea of having a few hours to themselves on a Saturday morning while their offspring began their television careers. Filmed on a shoestring, with help from our producers at Ruby Entertainment, co-director Hannah Moon, director of photography Stewart Thorn and fabulous assistants Kelly Fastuca and Joe Murphy, we aimed to keep the shoot lowkey, low-maintenance and low-stress, and – apart from the two hours when we had to film with the kids – we managed to achieve these goals by late Sunday afternoon. Keeping it simple was our main priority, but ensuring everyone on set had a great two days was also very important. The massive lasagne that I’d cooked for lunch went down a treat and was very tasty (if I do say so myself). Playing a total bitch (in character, that is) was strangely satisfying and seeing how perfectly the other cast members embodied their characters and brought them to life was amazing to watch. Of course, once the fun part of filming is over, the more time-consuming and arduous process of editing, sound mixing and pitching begins. But I guess what makes all the hard work and the stress and worry worthwhile is when something you’ve written comes to life before your eyes. There is nothing better than working with a group of artists who are just as committed and passionate about what they do as you are. And yes, we did find Will. Turns out his Dad had picked him up without telling me, which makes me wonder if kids aren’t easier to handle than adults after all! Fiona Harris is a performer based in Victoria

Kinder surprise If you’re going to do something as challenging as filming your own pilot, you may as well make it as logistically harrowing as possible by including children, chickens and vomiting, writes Fiona Harris


iona, where’s Will?” the wide-eyed, five-year-old asks me. “What do you mean where’s Will?!!” “I haven’t seen him for ages.” Christ! I survey the scene before me; one child is carrying a terrified chicken around by it’s scrawny leg, another has just weed in her undies and now Will, my daughter’s hyper prep classmate, is missing. Usually this would be only mildly upsetting, but unfortunately he’s my responsibility – along with 15 other kids from the local primary school. As I run around like a woman possessed, frantically shouting his name, I think to myself: “What the hell have I got myself into?” You might assume from this scenario that this is a birthday party or that I’m babysitting for every parent in the vicinity, but no – we’re actually making a television pilot set in a kindergarten. Hey, if you’re going to do something as challenging as filming your own tv show you may as well go the whole hog by including children, chickens and vomiting in the storyline. Luckily my partner in crime in this venture, Kate McLennan, and I have worked together a lot, in a variety of guises over the past few years, so we were well-equipped to deal with whatever challenges were thrown our way that weekend. After meeting in a comedy festival show six years ago, Kate and I began developing ideas, writing scripts, editing each other’s work and putting on theatre shows in the fringe and comedy festivals. Kate recently wrote Dead River for the Melbourne Fringe Festival, which I directed, and in the lead up to filming Kinder Surprise we had received funding and encouragement from Film Victoria for another project, giving us the jolt we needed to attempt pilot making, DIY-style. I had written a pilot episode some time ago but thought filming a sample of the series would be a great way to depict the tone and style, which is often hard to express in a treatment or bible document. It’s not easy to get funding for a pilot these days and you always have greater control over the

Most parents were happy for a few hours off while their offspring began their tv careers.


Photo: Leanne Gianchino



am proud to be part of the Australian film and television industry. We do our best to create the sort of films and television productions that the Australian public wants to watch. I have been particularly lucky, in the past year, to have performed in some very popular shows. In Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities I played Bob Trimbole, I worked with Paul Hogan and Shane Jacobsen in Charlie and Boots, and I have a role in the new Narnia Chronicles movie to be released at the end of this year. Every one of us in our industry sets out to do our best and, hopefully, the Australian public likes what we do. But we work in an industry that requires, like all business enterprises, for costs to be OUR INDUSTRY IS UNDER THREAT FROM recovered, wages paid, and, PIRACY – JEOPARDISING THE FUTURE OF hopefully, profits made to be HOME GROWN AUSTRALIAN TV AND FILM. invested back into further ventures. But our industry, worldwide, is under threat from piracy. Those who illicitly copy movies and sell them as cheap dvds, or who illegally download movies from the internet to watch at home, jeopardise the future of home grown Australian television and film. Free access to the internet is fine, but not when it is used to access our content for free. I am working on two Australian films – A Heartbeat Away in Queensland and Swerve in South Australia, and I'm disturbed by the possibility that both these films could be illegally downloaded before either of them gains a cinema release. Last week a case brought by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, against an internet provider, iiNet, over its failure to stop illegal downloads of films and tv shows, found in favour of the internet provider. I am disappointed with this court ruling and believe that in view of the constantly changing online environment, the federal government should be drafting legislation accordingly. In Australia, film and tv budgets are usually low and actors often take lower fees than normal so a production can be filmed. We hope that extra income will come from residuals

Worldwide pick pockets

Photo: Thanks Nine Network

Anyone who illegally downloads a movie or television show from the internet is stealing money from the pockets of performers, writes Roy Billing or royalty payments from overseas sales and sales of dvds. Contrary to popular belief, most movies do not become profitable from their theatrical release. A movie depends on its full life cycle, from cinema tickets to dvd sales to online distribution, before producers and investors can recoup their investment. Also contrary to popular belief, all actors are not earning millions. Some of us do very well; some of us just eke out a living – same as in every job. But, unlike an average job where you get paid one wage for the job done, our income has many streams. Those extra income streams – from the movie or tv show's initial release through to dvd sales or online distribution – make the difference between working for peanuts or getting a fair whack for what we do. Similarly, the production companies that employ us rely on those income streams to make a profit, which can be channelled back into other productions. Underbelly Three, for example, could not happen unless the people that produced and invested in Underbelly Two got a return on their

investment. Just like any business. Anyone who illegally downloads a movie or a tv show from the internet is taking money out of the pockets of everyone who was involved in it. And they are making it harder for us to carry on. It might not feel like thieving to those who do it but it is far from a victimless crime. Can you imagine someone going over to their neighbour's house, when they weren't home, with an extension lead, plugging that lead into the neighbour's power point, then using that electricity to power their vacuum cleaner to clean their own home? That's theft isn't it? It is stealing something your neighbour is going to have to pay for. If you illegally download a movie that I am in, or buy a pirated dvd of Underbelly Two you are stealing from me and everyone who put their investment, talent and effort into that production. Roy Billing is a performer based in New South Wales This is an edited version of an article first published in The Age on February 10, 2010. EQUITY 9


ave I seen you on the telly?” We’ve all been asked that one a few times over the years and one day I’d like to read a book on the various responses an actor gives to this and other questions people pose on discovering what we do for a living. Once they get over the novelty of having met someone who doesn’t work in an office or keep regular hours, people often ask for a précis of all the films you have ever done with the assumption that, if you have appeared on tv, what you do is valid and has kudos, because it is known and can be related to. The next question, of course, is “How do you remember all those lines?” and then “There’s no way I could do what you do”. I normally play down these comments as someone trying to make polite conversation because they don’t really understand what actors do. Recently, however, I’ve been thinking about these questions and allowing myself to answer: “Yes, actually, what we do is quite specialised and technical and not everyone could do it.” In fact, I would go further and say that very few people out there, if given the opportunity, could

for me. I had the opportunity to work with our state theatre company twice, a couple of independent shows, including The Big Picture for Agelink Theatre, some play readings, workshop developments, short films and a few days on a doco-drama. I did my tax recently and my year as an actor came to about $25,000, of a total of $76,000. Not even one-third. Certainly not enough to pay the bills without alternate sources of income. And even if I were to work for a major subsidised theatre company, full-time, it would still equate to only about $50,000. How does that compare to the incomes of other professions, which also require vocational skills, aptitude, discipline and commitment? Recently I dropped that figure of $25,000 in conversation with two board members of one of our major theatre companies, in response to the statement: “You’ve had a great year Stuart”. It was not intended to be inflammatory, it was a fairly innocuous contribution to the conversation and it highlighted the common misconception of what constitutes a “great year”. It was worth it to see the glazed look in their eyes as they

The underpaid professional

Sustained pressure: Stuart Halusz with co-stars Renee Newman-Storen and Rebecca Davis

Stuart Halusz ponders the fiscal reality of being a professional actor – and finds value in union strength take themselves through the emotionally demanding, soul-searching rigour of rehearsals, through the discipline of tech week and the pressures of opening, to the rigours of sustaining a run. Likewise with film and tv, most people would crumble at the pressure of working on a set, of last minute script changes, the hitting of marks and keeping continuity and maintaining the stamina for a long shoot on a long day, where you end up with only one or two screen minutes in the can. All these things we take for granted, I suppose, because it is our job; it’s what we do and we do it well. Similarly, it goes without saying that most actors would be lost in an operating theatre administering anaesthetic, or policing the streets or debating a new bill. We are specialists, professionals and, let’s be honest, our vocation can not be picked up by just anyone in the way that some jobs can. Some jobs are easier than others and ours, I believe, is one of the harder ones. So why, then, is this not reflected in the remuneration we receive? Granted, some jobs pay more than others. We all know a morning’s shoot on a TVC can earn more than a month in theatre, but, on the whole, they don’t really get up there on a par with other, specialised professions. For example, I was fortunate in that 2009 was a good year

did the maths – it didn’t take long to work out that what I earned in a year, they probably made in two or three months. Pity we didn’t get to discuss holiday pay, maternity leave, unpaid work on grant applications or learning lines, character research... Perhaps, with a second child on the way, I’m just in a pensive “how will we survive?” mood. My wife is an actor from a theatre family so she understands the vagaries of the industry better than I. If anything, it’s a good reminder that the fight is worth it, that without unity through our union we are weak, and that the pride with which we say “I am an actor” comes with a responsibility to expect and demand what we know we are worth. In an industry heavy with criticism anyone can call into question our talents and artistic interpretation; that is the prerogative of the audience. But no one should be allowed to deny us the right to make a decent living. Final word – why, as a working professional, performing in London in 2008, was I refused a hire car because I listed my profession as “actor” and was as such considered an insurance risk? The clerk actually said: “tell me something else” so I lied and said “insurance assessor”. Should have just ticked “other”. Stuart Halusz is a performer based in West Australia



Photos: Kate Heaslip


Photo: Steve King


am writing this from the Osaka airport terminal, en-route to the Netherlands to attend the Producer's Lab (part of the Cinemart film market). My debut feature film as a producer, I’m Not Harry Jenson, recently opened in 28 cinemas throughout New Zealand and on the whole the response was incredible. Reviews have been positive (thank God), and there seems to be a real sense of public intrigue surrounding our little baby. Avatar will probably cream us out of the market, along with every other film released in this quarter, but at least I can sleep tonight knowing that we have done everything in our power to give us a good shot at success. (And considering James Cameron would most likely have spent our entire production budget – $NZ200,000 – on his craft services for a week, it’s not wise to draw box-office comparisons.) I spoke to my mum last night and she asked how, in one word, I was feeling. Good question mum, but tricky after this crazy week – exhausted, excited, proud, regretful, grateful, all came to mind. “Overwhelmed” would be up there too. This has been a three-year journey for my best buddy, fellow actorturned-filmmaker James Napier Robertson, and I, and has certainly made a major impact on our lives and careers. James and I met as green, pubescent actors on Cloud 9 entertainment’s teenage drama The Tribe in 2001. We worked closely for two years on that show, travelled Europe promoting it and ended up on the same cast line-up of Power Rangers: Dino Thunder two years later. Over this period we became great mates. We shared the love of acting, music, drinking, boxing, each other and talking about all of the aforementioned, among other things. In many ways, we grew up together. After Power Rangers, James moved to Los Angeles and started on the auditioning circuit. Around this time I decided to move to LA and give it a punt for pilot season too, so we reunited and got up to more mischief. Everyone told me to be prepared for the cattle-call style of the LA auditions but I was still shocked, and somewhat dismayed, by the sheer mass of performers fighting for few spots, and the generally cut-throat feeling of the industry on the whole. It was intense. Near the end of that pilot season James and I hooked up for our regular beer at The Whaler on Venice Beach. The usual “actory” stuff was touched on – auditions, visas – but this time our talks of frustration took a different path. James pulled out a script he had been working on for the past few months. A script? I didn’t even know the sneaky bugger wrote? “This is fantastic,” I thought (although maybe a little random). The Devil’s Run it was called then (later changed to I’m Not Harry Jenson). James wanted me to produce the film and he was going to direct, but first I had to read it, and like it. I had never thought of producing before – I was an actor. I had left school at 15 and been a working actor ever since, as had he. I had worked as an assistant director and production assistant on a heap of tv shows and commercials in my downtime, so I had some knowledge base for the job, but this was gonna be a huge step up. Another beer or two and I went home to read James’ script. Wow. He had carved out a clever and intriguing psychological thriller, with strong, interesting characters and fast, witty, dialogue. I was in! I didn’t know what I was in for, but I was in. So, James and I naively set upon our journey to make a full-length, independently financed, narrative feature film, as first-timers. Three years, 25 different private investors, 18 shoot days, two blown out credit cards, one $25,000 NZ Film Commission post-production grant, about $NZ500,000 of rate and gear donations, a shit-load of sleepless nights, and many vital lessons later, and we had done just

Harry who? Former Power Rangers: Dino Thunder performer Tom Hern found himself morphing from actor to producer when his best mate whipped out a script

