With a sigh of mask-covered relief, audiences are returning to theatres around the country to watch plays and musicals.
Such a long time without live performance is no life, in my opinion, but spare a thought for the thousands of performers who have mostly been unable to work for the past 20 months with shows cancelled left right and centre since COVID-19 restrictions began. Thousands of extremely talented Australian performers are now back in work, which is worth celebrating.
The producers of An American In Paris couldn’t find anyone in Australia who could do this.Credit:Angela Sterling/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via AP
What’s not a cause for celebration is the decision by the producers of An American In Paris to bring two performers in from overseas because they apparently couldn’t find two people in Australia who can dance, sing and act. One thing Australia is not short of is people who can sing, dance and act. One might even argue we have too many, given the lack of shows and producers importing international talent all the time.
When I asked the producers (GWB entertainment and the Australian Ballet) about this, they said the roles require such an advanced degree of skill that given the rehearsal time they simply had to bring in the two performers who had done it before. Without these two from overseas, the show couldn’t possibly have happened, they said. They also confirmed they didn’t even bother auditioning for the roles – they just knew there was no one in Australia who could do it.
According to Equity, the union that represents Australian performers, it was an instruction from the international creative team that the two lead roles must be played by the two performers from overseas.
This is an ongoing issue in Australia, particularly when local producers aren’t creating a great deal of original work (kudos to Global Creatures and their ongoing commitment to creating completely original work, and Michael Cassel, who is charging forth with multiple original productions), instead relying on stock from overseas. It creates a dearth of creative talent in this country and forces us to rely on US and British creative teams who regularly have an extremely overinflated sense of their own importance and talent.
The absolute snobbery of middling American and British creatives who look down their nose at Australian performers, and the absolute negligence of Australians who have the choice to cast locally but don’t, riles me.
I have seen theatre all over the world, I have spent more time inside theatres in London than I have in any place other than my home, and I have sat through many, many shows on Broadway. There are very few occasions where what I see in Australia doesn’t at least match – and in most cases exceed – – what is being created overseas.
The Australian casts of shows are almost always significantly better than their British or US counterparts. Australian performers want it more – they have less opportunity to perform than their overseas colleagues so when they get the chance they absolutely make the most of it.
American In Paris producers would argue that the Australian cast will have the opportunity to learn from these two performers who have done it before – setting aside the argument that rehearsals are when you are meant to learn the show, I would argue the imports will probably learn a great deal from our fantastic local performers.
What makes this American In Paris debacle even more galling is the producers have had the absolute temerity to take nearly a million dollars of RISE funding to put the show on. They dipped into the public purse which was intended to kickstart the arts in Australia after the pandemic, and then went and did the laziest casting imaginable by importing two people who have done it before.
That the Australian Ballet, who also take a huge slice of their funding from the public purse, are OK with robbing local performers of the opportunity to make a living only further exacerbates what is already a series of astonishingly poor choices.
If the Australian producers of Hamilton (and, granted, the US creative team) have managed to fulfil one of the most challenging casting briefs imaginable with entirely local leads, the producers of An American In Paris can find two people who can sing, dance and act for their show. The assertion that there is no one in this country who could undertake the challenging contemporary ballet choreography that Englishman Christopher Wheeldon dreamed up for this show and also belt out some easy Gershwin tunes and make a relatively thin story convincing is not only wrong, it’s offensive.
The fact Equity, who are meant to represent Australian performers and protect their interests, endorsed this international casting is galling. The fact the Australian government, who approve visas for these performers, didn’t for a single second think “you know, I reckon there is probably someone in Australia who hasn’t been able to work for the better part of two years might be able to sing, dance and act” and then gave the show a million bucks to do it is maddening.
Do better or don’t do it at all, and if you must do it don’t make taxpayers foot the bill for it.
The Opinion newsletter is a weekly wrap of views that will challenge, champion and inform your own. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in Culture
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article