The Colour Blind Project is the baby – and baby it really is, having kicked and screamed into the world in October 2009 – of Sydney-based performers Josipa Draisma and Stephanie Son. Its purpose is quite clear – to permanently place skin-colour blinkers on the arts industry – and its first program of theatre productions will run at Tap Gallery in a two-week festival of diversity. We spoke to Draisma and Son to find out more.
Why do you think Australia in 2010 needs an explicitly multi-cultural arts project?
You walk around the streets of Sydney and see people from all different backgrounds; we’re a cultural melting pot. This is something that we feel needs to be celebrated in the arts; Urban Theatre Projects for example has been showcasing and celebrating diversity by telling culturally specific stories for many years. What we wanted to do though is to take that one step further and show that for those of first and second generation born Australians, people like us for example [Draisma is of Croatian descent, Son Filipino], that there is place for them to be represented in our arts.
Is our arts scene more white-centric than most, and what was the specific impetus to try and change this?
Unfortunately there is still this practice in the Industry that reaffirms the Anglo-centric idea of what it means to be Australian; to push the agenda of the Australian identity that is associated with the blonde haired, blue eyed beach guy or girl. The reality is that Australia is more than that. Occasionally there is a character on TV or on stage that is multicultural or Indigenous, but often it’s a stereotype or at best, tokenistic. There is no common policy or practice of “colour blind casting”, where an actor is hired based on their talent and merit to play the role. We have to ask why have we not seen an Asian lead character in a sitcom or romantic comedy? Why do we never see a male character, of Middle Eastern background for example, play the hero?
There’s something innately powerful when, as a person from a different cultural background, you see someone who looks like you on TV, film or on stage. It has this ability to not only provide role models, but also to validate your place in the community. But when you don’t see yourself represented, you can’t help but feel marginalised. This is why we felt the need to create The Colour Blind Project. What we wanted to do was find talented actors from all different backgrounds who often get sent to the castings for ‘Thai prostitute’ or ‘taxi-driver’ or ‘wog girlfriend’ and give them roles that showcases their talent, rather than just the colour of their skin. Theatre is often where society’s perceptions can begin to change.
How is the season put together? Can you give us a brief overview of some of the highlights?
Earlier this year we put a call out for new Australian works that told ‘universal’ stories. From that we have selected 9 plays that will be performed every night of the festival. Most of the writers are new and emerging, including the beautiful poetic play, Memento Mori by Sydney-based writer, Bradley Vincent. Others like Augusta Supple, known for her short-play events, Stories from the 428 and Brand Spanking New, are more experienced. Alex Broun, known for his own short works and as festival director of Short+Sweet, also has a play performing as part of The Colour Blind Project short play festival. We also have some great directors on board including James Beach, Paige Rattray and Netta Yaschin, who have been working in the fringe and Independant theatre sections for a number of years. Then of course there is an array of very talented, emerging multicultural and Indigenous actors, including Craig Meneaud (Alex Buzo’s Norm & Ahmed and Homebody/Kabul for B Sharp).
You will be taking part in the Sydney Fringe. What will this involve?
We are presenting Shakespeare in Full Colour, a celebration of some of Shakespeare’s classical works with an integrated cast of multicultural actors, something an Australian audience rarely see. It will be Shakespeare for the people, and by the people. We have four shows at the New Theatre on Thursday 16th, Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th September.
The Colour Blind Festival, Jun 30-Jul 30, Tap Gallery, 278 Palmer St, Darlinghurst, $20-25, trybooking.com/FOJ