Action men: Tom Hern and James Robertson

that. What a learning curve. Once an actor, always an actor, as far as I am concerned. I acted in the film, as well as produced, and although, in protection of my sanity, I wouldn’t rush out to combine the two again, I am glad I was bold enough to take on the role when asked. I am a producer now. I still have a heap of learning ahead of me, but I have worked extremely hard and have a new complementary skill set and place in the industry to round out my acting background. As an actor, I often moped around when I wasn’t booking roles. I was terrible when I was out of work and, like so many of us, placed my self-worth and confidence on each and every audition. I have now found a stimulating, rewarding outlet for all that pent-up energy and know that I have the ability to create my own projects. I have found strengths in myself that I didn’t know I had. I will always act. I love it so much and don’t think I’ll ever stop. But I feel that diversifying and learning has eased the pressure that I put on myself to book every part I go for. So, to get back to your question Mum: one word on how I’m feeling after all this? I’m gonna lock in “grateful”. Tom Hern is a performer based in New Zealand. I’m Not Harry Jenson is screening nationwide in NZ through Rialto Distribution and will be released throughout Australasia later in 2010. E Q U I T Y 11

Arthur! Arthur! The Insatiable Moon has had a long journey to make it from book to film but it finally looks set to screen later this year, writes Suzanne Culph


he Insatiable Moon is the story of Arthur, a homeless Maori man with schizophrenia who believes he is the second Son of God. He wants to help people and do his father’s will. Arthur’s world is Ponsonby, a suburb of Auckland. “The genesis of the idea came from when I was working with the psychiatric community in Ponsonby in the early 1990s,” says Mike Riddell who wrote the screenplay and produced the film. “I wrote a novel based on a real person and it was published in 1997. “It is an intensely local story set entirely in the locale of Ponsonby. It is a story with human themes, themes of sanity versus madness, and how the community cares for people on its fringes. It is an insight into a world most don’t usually see … and it is also a love story.” Many thought that the story was destined for the screen, including Rawiri Paratene who plays Arthur in the film. “The story is filmic. Quite simply, some stories are filmic and others are not, and this one is,” says Paratene. “I first read the story in 2002 and was sure I was meant to play the role. Arthur is a very innocent and pure character. He has a glow about him, a sense of magic – he is complicated, but essentially he has this innocence.”



Paratene chased the role and was attached to the project in 2003: “I thought it would be up in 2004 and now it is 2010 and we’ve just finished shooting,” he says. “It has been in development for seven years,” says Riddell. “There have been substantial changes to the story – less characters, refining of the leads – although the essence remains the same. The novel had magical realism elements, including angels, but the angels got culled.” “The journey of the story has had its twists and turns,” agrees Paratene. “I hope this has strengthened it – it doesn’t really matter though because that’s been its path, we will see. But I am hopeful.” “The heart of the piece is that it is based upon Arthur’s true story,” says Sara Wiseman who plays Margaret, a woman who befriends Arthur. “Margaret really wants a child but has come to the realisation that her husband doesn’t feel the same way. She has a chance encounter with Arthur … she is drawn to him [and] he seems to know things about her that no one else does. He changes her perspective on the world. “It is an unusual, unique story, unlike any other; incredibly courageous,” says Wiseman. “It shines a light on those who most people ignore on the streets. I was one of those people who could walk past the forgotten people, but I look at them in another way now.” Ponsonby’s urban neighbourhood is central to the story. The shoot was done entirely within the suburb and local businesses, buildings and identities all feature in the film. Riddell worked closely with the local psychiatric community and the film is being shot alongside a documentary on themes around mental health. Scenes shot in a boarding house are filmed in an actual boarding house, with the

Magical but real: Rawiri Paratene and Sara Wiseman in the Insatiable Moon

residents being taken away for a week so the house could be filmed. “The detail and flavour of the place is so strong … it really recalls Ponsonby as it used to be,” says Wiseman. “Ponsonby is a great melting pot and a bit of a cosmopolitan place these days. But you don’t have to scratch very deep to find the hippies, the bohos, or the homeless.” “It is a particularly Ponsonby story that by being so specific in its geography works out to become, somehow, universal,” says Paratene. “There are communities like Ponsonby all over the world going through makeovers with different types of people moving in and certain kinds of people being replaced. There are films like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is set in the Greek community in Chicago, very specific to where it was, but it translated. “Films can allow the viewer to go into the lounges, the bathrooms and the bedrooms of communities we’d never have the opportunity to go into – and by doing that we find that they’re the same as us.” Paratene who played the role of Koro in Whale Rider knows first hand how popular a story that is uniquely local, yet universal, can become. “With Whale Rider … who knew? I hope this one has the same potential – it has a beautiful cast.” In the early days of the film’s development it was thought that the principal cast would be drawn from the UK. Funding and budget hurdles meant the project was made as a low-budget feature and this had an impact on the film at every level. “It has had an amazingly troubled path to find funding,” says Paratene. “It was made on the smell of an oily rag. I would have preferred a bit more money behind it – it would have helped – but it got made and

made professionally.” “The low budget meant that many aspects changed including the photography becoming digital,” explains Riddell. “Fortunately Tom Burstyn, our director of photographer, has this philosophy of lowbudget filmmaking called ‘frugal filmmaking’ and we developed a collaborative approach that was lighter and involved less equipment and focussed on the drama and the storyline rather than camera angles.” Another impact of the shrinking budget was local casting of the film. “The New Zealand cast turned out to be wonderful. All of them had a commitment to the story, 110 per cent,” says Riddell. “Of course Rawiri is fantastic, he has been getting into character for years. Ian Mune was made for his part. And Sara is a revelation. She was our choice at audition right from when we saw her. She is lovely in front of the camera and totally passionate in and about the role.” “Getting the opportunity to work with actors like Rawiri and Ian Mune was one of the reasons I was excited about getting involved,” says Wiseman. “This was Rawiri and Mike’s child and I wanted to support them. With no massive budget and no executive producer telling you what to do you had to take on a lot yourself. I had to take charge of my character and her journey.” Says Paratene: “I am just happy that it got there, on to a screen, and I’m hopeful for how it will go.” Riddell hopes to market the film to an international audience using an internet strategy, and in the meantime each step along the way has been detailed on the film’s blog. You can find out more at E Q U I T Y 13

This is an edited extract of a speech delivered by Cate Blanchett to the Australian Performing Arts Market on February 22 … Our experience, for all that we are the subject of it, is a mystery to us. We have no notion, amid the events and feelings and words and pictures that crowd in upon us, of the advent of our most secret understandings, the moments that will one day mean most to us, which image glimpsed, or word spoken, will occasion in us that sweet shock in which the complex web of life will suddenly glow and tremble in the chamber of our consciousness. From David Malouf’s Little book on experience That is our job. If we can be reductive, the beautiful – essay you’d call it – of David Malouf’s just quoted, tells ways the experience of life can be transformed into a work of art. And how that work of art can in turn become a life-changing experience for its lucky audience. That is the virtuous circle of human culture of which the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) clearly seeks to be part. As artistic directors one of our first decisions was to program at some distance from our own personal aesthetics. There were several

Making experience possible

Direct engagement: Cate Blanchett as Hedda Gabler and , left, Paula Arundel and Peter Kowitz in Blackbird

14 E Q U I T Y

company as a whole. International touring even more so. The stakes are higher, the safety nets further from view, there is more up for grabs. When things are up for grabs, an experience is just around the corner. For an audience to see a version of King Lear from Bogota, say, is more likely to have perspectives on the play that will shift their perception of it. Such a production has, by its cultural distance and specificity, more likelihood of creating what Julianna Engberg, who heads up the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, calls “radical misunderstanding”. “Moments of arresting, conflicted thoughts” that cause us to rethink preconceptions, making us more open to an experience. Let’s pursue our illusory Bogotan Shakespeare Company further. This 40-week whistle-stop tour of Australia will also put their participating artists in the way of experience. They will experience new ways of working, different audience attention, interest, focus. Different laughs, sighs, applause. They will experience different theatre technologies,

Main photograph by Heidrun Lohr. Left: photo by Tania Kelley

reasons for this. On a practical level we felt the company was too diverse to be the organ of one particular vision. More pertinently however, we wanted to put our audience in the way of experience. We did not want to tell them what theatre was, but leave them wondering what it might be next. This programming policy is harder than it sounds and sadly we will only go a tiny way towards achieving it. Inevitably many of the projects under consideration are only a nose, a whisker apart in terms of quality and value – but the judgement must come down and the closer the call you have to make, the more you have to rely on your instincts. Instincts and aesthetics blur at such proximity. Quality in the arts, it seems to us, is finally only assessable in terms of risk and laziness. Lack of risk leaves you turd-polishing and laziness is – well, why bother? Touring is an important tool for making experience possible. Experience for the audience, experience for the artists and experience for the participating

Photograph by Robert Pearce/Fairfax Photos

different priorities. Lets get right down to it with one Bogotan. The fellow playing Edgar, say. He’s in the foyer after the show and some shifty patron sidles up to him and asks him if he has any cocaine ... Seriously. Our imaginary Bogotan Edgar has experienced what many veterans of international touring have learnt. You learn how bland and mediated, how organised, the outside world’s view is of your country – and it makes you more determined to get cracking and shift that perception. Touring is, in pretty much every respect, confronting. Stereotypes and bogeymen exist only in the shadows of ignorance and it is one of our jobs to hunt around in those shadows with our theatre lights and see what beguiling demons we can uncover. We are first and foremost the Sydney Theatre Company and our commitment to the precinct and the city keeps the bulk of our activities at home. To this end something we try to do every year, to maintain our connection to the world, is invite an international director into the company. This offers many opportunities to the company, the artists and the audience. For all concerned it is, on a daily basis, a collision of minds, bringing different perspectives from different cultures. The best of these will be challenging. Challenging for the production team, in terms of the process employed and the rigour brought to bear, and challenging for the artists who work on these projects in exposure to new approaches. Then there’s the regular conversations that can and do ensue around the whole endeavour of making work. Anything that stretches our practitioners and allows more passionate commitment to their work is a worthwhile venture. For the audiences too, we believe this direct engagement with the international community brings a new approach to the work and an ever-broadening horizon contextualising that work. To that end at the STC we are building co-production connections with venues, festivals and producing companies in Austria, Germany, France, the UK and the US. We have Asia in our sights and are beginning to find ways to make work with practitioners from that very exciting region. Another direct and tangible benefit from working one-on-one with international directors is the possibility of members of the creative team and cast building ongoing productive relationships with their director. One of us has a show in rehearsals right now at The National Theatre in London, his third collaboration with the British director Howard Davies since they worked together on The Cherry Orchard at STC in 2006. Another working relationship that comes to mind is that of sound designers Paul Charlier and Michael Blakemore, which also came out of working at the STC. A further example concerns the director Benedict Andrews. He made a connection with the German writer Marius Von Mayenberg and through that developed a relationship with the Schaubuhne in Berlin, where he now does regular productions. We feel you can’t over-estimate the lasting impact and rewards such connections offer our artists. First impressions count – indeed first impressions often reveal an essential truth. Australia weighed into the global cultural conversation with a fart cushion and a prawn and we’ve been living it down ever since. We probably had a few under our belt as well, so our judgement was skewed, but the problem was, no one else had had a drop when we burst in. Maybe it was a time-zone thing. Either way, these things have stuck. Interestingly “chuck another prawn on the barbie” does capture a quality inherent in our work, whether we like it or not. Let me explain: The prawn is quite an exotic thing, ugly but delicious (think Oedipus Rex or Phedre) and the barbie is a casual, practical no fuss way to get the job done. The Hedda Gabler we took to BAM in 2006 was probably, on some deep culturally true level, not unlike throwing another shrimp on the barbie. You’ve got your classic in one hand and your no fuss practicality on the other. In fact, thinking on it now, had we been bolder with the production and not taken our best crockery with us to serve it up, we might have really ruffled some feathers. Which surely is the point.

