Brendan Boney, James Lew, Kate Baldwin, and Kip Williams. Photo: Shara Parsons
In 2020 STC released its Cultural Representation Pledge: a series of linked commitments that work towards rectifying the systemic under representation of First Nations artists and artists from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds within the Company and in the Australian performance industry at large.
In line with the pledge, STC Resident Director Jessica Arthur and Associate Director Paige Rattray considered ways to address this imbalance as it manifests behind the scenes, not just on stage. “It’s a discussion that’s been had in the industry for a long time,” says Jessica, “how do we tackle the lack of diversity in theatre’s creative fields?”
The Design Associates Program was born: a residency program, unique in Australian mainstage theatre, open only to First Nations theatre designers and theatre designers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. “The aim of the program is to upskill and empower this amazing pool of incredibly talented designers, in a fast tracked way, who should have been empowered by the industry a long time ago,” says Jessica.
“The aim of the program is to upskill and empower this amazing pool of incredibly talented designers, in a fast tracked way, who should have been empowered by the industry a long time ago,”
In April 2021, our first cohort of Associates was announced. Lighting Designer Kate Baldwin, Sound Designer and Composer Brendon Boney, and Set and Costume Designer James Lew.
For the period of their tenure, the Associates have a paid position within STC’s Artistic Team that includes two assistant positions on a mainstage production, mentoring from industry professionals, and access to masterclasses with theatre professionals across the Sydney theatre scene.
Originally, each cohort was projected to take part in the program for 12 months but, excitingly, the current Associates will be with STC for 24 months, giving them a better opportunity to take part in our 2022 Season.
For Kate Baldwin, the program has opened her eyes to a community of young designers of colour that, due to their lack of representation in the industry, she did not know was there. “Residencies like this one are very rare,” Kate adds. “Having something consistent, especially during lockdown, in which we got to regularly talk with established artists like Anchuli Felicia King and S. Shakthidharan, was really valuable.”
Brendon Boney says that the program has been enormously helpful in honing his craft. “It’s a pretty important step for progressing my career, up until this point I’ve taken a more reactive approach.”
“Now, I am definitely feeling more confident and proactive in my ability to be able to step into a production and know what I can offer and how to present it and communicate clearly,” he says.
James Lew says the program’s fast-tracked approach is incredibly heartening. “This is a tangible and effective way for young designers to make that leap to the mainstage,” he says.
“This is a tangible and effective way for young designers to make that leap to the mainstage,”
“I’ve also noticed that, since STC has introduced this program, other companies in Sydney and beyond have started similar programs or pivoted existing programs in this direction. I think it’s really exciting.”
The Design Associate Program is supported by Mark & Anne Lazberger.