Queensland Theatre’s artistic director launched the 2021 season on Sunday night but a perceived lack of Indigenous programming has irked some.
Queensland Theatre’s artistic director launched the 2021 season on Sunday night but a perceived lack of Indigenous programming has irked some.

Forgotten: Indigenous leaders slam Queensland Theatre

One of the Australian arts world's most influential Indigenous directors has slammed Queensland Theatre for its lack of Indigenous programming.

Wesley Enoch, who is from Brisbane, is currently artistic director of the Sydney Festival.

He is a former artistic director of Queensland Theatre and the brother of our current Arts Minister, Leeanne Enoch.

He says he was shocked when he saw the season 2021 program which was launched by artistic director Lee Lewis on Sunday night.

Not happy: Sydney Festival’s Wesley Enoch, a former artistic director of Queensland Theatre has slammed our state company’s season 2021 for not being inclusive enough. (AAP Image/Steven Saphore)
Not happy: Sydney Festival’s Wesley Enoch, a former artistic director of Queensland Theatre has slammed our state company’s season 2021 for not being inclusive enough. (AAP Image/Steven Saphore)

"I'm not the only one who thought - what is going on here?" Enoch says.

"I was shocked and disappointed that all the work we've been doing over a decade seems to have disappeared.

"There will be lots of excuses but when push came to shove it seemed the thing to leave out was the blackfellas.

"This is the company that launched my career and Deborah Mailman's career and people like Leah Purcell and Wayne Blair.

"So when I see no Indigenous content this year and not even an Indigenous board member, that's problematic.

"Their Reconciliation Plan hasn't even been updated. People in the Aboriginal artistic community are saying - what's going on? Some are saying - how dare you forget us."

Enoch says he has let Lee Lewis know of his feelings.

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His concerns were echoed by young Indigenous actor Chenoa Deemal who starred in Queensland Theatre's 2018 hit The Longest Minute, a story about the North Queensland Cowboys grand final win. It was a tale about Indigenous footballers.

Deemal is a Thitharr Warra woman from the Guugu Yimithirr tribe in Cape York. She holds both a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) from Queensland University of Technology, and an Advanced Diploma of the Performing Arts from the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA) in Brisbane.

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She took to facebook to vent her anger.

"I have a lot of respect and love for that company and the people that work there," she says. "However, after seeing the launch of the 2021 season I can't help but be disappointed that there's no First Nations production for the year. I am especially disheartened for this as the company has prided itself on its Reconciliation Action Plan for many years which is meant to ensure that there is a First Nations Production.

"Given the protests and discourse around Black Deaths in Custody, Patriarchy and White Supremacy this year both here and overseas it would seem that giving a platform to First Nations voices would be a priority."

Hiring black people for "white stories and white productions to tick a box" was not enough Deemal writes.

She says people of colour had to speak up because "White allies" had said nothing.

In 2018 Chenoa Deemal and Jeremy Ambrum starred in The Longest Minute, a Queensland Theatre play about the North Queensland Cowboys. Photographer: Liam Kidston.
In 2018 Chenoa Deemal and Jeremy Ambrum starred in The Longest Minute, a Queensland Theatre play about the North Queensland Cowboys. Photographer: Liam Kidston.

Last year the company's program included Indigenous work with Meyne Wyatt's City of Gold and Barbara and The Camp Dogs but this year it's mainly Anglo fare with the main production being promoted Boy Swallows Universe, the stage version of Trent Dalton's runaway bestseller, a story about a poor white boy growing up in Brisbane.

The company is also doing Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew and Return to The Dirt, Steve Pirie's play set in a funeral home in Toowoomba, a very whitebread provincial city. The play White Pearl does deal with "casual racism" but in a pan-Asian context, not relating to Australian Indigenous life.

Queensland Theatre's artistic director Lee Lewis defended her program but admitted that it was "not good enough".

Queensland Theatre’s Lee lewis
Queensland Theatre’s Lee lewis

Although she pointed out that the company was doing an Indigenous version of Othello which would premiere in Cairns next year. That production hadn't been announced yet but now there is confirmed State Government backing she wanted that on the record.

"I would expect Wesley in his position as a cultural leader to say what he has said," Lewis says.

"But we do have that production of Othello which will be set in the Tiwi Islands. So it's not that we aren't doing any Indigenous work but we aren't doing any on the main stage in Brisbane.

"I agree with him that it's not good enough and my job is to make sure it doesn't happen again. We have a number of Indigenous works in development and we hope to see them in 2022 and 2023. "

Lee Lewis says she was not keen to import Indigenous works and wanted to focus on developing local fare but that the pandemic had made things difficult and the company was just lucky they had managed to put together a program for 2021 at all.

She agreed the conversation about First Nations work needed to be "front and centre"

A spokesperson for the Palaszczuk Government said it wants to see more First Nations content included in Queensland Theatre's future programs.

"That's why there is a body of work in development and future programming considerations which place First Nations stories and artists front and centre. The Palaszczuk Government's recently released Creative Together: A 10-year Roadmap for Arts, Culture and Creativity in Queensland includes a priority to elevate First Nations arts and it is the expectation that state funded arts organisations work to support the roadmap's priorities."

Originally published as Forgotten: Indigenous leaders slam Queensland Theatre


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