Geoffrey Rush, Rachel Griffiths, Richard Roxburgh and ninety six other Helpmann Award winners have called upon Live Performance Australia – the hosts of tonight’s Helpmann Awards – to reconsider their recent termination of a long standing overseas artists agreement.
An open letter was published in The Australian today signed by Rush, Roxburgh and Griffiths as well as Simon Phillps, Gale Edwards, David Williamson and countless others requesting that LPA, the peak body representing theatre producers, revise its decision to terminate Agreement Governing the Use of Foreign Artists in Live Theatre in Australia which it abruptly abandoned in April this year.
The letter comes just hours before performers from across the country donate their time to perform and present at the 12th annual Helpmann Awards, hosted by Live Performance Australia at the Sydney Opera House this evening.
Recently appointed Actors Equity director Sue McCreadie said that without the agreement on the use of overseas artists many performers who are being recognised tonight might never have built a career here in Australia.
“Australian performers are right to be concerned about the termination of the agreement. There is no longer a requirement to consider Australian performers in the casting process and it opens up the possibility of whole casts coming in for musicals and drama productions”, she said.
The letter states: “The unexpected termination of this agreement by LPA is of great concern to us and seriously jeopardises the harmony that performers and producers have worked so hard to achieve over the years.”
Despite containing a set of mutually agreed circumstances (between LPA and Actors Equity) where producers were able to import performers in theatre and other areas of live performance LPA has refused several requests from Equity to discuss a new agreement.
“Actors Equity has made every effort to resolve this issue – we have listened to producers’ concerns and we are more than willing to sit down with LPA to negotiate an agreement that addresses the needs of producers and performers,” said McCreadie.
“LPA’s continued refusal to resolve the issue is disrespectful to Australian performers, without whom there would be no Australian live performance industry.”
The old Agreement covered a variety of genres – dance, drama, musical theatre, opera and ballet – and took into account a raft of factors including box office considerations, ethnic or physical requirements of particular roles, whether the companies are subsidised by Government or not among other issues.
“Producers working on Broadway and the West End continue to operate within similar agreements. All we are asking for is a level playing field,” said McCreadie.
More than 40 working casts have passed resolutions calling on LPA to come back to the negotiating table. Recent mass meetings of performers in Sydney and Melbourne have resolved to consider industrial action if necessary, with some viewing the move as a lack of belief in the talent of Australian performers.
It is not without a sense of irony that many head to the national arts Awards night this evening, knowing that without an Agreement in place, we may be celebrating the work of elite imported talent more than that of our own homegrown artists in years to come.
Read the letter here
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