“Hedda’s having a barbie and then she’s going to top herself. BYO.” One of the great things for the actors going to BAM with Hedda Gabler was the chance to perform in such an informal, formal space with an audience who enjoyed the proscenium arch. We have so many of those little, found-space theatres in Australia – which are beautiful and intimate certainly – but they do elicit a different kind of performance. It was great for us all to be in such space. And 800 people seems so much more than three hundred. Unsurprisingly. The most unsettling thing about doing Hedda in Brooklyn was the textbound state of the critics and some of the audience. The expectation that there was a right way to do the play and that the play, or the production should act as a vessel for a kind of literary appreciation. There’s nothing worse for drama than considering it literature. In fact, it was that experience that stimulated us to program Streetcar and ask Liv [Ullmann] to direct it. We returned to that same audience. Because of the prior exposure to our work they were, sort of, ready for our irreverence. This could have gone both ways of course, but luckily – and not wanting to blow our own trumpet too much – it was reviewed by Ben Brantley in the New York Times with: “ … it was like hearing the lines for the first time.” That in a nutshell encapsulates what an outsider can bring to those on the inside. Fresh perspectives. We asked Liv to direct that particular play because we felt her aesthetic would help to blow the “campery” and the

Wedded to their work: Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton

“WE DID NOT WANT TO TELL THEM WHAT THEATRE WAS, BUT LEAVE THEM WONDERING WHAT IT MIGHT BE NEXT..” stuffy “literary-ness” out of it. Whether we achieved that or not is not for us to say, but it definitely felt like we had engaged with America head-on and that was emboldening. In the end we hope to use touring and international connections at the STC to create experience for the artists, the company and the audience. Exposure on an international stage particularly changes the way we think and feel about our work, about the arts, about society. The result is we bring back enormous riches for the imagination, aspiration and expansion of everyone back home. Measuring, quantifying and valuing those riches is virtually impossible in a market-type way. We’ve only come up with one unit of measurement. Change. If something is really worth doing it will change your life. The work we do, like life, is held together with threads so fine as to be undetectable. In the end it seems the only thing you can do is go where it takes you. The way to make the best of that randomness is to set yourself up to be taken somewhere further than your own back yard. E Q U I T Y 15

Tearing the heart out of art

Money for meaty works: Patricia Cornelius faced hurdles to find funding for her play Do Not Go Gentle

Neil Pigot ponders the state of Australian drama and calls on performers to advocate for serious drama at the next election




Andrew Bovell did in his recent play, When the Rain Stops Falling. Patricia’s play is not a social satire. It is not a piece of fluff. Its failure to get programmed begs the question, how do we bridge the gap between popularism and social comment? How do we make a work that is artistically satisfying but at the same time suitable for production by a mainstream company? It is instructive to look at the reasons behind the failure of Cornelius’s piece to achieve a large-scale production against the successful production of Bovell’s play, when looking at the principal problems surrounding Australian drama. As I mentioned earlier, Do Not Go Gentle was an MTC commission. Bovell’s play was commissioned by Brink, a small company from South Australia. On average, the MTC commissions about six plays a year, Brink one a year. Herein lies a fundamental difference. When plays are commissioned by smaller companies there is a level of creative investment in that work that cannot be matched by the mainstream. It’s all in. Trust in and support of the writer is implicit in the process. The problems that the play throws up are problems that the company makes a fundamental commitment to work through. The challenges of producing a new work are an intrinsic part of the development process. When a play is commissioned by a large company that then finds the work heading in a direction they don’t like, or which doesn’t fit with the company’s program or audience profile, their enthusiasm cools. It is not until they receive something they like that genuine creative capital is invested in the work. It is inevitable that the lack of creative investment

Photo: Andrew De La Rue.Thanks Fairfax Photos

had an interesting conversation in Adelaide recently, with some concert musicians and a reasonably well-known Australian composer of classical music. At the heart of the discussion was the problem of getting large-scale orchestral work, composed by Australians, played by our symphony orchestras. The truth is they don’t get played despite the fact that all concerned would like to play them. As one musician said: “It would give meaning to my work.” Trevor Green, the outgoing CEO of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO), said recently: “I’m running a business. It is important that the business returns a profit.” Put simply, there is too much commercial risk in programming new Australian work. Given this is the case, the question has to be asked: “What are we funding?” In 2007, Patricia Cornelius’s play Do Not Go Gentle, a Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) commission, was handed the most presitious playwriting award in Australia, the Patrick White Award – Australian drama’s equivalent of the Miles Franklin Literary Award. After nearly four years, several pitches to companies around the country and two failed grant applications, the play will have an independently produced season in Melbourne this year. In the meantime, one of the actresses for whom the play was written, Monica Maughan, sadly passed away. Cornelius’s play straddles two great traditions of Australian playwriting. It borrows from both the realist tradition of Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and the heightened poeticism of Patrick White’s A Cheery Soul, fusing the two sensibilities in much the same way that

Photo: Rodger Cummins.Thanks Fairfax Photos

at an early stage will colour the work, as it does in the classical music world. Just as the precarious financial positions of our orchestras means that the only Australian work played is a brief piece before the main program, so too our mainstream theatre companies are going to look at economics as an overriding concern when considering the programming of challenging new plays. Andrew Bovell’s play succeeded, among other reasons, because the company that created it had, on the one hand, everything to lose. Though compared to the MTC it’s fair to say Brink had little to lose. The MTC has to protect its subscriber base for its economic survival; it has a huge infrastructure that must be supported; it now has a building that it must run and is responsible to a workforce of close to 100 people operating on a subsidy of 13 per cent. Its precarious financial position means it has much to lose. Again the question must be asked: “What are we funding?” When public funding of theatre and other art forms was introduced through the formation of first the Elizabethan Theatre Trust and subsequently the Australia Council, the logic was to create work that was not commercial, or rather work that would not necessarily be developed in a commercial context. Funding was a deliberate act of nation building, an attempt to find an Australian voice for Australians, and as a way of transmitting that voice to a broader world. The companies themselves, principally the Tote and Union Repertory Theatre, were predicated on maintaining a tension between popular work from the classical canon and work of a more experimental kind. Cultural activity was given its rightful place as the bedrock of society, the place from which our ideas of ourselves and the direction for our nation would spring. When the Keating Government released our country’s first arts policy document in 1994, Creative Nation, it fatefully proclaimed, among other things that: “… this cultural policy is … an economic policy. Culture creates wealth … culture adds value, it makes an essential contribution to innovation, marketing and design. It is a badge of our industry.” This statement created a precedent for the development of arts policy in this country – policy guided by a notion of industry. We are referred to as the “arts industry” and arts policy has become increasingly “industry” focused. To read any arts policy document is to see three words used repeatedly: “access” “creativity” and “innovation”. These three measures are seen as the key drivers of a dynamic and prosperous “arts economy” – and yet most artistic achievement is measured by governments in terms of attendances, not by the quality of creation or levels of innovation. The upshot is that what’s popular gets funded – and popularism is more than a problem for drama. It is this orgy of consumption that tears open the very heart of art. When theatre as content or commodity is confused with the serious business of drama it leaves the form in freefall. And when that so-called art becomes a spectacle it becomes disconnected from any context and loses its meaning. In Australia this means that if work isn’t popular, it doesn’t get made – and much work of potential consequence is not being produced because there is no economic benefit.That dreaded word “access” and its friend “industry” are at the heart of the problems facing serious drama production in this country. From a government perspective it seems many elements make up theatre. Or culture. Boot-scooting, balloon twisting, fire twirling, fireworks displays. These are not art, they are show business – and to confuse them with creative culture is dangerous. Showbiz is not drama, the relatively serious business of coming to terms with who we are. Drama asks the hard questions and gives us coherent sensations we have never had before. It had a place in the 1970s but is finding it difficult to assert itself now. With “access and industry” has come a conservatism in arts funding. Cultural budgets are up, but direct funding to artists has flat-lined, with rises well below the CPI for the past 12 years. Direct funding has been replaced by an increasing investment in infrastructure and spectacle. Mid-range companies have made way for

increased funding for festivals; the MTC has a new building; the Opera House and the Vic Arts Centre are being refurbished. Ironically, the MTC’s Lawler Studio stands vacant since neither the MTC nor any other company (actually there isn’t another full-time company in Melbourne other than the Malthouse) has the funds to produce work in it. Believing that buying or renovating a building will save Australian drama is like saying that buying or reframing your wedding photos will save your marriage. The pressure of an economic approach to arts policy has also seen a slow but steady shift in the position of the performing artist. Many of us feel forced to buy into this fiscal argument in order to justify our existence as artists. The upshot is that these days a performing artist’s only genuine engagement with arts policy is to apply for funding, complain of a lack of funding, or attack another artist as undeserving of funding. Subsidy has made us part of the system. And whereas, in the clear light of day, performing artists should see the form as a potential forum for ideas and social benefit, it seems we have become willing apologists for the government’s dysfunctional funding model, seduced by the lure of public acceptance and the sense that a successful funding application means that the work we are doing is creatively validated. James Mollison, former director of the National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria once said: “Art annoys Australians and great art annoys them greatly.” It appears many in our performing arts community are either unwilling or unable to make great art or greatly annoy anyone.


Art, or in this case serious drama, cannot defend itself. It requires custodians and the senior theatre artists of this country are those custodians. We have an obligation to the form and to those who will follow in our footsteps. State and federal elections are upon us. What role should the union and our senior artists play at this time? The answer is one of advocacy. We need, as a creative community, to stand tall at these elections. We must present a coherent and compelling argument for a change in arts policy. We need to restore the balance between the mainstream and the mid-range – companies that will commit to the development and presentation of a wide range of new work, giving genuine access not simply a staple diet of work directed to an ageing subscriber audience. We must bury the economic/industry-based argument for good. And we must resist the assertion that culture is something you have after you’ve got everything else, a bauble that is superfluous to basic human needs. A 50 per cent increase in direct funding through Arts Victoria would amount to $16 million. Modest in budgetary terms but a potent shot in the arm for an ailing sector. It’s time for realistic levels of investment in the arts. That is what civilised nations do around the world. Why not here? Neil Pigot is a performer based in Victoria E Q U I T Y 17

living room anywhere in the world is the miracle of cyberspace. While it may threaten the professional theatre critic (who are we kidding? It threatens professional journalism itself), the web democratises opinion: anyone can now be a critic. All it takes is enthusiasm, the urge to self-publish and the price of a theatre ticket. So is it any surprise that, here in Australia, we have spawned an increasingly influential theatre niche in the blogosphere, which performers, professional critics and theatre companies ignore at their peril? The difference between theatre bloggers and professional, mainstream newspaper critics is that the bloggers get to write what they want, when they want. And, interestingly, many of them are current or former newspaper critics who find the online way of working rather liberating. Take Alison Croggon, who reviews plays for The Australian and blogs at Theatre Notes. She is what’s known in the media world as an early adopter: six years ago she decided she wanted to be one of the growing community of people who record their news and views and share them with like-minded people via the internet. At that stage “blogging” was not a word many people recognised – Croggon says that when she phoned around the theatre companies to tell them she was starting a blog, the most common reaction was: “What’s a blog?” Theatre companies, she says, did not contain the most computer literate people around. But that’s all changed, she says. And as the mainstream media struggles to make ends meet (which generally means cutting arts budgets) and as the number of reviews – and reviewers – in the pages of our big national and metropolitan newspapers dwindles, the When it comes to the arts, professional journalists and enthusiastic amateurs alike find the freedom of contribution of bloggers like Croggon and her the web irresistible writes Jonathan Este colleagues James Waites and Diana Simmonds, to name just three, becomes ever more s theatre dead? The debate is raging around the world as bloggers, important to our cultural life. critics and theatre-lovers engage in a cyberspace debate as to Most of the prominent theatre bloggers earned their stripes in the whether – in a twist on that old chestnut “Video Killed the Radio mainstream media. As well as Croggon’s work for The Australian, Star” – tv has topped the thespian. Simmonds is well known to readers of the Sydney Morning Herald and The debate, which surfaced earlier this month in The UK Guardian’s James Waites spent 25 years as a reviewer, also mainly for the SMH. theatre blog, Noises Off, kicked off in Australia after Crikey journalist So what made them turn to blogging, when blogging is generally unpaid Guy Rundle made the following comment in a piece about how eand has smaller audiences than those offered by mainstream media? readers would kill off books. Television and film, he wrote, left the Waites, whose paid job is to interview Australian theatre identities for the theatre “as a mix of largely subsidised, state and philanthropic funded National Library of Australia project, National Biography, says his interest events, non-commercial avant-gardes and occasional large spectacles, in blogging took off as the opportunities for paid work began to dwindle. most of them musicals based on movies”. “Most of the newspapers and magazines that would have run the sort of This prompted a sharp response from The Australian’s theatre critic, stories I was interested in writing have stopped commissioning Alison Croggon, on her blog, Theatre Notes. Soon, bloggers from freelancers to write them,” Waites says. “Instead [they] are depending Seattle to London to Brooklyn were debating the subject, while moving on their full-time staff to provide their content. I was getting more and on to discuss how to fund experimental theatre, self-producing and how more ‘no’s’ from editors as they closed down their freelance budgets. to make Seattle theatre “world class” (prompting the hurt replies from “I’d seen this show, Ngapartji Ngapartji, which was produced by the Seattle theatre types: “What do you mean? We’re already world class”. community arts company Big hART – and I thought it was the most The fact that we can engage in, even start, such a discussion from a beautiful piece of Australian theatre and the most interesting thing

