Promoting inclusiveness in the arts world

By Sean Car

While few industries have been impacted by COVID-19 as deeply as those working in the creative industries, 23-year-old actress and CBD resident Karis Oka has made the most out of her time in lockdown.

Having only moved to the CBD early on in the year just prior to the beginning of the pandemic, like so many artists, Karis’s creative practices were forced to the confines of her home – a reality many have struggled with.

But for the young actress, a Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) graduate trained in musical theatre, acting and dancing, the pandemic has provided new opportunities for her to con- tinue honing her skills.

“I’ve found it quite difficult,” Karis said. “But without the momentum of our industry in the real world, as an artist you realise you were just propelled by the world around you rather than your own identity.”

“When your world stops and that was your creative outlet, it’s difficult to find out how to be creative and interact with your own creativity but now that has just brought new creativity to life.”

While she was originally destined to feature in the musical Six at the Comedy Theatre this year, which naturally was post-poned due to the coronavirus, Karis instead was chosen as one of 30 semi-finalists in the inaugural Artists of Colour (AOC) initiative.

The AOC initiative is a scholarship program providing financial assistance and industry support to exceptionally talented theatre performers who identify as black, indigenous or people of colour.

Having submitted an audition tape for the competition, which she produced and submitted from her apartment, Karis told CBD News that it felt special to have been chosen as one of 30 semi-finalists representing 21 different cultural backgrounds.

But in a year which has seen considerable political and cultural upheaval, typified by the prolific Black Lives Matter movement around the world, she said just being a part of the AOC program, which promoted inclusivity, felt extra special.

“Even if I wasn’t in the top 30, I would have been really moved by this initiative in general,” she said. “One of the things that our industry is building itself up to be is more inclusive. It was built off so much politics this year and, in many ways, it [2020] was kind of like the straw the broke the camel’s back.”

In the first round of the competition, applicants were asked to submit a video of themselves singing or rapping any song from a musical, dancing or moving to any song from a musical, as well as an introductory video and a response to how they would spend $5000 to further their training and career aspirations.

Having made it to the semi-finals, Karis is now in the run- ning for the top six who will share in a $40,000 prize pool, with a number of scholarship opportunities also available to successful participants.

While she is still finding her way in the industry as a young artist, she said she had recently started learning Auslan and was interested in focusing her future efforts on promoting accessibility in the arts.

But in what had been a difficult year, she said she had enjoyed the connection the AOC initiative had given her to other artists during lockdown and was loving her new life in the CBD. “I’m just a city girl now,” she said.

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