“They’re not going to cast two Black women.”
Those were Moreblessing Maturure’s thoughts last year when she wanted to work on stage alongside one of her close friends.
“We were like, ‘We want to work together, but then we’re also like, ‘We’re not going to be cast in the same play’,” explains the Zimbabwean-Australian creative. “That’s not how this industry works. They’re not going to cast two Black women in interesting enough roles to be able to work together. So [we decided], let’s find a play and do that.”
It’s the decision that led to Maturure co-producing and starring in Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner, which has already sold out its first slate of shows within days and has since extended its season until May 9 at Darlinghurst Theatre Company.
Based on Black British playwright Jasmine Lee-Jones’ script and directed by Sapphires star Shari Sebbens, the play explores the internet, colourism and the commodification of Black women. It boasts an all-female cast and crew, of which 95% are women of colour (WOC) and more than 65% are Black women.
“It’s not [that hard to do],” Maturure says of enlisting a multicultural team to produce a theatrical success in Australia. “We had an Excel sheet of the different creative roles and we had multiple options for each role on the production. There wasn’t a lack of choice.”
A lack of diversity in Australian theatre hasn’t gone unnoticed in recent times.
In September 2020, the prestigious Rob Guest Endowment (RGE) musical theatre scholarship was cancelled after the organisation was called out for overlooking people of colour (POC) amongst its 30 semi-finalists.
The organisation, which awards $50,000 to an emerging artist each year, then claimed it cancelled the award because it was “concerned for the mental health and welfare” of the applicants. RGE claimed some of the semi-finalists had been “targeted and intimidated” as a result of the backlash, however many of those finalists denied this was the case.
“We are aware that some semi-finalists have been targeted and intimidated from a number of sources and as a result have experienced significant anxiety over recent weeks,” the RGE leadership committee claimed in a statement.
“Bullying and intimidation have no place in a competition that has only ever sought to bring joy and hope to talented young performers in the commercial musical theatre sector.”
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) condemned RGE’s reason for cancelling the award, calling it a “harmful antiquated narrative”.
Maturure was one of the co-chairs of the MEAA’s Equity Diversity Committee that worked alongside the semi-finalists and RGE on a list of changes they hoped to see with the endowment.
She says it’s also problematic for powerful institutions to simply blame a lack of POC applying scholarships as the reason for less diverse finalists. She believes these organisations should work harder to encourage diverse candidates to apply.
Deleted an earlier tweet about this endowment.
Some of the 30 shortlistees have criticised the non-inclusive result themselves and they rock. I don’t want a discussion about racial exclusion in the arts to be about them. It’s about judging panels and explanations like this. pic.twitter.com/Gn6sSfkGy7
— Benjamin Law 羅旭能 (@mrbenjaminlaw) August 20, 2020
“I would say the responsibility for all of that type of work lies predominantly with institutions and those in positions of systemic and structural power,” says Maturure, explaining that if POC aren’t applying, “that’s a symptom of something”.
“People don’t not apply just because they don’t apply. There’s so many ways that institutions, programs, initiatives and spaces send out invitations, or put up signs of ‘Do Not Enter’ for the people in different communities,” she says.
“And if those spaces were willing to actively and rigorously interrogate what messaging and what signs they are putting out or not putting out, then they can’t turn around and blame individuals that are bearing the brunt of systemic negligence or active violence.”
The benefits of having an incredibly diverse cast and crew have been very apparent through Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner’s impressive ticket sales and very personalised reviews on social media.
Shyamla Eswaran says watching the play last week was a reminder of “why we must continue to push for more inclusive and intersectional feminism.”
“I’ve never before experienced a play produced and performed by an all-female, 95% BIWOC, team and the result was nothing short of world-class,” says the founder of Bindi Bosses, a performing arts company comprised of and run by seven womxn of colour.
“The play left me feeling reflective, energised and inspired to create,” she continues, adding, “we were confronted with the history and ongoing effects of racism, colourism, lateral violence and body commodification experienced by Black womxn”.
Maturure is proud that the production dispels the myth that WOC “don’t exist” in the industry and that more than one Black woman can be on stage at the same time.
“I think Shari said recently in an interview that there is no sense that we’ve lost out on anything or we’re missing out on anything by having an all-female team with predominantly WOC and Black team,” she explains.
“If anything, we’ve gained in every aspect –being able to have a room and a process and a team like this.”
Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner runs until May 9 and tickets are available now.