Have mouse. May get catty


Photo courtesy of FremantleMedia Australia

18 E Q U I T Y

around – but I couldn’t find anyone interested in the story. So I set up my own blog to cover it and in return Big hART gave me 1500 subscribers. “I couldn’t believe no-one in the print media was interested in the story – but they weren’t, so it kick-started me into blogging and I’ve kept up a connection with the theatre company to this day.” For Croggon, who is also one of Australia’s most prominent poets, blogging was an opportunity to get back to one of her first loves. “I started the blog because I wanted to start going to the theatre again,” she recalls, adding that her online work eventually led to a paying gig. “After three years The Australian approached me and asked whether I’d like to write for them, which I was very happy about as The Australian is a great paper to write for if you write about the arts.” What do the newspapers think of bloggers? They are generally supportive and tend to follow individual bloggers to get story ideas and pick up gossip. Joyce Morgan, arts writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, says she regularly reads a selection of theatre blogs from Australia the UK and the US. “Where I find them most useful is in interpretation and opinion. I find most of them tend to feed on what has already been in the newspapers.” Morgan believes the growth of arts and theatre blogs is a natural progression in the development of the internet. “In one sense, criticism has been devolved – everyone can be a critic now. While in newspapers criticism seems to be less valued – reviews are shorter and you don’t have those thundering voices that you once did, like Harry Kippax, for example, who could close a show.” Croggon says the main power of blogging is in talking to theatre companies and producers – who themselves derive a significant benefit from their online reading. “Companies can get useful criticism from people who are the sort of individuals who can be bothered to sit and write that criticism down,” she says. “In that sense it can be extremely useful. As for performers – they sometimes take issue with what I write on my blog, but on the whole they like the discussion.” Croggon sees blogging as the future of public discussion about theatre. “I think it is the younger bloggers who will drive the future of criticism,” she says. “Blogging has become like a virus – now that it has

become possible, it’s become really possible and that’s a healthy thing. It’s incredibly positive for the theatre that the next generation feels they can engage with what’s going on in the arts and theatre community and that their voices will be heard.” For a performer such as Queenie van de Zandt the internet is first and foremost a marketing tool. “I can see the interest for audiences, but I’m more interested in using it as a grapevine to get my material out to people, so when I’m online that’s what I am doing.” The actress and cabaret artist has created an alter ego, Jan van de Stool, a demented new-age music therapist who stars in a number of short films which are available online. When she is online, van de Zandt tends to go to Stage Noise, the site set up by Dianna Simmonds, or, hosted by Troy Dodds and Erin James. “I find it fascinating to read people discussing theatre issues in the forums they run there,” she says. Her writing partner Peter J Casey says that he reads a more diverse roster of stories about Australian theatre in the blogosphere, than in the mainstream media. “Take the Green Room Awards – which are pretty prestigious in the theatre world, especially in Melbourne. I didn’t read about the nominations in the newspapers, I read about them online. And I’ll be looking for stories about them online rather than in the papers,” he says. “Having said that, I think it will be a long time before the influence of the mainstream media in the theatre world is surpassed by blogs – it’s a question of resources. Papers can send out a reporter and a photographer to cover a story. They have teams of experienced writers in various markets. But they are less likely to cover the range of stories a blogger might find interesting.” Carey also feels that not only are blogs better than newspaper reviews and stories at providing contextual information about a production, they are better at allowing discussions, which means a body of opinion can form around a particular production. “And of course, the great thing about bloggers is that they are not beholden to anyone, so they can write what they like and at whatever length they want,” he says. “Which can be a good thing – or a bad thing.” Jonathan Este is a journalist with the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance


Blogroll Theatre notes: Alison Croggon

Stage Noise: Diana Simmonds

Billed as “independent theatre reviews and commentary” Croggon’s blog comprises posts longer than your average theatre review (a recent review of J.T. Rogers’ Madagascar with Noni Hazlehurst clocked in at about 1100 words). This gives Croggon the liberty to explore the background to a production and also examine its writing and staging. Croggon is, of course, interested and knowledgeable about both theatre and literature and is able, through this medium, to look behind the work and add a dimension to the discussion that a shorter review in a newspaper might not. A list of puffs from various contemporaries (Croggon calls this her boast list) proves her pedigree: “Want to find out about theatre in Australia? Try Theatre Notes," says The Guardian. And you won’t find a much better endorsement than that.

Stage Noise is more utilitarian than Croggon’s offering. Simmonds and her team put together a pretty comprehensive coverage of what’s going on in Sydney theatre, as befits someone who got her start working on Time Out and City Limits in London. Simmonds also goes long – her review of That Face from Company B comes in at about 1400 words, which allows her to give someone tossing up whether to buy a ticket for the play a pretty comprehensive list of reasons whether to buy or not to buy. Simmonds also includes a What’s On listings section down the right-hand side of the site (shades of Time Out once again), providing a service to arts lovers in Sydney. The site has commercial backing and is supported by sponsors and advertisers. Stage Noise also runs podcasts, video and is available on RSS feed. is really more of a network of blogs than one voice crying in the blogosphere. Sponsored by a roster of industry organisations, the site is coordinated by Troy Dodds, a former print and broadcast journalist who now runs his own publicity company, Troy Dodds Enterprises. What this means is that you will find a wide range of news, reviews and publicity about a wide range of drama, cabaret and performing arts. You will also find links to, if you want to buy tickets, as well as a jobs’ board and links to theatre companies. What you are unlikely to find is the sorts of savage reviews that some other bloggers took to cyberspace to be able to write, unencumbered by commercial necessities. E Q U I T Y 19


n 2008 I saw one of my favourite bands, the French pop duo Air. It was their last concert on a long world tour and, the truth is, their performance was a little weary. The venue too, was not conducive to the act, all-in-all leading to a less than atmospheric event. But the one thing I do remember fondly is the support act: New Buffalo. The fragile melodies and whimsical lyrics of Melbourne singer songwriter Sally Seltmann, who performed as New Buffalo, were simply perfect for the Opera House and I left feeling I had discovered a great new talent. I went out and bought her CD straight away. That’s what I love about going to concerts and festivals in Australia – discovering new, largely Australian, support acts who give it their all, even when the main act seems to have given it a miss. Many an Aussie success

Disappearing act

are, in fact, ambiguous, referring to net employment benefit to Australians in the entertainment industry generally, rather than specifically requiring a local support act. Of course the Alliance, in its consultative role, has always interpreted this to mean the inclusion of local support acts and has sought to have a local support act on every production, be it a rock concert, comedy performance, cabaret, magic act or variety performance. Indeed, way back last century (sometime pre-1993), the live performance representative body – the Entertainment Industry Employers’ Association – now Live Performance Australia – agreed. That was until they disagreed and sought to only use support acts where they thought it appropriate. And this is where we have been for almost two decades – fighting over each and every international tour to ensure that a local support act is engaged. Until now. The government has released plans to introduce a scheme under migration regulations to ensure that Australian support acts are engaged. However, rather than boosting opportunities for Australian talent, the fine print in the proposals being put forward will work to decrease the number of local support acts being employed in Australia. This could mean there will be less Australian support acts hired under a Rudd Government than a Howard Government. How so? Well firstly the scheme will only apply to music acts. This is a slap in the face to every Australian comedian, variety performer and DJ. For Victorian Alliance president, comedian Corinne Grant, the removal of comedians from the support act equation is particularly galling. “Nearly every comedian starts out as a support act in one guise or another. Comedians, just like musicians, gain immensely from working with international artists in a support capacity. It's a cultural and professional exchange that is of benefit to the support act and, sometimes, the headline act as well. Basically,

The Vanguard in Sydney’s Newtown

Support gigs are a critical career stepping stone – but proposed changes to law could mean the Aussie support act disappears, writes Drew MacRae



watching how someone who is at the height of his or her craft works – both on and off the stage – helps you to improve. And we are all richer for having performers who are challenged to improve themselves.” The scheme also proposes a multitude of exemptions for venues with a capacity of less than 400 (think the Vanguard in Sydney; the Rocket Bar in Adelaide or the Northcote Social Club in Melbourne) to any event that could be deemed broadly “cultural”, making it likely promoters would seek an exemption at any chance they could. Festivals will only have to engage two Australian acts – not 50 per cent, as most would have expected. This will lead to more and more festivals being dominated by international acts, such as this year’s Soundwave Festival (which features a mere six local acts against a whopping 46 international acts). What is most disappointing is that the scheme is being proposed by Peter Garrett, former lead singer of Midnight Oil a band that played many small club gigs before famously supporting The Who in London in 1982. Mr Garrett should, of all people, know the value of a support act and should not be working to create a scheme that will decrease opportunities for upcoming talent. So next time you’re at a gig or festival – take note of the Aussie entertainer on the bill – they are usually the best thing about the gig. They may also be one of a dying breed of local support acts.

Photo: Jacky Ghossein.Thanks Fairfax Photos

story has emerged from the support gig – Peter Allen rose to prominence when Judy Garland picked him up on her Australian tour (and subsequent international tour) as the support act. The 14-year-old, Ben Lee came to the attention of Sonic Youth and The Beastie Boys as part of the support act Noise Addict. You Am I got their big breakthrough after touring with Sonic Youth on the Big Day Out, leading to Lee Ranaldo producing their album Sound as Ever. Even Human Nature got their real break touring with Michael Jackson and Celine Dionne on their respective Australian and subsequent European tours. Support gigs are a critical career stepping stone. Being a support act also provides ongoing employment to backing musicians, enabling them to leverage this in their own careers in Australia. One Alliance member, Mark Taylor, has played as a backing musician to the likes of Sir Cliff Richard, Neil Sedaka, Frankie Valli and Shirley Bassey. “This enabled me to gain invaluable experience as a freelance session musician [and] that has provided an excellent foundation to carry through my work in theatre, television studio recordings and support for numerous local artists and their respective ensembles,” he told equity. For years, like many people, I thought Aussie support acts were compulsory. The Labour Government also thought this was the case, until just before the 2007 election when they realised that Migration Regulations do not enforce an Australian support act. The regulations


Strewth seeking on the NBN

Stephen Conroy, the minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, announced on February 7, that the government will offer licence rebates to broadcasters in 2010 and 2011 to “protect Australian content on commercial television”. The free-to-air multichannels are presently only screening minimal levels of Australian content. The Nine Network’s Go! Channel screened only four hours of Australian content in the first week of the year, made up solely of the ironically titled “Wipeout Australia”. If, as the Minister states, “broadcasters have a unique role in preserving our national culture” then this is an appalling failure to protect Australian content. The Alliance, along with the Australian Directors’ Guild, Australian Cinematographers’ Society, Australian Guild of Screen Composers, Australian Screen Editors’ Guild, Australian Writers’ Guild and the Screen Producers’ Association of Australia have demanded the immediate introduction of local content rules on the free-to-air digital multichannels.

Cast your mind forward to a high-tech future where every Australian has instant access to content via super-fast broadband – but how much of it will be Australian?

Photo: Greg Newington.Thanks Fairfax Photos


n the not-too-distant future, every Australian will be able to catch an episode of the hottest HBO drama, see the newest Hollywood blockbuster or listen to the latest musical release from Europe on their television, computer or iPad. The Australian government is right now making significant moves towards this ultimate goal through the rollout of the NBN – the National Broadband Network. The NBN aims to provide fibre optic to every Australian home, school and workplace, supplemented with next generation wireless and satellite technologies, to deliver super-fast broadband services. Last year, the government established a corporation to build and operate the open access NBN and roll out of the network is due to begin in Tasmania in July. That the NBN will enhance the ability for all Australians to access content from around the world is no bad thing. But a scenario that has yet to be fully considered by the government is the implication for accessing Australian content on the NBN, and ultimately the ability for us to continue to create and work on Australian content. The power of the NBN is that it will enable Internet Television (or IPTV in industry parlance, IP standing for internet protocol). That is, broadcasters will now technologically be able to stream television and television-like stations over the internet. That sounds good – except that because of an obscure ministerial directive made in 2000 by the then communications minister, Richard Alston, internet television stations will be exempt from Australian content rules currently applied to commercial broadcasters (and perhaps the sole reason any Australian drama content is produced in this country). Further, internet television stations will increase competition against commercial free-to-air broadcasters which could ultimately undermine their businesses and lead to their calling for a loosening of the local content standards. In this nightmare scenario for Australian performers and all Australian workers in the screen industry, there would be a decrease in the amount of content

being created and therefore the work available. Which is why the Alliance is currently arguing that the government must ensure the presence of Australian content in the digital future – that is, that Australian stories, voices and faces continue to be made available to Australian audiences. The big question facing all players is “how”? How do you regulate the internet for local content purposes? How do we ensure that Australian content is not drowned out by the potential flood of overseas programming? First and foremost Equity believes the government must overturn that Alston directive and accept that, if a television broadcaster is looking to broadcast into Australia via the internet, they must be regulated in the same way as Channels Seven, Nine and Ten. Secondly, access to the NBN by commercial operators should only be allowed if the operators first agree to fulfil a number of responsibilities in return for the commercial benefits they receive. If these companies are going to make money out of something that the Australian taxpayer funds, then there should be a quid pro quo. These could include must-carry rules – that is, internet service providers must make Australian free-to-air television available via the NBN, as a priority. For example, getting access to free-toair television could become part of your internet package. There could be a Charter for the NBN Corporation, similar to the ABC Charter, to ensure the support of Australian content. The government could impose rules to promote and provide ease of access to Australian content where possible. Or, like Canada who is investigating this option, the government could place a surcharge on internet service providers to fund the creation of local content. There is a multitude of ways to ensure Australian content continues to be available into the future. But the issue must be dealt with now, before the flood. If the government doesn’t take action up front, it is more and more likely that that the green and gold glimmer of Australian content will be drowned out by the king tide of foreign content that is about to hit. Drew MacRae is Equity’s federal policy officer E Q U I T Y 21


