“At the start of last year, I decided to stop paying for white theatre,” says Sydney-based actor, writer, activist and model Moreblessing Maturure.
“My friends in the independent scene would make theatre that was all white, and I’d have to be like, I can’t come. I don’t exist in your version of the world. No one who isn’t white exists. Quite often the response from people in programming at companies or my friends in indie theatre was they didn’t know any artists of colour or they didn’t know how to get in touch with them. I found it weird because most of my friends are other artists of colour.”
Maturure founded FOLK Magazine (@thefolkmag) as a directory for creatives seeking diversity in their projects. “It makes one excuse redundant,” Maturure says. ‘You can’t say you can’t find us. Now, the magazine gives artists of colour a chance to showcase their work, to have their work published, or to promote their events.
“Early on, I realised I would have to create my own work in theatre. There aren’t enough opportunities for actors of colour and not enough stories coming from our communities. I got connected to other artists who are doing their own thing like Candy Bowers and Candy Royalle, and other practitioners who are successful and commercially viable but also have their own heartbeat and soul and message. It’s a small pocket of the industry but I’m passionate about it.”
Maturure is part of the Sydney Theatre Company’s Emerging Writers Group and ATYP’s Fresh Ink program. When writing, she reaches out to a specific audience.
“In workshops, the main advice is ‘write for everyone’ or ‘speak to the human condition’,” Maturure says. “But so often that translates to a white, middle class family. So when I write, I’m consciously writing from a black, queer, African diaspora perspective for women. I’m unapologetic about representation in my plays and I include a diversity clause on my writing.
“Because whiteness is a default, if a character has no specified ethnicity, the default is to be white. I specify that rights to my work won’t be granted unless there is gender parity – or if not, favours women – and that diversity in culture, race, gender, sexuality and ability is achieved. There has to be a concerted effort to do that, or you don’t get the play. If you want the story, you need to have us in the room.”
Maturure is impatient for evolution in Sydney’s theatre culture. “I want to see the abandonment of the need to appease the majority to achieve change. We need to be OK making people uncomfortable to get to where we need to be. We need different stories told by different people and that means putting people of colour in positions of power, having us critique the work, and enrolling us in your training institutions. It’s bottom-up, top-down revolution.”