In September, following the fierce outcry that met the announcement of an all-white line-up of 30 semi-finalists for the Rob Guest Endowment annual musical theatre scholarship, the Artists of Colour Initiative launched a scholarship competition of its own to provide financial assistance and industry support to theatre performers based in Australia that identify as Bla(c)k, Indigenous or as People of Colour (POC).

The 30 semi-finalists, selected from over 60 applications, have now been announced. They are: Aadhya Wijegoonawardena, Abu Kebe, Aiden Wang, Akansha Hugenahally, Angelina Thomson, Ava Madon, Daniella Delfin, Deirdre Khoo, Dindi Huckle-Moran, Ellie Chan, Gabriella Barbagallo, Giorgia Kennedy, Grace Driscoll, Guillaume Gentil, Jade Delmiguez, Jarrod Draper, Jerome Javier, Joshua Sanerive, Juan Gomez, Kara Sims, Karis Oka, Kristie Nguy, Lauren Cheok, Martha Berhane, Milo Hartill-Batsietswe, Naarah Barnes, Nicole Rammesh, Raphael Wong, Shannon Cheong and Yashith Fernando.

The OAC Initiative semi-finalists. Photograph supplied

They represent 21 different cultural backgrounds including Sri Lankan, West African (Sierra Leone, Nigeria), East African (Eritrea, Mauritius), Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, Colombian, Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago), Polynesian, Aboriginal, Indian, Singaporean, Malaysian, Filipino, Parsis, Vietnamese, Fijian, Samoan and Botswana.

“These artists are the future. These artists are changing the game,” said AOC Initiative founder Tarik Frimpong.

“I watched a young man Krump to a musical theatre track and you best believe I was yelling at my computer screen ready to jump in and join the cypher. Watching Bla(c)k, Indigenous and People of Colour artists perform works as well as embody and reinvent characters historically played by white performers; it really does something for the soul. I am so proud to be an artist of colour and these applicants have inspired me to continue to show up.”

Performer Vidya Makan, who recently appeared in the Australian production of SIX: The Musical, is a member of this year’s AOC Initiative panel, which will select the winners of the inaugural scholarship.

“We have had applicants who, due to their financial situation, have never received training and yet their voices already display so much talent and potential. We have had applicants who have been trying to get their foot in the door for years; whose standard is level with most professional musical theatre performers, and yet they have never been presented with the opportunity to truly be championed. We have had applicants display areas of dance ranging from traditional musical theatre to Krumping, and voices that range from the next Elphaba to the next Eliza Doolittle,” said Makan.

“I have spent the past week being completely blown away by the talent and craft displayed in the AOC Initiative application videos. The sheer amount of applicants has been overwhelming and I am filled with joy in getting to watch these incredible young BIPoC artists display their diverse array of skills. I feel honoured and privileged to be a part of this incredible Initiative, which is finally giving this huge range of artists the platform they deserve.”

In the first round of the competition, each applicant was asked to submit a video of themselves singing or rapping any song from a musical, a video of themselves dancing or moving to any song from a musical, an introductory video, and a response to how they would spend $5,000 to further their training and career aspirations.

For the next round, the semi-finalists will be asked to submit a video of themselves singing or rapping a different, contrasting song from a musical, a video of them performing a monologue, and a 700-word statement outlining their ideal plans for future study. Submissions will close on 2 November. From there a Top 6 will be announced, and then the ultimate winner.

The prize money for the AOC Initiative is being sought via a GoFundMe campaign, which has so far raised over $27,000. All the funds will be awarded to the six finalists, with the winner receiving half of the money, the runner-up receiving 20 percent, and the rest shared between the other four finalists.

In addition to this, two AOC Initiative applicants will receive a full scholarship valued at $12,000 to study a Diploma in Musical Theatre at Village Nation Performing Arts in 2021.

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