convey a sense of character” and “to establish a magine this: you’ve got an audition for the mood or state of mind.” role of Keith Richards in a Rolling Stones Because playwrights have the right to prohibit biopic. You’ve got the hatchet face and the groups from performing altered versions of bandanna, you’ve got the slightly stoned drawl their plays, Johnson argued, the Colorado down pat – you’ve even mastered most of his smoking ban might mean certain plays could guitar parts. But you don’t smoke. (Women: not be performed. His arguments failed to think Amy Winehouse or some similarly sway judges who voted six-to-one to uphold nicotine-stained, counter-culture character.) the ban. Should you be put under pressure to tick a box France has an onstage smoking ban. So does on a form that asks whether you are prepared Canada. Matt Trueman, blogging for the to smoke for the sake of the part?, urged the British stage to kick Is it fair that you might be at a disadvantage the habit, not from health grounds, but compared to devotees of the evil weed who because theatre doesn’t do smoking terribly may be auditioning? well. No problem, you might say – surely there are “Even as a sign, the cigarette is both ways of getting around this on film, using hackneyed and clumsy. Smokers in drama are special effects whizzbangery? But what about generally unhappy and weak-willed; they are the stage show? You can’t do Keef or Amy shadowy and unsympathetic figures, who without the durrie, surely it just doesn’t work? turn to their crutch as a display of anger or To puff or not to puff – this is an issue that Fear and Loathing: Playing Hunter S. Thompson without a cigarette nerves,” wrote Trueman. “Or else they are has plagued producers and troubled in hand – unthinkable? sexual predators, reckless types that grasp the performers for some years. present before they plan for the future. The science is pretty much settled says Surely there are savvier, subtler ways to Stafford Sanders from ASH Australia: “The convey such information?” harmful effects of tobacco smoke and secondSpeaking on behalf of ASH, Sanders does a hand smoking are about the most researched pretty good job of stubbing out the arguments issues in medical history,” he says. “The jury in favour of smoking for “artistic realism”. is so far in on this that it is not funny. The “You don’t go to a performance to see health effects are undeniable. It is not some someone really get shot – we use fake guns and minor irritant; tobacco smoke gives off 43 fake blood, people simulate being stabbed, human carcinogens, some of them in the having sex. So why does the post-coital group of the most carcinogenic compounds cigarette have to be real?” known to science. This is a discussion that has traditionally “It is a highly addictive, highly toxic workplace divided Equity. In 2005 we polled our contaminant.” membership about smoking on stage and in And not only does work-place related smoking film and television dramas. Here are a couple put performers at risk, but the second-hand of comments: smoke presents a risk – and an unpleasant “I am not a smoker and do not like smoking in smell – for film and stage crew, not to mention public places at all, however I think that a balance should be struck with the the audience. portrayal of smoking in productions,” said one – adding: “Art imitates life, “It’s silly – you wouldn’t have this debate over a suggestion in a after all, it would be an oddly sanitised reflection of society if smoking was performance that you release a bunch of asbestos fibres,” says Sanders. removed from theatre and audiovisual productions.” Set against this is the undeniable argument that art must reflect the real world – and in the real world, people smoke. If they were to make a biopic Another said: “I believe it is unfair and unhealthy to subject performers of this writer’s life (and, hey, I’m available to bash out a screenplay) Johnny and fellow audience members to cigarette smoke. They are usually in an enclosed environment, which could be a fire hazard too. And it could Depp would have to be holding a cigarette for much of the film. interfere with the quality of live performances, with actors' and singers' Depp did hold a cigarette for pretty much all of Fear and Loathing in Las voices. I am a smoker!” Vegas, in which he played the substance-abusing Hunter S. Thompson. So – a non-smoker against a ban on the grounds of artistic integrity and (According to Depp, he himself started smoking at 12 and was abusing a smoker who is pro-ban on health grounds. We heard many similar pretty much everything else by the age of 14.) arguments, including the oft-cited fear that portrayal of smoking tends Other smoking icons include Humphrey Bogart, who died of to glamorise the habit. We also heard from those who thought – echoing oesophageal cancer; Lana Turner, throat cancer; and Lucille Ball and the belief of ASH – that the industry, particularly the television and film Dezi Arnez, who both shuffled off this mortal coil from smoking-related diseases. There’s a website dedicated to this, if you want some depressing industries, ought to be able to develop special effects to simulate smoking: “If Peter Jackson can use mirrors for fire, so can we for smoke.” reading ( Taking all votes and comments into account, in 2005 performers came Just before Christmas, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a ruling down narrowly against a ban. But perhaps it is time once again to ask banning smoking in onstage productions. Colorado has fierce laws members what they think? To puff or not to puff? Watch your regular egoverning smoking in public places, but actors had hoped to be made bulletins for an announcement of an Equity survey on the issue and have exempt from the rule on the grounds of free speech. your say. In the appeal, brought by 444 theatres across the US, the plaintiff’s lawyer Jonathan Este gave up singing for a career of smoking argued that playwrights include smoking in a script in order “to better

Should performers be running out of puff?

Smoking on stage and screen has divided the industry. Jonathan Este asks whether we should imitate other countries and kick the habit


Photo: David Bartho.Thanks Fairfax Photos


Good knight

Art of war: Andrew Beattie at the Trans-Tasman Jousting Championship

Andrew Beattie was on the Australian team at the 2010 Trans-Tasman Jousting Championship and was declared Champion Knight. But that’s all in a day’s work for this stuntman, martial artist, fight choreographer and teacher, writes Suzanne Culph.


Photo: Sonya Hays

aving dismounted his horse, sheathed his trusty sword and flown back into Sydney from the 2010 Trans-Tasman Jousting Championship in Taupo on New Zealand’s North Island, our champion of the lists and defeater of the Knights from the Land of the Long White Cloud jumped into a more modern means of transport, driving into bollards for a road safety film. He says he was only slightly hampered by a sore leg – something of an occupational hazard for jousters, apparently. “I got in the middle of two ponies having an argument,” says Beattie, “turns out I had cracked my femur.” The tournament, staged by Taupo City Council, harks back to mediaeval times (Beattie says watch A Knight’s Tale to get the idea). The contest involved four events over two days: Mounted Skill-at-Arms (which requires competitors on horseback to pick up rings, cut targets, throw spears at a target and spin a “quintain” with a lance); Mounted Crest (where competitors on horseback engage in one-on-one bouts to remove the crest from their opponents helmet); Longswood Combaton-Foot; and Jousting itself. All jousters are required to wear full armour covering the torso, head, upper and lower limbs. “You need to have top weaponry and riding skills, an ability to combine the two and, of course, be able to hit hard and stay in the saddle,” says Beattie. “I do it because I love it and because I’ve always had an interest in mediaeval history. It’s a real test of skill and obviously it’s fantastic to represent Australia. “To be good at this, and also at stunt work, you need a passion,” he adds. “Both are fields that are not suited to many.” Beattie says he competes because of his love of the sport and because it pushes his skills in horsemanship and weaponry, which comes in handy in his day job as a stuntman. His interest in fighting, martial arts and weaponry has been fuelled by repeated trips to Japan and his studies under Japanese Living National Treasure, Soke Masaaki Hatsumi. Beattie has attained the level of Shihan in the ancient martial art of Bujinkan, which requires skill in taijutsu, striking, grappling, throwing, knowledge of pressure points and weaponry. He is head instructor at the Bukinkan Sydney Metro Dojos and regularly returns to Japan to hone his skills. “The Boss, Hatsumi, has done a lot of film and television work, especially fight choreography, so I have been building that aspect … and

I’ve tended to fuse this and what he has shown me to push the limits and help performers deliver the best they can,” Beattie says. This blossomed into work as a stunt performer in film and television, providing technical support and performing skills for fight choreography, arms and armour fight techniques, and historical and technical information for the film and television industry. “I ended up training some guys who were in The Matrix and that’s how I got into it,” he says. “Obviously we do stunts that people can’t deliver … our job is to take the calculated risk on set and make the actors look good,” he explains. Beattie’s passion is for stunts, Bujinkan and fight choreography, but he has also taught much about the craft of battle to modern groups including 4RAR (Royal Australian Regiment), West TAG (Tactical Assault Group), the Australian Police, Royal Queen’s Guards and the UK’s Metropolitan Police. He sees a niche for teaching the skills required to capture real fight performance within the film industry. “Theatrical fighting is different to fighting on film and there is a thirst for real technique and capturing the reality of the actual fight. “For top-quality fights and stunt work you need to capture the reality of the situation … that’s for mediaeval as well as modern fighting. There are certain skills sets that you just can’t get through a theatrical course.” Whether competing or working, Beattie follows the same set of rules. “Safety is paramount, so is training and looking after the horse, as well as the people on the back of them. “When we worked on McLeod’s Daughters … we worked closely with the safety and stunts crews. “We were accountable for our horses, working with safety and stunt crews, our performance and for being able to fall in with the other crews.” Beattie says: “I love working in Australia and I love working for Australian stunt co-ordinators. I would also love the opportunity to show the world what Australian fight choreographers and stunt performers can do.” In the meantime he and his Australian band of medieval jousting enthusiasts have a title to defend. “You know that line in The Castle where Michael Caton’s character is asked ‘how much is a set of jousting sticks?’ and he says ‘tell ‘em they’re dreaming’? Well we’re the guys that know – and it depends on what they’re made of.” E Q U I T Y 23

Cooking up a career

Hothouse flowers: Equity performers declared the weekend a great success

In 2009 the Alliance advertised a lottery for an American Casting Hothouse to be held in Melbourne. Performer Alan Flower was one of 80 lucky members who won a space.


ere is the recipe for a full-flavoured, getreal-but-believe-you-can-do-it, hotpot on casting for American product.

Ingredients 80 actors 3 American casting directors 2 Australian casting directors 2 dialect specialists 4 Equity staff A state library A café A bar The City of Melbourne




Method Step 1 Find out about the casting directors you are going to see. Every different casting director has a slightly different expectation or process. If you know someone who has been to see them, ask them about it. Step 2 Sort out your immigration issues and have a real plan. This is a difficult and complicated process and will vary for the individual and your circumstances. Professional advice is recommended. Step 3 Be prepared to take direction and enjoy yourself in an audition. It’s your chance to perform. It’s acting, someone wants to see you, so make it worth your while, and theirs. Step 4 Be prepared. You may walk into a room and be asked to read cold, straight off the bench. And then that’s it. See you later. Make sure you are not surprised or thrown by that. Step 5 Dress for the character, not necessarily the scene (pj’s are out. Don’t wear a lab coat if you’re going for a doctor – try a collared shirt).

Step 6 When asked a question be direct in your response. Don’t feed them back the character description. Step 7 No matter how perfect an audition you did and how perfect you are for the role there are still a dozen reasons why you might not get it, ranging from very good reasons, like you look a lot like the leading man, to the cardigan you wore in the audition reminds the director of Carol Brady and he can’t get it out of his head. Step 8 One thing you can control is your understanding of the role of your character in the story. If they are meant to be likable, because when they die the audience should feel sad, then making them likable could help your chances.

Serving suggestions You would imagine anything to do with Los Angeles to be cutthroat, shallow, and driven. This Alliance Hothouse Weekend was anything but. The mood was supportive, co-operative and downright friendly. As Margery Simkin the US casting director put it: “What is it about you Australians? Every time I come here the first question you all ask is ‘Where are we drinking?’” The Hothouse was a brilliant event and I would like to thank the organisers for putting on this sensational event and the extraordinary casting directors who shared their personal knowledge with the participants: Christine King, Dina Mann, Tom McSweeney, Margery Simkin, Matt Skrobalak. And the other speakers Noah E. Klug, from Fragomen Global, Alex Davies, David Newham and dialect coaches Suzanne Heywood and Natasha McNamara. Strongly recommended. Alan Flower is a performer based in NSW


A perfect American accent (preferably generalAmerican, or mid-Atlantic as it’s sometimes called) and the correct pronunciation of American words, nouns and places. If you are going to the US you will need a visa of some description. Getting a proper working visa is expensive and hard to obtain. You will need professional advice from an immigration lawyer and you will need tangible evidence of reviews and work you have done (references etc). Or you can just go as a tourist and hope that when you get a job they want you bad enough to fly you home to apply for a sponsored work visa. You may need to let go of your preconceptions on casting the Australian way. You don’t have to learn the lines. Why do you need a run through? No small talk required. (It’s a big industry and small talk consumes time). There may not be a reader, just the casting director. There may not be a camera, just a casting director, and maybe the director and all manner of executives. You have to believe that actors get cast for American shows from Australia. You don’t have to go to pilot season – you can be cast for an

American show shooting in the US from the comfort of your home town. If you’re asked to put down an audition scene do it today or tomorrow if you can. They want to see it now. It’s Hollywood. Get it done at a casting house or put one down yourselves – think light blue background, think a file size and type that can be opened on any laptop. (So don’t shoot it 35mm or include wide shoots – the average media player is small.) Get a head shot that looks like you, now. Change it as often as you change. The digital era has made this possible. Glam is out.


onsider what is wrong with these scenarios. You are about to start a long-running play with one of Sydney’s subsidised theatres, but just before that, one of your mates is making a low-budget film. You’ve got a few days before you start rehearsals and your friend, who is also the producer, asks you to act in his first film. He thought about using Equity’s deferred payment contract but the shoot was only going to take a couple of days and it was all a bit hard. You think, why not? On the second day of the shoot you fall over and break your arm. And yes, it happened at work, and yes, it was because you fell over that woodpile while being filmed walking backwards. But the producer doesn’t have any insurance (as they would under Equity’s contract) so you have to put the medical bills on your credit card, and the theatre company can’t really see how they can make the role in their subscription series work with you and your broken arm. Everyone’s sorry. Or perhaps, while part of a theatre cast, you and your cast mates agree to take part in the director’s side project, a film. Everyone is keen to work with this director and next thing you know, you and the rest of the cast are being filmed jumping into a river. Happily no one catches pneumonia, or is stung by an electric eel, or gets swept away to sea never to be seen again. But what if? If anything had happened to the cast while filming they’d have been on shaky legal ground. The side project would not be considered part of the usual course of their theatre engagement, and as such they’d have no recourse to workers’ compensation and very little control over how their image and the final film got used. You’re a New Zealand performer

performer and the producer becomes a little more equal. It gives you power because both parties can accept the terms of the engagement and know the ground rules of what has been agreed. It means that if you need to negotiate about things specific to you and your production, you can do that leading off from an agreed starting point. From the moment you stand in front of a camera the person behind the camera owns your performance. Your best protection is a contract, and it should be an Equity contract. With an Equity contract it is usually possible to sort things out at the back-end: what has been agreed and what has not, in black and white. Without

No action without agreement

Don't stand in front of a camera without an Equity agreement

We thought about calling this article “Don’t Stand in Front of a Camera Without an Equity Agreement”.We thought about rolling out this slogan on t-shirts, or making this issue the first text only cover of this magazine, because we want to be sure you get the message: Once you stand in front of a camera the performance is no longer yours, and there are a host of pitfalls to working without a contract. Suzanne Culph reports.

