An Open Letter to Melbourne Fringe Festival

open letter.jpg

21 August 2019


To Whom It May Concern, including Simon Abrahams (Creative Director & CEO), Nicholas Verginis (Acting Chair), and Members of the Board and Staff of Melbourne Fringe—

The values of Melbourne Fringe, as professed in the 2018 Annual Report “Who We Are” section (p2), centre “inclusivity” and “diversity.”

As such, we are dismayed, alarmed, concerned and disturbed to note one of the programmed works at the 2019 Melbourne Fringe, “Aisha the Aussie Geisha” by Kate Hanley Corley.

From the initial information and visuals communicated to audiences, this performance centres on a stereotyped depiction of orientalist fantasy that borders on yellowface. From deeper research, including a 2014 review of this same show from “Entertainment Geelong,” we can confirm that this performance revolves around the belittling and insulting depiction of Asian peoples for cheap humour.  

The event page - hosted on Melbourne Fringe’s own website - proudly quotes a review telling us one of the characters Kate Hanley Corley has written and performs is named “Mrs Okaytobashme” in a crass approximation of vaguely oriental sounds coupled with a violent pun. 

Reducing entire segments of humanity to punchlines is antithetical to the values of Melbourne Fringe, and harmful and insulting to Asian and Asian-Australian people. In the context of rising discrimination, white supremacy and a political and media environment that is still largely hostile to people of colour, the hosting of a performance of this nature in the Melbourne Fringe program (regardless of Open Access programming) is an egregious and irresponsible contribution to a dangerous cultural movement.

Whilst freedom of expression is an important value in any society, we must also push for freedom from persecution - of which this work is a part of the insidious and embedded social structures of oppression. In this circumstance, giving platform to such works - even whilst hollowly claiming the views of artists do not reflect the views of the Fringe - is unconscionable.

We, the following signatories - leading creatives and culture makers from Asian and Asian-Australian backgrounds, and our close allies and colleagues - call upon Melbourne Fringe to take appropriate action, in this instance and in broader policy, culture and programming, to ensure that your festival does not continue to host, encourage and perpetuate unacceptable material with racist, oppressive and demeaning content. We call upon you to truly model your purported values of inclusion and diversity, and not to contribute towards the ongoing issues of xenophobia, white supremacy and discrimination. 



Mama Alto, performer (Melbourne Fringe 2019 artist) - Melbourne Fringe Award for Access & Inclusion 2016

Leah Jing McIntosh - Editor, LIMINAL magazine

Veronica Pardo - CEO, Multicultural Arts Victoria

Faustina Agolley (Fuzzy) - actor, television presenter, writer, producer & DJ

Annie Louey - comedian (Melbourne Fringe 2019 artist)

Margot Tanjutco - performer & writer (Melbourne Fringe 2019 artist)

Brendan Wan - writer (Melbourne Fringe 2019 artist)

Shannan Lim - theatremaker (Melbourne Fringe Award for Innovation in Culturally Diverse Practice in both 2015 & 2016)

Elsa Tuet-Rosenberg - Presenter, Project Rockit, (Melbourne Fringe 2019 artist)

Robert Wood - Creative Director, Centre for Stories; Chair of PEN Perth

Adalya Nash Hussein - Online Co-Editor, The Lifted Brow

Raina Peterson - performer

Jamie Marina Lau - author & musician

Bobuq Sayed - Editor, un Magazine

Dang Nguyen - writer

Julie Koh - author

Joshua Allen - producer & writer

Shirley Le - Creative Producer, Sweatshop Writers Collective

Krishna Istha - writer & performer

Phuong Ngo - artist

Cher Tan - writer

Jinghua Qian - Staff Writer & Editor, ArtsHub; Board Member, Peril; Editor, Djed Press; Maribyrnong Arts Ambassador

Steven Finch - Co-Director, Paper Mountain

Karen Schamberger - historian & curator

Ellie Freeman

Erin Chew - Co-Founder, Asian Australian Alliance

Miss Jane Doe - performer & producer

Dr Timothy Kazuo Steains - Lecturer in Gender and Cultural Studies, The University of Sydney

Devleena Ghosh - Professor, UTS

Nathan Tang

Hassan Abul - Translations Editor, The Lifted Brow

Bhuva Narayan - School of Communication, UTS

Priya Srinivasan - independent artist, curator & writer

Rosie Clynes - actor & performer

Ms Isobel D’Cruz Barnes - musician (Hexdebt)

Rachel Ang - artist & writer

Sonia Nair - writer & critic

Haneen Martin - General Manager, Skinnyfish Music & Settle Down Records

Leanne Hall - author

Gemma Mahadeo - writer & performer, mentor, Creative Write-It

Rosemary Overell - Lecturer in Media, Film & Communications, University of Otago NZ

Shinen Wong - Researcher, RMIT

Allyssa Ablon - Bachelor of Psychological Sciences (Honours), University of Queensland

Maria Hach - PhD Candidate in Cultural & Gender Studies, University of Melbourne

Dr Thomas Baudinette - Lecturer in Japanese Studies, Macquarie University

Whitney Yip - outgoing COO of Body Safety Australia

Melissa Lucashenko, Bundjalung author

James Goh, University of Sydney

Rebecca Ha - Pre-Service Teacher (English & Drama), University of Sydney

Julie Blythe - PhD Candidate in Politics, Media & Philosophy, La Trobe University

Dr Rashida Murphy - Lecturer, Edith Cowan University

Miss Bailee-rose Farnham, performer

Dr Monika Winarnita - Honorary Research Fellow, La Trobe University

Kevin Ng - Artist, Shopfront Arts Coop

Jenevieve Chang - Development Executive, Screen Australia

Diana Tung - PhD Candidate, School of Archaeology & Anthropology, Australian National University

Reena Gupta - writer

Creatrix Tiara, performer, writer, producer & interdisciplinary artist

Kaz Ross - Asian Studies, UTAS

Melissa Lee Speyer - freelance writer

Marisa Wikramanayake - journalist

Joon-Yee Kwok - PhD candidate, QUT; Convenor, Australian Bureau of Asian Creatives

Panda Wong - freelance poet & writer

Jordan Shea - freelance writer

Rani Pramesti - performance maker, intercultural producer & arts advocate

Kamna Muddagouni - writer & commentator

Aisyah Aaqil Sumito - Co-Director, Cool Change Contemporary

Emma Do - Assistant Editor, frankie magazine

Sara M. Saleh - writer & activist

Tanja Dreher - Associate Professor, Arts and Media, UNSW

Dani Weber - Producer, The Cocoa Butter Club

Denise Woods - Lecturer, Mass Communication, Curtin University

Nithya Nagarajan - Artist, Curator, International Market Adviser for South and South East Asia, Australia Council for the Arts

Dr Justine Shih Pearson - Chair ReadyMade Works; Honorary Associate Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Sydney

Alice Bishop - writer

Nikki Lam - visual artist, curator and producer.

Emily Sun - writer

Dipanjali Rao - artist

Jessica Ibacache - Curator, Artist & Writer, Yo Soy Collective

Pey Chi - artist

Justin Wolfers - editor, The Lifted Brow

Sam Cooney - publisher, Brow Books & The Lifted Brow

Lucinda Ventimiglia - actor

Nathania Gilson - writer & editor

Sanna Wei - writer & nonfiction editor, Voiceworks

Lian Low - writer

Shaad D'Souza - Australian Editor, The FADER

Anchuli Felicia King - Playwright

Sophia Cai - independent curator & writer

Laura Jean McKay - writer & lecturer

Dominic Golding - disability advocate

Priya Kunjan - researcher

Carol Que - writer & educator

Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen - writer & editor

James Mangohig - Music Producer, Skinnyfish Music and Settle Down Records

Ruth De Souza - researcher

Dr Natalie Kon-yu - writer, academic & editor

Eugyeene Teh - designer & theatre maker

Kim Ho - performer, writer & dramaturg

Lana Nguyen - executive producer, Due West Arts Festival

Bridget Harilaou - writer & community organiser

Jo Pugh - writer & artist

Jules Orcullo - producer, The Joy Offensive

Michael Toisuta - sound designer & composer

Catherine Văn-Davies - actor & theatre maker

Rizcel Gagawanan - actor

Monique Myintoo - writer; content & social media manager, Collarts

Janelle Da Silva - Director, Producer, Writer & Performer (Melbourne Fringe Artist 2017-18)



“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
—Angela Davis


Leah McIntosh