Sometimes, I like to talk to young professional friends about what a career in theatre is like. It’s illuminating to share experiences with them, and hear what their own career conditions are like. They talk about occasionally frustrating workmates, unimpressive pay at first, but a sense of ascension. Building up. Gaining more recognition with more experience.
When I tell them about a career in the arts, their response tends to be a mixture of envy and shock. Envy that we have a career where we can wear what we want, express our selves, be iconoclastic, create new things. Shock around the lack of progression, our state of being at the mercy of knee-jerk political whims, and most gravely, about the financial recognition.
There is particular shock around the idea of unpaid work. That we might work for months on a project, the amount of hours equivalent to a full time job, but those hours stolen from gaps where we should be sleeping, exercising, or seeing our loved ones. They are shocked to hear we might take away a few hundred dollars – if we’re lucky – from an experience like that. These friends come and see our work and are impressed by the display of deepening skill, a firmer sense of expression, and a burgeoning talent, all done in stolen hours where those who work a 9-6 might choose to pursue other things. We’re lucky this is our passion. But the fact also hurts us.
This week, I found out that a show I’ve been waiting to produce in Melbourne since I moved here is being canned. The company can’t afford it. They promised us the slot; they’ve now retracted that promise. If you’re wondering what it feels like: it’s like being dumped. The same erosion of self-esteem, the same fear of never getting back up again, the same flatness, depression, and creative numbness.
It is a great privilege to have your job be your passion, but it is utterly annihilating when your job exists in a climate and country that does not value your work. It makes you wonder if you have wasted your life. It is a truly awful feeling.
I am lucky to work in the youth arts sector, in addition to the independent theatre sector. Youth Arts is one of the few places that has reasonable funding. This doesn’t apply across the board. The current funding model from national bodies like Australia Council for the Arts have rewarded some companies and cut the funding of others, entirely at the discretion of the Arts Minister. I cherish the work I’ve been able to do in youth arts environments: helping young people tell stories, writing them plays that they can perform and deepen their skills by doing, and giving voice to the beauty of their difference. I would never have been able to do this work without my experience in the independent theatre sector. Similarly, if I ever ascend up the hypothetical escalator into the plush (but just as jittery) environs of main stage theatre, it would be my independent experience that has made me worthy of the job.
The Liberal Government is enacting a kneecapping of the independent sector in a way that ensures there will be no future artists of quality. If there are any left after the recent demolition, they will only be the ones who can afford to fund their own ascension. The rest of us will have given up. Found less-creative less-passionate jobs, but ones that reward us for our hard-earned work ethic, problem-solving capacity, and teamwork.
Funding the independent arts sector is the only way to ensure that we have artists who can graduate to main stage theatres. Imagine an Education Minister who closes down all schools and wonders why university applicants can’t read.
Please show that you stand with the arts this election. You can sign this petition, you can speak to your local Member of Parliament about this, or you can vote out the Coalition Government on July 2nd. You can share this post with people who might want to know more about these issues, and spread the word outside my bubble of arts people.
Thank you for reading.