Photo: Joe Castro.Thanks Fairfax Photos

and you get a credited role on a big-budget American movie filming in your country. All the international cast members are on union contracts, with residuals; but you get no back-end because in New Zealand there are no Equity contracts. Within weeks of hitting the big screen the movie becomes the highest grossing movie of all time. Incredibly all these scenarios have really happened to real performers. These and similar situations are playing out every day for performers across the globe. And how performers respond to these scenarios will determine whether performers have adequate rights into the future. Why do we have a union contract? It is not to make life harder for the performer, or to put obstacles in the road to prevent performers getting to do what they want. It is about getting paid – and protected – in the course of your employment. It is about building power for performers. So how does signing a union contract build power for performers? Every time you sign an Equity contract the relationship between the

one you work in a world littered with legal minefields. Every time you agree to perform in whatever you are doing – be it theatre, film, television, whether on the biggest or the tiniest of budgets – without signing a contract, ask yourself whether you can afford to take a punt that, with fingers crossed, everything will turn out okay. Every time you don’t use an Equity contract you short-change yourself. Every time you think: just this once, the producers can’t really afford it, they’re my friends, it will be fun, you throw away any protection or certainty for when things go awry, and you short-change every other performer who comes after you. It all comes down to respect. Performer self-respect, respect from the producer that they are working with a professional, and respect for all the performers who follow in your footsteps. Because each time a performer works on a production without an Equity contract, their power as a performer to stand together with other performers, for the conditions and industry we want, gets a little bit weaker. E Q U I T Y 25


Formidable defender of fair play MONICA MAUGHAN 1933-2010

Photo: Louise Kennerley.Thanks Fairfax Photos

Dear Equity Thank-you for putting on the Casting Hothouse. It’s such a brilliant opportunity to give to actors and I am still buzzing from a fabulous weekend! The open, honest, practical and applicable dialogue with real US casting directors and Australian casting agents was invaluable! Nowhere else do you get the opportunity to show them your work, chat with them and get to know how they work. After this weekend, working in LA feels close, accessible and not some distant dream left up to luck and chance. Tom McSweeney's workshop has set me free. Never again will I walk into an audition and "try to get the job". Instead, for those 20 minutes, I already HAVE the job, and its time to play! Finally, the warmth, support, and enthusiasm of my fellow Australian actors was incredible. I left feeling like I have a real place in this industry and that we are a true community. I'm excited to see where we take this industry in the future. Thank-you Alliance for uniting us! Julia Billington Dear Equity Thank you so much for everything you and your team did to give us the Hothouse workshop. It was a great experience for me to be working with casting directors and actors we don’t meet often in Adelaide. I have come home determined to work harder at communicating with my agent as well as Tom, Christine, Dina and casting directors like them. 26 E Q U I T Y

I have discovered a secret: casting directors, producers and directors want auditioning actors to do well! They hope for a calm, intelligent and realistic approach from actors, to an arduous, nerve-wracking process for those on both sides of the camera. Most often, though, they experience actors more concerned with being off-book and standing out from the competition with pointless, kooky approaches. It seems that if we keep it honest and simple, we’re already ahead of the pack. Thank-you for a truly valuable weekend. Victoria Morgan Dear Equity Just a short note to say that on the ABC television last night on a story on palliative care I saw a clip of the Equity Choir of which I am a proud participant on this occasion singing at St Vincent’s Hospice for the Christmas concert. Three of the people who were in the audience that day have passed on, and to see the joy on their faces as we all sang our hearts out for them will stay with me forever. I look forward to being part of this choir every year and I do hope more of the members will come along as it all gives so much pleasure to people who have such little time left to enjoy such occasions. Thank-you Equity for providing me with this marvellous opportunity. Sincerely John Bolton Wood AM

Monica Maughan, who died in Melbourne aged 76, remained flirtatiously vague about her age to her death. "I loved the reticence about her age," says her friend, actor Peter Carroll. "She believed you never told anyone your age because if you did producers would think of you in a certain way; it was always important to know where you fitted into an industry." Maughan always delighted in being an actor. She carried no shame in being merely a player, a greatly versatile one who never wanted to lose her waywardness. In her performances she was always alert to the moods and needs of those in whose company she found herself. But if her gift was an ability to close the gap between part and self, she could also be reticent when it came to her own life. "We knew she was very ill, but she wouldn't discuss it," says her long-time friend, Melbourne actor and teacher Joan Parslow. "So we never asked." Her agent, James Laurie, says she had been fighting a form of cancer for more than a year. "She never really told me what it was, but she was still working in the theatre through that period. Her death happened very quickly." Maughan appeared in more than 100 plays, 18 feature films, even several ballets, and in just about every popular show on Australian television, including Prisoner and the ABC's black comedy mini-series The Damnation of Harvey McHugh, for which she won AFI and Logie awards. Born Monica Cresswell Wood in Tonga, to Australian parents Harold, a Methodist minister, and Olive, Monica studied French at the University of Melbourne. There she appeared in student plays and revues with contemporaries Barry Humphries and Germaine Greer, making her debut opposite Humphries in The Front Page in 1954. She landed her first professional stage role in 1957 with John Sumner's Union Theatre Repertory Company (UTRC, later to become the Melbourne Theatre Company) in Ring Round the Moon. "She took the stage name Maughan – it was totally made up – because her father had become prominent in the Methodist church in Melbourne," says her close friend of many years, actor Douglas Hedge. "Monnie wasn't a churchgoer." She starred in a national touring production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for the UTRC and played many other lead roles, becoming a favourite of the company's loyal subscription audience. As an inexperienced young actor, I worked with her in several productions and was awed at the way she absorbed ideas. After conferring with directors she simply transformed, altered, changed her thinking. Sharp and perceptive, she missed nothing. She had extraordinary stamina, too. I remember Sumner's production of The Crucible in 1968, in which we both appeared, Maughan pregnant and playing the demanding role of Elizabeth

obituaries Proctor. One night, feeling unwell, she had the presence of mind to rush off stage several times during an interrogation scene and vomit into a rain bucket before returning and picking up the cue as if nothing had occurred. “She had a big presence, a warm presence, and a very big technique. She was a busy performer at the start, able to wring every last bit out of what she did,” Carroll says. Maughan was rarely out of work and was due to begin rehearsals in June for the title role in a new play at Sydney's Belvoir St Theatre, Gwen in Purgatory, to be directed by Neil Armfield. In a tough, sometimes resentful industry, Maughan's capacity for benevolence, emotional support, bounty and resolve was legendary. She was active in the former Actors’ Equity, now part of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance. “Monica was a formidable defender for fair play and pay for actors and she stood up to managements who abused these precepts,” says veteran Melbourne actor and director Malcolm Robertson. Maughan is survived by her husband Rowland Ball, their three daughters Ruth, Susannah and Olivia, and four grandchildren. Graeme Blundell This is an edited version of an obituary that first appeared in The Australian

Unique, crazy, wonderful STUART CAMPBELL 1951-2009 Much-loved actor and photographer Stuart Campbell died unexpectedly in Ballarat. Stuart developed a passion for photography as an art student at Swinburne Technical College, Melbourne. It was there that he met another student, Gillian Armstrong, who cast him in her very first film, Man and Girl, and in the short comic film Satdee Nite. Later, he would have small roles in her features Starstruck and Unfolding Florence. He was accepted into NIDA at 21 and quickly blossomed into a marvellous character actor. On graduation, he was soon working with the major theatre companies. He appeared on television in Certain Women, The Restless Years, Cop Shop and Patrol Boat and in films of the era like Caddie. His sharp tongue and wicked sense of humour meant he was always a larger character in life than he was on the stage. Friend Simon Burke remembers him as “the most truly unique, impossible, brutally honest, unbelievably hilarious, kind and wicked and crazy and

wonderful man that I have ever known”. By the early 1980s Stuart was photographing male centrefolds for Cleo and portraits for Vogue, as well as artistic male nudes. He soon became the leading photographer of actors’ headshots and his archives contain almost every famous Australian actor at every stage of their career. His Bondi Beach apartment became a meeting place for actors, directors, musicians and writers; a place where firemen and surfers might hobnob with Jacki Weaver, Richard Wherrett, Jane Scott and Richard Tognetti. His “studio” was a red bucket in his dining room, on which the subject would sit, lit by two tungsten lights. He was self-effacing about his art and rarely exhibited. The one time he showed his work, in 1998, he inevitably caused a controversy, outraging both Christian groups and animal rights activists by photographing actor Simon Burke’s cat tied to a cross in a work entitled “Puss Christ”, a response to Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ”. By 2006 Stuart had become disenchanted with Sydney. He refused to adapt to digital technology and was becoming increasingly enraged with the backpackers infesting Bondi Beach. This prompted a move back to Ballarat to be with his large and loving family. A memorial for Stuart was held at the Parade Theatre at NIDA. Lee Tulloch

Extraordinarily fine JOHN McCALLUM AO, CBE 1918-2010 John McCallum was born on March 14, 1918, in Brisbane, and went on to become an extraordinarily fine actor, director and producer, one of the most important theatrical figures in Australia during the second half of the 20th century. His first stage part was at his father’s theatre, Cremorne Theatre in Brisbane. McCallum trained for the stage at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he won a scholarship. He played many leading roles in England and Australia in the theatre, films and tv. He met actress Googie Withers, who was to become his wife, on the set of The Loves of Joanna Godden, an Ealing film of 1946. Other films include It Always Rains On Sunday, Travellers Joy, Miranda, Valley of Eagles, Woman In Question, Derby Day, Trent’s Last Case, The Calendar and Port Of No Escape. Before the war he did two years in repertory and seasons at Stratford Upon Avon and The Old Vic before making his first West End appearance at the

Whitehall Theatre in Cornelius. In 1958, after a decade in England, he returned to Australia to be managing director of JC Williamson’s, at that time the largest theatrical organisation in the world, owning nine theatres, operating in 13 and mounting all its own productions. In 1966 he went into film production, and produced or directed more than 200 films for tv including the series Skippy, Boney, Barrier Reef and Baily’s Bird, and several feature films including The Highest Honour and Attack Force 7 starring Mel Gibson. His list of credits as actor and producer is voluminous and includes operas with Joan Sutherland and Pavarotti, and concert tours with Danny Kaye, Gracie Fields, Jack Benny, Harry Belafonte and Maurice Chevalier. In 1992 he toured with his wife in On Golden Pond. In 1990 he devised and directed High Spirits, a two-hander with his wife. His book Life With Googie was published by Heineman in 1976. John also wrote four plays, the last produced at the Comedy Theatre, Melbourne in 1975. He was a past president of The Australian Film Council and the Producers and Directors’ Guild. In 1971 he was appointed CBE, and AO in 1992. In 1996 he played Lord Caversham in Sir Peter Hall’s production of An Ideal Husband at the Old Vic in London which he repeated in Australia the following year, and in 1997 was in Richard Cottrell’s production of Lady Windermere’s Fan at Chichester. John’s London farewell performance was in 2002, starring opposite Googie Withers and Vanessa Redgrave in Sir Peter Hall’s production of Lady Windermere’s Fan at the Theatre Royal Haymarket A celebration of John’s life was held at Sydney’s Theatre Royal on Friday, February 26. Bert Newton was master of ceremonies and speakers included his daughter Joanna McCallum, leading Australian theatre producers John Frost and Jon Nicholls, and veteran performers Nancye Hayes, Toni Lamond and the stars of the original Australian production of My Fair Lady, Bunty Turner and Stuart Wagstaff.

Versatile talent

RHODERICK RONALD WALKER 1920-2010 It was a battered Hillman Husky station wagon that brought Rhod Walker to Australia and gave us a fine actor and a stalwart of stage, screen and radio. Having made his name as a writer and actor at the BBC and on Broadway, Rhod decided to visit his mother and sister who had migrated to Perth from England.

