Following an ambiguous statement from producer Paul Dainty about the number of Australian performers to be employed in the recently announced UK import I Dreamed A Dream: The Susan Boyle Musical, the Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance have confirmed a substantial victory for Australian performers.
In a bulletin yesterday, Actor's Equity – a branch of the Alliance – announced that they have worked with the Dainty Group to ensure more than 80% of the performers in the 2013 tour of I Dreamed A Dream will be Australian, despite the UK licensor initially requiring a 'fully imported cast'. Thankfully for our Aussie performers, 10 of the 12 roles in the company will now be filled by Australians, with only Elaine C Smith (in the role of Susan Boyle) and one other performer heading down under for the 10-week tour next year.
In the current climate of concern for Australian actors with regards to importing overseas artists into our own productions, this is a good outcome. And although this is a victory and one to be celebrated, there are many asking why it is necessary to import any actors for this production at all. Not to detract from the immense talents of Elaine C Smith, who has received wonderful reviews for her portrayal of Boyle in the UK tour – but are there not equally capable Australian women who could perform this role in our own production? What is gained by importing artists from the UK? Is it merely time? Is it money? Is it the British sensibility that only those from the Mother Country can encapsulate?
Surely it cannot be a box office concern – Elaine C Smith isn't a household name here in Australia and the show is selling on Boyle's name, not hers. It surely cannot be purely a time issue – rehearsals will have to be scheduled for the rest of the company regardless. It would cost more to fly an international company out here and pay them living away from home allowance than hiring an Australian company, I
would imagine (although I'm not entirely sure of this, it seems logical). And there have been plenty of Australians play British characters on stage and screen over the years, so surely it's not to do with simply 'being British'.
I am all for bringing productions down under to showcase what is happening on the world stage – arts festivals across the country are littered with international performances and I do so love a good festival. But in this case, with a musical that has is licensed out, why would we import when we can cast locally? It would be like bringing the British cast of Legally Blonde to Australia, or the American cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – and Australian performers would never have the chance to be recognised.
For producers, importing artists has been made easier of late by recent action taken by Live Performance Australia. The LPA (Australia's employer's organisation for the live entertainment and performing arts industry) decided to walk away from the existing Foreign Artists Agreement, which was established in 1993 and outlined a set of mutually agreed circumstances in which a producers can import overseas performers for Australian productions. But in the case of this particular show, Equity and the Dainty Group are to be commended for the result announced today.
Equity said in a statement that the Dainty group approached them to gauge their thoughts on the total cast import, and that a full import was not what they considered right or fair.
“We advised that the proposal would not, in our view, fit within the definition of a unit company”, said the Equity staement.
“We were delighted that the Australian producers understood our perspective and worked with us to negotiate a new arrangement with the UK licensor that will now see 10 of the 12 roles cast with Australians. The National Performers Committee has approved two UK imports.”
So to the 10 lucky actors who will go on to Dream the Dream for 10 weeks next year, be sure to thank Equity and give a nod to your producers. Unless we sort out this Foreign Artists Agreement mess, it might not be as easy next time.
I Dreamed A Dream will play at Her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne from May 31 2013 and will transfer to Sydney's Theatre Royal from July 4.