QUEENSLAND’S HOT BUTTON ISSUE
In spite of the abundance of highly trained talent, Queensland performers are finding it hard to be cast in their own state. MEAA has launched a ‘Hot Locals for Hire’ campaign to address the issue and seek a lasting solution, writes Anna McGahan.
When I was at acting school in Meanjin (Brisbane), I used to scoff at the teachers’ mantra: “You must move interstate, and only then will you be considered for work on Queensland stages and sets”. But, along with so many others, I found that they were right.
Local hires are hot. When it comes to state-based and state-funded performance, local casts, crews and creatives are good for the industry, great for the economy and hugely formative for emerging artists. In Queensland, much like other states with similar challenges, there is an abundance of talent, diversity and experience, with training programs producing the highest standard of graduates. It’s thrilling and affirming for audiences to watch home-grown performers. So why aren’t Queenslanders getting hired — or even auditioned? Why are Queensland producers and theatre companies favouring interstate and international actors and crew over qualified, talented locals?
It’s a question MEAA is asking and one they need help in finding answers for — not simply to point fingers, but to create lasting solutions. To do this, the Queensland Performers’ Committee is running the ‘Hot Locals for Hire’ campaign. They are encouraging performers to fill out this ‘Jobs for Queenslanders’ survey to work out exactly how to define a ‘local hire’, how to get locals in front of the professionals who are making pivotal casting decisions, and how to lobby the state government effectively.
As someone who left this state for eight years, I can attest to the patterns of exclusion so many are reporting, and the stress and devaluation it puts on Queensland-based performers, who struggle to be recognised as the accomplished professionals they are.
When I lived interstate, I was invited to perform as a ‘returning Queenslander’, much to the frustration of my peers who never left. However, when I decided to live here permanently, Queensland theatre auditions stopped completely, while film and television auditions shifted from leads to bit parts. It was as if I’d announced my retirement.
Too often in state theatres, interstate directors cast from a pool of actors they know and trust, bypassing thorough audition processes. While this practice can sometimes be presented to us locals as something beneficial to our creative literacy, exposing us to work of a ‘national standard’, it can be a slap in the face for highly experienced Queensland artists who have already been recognised as meeting or surpassing that apparent standard.
In film and television, more producers have seen the benefits of shooting in this state, and there is always something in production. However, casting still primarily takes place elsewhere, and interstate actors are seen for the leads and flown into Queensland to take up the key roles. Conversely, Queenslanders are rarely seen for interstate work, and it is assumed we will make ourselves ‘locally based’ to be considered — a practice MEAA openly rejects.
There is an incorrect assumption that to remain here as a performer is an indication of less experience, less commitment to craft and a less-than-professional career trajectory. Previously, a significant percentage of our artists would move elsewhere to gain access to opportunity, but in a post-COVID economy, where many artists have remained in or moved to Queensland for affordability, this is no longer the case. Local artists are trained, experienced professionals who are ready to work and in dire need of opportunities.
To not utilise what this state has to offer is lazy and short-sighted. If a casting agent, producer or director cannot see the talent on display here, that is not a reflection on our performers but, rather, on that professional’s skill and insight into the creative landscape on offer. As the quote from Rainer Maria Rilke goes: “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”
There is so much available in this state’s talent pool, of all ages, cultural backgrounds, dis/abilities and identities. Audiences are being robbed of these highly trained storytellers and it is time they were given the careers they deserve on local sets and stages.
Anna McGahan is an actor, author, screenwriter and playwright. She is a previous recipient of the Heath Ledger Scholarship, and has acted in Australian film, television and theatre for over a decade — most recently seen in ABC’s In Our Blood. Her writing work prioritises a defiant female gaze to explore experiences of embodiment, motherhood, queer sexuality and spirituality. She lives in Meanjin (Brisbane), with her two young daughters.