In August, there was an outcry when the Rob Guest Endowment – which offers a prestigious annual musical theatre scholarship – announced the names of its 30 semi-finalists for 2020, all of them white. The announcement was slammed for its lack of diversity and described as a “white wash”.

Now, the Artists of Colour Initiative (AOC) has launched a scholarship to provide financial assistance and industry support to six theatre performers based in Australia who identify as Bla(c)k, Indigenous or People of Colour.

The AOC Initiative was founded by Tarik Frimpong to address the underrepresentation of these communities in Australian musical theatre, and help generate change.

The 2020 panel for the Artists of Colour Initiative

“The AOC Initiative is a celebration of People of Colour – a community I am a part of – with the aim to come together, have important conversations and fight for change in the Australian theatre industry. I wanted to create an opportunity where I could support and celebrate artists who identify as Bla(c)k, Indigenous or POC by providing them with greater visibility and a stepping stone to a more racially inclusive theatre industry,” said Frimpong​.

Six finalists, including the ultimate winner, will be selected from 30 semi-finalists, chosen by a panel of established, highly regarded performers, choreographers, directors, musical directors, writers and activists of the theatre industry who identify as Bla(c)k, Indigenous or as People of Colour.

The panelists for 2020 are: Barry Conrad, Bree Langridge, ​Callum Francis, Cessalee Smith-Stovall, ​Chenoa Deemal, ​Daniel J Puckey, ​Dean Drieberg, Fiona Choi, ​Kurt Kansley, Laura Tipoki, ​Leah Howard, Miss Cairo, Olivia Vasquez, Ruva Ngwenya, Sello Molefi, Sophia Laryea, Steph Tisdell, Tarik Frimpong, Thando Sikwila, Tim Omaji, Tyrel Dulvarie, Vidya Makan, Will Centurion, Yasmin Kassim ​and ​Yvette Lee.

The deadline for entry to the AOC Initiative is September 28. From there the panel will choose the semi-finalists, and then the finalists. Applicants must identify as Bla(c)k, Indigenous or as People of Colour, be aged between 17 and 30, and already be pursuing a career in musical theatre. They must not have previously secured a leading or supporting role in a mainstage musical theatre production, or be engaged to perform in a leading or supporting role at the time of submission.

Performer Kurt Kansley said: “I am honoured to be a panelist for the AOC initiative. Growing up in Australia as an immigrant from a mixed raced South African background in the 80s and 90s and dreaming of being on the stage, I hardly saw anyone who looked like me being represented on stage or behind the scenes in the theatre. I had to work harder than my peers who came from Caucasian backgrounds to be seen and taken seriously.”

“I am looking for young artists who have tenacity and perseverance to fight for their worth. Artists who are willing to learn and are open to play. Not only is the talent integral, but the willingness to work hard and believe in oneself is of utmost importance,” said Kansley.

The prize money for the AOC Initiative is being raised on GoFundMe. All of the donations will be divided between the six finalists. The winner will receive 50 percent of the money raised, the runner-up will receive 20 percent, and the other four will receive 7.5 percent each. So far the AOC has raised over $10,000.

Applications for the Artists of Colour Initiative are open until September 28

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