The Artists of Colour Initiative Top 30 semi-finalists announced

Last month, the Artists of Colour Initiative (AOC) launched a scholarship competition designed to provide financial assistance and industry support to six exceptionally talented theatre performers based in Australia that identify as Bla(c)k, Indigenous or as People of Colour (POC).

The initiative was born from the recognition of underrepresentation of these communities in the Australian theatre Industry. The aim of the scholarship is to ensure greater participation within the field of musical theatre amongst these marginalised communities.

With over 60 performers applying for the 2020 ​Artists of Colour Initiative​ the Top 30 semi-finalists have been chosen. They are:

Aadhya Wijegoonawardena, Abu Kebe, Aiden Wang, Akansha Hugenahally, Angelina Thomson, Ava Madon, Daniella Delfin, Deirdre Khoo, Dindi Huckle-Moran, Ellie Chan, Gabriella Barbagallo, Giorgia Kennedy, Grace Driscoll, Guillaume Gentil, Jade Delmiguez, Jarrod Draper, Jerome Javier, Joshua Sanerive, Juan Gomez, Kara Sims, Karis Oka, Kristie Nguy, Lauren Cheok, Martha Berhane, Milo Hartill-Batsietswe, Naarah Barnes, Nicole Rammesh, Raphael Wong, Shannon Cheong ​and Yashith Fernando​.

AOC Initiative founder Tarik Frimpong​ shared his excitement about the finalists:

These artists are the future. These artists are changing the game. I watched a young man Krump to a musical theatre track and you best believe I was yelling at my computer screen ready to jump in and join the cypher. Watching Bla(c)k, Indigenous and People of Colour artists perform works as well as embody and reinvent characters historically played by white performers; it really does something for the soul. I am so proud to be an artist of colour and these applicants have inspired me to continue to show up.

The semi-finalists represent 21 different cultural backgrounds including ​Sri Lankan, West African (Sierra Leone, Nigeria), East African (Eritrea, Mauritius), Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, Colombian, Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago), Polynesian, Aboriginal, Indian, Singaporean, Malaysian, Filipino, Parsis, Vietnamese, Fijian, Samoan and Botswana.

The impact of the AOC Initiative goes beyond this competition; it mobilises and empowers so many Bla(c)k, Indigenous and People of Colour who are at entirely different stages of their careers or involved in different aspects of the musical theatre industry. “Despite the pandemic, despite recent events in the industry and despite larger systemic issues, these artists have shown up and put on a show,” says Frimpong.

In the first round of the competition, each applicant was asked to submit one video of themselves singing or rapping any song from a musical; one video of themselves dancing or moving to any song from a musical; an introductory video and a response to how they would spend $5,000 to further their training and career aspirations.

AOC Initiative panelist Fiona Choi​ commented on the entrants:

I have been moved to tears watching these submissions. The raw talent is humbling in itself, but more powerful is the heart, poise and tenacity of self-expression that shines through. I don’t remember having anywhere near this much grace and self-assurance as a younger performer, or such a beautiful sense of community: it is clear that the AOC Initiative is not just a competition to these candidates, but serves a much higher purpose – an opportunity to lift each other up. With humans like these rising through the ranks, the future of Australian musical theatre looks bright indeed.

The latest AOC Initiative ​GoFundMe ​campaign has raised over $26,000 with a new target goal now set to $40,000. ​100% of the funds raised will be awarded to the six finalists with the winner receiving 50% of the funds, the runner up receiving 20% of the funds and the final four receiving 7.5% each of the funds.

​AOC Initiative panelist Vidya Makan​ said of the finalists:

We have had applicants who, due to their financial situation, have never received training and yet their voices already display so much talent and potential. We have had applicants who have been trying to get their foot in the door for years; whose standard is level with most professional musical theatre performers, and yet they have never been presented with the opportunity to truly be championed. We have had applicants display areas of dance ranging from traditional musical theatre to Krumping, and voices that range from the next Elphaba to the next Eliza Doolittle.

In addition to this prize pool, two AOC Initiative applicants will each receive a full scholarship valued at $12,000 to attend Village Nation Performing Arts in 2021 to receive their Diploma in Musical Theatre. These courses are unrivalled with a strong emphasis on personal development both practically, mentally and emotionally to prepare the students for the rigours of the entertainment industry.

For the next round of the AOC Initiative competition, the semi-finalists must submit one video of themselves singing or rapping any song from a musical that contrasts their first round submission, one video of themselves performing a monologue of their choice and a 700-word mission statement outlining their ideal future study plans as well as long term goals and initiatives. Submissions for this upcoming round will close on Monday 2 November and from there a Top 6 will be announced ​then ultimately, one winner​.

The AOC Initiative ​is a scholarship competition designed to provide financial assistance and industry support to six exceptionally talented theatre performers ​based in Australia that identify as Bla(c)k, Indigenous or as People of Colour. The Initiative was born from the recognition of underrepresentation of these communities in the Australian theatre industry. The aim of the scholarship is to ensure greater participation within the field of musical theatre amongst these marginalised communities.

The 2020 panelists for the AOC Initiative who watched, listened and became enamoured by this Top 30 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.

“I have spent the past week being completely blown away by the talent and craft displayed in the AOC Initiative application videos. The sheer amount of applicants has been overwhelming and I am filled with joy in getting to watch these incredible young BIPoC artists display their diverse array of skills. I feel honoured and privileged to be a part of this incredible Initiative, which is finally giving this huge range of artists the platform they deserve,” says ​Makan.

The AOC Initiative was created by People of Colour for People of Colour fighting for change in the Australian musical theatre industry.


Join the conversation and stay connected with the Artists of Colour Initiative.

Website:​ ​aocinitiative.com
Facebook:​ ​facebook.com/AOCinitiative
Instagram:​ ​@aocinitiative
YouTube:​ ​youtube.com/aocinitiative
GoFundMe: ​gofundme.com/f/artists-of-colour-initiative

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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