Controversy Forces Cancellation of 2020 Rob Guest Endowment
Committee Apologises & Announces Future Changes to Musical Theatre Scholarship to Better Represent BIPOC Artists
When the semi-finalists for the 2020 Rob Guest Endowment (RGE) were announced in August, there was much criticism from all community segments about the clear lack of diversity being represented in the highly-regarded musical theatre industry scholarship’s selection – not just this year, but as a pattern over many years since the RGE was established in 2008. Click here for the 30 semi-finalists for 2020.
In response to this criticism, the Rob Guest Endowment (RGE) committee released a statement this week saying they have reviewed its charter and processes moving forward and will now introduce quotas to better represent Indigenous Australians, people of colour and other performers from diverse racial backgrounds both on its judging panel and in its entrants. [This statement can be read below.]
Today, the RGE have followed up by announcing the decision to not continue with the remaining rounds of this year’s scholarship, effectively cancelling the event this year. The committee have been open about this decision, saying it was made to protect the wellbeing of the 30 semi-finalists who have been targeted by critics of the RGE.
“Due to the lack of racial diversity of the semi-finalists, we received criticism for not doing enough to attract black, Indigenous and people of colour applicants. We heard this message and agreed that we should have done more to ensure there was a greater BIPOC representation. We unreservedly apologised and vowed to do better. Our initial response in August contained language that we should have known was offensive and we apologise unreservedly for any offence caused.
“On 16 September we announced a wide range of changes to ensure that in the future, the endowment would involve people of colour and of Indigenous and other diverse backgrounds in every area of the competition, and we introduced measures to ensure that semi-finalists in future competitions included a diverse array of entrants including Indigenous Australians and people of colour. Details can be found on our website.
“The Rob Guest Endowment is run totally by volunteers passionate about the musical theatre industry. Our goal is to help promising young performers in the name of one of Australia’s greatest musical theatre performers Rob Guest, who guided, mentored and taught young artists and theatre workers, boosting their resilience and determination. For more than a decade, the endowment has been a unifying and positive force in the commercial musical theatre industry.
“The endowment team is particularly concerned for the mental health and welfare of the 30 semi-finalists in this year’s competition. They have endured significant challenges which are likely to intensify should the competition enter its second and third rounds. 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. 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 semi-finalists in the Rob Guest Endowment competition are our first priority, and their wellbeing comes before the scholarship. To protect them, it is with great regret that the 2020 Rob Guest Endowment Competition will now be cancelled and this year’s scholarship grant is suspended until 2022.
“To emerging young performers in the commercial musical theatre industry in Australia, we will endeavour to continue to support and encourage your talent. We look towards the future and to the next scholarship, which will usher in a new era of change for the endowment. Information about future dates and details will be announced on our website.”
For over a decade the Rob Guest Endowment (RGE) has provided vital support and encouragement to young emerging performers, musicians and technicians, awarding over $400,000 in scholarships to assist them in their pursuit of excellence in their chosen discipline within the commercial musical theatre genre.
The competition seeks out the best emerging performers and works to broaden their experience, contacts and knowledge of the industry so they are equipped to further engage confidently into the world of commercial musicals.
The RGE has successfully navigated its charter since its inception and will continue to operate within this charter for years to come.
Managed by volunteer industry professionals who donate their time to the management of the endowment, there are three principal groups that make the endowment work – the leadership committee, the industry panellists and of course the contestants in each cycle of the competition.
Whilst the endowment is open to any emerging performer who is an Australian citizen between the age of 18 and 25, the 2020 endowment failed to attract many entries from Indigenous Australians, people of colour and other performers from diverse racial backgrounds.
We accept unreservedly that the leadership committee should have done more to ensure that contestants in the competition were drawn from a much more diverse cross section of emerging musical theatre performers across Australia. We apologise for our omissions and failures in the 2020 competition. The RGE is determined to do better in the future.
We have sought and will continue to seek the guidance of industry leaders and organisations on the actions that we can take to ensure that the endowment is inclusive, safe and welcoming for all who seek to apply including Indigenous Australians, people of colour and all ethnicities.
We appreciate that while working within our charter, the RGE can be an important influencer to encourage equity and diversity in the commercial musical theatre sector.
With this objective in mind, we announce the following changes to the way the RGE is conducted, which will apply to future years.
- The leadership committee will include a minimum 20 per cent BIPOC and diverse participation drawn from leadership roles in the commercial musical theatre business in Australia. We have commenced discussions with a number of people who have offered themselves for these positions;
- The judging panel will increase from 12 to 15 members and will include a minimum 20 per cent BIPOC and diverse representation with a background as a director, musical director or choreographer with experience in auditioning and casting for first class commercial musicals in Australia. Some have already been appointed;
- Subject to availability, judging panels for each stage of the competition will have a minimum 20 per cent BIPOC and diverse representation;
- The first round of the endowment will include a quota that ensures a minimum of 20 per cent of the semi-finalists are drawn from a diverse array of entrants including Indigenous Australians and people of colour;
- The RGE will reach out to a wider community to ensure that Indigenous Australians, people of colour and other ethnicities are made aware of the competition and how to enter, and foster a message of inclusiveness and safety for these musical theatre performers;
- We will continue to engage with industry leaders, Indigenous leaders and industry organisations to improve our understanding of how the endowment can reach the diverse range of emerging performers from around Australia seeking a career in the musical theatre;
- We will work with governments and agencies to find a pathway for permanent residents to be able to enter the competition, in order to broaden its appeal and reach for entrants from more diverse ethnic backgrounds;
- The application process for the endowment will be altered to ensure that people can identify their diverse backgrounds;
- These changes will be implemented by the leadership committee over the next six months, however we note that changes to expand the judging panel have already been made.
While we considered possible changes to this year’s endowment, it became clear that given the progress so far, the best path forward would be to continue to work with and support the current semi-finalists, while working to bring significant and exciting change to future years. The semi-finalists have gone through the qualifying process and were judged the best of this year’s many excellent applicants.
We thank the semi-finalists and offer them our full support and best wishes for progress through the 2020 Rob Guest Endowment.
We look forward to playing our part in this quest to broaden our industry and to make Australia a richer nation through the participation of emerging musical theatre performers from diverse backgrounds.
The Rob Guest Endowment Leadership Committee