In a significant display of solidarity with the Palestinian cause, over 3,200 Australian actors, musicians, and artists are mobilising for a powerful statement. They plan to wear Palestinian scarves during their performances nationwide, echoing a recent protest that deeply affected the Sydney Theatre Company (STC).
This movement was sparked by actors Mabel Li and Megan Wilding, who made headlines by wearing keffiyehs during the opening night of ‘The Seagull’ at the STC. Their action has now evolved into a broader campaign, with a significant number of Australian creatives signing a letter urging Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and leading arts institutions to support a ceasefire and Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian territories.
The letter, which controversially includes the phrase ‘from the river to the sea,’ has gained support from notable figures in the Australian arts scene. Among the signatories are ‘House of the Dragon’ actress Milly Alcock, respected actors Miranda Tapsell and Kate Box, and popular podcaster Abbie Chatfield. The campaign also sees involvement from ABC and SBS personalities, including comedian Celia Pacquola and writers Jenna Owen and Vic Zerbst from ‘The Feed.’
In a call for solidarity, the letter urges both creatives and audiences to wear traditional Palestinian scarves on stage this Tuesday. The coalition behind this movement emphasises the influential role arts institutions play in fostering understanding and compassion. They are organising a day of action on December 13th, encouraging a nationwide show of support for Palestine.
This initiative follows the controversy and division sparked by Wilding and Li’s original protest at the STC, which led to the resignation of two directors from the company’s fundraising arm and prompted the STC to issue two apologies. The STC’s response included a directive for actors to generally avoid political statements on stage, focusing on the content of the plays themselves.
The pro-Palestine letter sharply criticises the STC for its stance, accusing it and other arts bodies of prioritising donors and subscribers over artistic and moral integrity. The letter condemns these institutions for silencing artists of colour while exploiting their stories for gain.
Amidst these tensions, the STC has allowed Palestinian actor Violette Ayad to wear a keffiyeh during the run of the play ‘Oil,’ acknowledging her personal connection to the conflict, as she has family members affected by the war in Gaza. This decision highlights the complex interplay between artistic expression, political activism, and institutional policies within Australia’s arts community.
Sydney Theatre Company has issued an apology for not promptly addressing the pro-Palestinian gesture made by three actors during a curtain call last Saturday. However, the company has not clarified whether the actors involved will face disciplinary actions. Actors Harry Greenwood (son of Hugo Weaving), Megan Wilding, and Mabel Li made a statement by donning Palestinian keffiyehs during three curtain calls at the end of ‘The Seagull’, an adaptation of an Anton Chekhov play by Andrew Upton.
This act sparked controversy among some STC subscribers and donors. Daniel Grynberg, whose grandparents survived the Holocaust, expressed his intention to boycott the company until it responds adequately to what he perceives as implicit support for the Hamas terror attacks of October 7, due to the symbolism of the keffiyehs. Prominent businessman and STC life patron David Gonski, who has Jewish heritage, declined to comment when asked by the Financial Review about his continued support for the company in light of the incident.
Following the actors’ demonstration, Judi Hausmann, a long-serving member of STC’s foundation board and a public relations professional, resigned.
In a statement released on its website on Wednesday evening, STC reaffirmed its commitment to individual freedom of expression but maintained that this right does not overshadow the responsibility to maintain safe workplaces and theatres. The statement highlighted that the other cast and crew were unaware of the actors’ plan to wear keffiyehs. STC emphasized that its audiences come to experience the play itself, and any deviation from this should involve consultation with the company, considering their duty of care.
STC announced that it is reviewing its policies to ensure a safe and respectful environment for its artists, staff, audiences, and patrons. Additionally, the company confirmed the cancellation of Wednesday evening’s performance of ‘The Seagull’. As of now, there has been no comment from STC on whether Greenwood, Wilding, and Li will continue their roles in ‘The Seagull’, which is scheduled to conclude on December 16. It remains unclear if the actors have faced any sanctions, aside from STC’s statement that they have reminded performers of their freedom to express their views on their personal platforms.
The views and opinions expressed on AussieTheatre.com are those of the respective authors and contributors. These viewpoints do not necessarily reflect the official stance or endorsement of the site as a whole. We strive to present diverse perspectives and information for public awareness and discussion purposes only.