An early pioneer along a trail that was to be followed by so many in subsequent decades, Rhod and various co-drivers forged their way across Europe, through India to Singapore, where he loaded the car onto a boat to Perth. On arrival in Australia, he was snapped up to appear in Moliere’s The Misanthrope for the Perth Festival. He drove on to Sydney and had intended to continue on through South America before returning to England. Happily for us, he was persuaded otherwise. Rhod started his career in his teens and after his wartime service (he made an unlikely soldier by all accounts) spent several years with the BBC’s drama department in North Wales, adapting novels and stories as radio plays in which he acted with actors such as Michael Rennie, Margaret Lockwood, Tommy Trinder and Michael Redgrave. It was through his adaptation for radio of her Broadway smash hit Lady in the Dark that he met Gertrude Lawrence, with whom he was to become close friends and through whom he met Noel Coward, with whom he also acted After the war he sailed for New York. There he played alongside Gertrude Lawrence in Tonight at 8:30 (1948) a series of three one-act plays written and staged by Noel Coward. In New York he continued scripting and acting for the stage and, finally was seen in three tv spectaculars: This Happy Breed with Noel Coward, The Barretts of Wimpole Street with Katherine Cornell and Mayerling with Audrey Hepburn. He stayed in New York until 1956, with several years spent in an apartment block on Park Avenue, where one of his neighbours was the composer and conductor, Leonard Bernstein. But family called and after many adventures in his trusty Hillman, Rhod found himself in Perth where Hayes Gordon, the founder of the Ensemble Theatre and a friend from Rhod’s New York days, persuaded him to stay. Rhod was later to appear in several of Hayes Gordon’s productions. Rhod continued his career in radio, stage and television. Among other performances, he appeared with Robert Speight in A Man for All Seasons in which he played Henry VIII. In 1974 he played the role “the Chairman” in the Australian film Stone. He also ran a radio program for which he obtained the only personal interview which Marlene Dietrich gave while in Australia, having acted with her daughter in New York. In the mid-1970s, Rhod suffered a blockage in his carotid artery which affected his capacity to remember lines. His acting career was over. With his usual fortitude, he moved into a new profession: first as a private caterer, then as manager of the Indian Tea Centre, subsequently as manager of the restaurant Jonah's at Whale Beach, and then went on to manage an antique shop, another area of expertise of this versatile man. Bruce Morrow, Don Purvis, Michael Harker Earle Cross and Damaris Bairstow E Q U I T Y 27

Dear Aunty Actor, I am a 21 y/o male actor from QLD and I graduated from the Theatre Course at QUT last year. It was a really rewarding experience. We had guest lecturers like Michael Gow and put on some great productions. I’ve since moved to Sydney and have been living here unhappily for eight months. My problem is that when I run into the graduates from VCA, WAAPA, or NIDA, and they find out where I come from, they snort and look down at me. One NIDA grad pointed and laughed openly. What can I do to combat these actor thugs? Romeo_87

Go ask Aunty Angst? Anxiety? Needing kind, actorly advice? Ask Aunty Actor.



Dear Aunty Actor, I am a male, working actor who is a regular at main stage and fringe theatre shows. There are other actors that I have run into many times but whom always forget my damned name. I’m sick and tired of introducing myself and when I tell them that they’ve forgotten – again – they barely care. How can I get back at these arrogant sods? Frustrated

Dear Aunty Actor, I am an actor who hasn’t been on the lucky side of the audition circuit of late. When I am sitting in these auditions I am often asked what I am doing with my time. I have gotten sick of saying “not much” or that I’m working as a bartender in the city. When I’ve had a little too much to drink I’ll sit at my laptop and maybe tap out a scene but it’s mostly just thoughts. Is it wrong to say, when I’m asked these questions, that I’m working on a screenplay, or that Griffin have shown a little interest in a few ideas I’m working on in regards to East Timor? FingersInPies

Dear Frustrated, This is going to hurt. I am familiar with your type. Always there, bright-eyed, on the first day of rehearsal with the most books. Always knowing everyone’s IMDB star metre ranking, and always on the prowl for people who might’ve forgotten your name. I understand that it can be frustrating, Frustrated, that no one can quite put their finger on where they’ve seen you before, because you’ve certainly done the yards. You probably enjoy a drink, but do it mostly alone when you’re weepy. The only advice I can give you apart from reading more anecdotal showbiz stories from authors like Clive James or Martin Amis is to be more memorable. Sorry, Aunty Actor

Dear FingersInPies, This is a complicated question because I would hate to hinder anyone from tapping away at a

If you have an acting problem, please send your letters addressed to Aunty Actor, c/o:

Illustration: Tom Jellett

I have been involved in the industry for nearly 40 years. I have met all sorts of actors from the A-listers to the painfully obscure fringe theatre veterans who’ve never made the jump to the main stage. I have witnessed top-notch breakdowns, from both sexes, after casting agents, who are having bad mornings, tell them that they are too fat, or too thin, or their type of face is simply uncastable. I have had enough and I want to make a difference. I am Aunty Actor

Dear Romeo, We’ve all been trapped with an acting student at a party. They can’t pick up an hors d’oeuvre without discussing physical economy, let alone what they’ll paste on if they’re trying to pick you up. I suppose the first question you have to ask yourself is am I projecting this? Can I ask you something, Romeo? Did you try out for the “big schools”? Were you rejected? I don’t mean to point the finger here, but we do need to get to the bottom of your issue. If this isn’t the case and it really is those slimy buggers giving you a hard time, then I am going to presume you’re going to the wrong parties. Avoid free ticket nights like the plague. Never go to season launches (at least for the big theatre companies) because anyone can get in. If you’re forced into it and some little grub asks where you studied, distract them by saying something like: “Ooh there’s Blanchett, and she seems to want to discuss Brecht” or: “It looks like they’re making doggy-bags with the leftover canapés”. If this fails all you can do is work on the thickness of your skin. Either that or get a part in something … anything. Good luck Romeo. Aunty Actor

little something. But – if I’ve read this letter correctly – it seems you might be telling a few porkie pies. You say you’re working on scenes. Are these scenes joined thematically? Is there some kind of plot running through them that makes them the first draft of a screenplay? If not, then you’re doing nothing more than keeping a scripted diary. As for jotting your thoughts down, this free-form style belongs hidden deep in the hard drive of your computer. I don’t mean to be harsh, but writing thoughts down is not a creative process. It is a task akin to the dishes; mundane and normal people don’t like doing it. My suggestion is to keep your writing a secret and work harder. Tell those at your castings about your bar job and be proud. Most actors back off if you play hardball (ie: showing any satisfaction in your life) and it will pierce their wafer-thin armour and have them skulking in the corner and fluffing lines in their audition. But if you’re keen to write, then quit your job, drink more, harden yourself for rejection, and enjoy the satisfaction of saying: “Yes, I’m a writer.” Good luck, Aunty Actor


he phone rings and it’s your agent! Someone wants to see you for a short film – a four-to-five-day shoot in the Blue Mountains. Good script, nice role. Interested? Sure! But – there’s always a “but” and this one relates to the fee, of course. It seems they’re offering $500. Per day? No, all up, inclusive. Under the Australian Feature Film Agreement (which covers short films as well) minimum payment for a Performer Class One is $824.45 per week plus loadings etc. For a Class Two Performer it is $892.70. The minimum daily rate is $246.96. You go back to the script and realise that this role couldn’t be shot with any degree of success in just two days, which means that the $500 offered is below the Equity minimum (even though the producers did say in one of their emails to the agency that they would pay at Equity rates). You get the agent to check back and the producers say “$500 is it, in total, like it or lump it”. Do you go to the audition knowing that if you get the role you will be working for underaward wages, but at least you’ll be working? Or do you say “Thanks, but no thanks” knowing all the while that somebody out there will do the film and it may lead to some juicier work for them in the future, juicier work for which you are putting yourself out of the running? This is a difficult situation and it is one that very few industries outside of our own have to deal with or would tolerate. I found myself in exactly that situation recently, with all the facts as above. I said “Thanks, but no thanks” but not before having second thoughts, second thoughts I resented. Performers are already underpaid compared to the rest of workers in our society (can you imagine getting a plumber to do a four or five-day job, 100kms from home for a $500 flat fee?) Yet we are often made to feel that we are lucky to be paid at all, as if we choose to have the long periods between jobs and earning. I understand that the filmmakers in this instance may have had limited funds and may have been trying to make the film on the smell of an oily rag. They may not be paying themselves at all and the crew may be working at reduced rates to get the film made. All or some of that may be true. I don’t know – they didn’t offer any of that information to my agent or myself. All we were told was the fee, like it or lump it. I’ve done short films before, some for very little money (minimum daily rate or above), some for no money upfront but points in any money made later from sales and/or awards. I don’t have a problem with either of those methods. It was the “flat, below-Equity fee” that disturbed me in this recent instance. Producers of short films, if they’re lucky and/or talented, become producers of feature films. If they are encouraged to think that actors will work for small money just to be in work, what will their attitude be when they have a bigger budget to play with? Experience tells me that they aren’t going to start throwing it towards actors. And in this recent instance, why wouldn’t they offer more information? It makes one think they were just trying it on. We are only as strong as we want to be and the more power we give to

What are you worth?

Cartoon by Lindsay Foyle

You haven’t worked for a couple of months, the bank balance is low and the cat is looking at you with a jaundiced eye – but that doesn’t mean you should work for less than award rates, writes Noel Hodda such people the less we have left for ourselves when it comes to negotiation. I declined the audition in this case. That was my choice and I would encourage other members to do the same in similar situations. But I know for some that will be difficult, particularly if they haven’t worked in a while. Actors have to act, but as a professional I resent paying out of my own pocket to do so. That’s what would have been happening in this case, once I deducted commission and tax from the fee, let alone the drive to the mountains and back. To be fair, the producers did offer accommodation if early/late schedules demanded it and the re-imbursement of petrol and tolls – but what would their definition of “early” or “late” have been? None of this was spelt out and again one was left with the feeling that when the day actually came “early” or “late” might turn out to be elastic terms. Why couldn’t they just agree at the outset to abide by the Agreement and its travel dictums? Whenever we do a job at below award rates we encourage the belief that it is okay to do so, both within the minds of producers and ourselves. Some of you may still feel the need to go ahead, even with that consideration. That’s for you to decide. All I ask is that you consider it carefully beforehand. After all, what are you really gaining in the short term and what might you be losing in the long? Noel Hodda is a performer based in New South Wales E Q U I T Y 29

postcard from the edge

What Kate did next: Our diarist in LA – at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, main, with Oscar, top right, and schmoozing with Bryan Brown, below

Mentor in mental town Kate Rees Davies joined the Equity mentorship scheme in 2007 – two years, countless cuppas and a wealth of advice later, she and mentor Tony Bonner catch up in LA


ugust 2009: I leave my new home in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles to meet up with my Australian acting mentor, the wonderful Tony Bonner. What this esteemed actor has taught me over the past two years through the Equity mentor scheme has been invaluable. As I arrive at my local cafe on the busy Ventura Boulevard, Tony sits sipping coffee. A true gentleman, he immediately gets up and kisses me on the cheek. His aviator sunglasses sit on the table next to his motorbike crash helmet. He left his Pacific Palisades residence for our meeting here, taking the hills route on his motorbike. As I order my usual Earl Grey tea, Tony asks how I am finding LA. I fill him in on all my antics since arriving in the City of Angels, my eight-week intensive acting course with TVI studios and how much I’ve learned about the “acting business” here. Tony is pleased that I have taken my career to the next level by coming to Los Angeles to pursue my dream. “Who’d have thought, two years ago, we’d be sitting here in LA, sipping coffee,” he says. I moved from the UK to Sydney in 2007 to pursue a career in acting. I studied part-time at Screenwise and NIDA. Now I want

to direct my career toward film. I had some marvelous acting jobs in Sydney, including commercials, dance videos – and I even performed for the Pope on World Youth Day in 2008. I decided to join Equity early on in my career and through the member newsletter discovered their mentorship program. This is offered annually to emerging acting members so I applied straight away. I was contacted after a short while and told I had been selected and was to be paired with Tony Bonner. I was delighted as they only select a certain number of people each year. I’ll never forget our first meeting at the Tropicana Cafe in Darlinghurst where John Polson launched the now famous Tropfest film festival. As I waited for Tony to arrive I was a little nervous, as I didn’t know what to expect. He quickly put me at ease and I felt like I was having coffee with an old friend. He was warm and friendly and reminded me of another Australian actor, the legendary Errol Flynn (except more handsome). In that first meeting, Tony shared with me his immense industry knowledge and tips on how to succeed in a very competitive and sometimes grueling profession. As I listened and took notes, Tony said “hello” to a few of the



Tropicana regulars, artists and creatives alike. Tony’s words of wisdom helped me get my attitude straight about the profession and what to expect. Due to our work schedules our meetings were infrequent but I learned a lot. Tony has a long list of credits in film and television and has worked with some great actors, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kirk Douglas to name just two. I feel honoured to have been paired with him and grateful for his advice. So here we are, two years later, basking in the LA sunshine, catching up on our news. Tony is in LA visiting his agent and taking meetings for potential work opportunities. I am studying the craft of acting and learning my way around the Los Angeles acting system. I tell him I spotted Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan in here a few weeks ago. It is not unusual to see actors in this neighborhood, being so close to Beverly Hills and the major studios. Tony has a meeting to go to, and I have a class, but as we say our goodbyes I have a strong feeling we will see each other again soon. LA really is a city of opportunity for actors who are prepared to work hard. Even in a time of economic difficulty, there is still a lot of work being produced. I feel I am here at the right time and will be fully prepared when the industry picks up. I have two years left in LA and am looking forward to working with some great actors – who knows, maybe one day it will be Tony. Kate Rees Davies is a performer based in LA. You can follow her progress on facebook through her group, The Actors Journey

postcard from the edge


21st century trouper Annie Byron reflects on the romance of being one of a mediaeval travelling troupe – with the comforts of 21st century travel insurance from Montreal to Seoul. The tricky bit was always going to be making our quick transfer at Los Angeles. When we were half an hour late taking off, the chances of this going smoothly diminished considerably. Some time out from LA the captain told us that we had been dealing with much stronger head winds than anticipated and we were making an unscheduled stop at Las Vegas to refuel. By the time we got to LA our flight to Seoul had been in the air for an hour. Because the delay had been created by circumstances beyond the control of the airline (a “force majeure” - nice irony!), they felt no pressure to find us another flight immediately. This was well into Monday afternoon and their earliest available seats were on Thursday. That’s Thursday LA time – Friday in Seoul, the night we were due to open! Travel insurance would have to be added to that list of advantages offered by the 21st century. No sleeping under the wagon or in the stables for us! Thanks to Pella’s creativity and persistence we had a very comfortable night and at 4am the next day were on the bus to the airport to catch our long flight to Seoul. The whole thing was a wonderful, wonderful adventure. To play to such diverse audiences was exciting. To be received with such generosity by all was a powerful tribute to our shared humanity – whatever language we speak. Annie Byron is a performer based in New South Wales

