• This year's class of Aboriginal Performance students. (NITV)Source: NITV
Students in the year-long acting class are studying and rehearsing hard. They're hoping to improve Indigenous representation in the industry.
Rangi Hirini

The Point
31 May 2018 - 3:35 PM  UPDATED 31 May 2018 - 3:35 PM

The Aboriginal Performance course at West Australian Academy of Performance Arts (WAAPA) has been designed to foreground works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

It's a commitment course co-ordinator of the year-long intensive, Rick Brayford, is proud of.

“The special thing about this program is the writing we take up, the plays that we take up to put into rehearsal - for the showing, for the productions, for their screen work - is usually all written by Aboriginal people, First Nations Australians,” he told The Point.

“So it means what we’re able to do in this very white institution, is put the Aboriginal voice right here in the middle [of it].”

He said many students have had no prior acting training.

“So we try and gauge the applications on a potential talent, like on the talent we think they got, the hunger that they may have for it, their ability to complete the course if we take them on. So we often talk to family groups to see what sort of support they have there or they may or may not have.”

Famous WAAPA alumni include Hugh Jackman, Jai Courtney and Lisa McCune.

Cezera Critti Schnaars is one of the younger students in the course, she graduated high school last year.

"Certain plays we’ll study ... a lot of us will have a connection to," she told The Point.

“It's not just something we enjoy when it comes to Aboriginal theatre, it is something that is a part of our culture. So there’s an extra kind of pull towards it.” 

Tainga Savage is a proud Torres Strait Islands man from Erub. 

“I love acting because it’s a way to escape from your own personality," he said.

“It allows you to be able to help the audience ... if they’re going through some stuff - you know, if it’s a sad story - or a story with some pressing themes, like grief or death or something, then they can apply it to that and to their life somehow and they can better their lives as well."

He said he has mostly seen Aboriginal people playing stereotypes on screen.

“There’s been a lot of traditional roles, I guess, like a tracker.

"I’ve seen some act drunk, but I’ve seen some act in political power, and law enforcement.”

According to a 2016 study by Screen Australia, Indigenous representation on Australian TV is around five per cent.

Mr Brayford said although colour casting is a part of the industry, he said the course will help give the students the best shot. 

“We take the attitude that if they’ve got something to sell, if they got the skills to penetrate the business, be that the Indigenous sector or the non-Indigenous sector, then we feel they’re able to have more of a voice being part of the industry rather than standing outside of it than waving a flag saying 'you won't let us in',” he said.

“There is a change and there is a shift the kind of work that’s coming out now in film and television. We tend to see a bit more, I believe, the darker skinned Aboriginal being able to take a role in a normal Australian setting,” he said.

“I think it’s got a long way to go before the idea that colour casting fades away. But it seems less and less that producers are needing to explain a way as to why we have an Aboriginal character, in amongst in a world of the dominant white culture.”

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