Photo: Tony Melov

’ve always found something compelling about the image of the tradition of Travelling Players. They fit in some vaguely mediaeval time, moving from village to village, castle to castle. They are a happy band of ragamuffins, possibly bound by blood, but certainly feeling like family, plying their skills in storytelling to extract a meagre living. They carry with them the bare essentials of living – pots and pans sharing space with costumes and props. Their most precious possessions are carried in their heads – their catalogue of verse, songs, epic poems and plays, all handed down orally from player to player, generation to generation. Their work contributes to the communities through which they move – delighting, educating, provoking and affirming. But essentially this is their way of staying alive. I love the idea that this is my professional lineage, my heritage. Last October I circled the globe with Kate Champion’s company Force Majeure, taking The Age I’m In to Dublin, Montreal and Seoul. In my 30-odd years in theatre I’ve had my share of touring, but never before has the pertinence of this image fitted the adventures I’ve been living to such an extent that it stopped being an idea and entered the realm of felt experience. When it comes to a sense of family, Force Majeure is well-endowed. It encompasses numerous people in primary/family relationship, as well as practitioners who have the shared experience of having worked together over many years and many projects. For The Age I’m In there was also a wonderful range of generations. Our eldest cast member had his 80th birthday on our closing night in Dublin. The youngest performer was 15. We also had the eight and four-year-old children of two of the performers travelling with us. Another of the dancers had a beautiful bump we eagerly watched get bigger as we travelled. With minimal time to get from one country to another we were precluded from taking our set with us. Instead, the large folding screens on to which images could be projected, along with the simple table and chairs we needed, were provided by each of our hosts. However, numerous digital screens were an integral part of the show, and while they were booked through separately, costumes, yoga mats and other necessary paraphernalia were sometimes assigned to us as personal luggage. I know for a fact that at least one coffee pot has just been around the world. Managing all these people and all this stuff was quite a job. It’s good to live in an age that offers the advantages of a wonderful production company, a great union and a diligent agent. But our greatest advantage was having the best-ever tour manager, Pella Gregory. Tour manager was her title – she was actually a worker of magic and she found herself with some pretty daunting challenges, the biggest undoubtedly being our trip

E Q U I T Y 31


Equity goes green We have received an increasing number of requests from members wanting to have their equity magazine delivered electronically. From this year all Alliance magazines will be made available to members online. If you no longer want to receive a printed version of equity please contact our membership centre at and help us save printing and postage costs, not to mention carbon emissions.

Oz-US theatre exchange deal Australian Equity and American Equity have reached an in-principle agreement about the exchange of performers between the two countries for theatre productions. Previous adhoc arrangements meant that decisions regarding exchanges were inconsistent. This agreement will add some clarity to the process and Equity in Australia and in America will have the final say on exchanges in productions that show in their country.

Congratulations Wendy!



Miracle Fish Australian short film Miracle Fish has been nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Live Action Short category. The film was written and directed by Luke Doolan and produced by Drew Bailey (Druid Films) in conjunction with Nash and Joel Edgerton’s production company, Blue-Tongue Films. It stars Karl Beattie, Brendan Donoghue and Tara Morice and was funded by Since premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009,Miracle Fish has screened at more than 60 film festivals worldwide. It has won several awards including the Dendy Award for Best Live Action Short at the Sydney Film Festival. It was this award that qualified the film to be submitted to the Academy Awards, along with 70 other short films.

What we watched in 2009 Screen Australia reports that 418 films screened in Australian cinemas in 2009 and grossed $1.09 billion, making last year’s total

box office the highest on record. Of those films, 50 were Australian, accounting for $54.8 million or 5 per cent of the total, according to Screen Australia analysis of Motion Picture Distributors’ Association of Australia data. Mao’s Last Dancer was the top-grossing Australian film in 2009, achieving $15 million over the last three months of the year. Baz Luhrmann’s Australia followed, cementing its position as the second-highest grossing Australian film of all time by adding a further $10.6 million to its cumulative box office total of $37.6 million. The science fiction feature Knowing, directed by Alex Proyas, placed third with $7.6 million. Charlie & Boots claimed fourth position taking $3.9 million, followed by Warwick Thornton’s critically acclaimed feature debut Samson & Delilah, which grossed $3.2 million at the Australian box office. The inclusion of Knowing in these statistics as an Australian story has caused a stir, given that it is set in Massachusetts, is spoken in US accents and was written by an American. Screen Australia originally considered that it was Australian, though they later changed their minds and their rules.

not liable for the copyright infringements of its customers. The court ruled that, despite findings of copyright infringement by iiNet customers, iiNet did not authorise the acts of its customers. The ruling came after film companies, including Village Roadshow, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Disney Enterprises, Inc. and the Seven Network (the Australian licensee of some of the infringed works) filed a legal action against iiNet in November 2008. They commenced action against iiNet following a five-month investigation that uncovered instances of copyright infringements by users of iiNet’s services. The National Performers’ Committee considers copyright theft an important issue and has committed to becoming actively involved in an anti-piracy campaign with the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft. NPC’s view is that copyright infringements affect performer incomes and their employment with film companies, whose income relies on sales of productions.

iiNet wins copyright case

Festival winners

Thirty-four film companies from the Australian and US film industries have expressed disappointment at the Australian Federal Court finding that internet service provider iiNet was

Kiwi short film The Six Dollar Fifty Man has won a top prize at the Sundance International Film Festival in Utah. The film, by Wellington filmmakers Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland,

Photo: Rebecca Hallas

Wendy Blacklock was honoured with the Sydney Theatre Awards lifetime achievement award. The founder of Performing Lines, Blacklock’s on-stage and producing career began in the 1950s. Performing Lines develops produces and tours new Australian works. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald

she said: “When I started out to become a producer … I had one assistant. Now I have seven producers and some assistants. We have a branch in Western Australia, manage a producer in Tasmania and I'm setting up a producing hub for the Northern Territory government in Darwin – I can't stop. I don't know if I'd get going again.”

Big at the box office: Knowing

Here’s cheers: Nigel Jamieson congratulates Wendy Blacklock on her lifetime achievement award

Hit NZ play lands in Sydney

opened in Wellington to rave reviews then moved to Hamilton and Auckland. It was due in Sydney in March after a run at the New Zealand International Arts Festival in Wellington.

Apollo 13: Mission Control tells the story of the aborted 1970 Apollo mission. Actor and director Kip Chapman created the play with friend and industrial designer Brad Knewstubb and their story was featured in the Autumn 09 issue of equity. The show tells the story of three astronauts who used their lunar module as a lifeboat as mission controllers battled to bring them back to Earth, following an electrical fault which took out their oxygen and power supply. In the highly successful production, audience members are given consoles and headsets so they can take part in the lifesaving operation, receiving information and acting on it. The play

An investigation is underway into how three overseas actors performing the Christian courtroom drama Suing the Devil got into the country. Applications for sub-class 420 visas for British actor Malcolm McDowell, who played the role of Satan in Sydney, and two American actresses, had not been approved and their entry into the country should have raised a red flag. Both immigration and Equity are now looking at the devil in the detail of McDowell’s entry, which seems to have revealed a gaping hole in the immigration system.

tells the story of a battle between members of Melbourne's underworld and the police.

Suing the Devil

Photo: James Morgan

won the International Jury Prize for shortfilmmaking. After its recent selection for the Berlin International Film Festival, the film won the top award at Australia’s short film festival Flickerfest 2010. The short film has accomplished the rare feat of being selected for all three of the top film festivals in the world – Cannes, Sundance and Berlin. Also at Sundance David Michôd’s debut feature about a Melbourne family of criminals won the World Cinema Jury Prize. The psychological crime drama, Animal Kingdom, starring Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce and Joel Edgerton,

Super campaign When the production of Titanic:The Musical folded in 2006 many performer entitlements, including superannuation, were unpaid. Equity applied for performer work entitlements to be paid as part of the General Employee Entitlement and Redundancy (GEARS) scheme but the scheme did not then cover superannuation entitlements. Equity lobbied the Howard government about the issue, to no avail. More recently when Buddy! The Buddy Holly Story collapsed performers were once again left with a pile of unpaid entitlements and once again these included super. Equity has sought a meeting with the government to press the issue.

E Q U I T Y 33

Tidy towns Bringing humour to the townships of Black Saturday proved a rewarding experience for Damian Callinan




Photo: James Penlidis

bony trunks with verdant green stubble formed an eerie guard of honour as my car cut through the early evening mist. Red and white tape looped across driveways and neatly bulldozed piles of former homes – the only signs that the town had not been completely abandoned. Save for the bakery and a motel (that, to be honest, is unlikely ever to be heritage-listed), there was no longer a main street. Amidst the ruin a hand painted banner hung on the fence in front of the melted police station sign: “Damian Callinan in Last Drinks – Comedy @ Marysville Golf & Bowls Club” Comedy? Trying to sell a holiday package to Haiti seemed an easier prospect. On the night in question the honour boards of club champions and life members looked down upon the new generation of Marysvillians as they ambled into the makeshift theatre. The rostered barman worked up a sweat as tables and chairs were rearranged and a motley couch found its way onto an already confined stage area. My usual local research for such gigs was confounded by the distinct lack of town and the enormity of the ordeal they had been through. “Just talk about other stuff – they won’t mind” a voice I didn’t recognise suggested from within. “You can’t ignore the sooty elephant in the corner” said another more familiar internal voice. Even as I detoured around the couch and on to the stage I hadn’t made up my mind. Bugger it – I opened with: “Sorry folks, I’ve been overseas for six months – shit you’ve let this town go!”

The explosion of laughter, accompanied by slapping of tables, confirmed the gig wasn’t going to finish earlier than anticipated. Rarely have I had to wait longer for laughter to dissipate. Given licence I followed up with: “You can’t imagine my relief when I drove into town and saw that the Tower Motel had survived.” A similar response, but as the laughter died down a lone female voice from the darkness filled the space: “They’re here!” “Who?” I asked “The owners,” she responded. They were already on their feet, acknowledging the cheers. By the end of the night I had the community convinced that winning Tidy Town wasn’t out of the question. As a comedian, connecting with audiences is everything and on occasions like this it requires stepping over lines – even when you’re not sure where they are. After re-telling this story on stage recently, a young woman approached me and said she had lost respect for me when I talked about Marysville in that way. I let her have her say and recognised that, though callow, she was genuinely trying to understand why I had said those things. I explained that this was a community which, for that night at least, didn’t want to be cuddled. Marysville, in particular, is a town with which many of us have had a relationship, if only a fleeting one-night stand. Locals have to deal with the grief of returning tourists. On that night the hugs were replaced with the salve of laughter. A couple of months after the Marysville gig, I performed at the nearby town of Alexandra, one of the main hubs of sanctuary in the weeks and months that followed February 7, 2010, Black Saturday. During supper and drinks after the gig in the Murrundindi Shire Library, I mingled with the audience and found that many of them had travelled from the Marysville area. Some had even been to the Marysville show. Word had passed around about the guy who reckoned that they had “let the town go” Fast forward to January 13, 2010 and I am about to perform in Narbethong on the last night of an extensive tour of the Murrindindi Shire. Based on responses from the Marysville and Alexandra gigs, the Shire had organised a run of shows that has taken me from the flickering fluoros of the Flowerdale Pub to the shadow of fading badminton pennants in the Yarck Memorial Hall. At each venue audience members had warned me of the hazards of my next location. At Kinglake it was: “Flowerdale? They’re different down there.” At Flowerdale it was: “Strath Creek? They’re different down there.” Mostly I ignored the cheap urge to play towns off one another. I quickly survey what is left of Narbethong and pull up at the Black Spur Inn. Sharron and Libby from the Alexandra Library are there, icing the passionfruit sponges as they have done at every show of a tour they have lovingly put together. A peace clown introduces himself. He lives at the pub and donates his services for free as he has done since the fires. Barbara and Richard are there with Meg and Bonnie their West Highland Terriers. It’s their third time to the show and they’ve brought the dogs this time so they can hear the routine I do about my own westie. The publican wanders around with a tray of free drinks. His three-year tenure at the pub by no means makes him a local, but housing and feeding the community free of charge for six weeks following the fires did much to fast-track his status. I head to the side of the unlit stage, which is fronted by a pillar only marginally narrower than the stage itself. There is still daylight and the Mountain Ash forest acts as backdrop either side of the pillar. Libby introduces me and it’s her best performance yet – she gets laughs; the pressure’s on. I take the microphone: “Come on Narbethong … are you just going to roll over and let Marysville win Tidy Town … they’re a bit different down there aren’t they?” Damian Callinan is a performer based in Victoria

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Equity Magazine Autumn 2010  

Official magazine of the Actors Equity section of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance.