Rob: So, Josh, I hear that you've transitioned or I understand that you've transition from a real talent to a business owner and, you know, a few years in you've create your own production agency.
Josh: Yes. So, look, I started in the arts when I was very, very young. I've got quite a few family members in the industry and it was one of those things where you just sort of and I speak to a lot of my arts colleagues who they're like, well it was a hobby for the first bit of your life, and then suddenly you're paying bills and putting food on the table by your art, which is, you know, a really kind of weird transition, I think, in the arts, because I think for some people, especially young people, it's always about when do you know you've made it. And for me, when I was younger, I always thought, you know, I'll be, I'll of made it when I win some big award. But more recently it's been like, oh, I can pay that bill. I think that's as far as that, I'm sure my career will grow more. But as far as making it and making those transitions into actually a real time, real time, full time job, full time job is the words I'm looking for. English. What's it? What's that? That's the thing. Details, we don't need those. Yes. So yeah, it is one those things that yeah. Like I'm still I feel personally, I'm passionately and first and foremost a creative but also with everything we do. The fact that we have a, we have the company now and everything else around it, that I do have to have that business mind as well.
Rob: So what inspired you to make that leap in the first place, was it sort of a lack of, you know, a company that you could, you know, spread within?
Josh: It was more of a lack of opportunity, but in the sector, so the Central Coast has a lot of arts businesses. There's a lot of non. Well, I mean we're a non-profit, so we've got. But we've got other branches as well. But there's, there was nothing for young people in our region. So there was no one who was going, let's give the young people something to do. So I was really passionate about helping my peers because at that point I was a young person although unfortunately I'm now, have aged out of the bracket.
Josh: I know unfortunately, the progression of time, although at the moment time is a myth. Yes. So there was nothing in the the region. And so I had a few options. I was was toying with going and working in Adelaide for the Fringe Festivals and starting to look into touring works or going overseas and studying to be a set designer all those kind of things. But a few friends of mine were also quite passionate about, theatre for young people as well. And so we you know got in a room together and we went, look, is this something we can do? Can we make this work? What are the risks involved? What's the structure going to look like? And yeah, we made the jump and, you know, we landed, Okay. There was a few stumbles in the first few days oh first few days, with you know, in those first few years. But we think we're now in a position that we're really quite happy with where we are. And I mean. Except for the current circumstances. We're paused. But, you know, that's. I think we're pretty happy with where we're going and where we're going to be.
Rob: So, I mean, like the notes that I've got and what I understand about your history. You've worked in over 200 productions for 30 different companies. And so that's that's quite a long list. And was there something missing from, you know, obviously could make a reasonable career out of that. Was there something missing from that that made you want to forge ahead into business in what is a pretty cutthroat kind of industry?
Josh: Yeah, I think for me was everything I was doing, I was a young person working with the older generations, or the above youth as we've we refer to it at our company. And there was nothing for me or my peers. So there was nothing in our region. Not that there wasn't across the country. There is absolutely, companies like us across the country and in many regions. But there was nothing on the Coast. There was a few businesses that were at occasionally throw a youth arts work, but they were all amateur companies. Whereas what we did is go, well, what if we try the youth model? What if we actually invest in the young people and put their stories on stage? And you know, I have that list of shows that was, you know, 200 shows before I started this company. And now I've done I think where, I was literally just at the office 30 minutes ago and I was trying to look at a wall going. How many shows have we actually done now? I think it's getting close to 30 shows in five years. So it's you know, and the community response has been huge. And what I think I found that was very different to, the rest of the art sector was that the youth sector was really embrace, it really embraced us. You know, we had our industry leaders like Australian Theatre for Young People and Barking Gecko and Tantrum Youth Arts, all just come on board and say whatever you need to help you get off the ground in your region where they are for you. And, you know, we talk every couple of weeks. And so unlike, you know, people say the arts, the media industry is cutthroat. But I think the youth sector and the youth, yeah, you know, sometimes we don't 100 percent agree on things, but we're actually pretty supportive of each other because, you know, from a funding perspective, when you go into the upper lebels of upper levels upper lebels, details. It shows I do realise that I actually have this weird stammer that I've developed when I'm doing media it's awesome. But when you get into the upper levels of funding in the media, like in 2007, there was 21 youth arts companies funded in Australia there's now three. So while, yes, it's competitive, but it's not cutthroat anyway, we're all there to support each other. Like even right now I'm on a working party with ATYP, and with Corrugated Iron and with Marian Street Theatre for Young People, because we're trying to do an impact statement about COVID. And from that, we're hoping to be out to lobby the governments at both state and federal level to actually reinvest in youth arts, because without us, there is no future of the arts sector. So that's yeah, I think in a roundabout way why we've found much more support than we thought we would. Going into this.
Rob: Is it you, yourself and pretty seem pretty adept at getting media attention to what you're doing as well?
Josh: Yeah. There's a term my friends use, but I wouldn't put probably, but I think your podcast.
Rob: Well, we can PG, whatever that term is, but it's, I think leveraging media, on mainstream media in particular is particularly relevant and important for gaining support for anything you're doing, which is community driven, especially as a not- for-profit. You know, you don't have the budgets too, you know, or at least if you do, you want to put it into something more useful that media spend. So, you know, what have you found really gets to you a bit of a leg up in terms of grabbing that media attention?
Josh: Yeah, look, that's a brilliant question. I think I have always lived quite a political life. So for. For your listeners and for your viewers, I have same sex parents. So my life has been denoted by the fact that I was not raised in a conventional family and I was very passionately in support of their rights. So from what a very young age, I was in the public eye in my own community. And then in 2007, 2017, around the time the company was starting to take off, I wrote a letter to the prime minister which went viral and it landed me on national television and national news.
Rob: That's want those letters to go.
Josh: Absolutely. So I know Malcolm Turnbull definitely does not like me. I really hope I mention in his book I want to read it just to see if I'm there. But I think that that really helped because my profile went from, you know, a small fish in the community doing some things for young people to being the advocate for young people and for people in my community or in the queer community. But that had a flow on effect to Jopuka as well. And so, yes. So through that, the local journalists and the local media outlets got to know who I was. So what I would what we then started doing as we would, you know, put a tiny bit of money into a PR company, to amplify what we were doing and then we will just say, make sure you mention it's me, and then we got a bunch of press and then so more politicians started taking, notice of what we were doing and now where, we can as easily call ourselves, the Central Coast leading youth arts company because that's what we are. And that has come through the media. But there's also another level that's coming in now, and that's that in the last sort of 12 months, I've been doing a lot more national stuff with youth arts so, I was at the National Youth Arts Symposium last year and I was a speaker there. And through that I built networks through the sector to work on projects together and work on impact statements like we're doing now. So. Yeah. That stuff I did earlier when I was younger to do with my own personal life in the media has actually helped the company in a roundabout way, because I can actually pick up the phone to a reporter now and say, hey, we got a story and they'll probably take the call or do the story on it, which has been really handy and something that I didn't expect to happen. And it's even more so in the last probably six months, we've been getting called more than we're calling out, which is, you know,
Rob: Good position to have.
Josh: A good position to have a bit scary when they throw in the random questions about the political stuff. But, you know, we'll ignore that. But, yeah, no, it is a good position to be in and something that we know is going to help the company for years to come.
Rob: Cause I mean PR leverage is really key to a lot of those sorts of actions that you want to get to happen and especially getting any sort of, you know, national media coverage. You know, we've worked with Dick Smith before who is an absolute champion for getting anything that he wants on A Current Affair. You know, if Dick Smith wants to make a statement about something he knows exactly who to call, they will take his call and they will air probably whatever it is that he's got to say. And so there is quite a knack and an art and, you know, a benefit to having that sort of capability.
Josh: Yeah, and I think also there's, what's the train of thought I just had there? They've just flown from my mind. I think it's also that, the world is quite dark right now and there is so much going on. And we could talk for hours about the political spectrum and what's going on out there. So a lot of times people are looking for younger voices on issues. And also, or just happier younger stories about young people doing great things, not the high rates of suicide in the community or the high rates of teen pregnancy or drug use, they want better things to be reporting on. So if we can give them a story about a grumpy bunch of young people, I was about to say, no, about a bunch of young people putting on a show about their community, then that's what they going to go for, and that's something really positive. And we can also use it to amplify those issues like we did, for example, we did a show two years ago called Bogan and it was about the high rates of teen suicide in the region, but it was not in, we didn't ever explicitly say that in the show. It was done in a way that was from the young people's perspective and how they deal with it and how they comprehend it. It wasn't a bunch of numbers read off a transcript. It was on a bunch of numbers given to us by the council. It was young people responding and creating from that. So, and the media loved it. And so we're looking at bringing that back in the future and doing more of those kind of shows and stories, because it, I think it gives a, not a positive spin, but a a better light to some really tough realities of being a young person.
Rob: I mean it, obviously those stories we've always relied as a community on the art sector to help deliver those stories.
Rob: And so I think you guys placing emphasis on that is really admirable. And, you know, it's not just another reenactment of a Broadway musical at a community level, which I think is quite interesting. And I mean, how do you find this really translates into benefit for the youth and community members that are coming into your productions and coming into your company doing that?
Josh: Yes. So I think you make a great point about the fact that it's not just on the reproduction. You know, we have a rule of the company of no Disney. We won't touch Disney because there's other companies who do it and they do it well. But whereas we want young people to tell their stories. And so when I was a young person, I remember fighting so hard in my community to get any productions that featured young characters that weren't dopey pantomimes up. So I wanted to do productions that were raw and gritty and dealt with. Youth mental health and people just wouldn't touch them. So, you know, I slowly chipped away and then I realised that I was really getting nowhere. So, of course, we went and did it ourselves. And what we found was there was a really massive response from the young people that they just they came out of the woodwork like the first production we did, we had, we had some older actors and it just to sort of establish ourselves. The second production, we had 60 kids audition for a show, we could take twelve. And then the same thing happened again and then again and again. So with the exception of maybe one or two works, we've always had more young people wanting to be involved than we can possibly take on board. So we've tried up our capabilities and up, our output so we can cater to more young people. So there's clearly a need for young people, we'll a need from young people to, need or desire, probably a desire for them to tell their own stories And in their own words. So, you know, when we put on a show and we had a show last year called Transcendence, where we cut fifty percent of the auditionees, including one of my sisters, which was the one of the hardest things I had to do. But it was just because of the talent and the desire to be involved in a work that was so. It wasn't even. It was a poin work, it was a work about young people dealing with disaster. And it was, there was no reservations in the fact that there was openly queer characters or those openly Muslim characters in the show. That was just that was desire. And we filled all of those roles correctly. So there was just young people wanted to be involved and to be able to tell those stories. So, yeah, I, it's kind of amazing to see that those things I was harping on in the amateur community, 10 years ago about are being proven now, and people are like other companies around us are going, well, let's go put on a play. I'm like, well, sure, we'll do that and we'll support you. But know that we laid those groundwork for you about to do that.
Rob: I am curious to know about when you say so, you have 60 audition for a cast of 12. You have like a fivefold over, overcommitment. And so obviously, what you're doing when you ask people and when you engage these youth who are at risk or, you know, vulnerable or something like that. Does it need special consideration when you are casting, when you can't physically include everybody who's turned up really, and they will work their hardest. And you know that they will. But there is only that physical capacity that you have. Like, is there a special consideration or how do you handle that?
Josh: Yes so look, sometimes so what we do often, because there's obviously there is laws around working with young people under the age of 16, so sometimes we'll double cast a show, or what we'll do is when we will personally call them and say, look, you haven't been successful this time. However, we have this project in a few months. We would love to see you for that, or put them in touch with a local drama school. We'll put them in touch with a local theatre company. We try and keep them engaged in a way that we can still have access to them as a resource, that they can have access to us as a resource. There is, and there's sometimes shows, for example, was talking about the show Transcendence. Last year, and the fact, we cut 50 percent of the auditionees. We would have cut more had I not been out to pick up the phone to the author because it was a show we commission so where we actually paid a professional playwright to write the show for us. And I rang him with the director in the room, and I went. We need more characters. I said, we have kids we cannot cut. We can't. So we had we double cast six roles already. And we still had kids we wanted to work with who not, weren't just the best, they weren't like, say you they weren't the best performers. But they were kids, we like, you know, that kid doesn't get a shot. Let's try and get them in the show. And that's what we try and do sometimes as we sometimes we don't always look for the best talent. Yeah, sure. We might have the most polished show in the region, but also some other kids who really deserve a shot, who don't often get a shot, might miss out. And that doesn't sit well for us. So, you know, for example, last year we produce 14 events. With it was about two hundred and twenty young people also were onstage with us or towards, 220 roles. And then there was a whole bunch of creatives behind the scenes who also don't get the opportunity to direct or design or produce. So we just we try and find as many ways to get young people in and in their own spaces and in their own peer driven environments, because that was a big thing for us. It's peer driven. So the average age of the of people involved in the company, including the board members, is 19. So that's the average age and again, I think this year with everything going on, it'll probably drop a couple of years, but that's the average age. So our youngest director we've had was 14. Our oldest director was 40. Our youngest performer ever on stage was was eight, although we are a youth company, we're never gonna do, for example, I mean where never going to do Annie, but we would never do any with an Annie who's 12 and then a Daddy Warbucks who's 18. We're going to clearly go and find the right ages for that. So we have a show that where we need somebody who's in their 50s or 60s. We're going to go and cast them back genuinely, ninety five percent of the company operations are in that core 12 to 30 bracket, which is the definition of youth from the government. Well, it's twelve to twenty six in NSW but federally, it's 12 - 30. Yes. So we make sure that it's peer driven and that, you know, I remember that was a we had a situation a few years ago where a parent was really uncomfortable with the fact that a 17 year old was directing a musical. And I'm like, but we've, these are the mentors we've put around them and this is the structuring. You know what we do. We've done this before. So why you concerned about this particular production. And we you know, we manage to waylay those fears and the show went on successfully, but it was, yeah. It was interesting that, you know, all of the young people were totally onboard with it. Sometimes it's the, it's the older generation. We're like, oh, why? And I went, well, because no one's given me a shot. How do you know until you've given those young people a go.
Rob: I think it could be really uplifting moment for someone who's very young to have that kind of time in the spotlight as well. And while it has to be appropriate, appropriately managed, and you have to make sure they're not suddenly overburdened or, you know, feel the weight of this coming down on them. It could be really empowering experience to have that level of responsibility. And, you know, I've had had some dealings with some community theatre and things in the past and seeing the you know, the reward that it can give these young guys is pretty impressive. How do you find. Like, are there any real complications, obviously, it's a young group. It can be you can have, you know, high risk or not. Sorry. High risk isn't the right word. At risk youth, like, how do you navigate the legal and personal waters of dealing with that?
Josh: Yeah. Look, that is a really great question and it changes every six months because there's new protocols and procedures, obviously we have a million child safe policies, we've got work maturing checks. We have you know, we have even things like we've got collateral for youth services on our front counter. And we want, we always want our young people to be out to have an open dialogue with us. We don't want to be, want them to be our friends. We want to be friendly so that we can if we can identify risks with them, we can, we can address them. You know, four people in our company are mandatory reporters. Myself and three of the board members, so we are looking for those things that not only we are looking for opportunities to give young people outlets, but we're also making sure that young people who are with us are safe, not just with us, but in their own homes and in their own communities. And we know that young people are young people. You know, we all think back to when we were, you know, 15 to 21 and you can guarantee we were doing stuff and you need to go. Okay, well, that hasn't stopped. So we need to make sure that. We have a level of delicacy when we're dealing with those issues. You know, not particular with this company, but I know there was there was an issue several years ago in the youth sector where there was a big drug issue and there, about how companies were dealing with that, and how the education needed to change to make sure that young people know that if you were gonna go and do drugs, probably don't, that's not a great thing to do. But if you're going to go and experiment, make sure you're safe. And so there was a big education's setup from the government around that kind of stuff. So there was pamphlets in youth centre's and stuff like that. And essentially what we've kind of come to accept is where essentially the youth service with a theatre company attached to it. Because sometimes young people just want to come and be safe and not safe, safe probably not the word, they want to come to feel like their home.
Rob: Be included.
Josh: Included, listen to, seen, validated as an artist. And if we, and that's what we aim to do. And, you know, obviously I'm not gonna go into the legalities. And of course, we've had things we've had to navigate through, through the years and we've done those the best we can. Sometimes, you know, we need to remind ourselves that we actually aren't trained psychologists. We aren't the police and you know. But we know we, we know where to direct things when those kind of issues happen. And also knowing that. What we're providing may also help any of those young people from falling into, other lives. Because let's be honest. The Central Coast hasn't got a lot going for young people. It never has. I remember when I was growing up here on the coast, most people either moved to Newcastle, Sydney for work or they went to the local university and then they moved. Or you know, or you become a trainee or you become a beautician or you work at Coles and there was no there's no opportunity for young people. And that's why we have all these ridiculously high rates of these things. So providing arts opportunities, providing sporting opportunities, providing recreational opportunities for young people, writing transport opportunities for young people is what we need. So if we can feed into that and help slowly reduce those numbers and, you know, even getting young people in to see the arts is important. And, you know, we've had programs in place before where we've you know, we had a particular high school, we were doing a show at a theatre here on the coast. And a lovely donor said, you know, I'd love to help you get the special needs class or the special needs class, but the the at risk class from the local high school, here to see the show. And so they made a donation to help us cover those ticket sales. And we contacted the school and said we'd love to bring this class in to see the show. They brought over 60 kids and three of those kids then stayed with us and have now become part of our company.
Rob: It can be particularly moving as a child, like I remember seeing my first show. It was a community production of Cats when I was about seven.
Josh: We won't talk about the movie.
Rob: Well you know. It's, you know, and it's something that I still remember, you know, 30 years on. And, you know, it can, can leave a lasting impression, especially if these kids aren't in a home environment that's, you know, barely supportive or, you know, something that a lot of us probably take for granted, then it could really be a shining light at the end of, you know, or in their day, or week or month.
Josh: Yeah, I think there's, you know, the art, the the power for art's to change lives is incredible. Probably not all lives, because I have recently discovered that the prime minister was in a production of Oliver when he was nine. So clearly, doesn't work on everybody. But yeah, the you know, for me, I discovered theatre at high school well I mean, I discovered theatre. I had been surrounded by theatrical family for a long time. I'd done drama. But I really discovered behind the scenes and working to create theatre at high school. And that changed my life. And there is so many young people I now see that happening with. You know, we've got young people who've come and work with us who are on their way to NIDA, on their way to WAAPA, on their way to work overseas, on professional tours, they've they've gone travelling on cruise ships. Probably not the best time for that right now. But, you know, they've gone on to do those kind of things. And we've got kids who go and work for Disney. And so we're really proud that, you know, we've been part of those journeys. There is young people we've identified because you, there is those kids who you see come through the ranks and you like, you know what, you've got something and you're going to go and do great things. And we're so proud that we've been out to have, a tiny part in your journey.
Rob: It's really admirable. I want to switch gears quickly, and I read that you were nominated in 2016 and actually awarded in 2020, Central Coast Citizen of the Year.
Josh: So, yes, it was the arts and culture category. So it wasn't Citizen of the Year, but it was arts and culture. So was wasn't the big one wasn't, but I still got the piece of glass, which was great.
Rob: Hey, we all need a good trophy.
Josh: We do. It is, there is, the funny thing about that, I was very honoured to, to actually have won that. And you know, it was really humbling, like I was nominated in 2016 but that point. I hadn't done a lot. I was like, you know, it's nice. But this year I was like, you know, maybe I have a chance of winning. The funny thing is, though, I got up on stage, I won the award and they handed it to me, I'm going. This is a murder weapon because it's like a shard of glass. And I'm like, I'm going stab somebody. And the first thing I did was knock my, one of my mothers with it when I'm sitting down. So.
Rob: Most of them are.
Josh: Yeah, they're just like. But now, you know, it's it now. You know, you talk about that media thing earlier, but yeah, it is one of those things where it gives you just that bit more weight behind your voice. And when you say, actually, no, this is how it is for young people. Or this is the story or this is how we're going to do this. You know, it's, I have been talking to the council about it becoming more than just a symbolic gesture for all the categories, you know, not just being something, oh you go, oh here's the award and then next year, here's the award and like, actually going well, you know, for example, the Central Coast Council have just released a cultural plan. And I said, well, I'm happy to go and champion that cultural plan for the next 12 months and go and get it out there and say, because, you know, it's a good cultural plan. It's probably needs a bit more work on youth. And I've made that very clear to them. But I said, you know, for the fact that, the fact, the council did one, I can be the person, one of the people who champions that and say, yeah, great. And I can now, not, say speak for the region. Because I never want to, you know, diminish other voices on issues, but I can use that trophy and that award they gave me to actually say our region is producing great things. I know because I'm doing it. I've been acknowledged for it and that's fantastic. But I can continue to work now. And. Yeah.
Rob: I think even if it enables you to be part of that conversation and to help, you know, bring particular pitfalls too light, as those policies are implemented and those plans are released.
Josh: I think it was the biggest, as I said to them, you know, I was a being a member of or having being raised by same sex parents. The first thing I noticed in the cultural plan was there was no reference to the queer community at all. And I went, well, without, you don't have the arts community without the queer community. Those two things don't exist without, One exists, but not with, the arts community doesn't exist without them. That's the arts has being championed by the gay community for decades and decades and decades. So getting, being able to go in and say actually know you need to change that. And actually having that implemented and then going, well, maybe. Have you thought about this terminology and thought about putting in this protocol. You know, it is handy to be able, to be in the conversation as like as you say and being able to pick up the phone and go actually there's an issue. We need to fix it, rather than being, you know, just some 26 year old. Twenty seven now just banging on doors, going, oh, that's a problem, people going, oh no, doesn't matter, well actually no, I've being recognised that I actually know what I'm talking about. Which sounds very egotistical, but I don't mean it to be in a way. It's just a I can help. I know there's ways I can help and I'll do what I can to make sure that I do.
Rob: Well, I think we all have an opinion on these topics, but not all of us can put forward a voice to actually enact any change or impose any influence on the outcome. And so I think, you know, you have that ability to help foster that change, which helps you guide it to, you know, have your influence and make your mark on things. So, you know, I know that you guys had a pretty big showing in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras with Jopuka and Central Coast. Tell us a little bit about that.
Josh: Yes. So that was. Look, obviously, again, I've been to Mardi Gras many times, been to Fair Day, many times, you know, I identify as a member of the community despite being heterosexual myself, I think being part of that community about shared experience. You know, I was raised by two women, so every bit of homophobic attack, every homophobic attack they experienced. I was there and plus I had my own through that. So we always wanted Jopuka to be a company where young queer kids could come and be, welcome and have their stories told as well, and we did a, we did a survey last year and worked out that fifty fourish percent of the company identified within the community. So I thought about it for a while and I went, you know what, let's just for fun, let's throw in an application to be in the parade this year. And we got accepted and, you know, I think what was really unique about that was that while the Central Coast had a really strong showing this year, there was Central Coast Pride had a float and so did Point Clare Families. But we were the first ever youth arts company to have a float in the parade in its 42 year history. So, again, that story, my story having been through the postal survey with my parents, also having a young trans musician being our parade marshal, we ended up being on SBS. So in the national, when the global broadcast, we had a 90 second feature and there was there's like, so when you actually go into the parade footage, there's like two and a half minutes of our float and our story, which was just incredible and again, hugely beneficial for amplifying our stories and our voices. And I'm one of those really surreal nights where you just kind of go. Is this actually happening? Are we, you know, currently having a rock concert on the back of a truck up Oxford Street. But I think what made so brilliant was the messages that I got from parents the day after, from those young queer kids in our company whose parents. I remember getting, I got one in particular thanking me because she said, while I'm trying to be an ally, I don't understand how to do it correctly. And she said, being, by allowing my child to come with you guys last night, I have understood what this means to her and what her identity means to her. That was a really lovely thing to receive. And so. Well, yeah, it was fun and it was glittery and it was loud and it was a party. It was also really reaffirming as a member of the community. And I remember as the arts community, and of the queer me need to go, this is why that is important. And look, we'll keep applying for Mardi Gras because it was a heck of a lot of fun. It was a lot of.
Rob: Looks like a heck of a party. Yeah.
Josh: Yeah, it was. And also, it was a lot more coordination than I ever expected it to be. We actually spent more money on Mardi Gras this year being in the parade than we spent on several productions last year, because it's just we didn't realise how much it costly it was. Thankfully, we did get a grant. Thankfully, I'm not sure if we can say the company name on air, but
Rob: You can always if you want to and when we can check later.
Josh: Ok, it's we got a five thousand dollar grant from Google. So and really interesting story about how that happened and why they give community grants rather than participate in the parade themselves. But, you know, and like even with that, we because we have that grant, we were invited to perform at Google for their Mardi Gras party the day before. So just really insane things have come out of doing this. It's just like you like I remember just sort of standing in Google's kitchen. Or they're big, one of the restaurants overlooking the harbour and Barangaroo
Rob: Kitchens probably are modest term.
Josh: Modest term, it was definitely like a four or five star restaurant, and there's all of these Google staff and where there's a drag queen hosting the show and then Quinn's performing and I'm standing there in this coat, actually, and I can see the Harbour Bridge. I'm like, I didn't I'd never expected, this is where this company would take me to by the fact that we are representing young people at Mardi Gras this year, it was incredible.
Rob: I think it's an interesting aspect of large corporations in particular, where they have very strong social responsibility campaign and perhaps, Google is probably one of the more liberal ones anyway. But they don't necessarily want to, not as they don't want to disassociate their brand, but their conscious of the brand effects of associations because obviously clients of theirs, and they have to sort of keep a fairly broad profile in the way that they present their brand. So I think this is a good route for them to participate and also celebrate, obviously someone like Google, just based on mere statistical analysis, would have a high volume of staff members from the community. And so I think it gives them a way to be inclusive without jeopardising brand or creating unintentional brand alliance.
Josh: Yeah, I think that's a really interesting thing. It's interesting a think that we've actually had to do with at Jopuka as well, because we have to be really careful with what we produce in some aspects because, you know, we were talking off air about a meeting I've just had with council about a grant for an upcoming project, which is a political bias project. And a particular council raised some concerns about the content of the show because we're an non-profit asking for funding from various forms of government, whether it be the federal liberal government, the state liberal government, local council, which is held by Labor. Trying to find a way that we are able to have conversations by not, but also not. We don't care about offending people. That's fine because art does that. But also making sure that we're not trying to influence young people. I mean, look, I'll be completely honest on air. I'm a card carrying member of the Labor Party, so clearly I'm aligned with one side. But I also know that I have quite a few friends who and family members who are on the other side. So it's I understand at a corporate level, Google does the same and I understand why they do it. But all the way down, we still have to do it as well to make sure that we're not. You know, when we have an opening night gala, we make sure we invite all of the candidates and all of the politicians from all sides so that if they don't respond, and I will say there has been some, there has been some politicians that haven't responded. And, you know, that's up to them. And probably because what we do is not up their alley, but we make sure where non-partisan I think is the, non-partisan, bipartisan, well non-partisan. And we're not
Rob: Bipartisan is both, I think.
Josh: Yeah. We're trying to be non-partisan. We're trying not to
Rob: Non polarising.
Josh: Non polarising, you know, we're never gonna get out on Facebook and, you know, promote a particular candidate. We'll think a candidate, whoever they are
Rob: Of course.
Josh: For supporting our organisation. It just so happens, in some cases they are often because, the arts in general is often more geared towards the left. But, you know, if that doesn't mean if you know, if the prime minister wanted to come to our company and see one of our shows, he would be more than welcome to do so. We're not going to censor our content, but he is welcome and as are any, is anyone who wants to come and engage with that content is more than welcome to do so. But we're not going to censor it for any reason. And that's why it's interesting. You talk about Google and the reason they, I know one of the reasons that a of corporates don't participate Mardi Gras but give out grants is because, there's that whole thing about corporates participating in that kind of thing. It's not so much a PR thing, but it's more about the community's response to that. And so Google just gives out, I think is one hundred thousand dollars in grants and books out a room for a party. And what then instead of them having a presence in the parade, they are giving people a voice and a presence in the parade. And that's a wonderful thing.
Rob: I think that's great, too. Yes, so. I mean, when we talk about, you know, not getting a little or not getting to pointy with the content. And, you know, I guess you guys have to think about things like funding and grants and things like that as well and sort of not biting the hand that feeds.
Josh: Yeah, it's interesting because I met this years. Like, I do annual grant count of how much I apply for last year we applied for forty five thousand and we got about 20. Wow. No, that's a lie. Twenty. That was a that was. What was that ten thousand dollars we got. We got was about 30 grand. We got last year.
Rob: Not a bad effort.
Josh: Which is not a bad effort. However, this year's count of money because we've applied for I'm up to seventy five thousand dollars with grant applications I've done in the last three weeks. I'm so sick of grant portholes. It's just doing my head in. I'm actually now ranking which ones are the best ones and which ones are the worst. But it is one of those things where you just have to go like, you know, we just put in an Australia Council for the Arts grant and there was protocols we had to follow with that. And we now, we have, there's things we have to follow through with. But, you know, like with council, for example, their grants panel has members from both sides of politics on the panel, and we have to answer to both of those. And we have to make sure if some of I stick their logo on it, like Create New South Wales and New South Wales federal or the NSW government or the federal government, we have to make sure that it's not gonna be something that they are going to have to answer PR questions or that where, going to have to face, because there's a level, we had a really interesting experience. We did a show called Gaybies, which is about children of same sex families. Ironically, I'm a character in the show. And so are my sister's.
Rob: And so that's Gaybies like babies. But G.A.Y instead of..
Josh: Yeah, so and that's actually the term for children of same sex parents. Gaybies or Queer Spawn. We use Gaybies because it's more palatable, Queer Spawn.
Rob: More of a thing
Josh: Queer Spawn is just funny. But we had issues where we were putting on a show and we were finding it hard for certain, to get some people engaged in the work. And we did have vitriol and homophobic attacks thrown at the company. So we sometimes have to be careful what with what we're doing. With, we've come a bit more Eh! About it now.
Rob: A bit hard shelled.
Josh: Yeah. Which you're kind of going, you know what? It's fine. But we know there was one particular production. You know, again, going back to the Marriage Equality Postal Survey where I was this big viral thing and we were doing a show at that time and we actually had a threat thrown at the company. And so we had to check id's at the door. So, you know, there is those things and it's not just grants, It's about the community response because arts have always been controversial. That's why right wing governments cut our funding, because we always ask the questions they don't want answered, or they don't want to answer. So, you know, there is times that we have to be careful. We, there was one there was a twenty four months ago, two years ago, and there was 24 months. But we were approached by a coal company, a coal manufacturer, and I won't name them. And they offered us a very large sum of money to run the company. And one of the stipulations was we could do no shows about environmental issues for five years. And I went do we want to help fund the company or do we want to be allowed to be uncensored. And we turned the money away because although that would have helped us so incredibly much, incredibly much. Those are words that would have really helped us when what we were doing, especially in our early, earlier days. We just couldn't morally do it. So there is homes where you go. OK, we'll be careful within this sometimes use like, you know what, we don't care.
Rob: But I mean, there's also I mean, the whole reason it was started was so you would have creative control over the direction and what you were producing.
Rob: So if you effectively sell that out, then you might as well have just gone back and put all that on someone else's responsibility anyway.
Josh: Yeah, and I think also, you know, the one thing for us is that we also we do have a team behind us. There is a board of nine people. Our patron is, don't you remember, don't know if you remember that the TV show McLeods Daughters at all.
Josh: Vaguely. Yeah. The woman who played Claire, she was the lead. She was the she was the McLeod's daughter. She's our patron. So we do have a team of people who make these decisions, and it's not just me making artistic calls, although I am the artistic director. But you know, so genuine but genuinely. But what we've done was put a team around me that pretty much if me or my deputy Danielle or my, and my treasurer Cheryl or our Secretary Kelly, someone comes up with an idea. It's pretty much going to be a group consensus. Some people might asked some questions, but genuinely, genuinely, the team we put around us is supportive of where the direction of the company is going. And that's something that's been helpful in the progress of the company as well.
Rob: I think a good team like that helps anchor those decisions as well.
Rob: Because, you know, if there's a big financial carrot being held in front of you and you know and you know the things that that can do and you sort of weighing up the, you know, the benefits that those finances could make versus, you know, perhaps trading that for, you know, the messaging that you want to do and the inclusiveness that you want to bring.
Josh: And it took a while for us to actually get that balance right with the team as well, like you know, there was some early days where we just we we had some really supportive people on board who were actually thinking we should go in a different direction. And there was, you know, sometimes where you like especially with a non-profit cause it's hard because you've got a board structure. And then you've got a management team, so obviously I sit as the chair of the board. I'm also the artistic director. So I'm making, I'm having daily discussions with different people. And there'd be times where I'd go to somebody, okay, we're gonna do X, Y, Z, yadda, yadda, yadda. I'll go get board approval. And some in the early days on the board will be like, why we're doing that, well, because...
Rob: Because I want to.
Josh: It's not even that. It's like because it feeds into this and we can do this and this. So it took a while for us to get that balance right. But now that we have got the balance right, we're really happy with the trajectory. The next the next stage for us is the, is the charity status. So we're in the process of doing all of that joyful, joyful paperwork so we can get that the deductible gift register, So.
Rob: It is quite a hoop jump. That one. Yeah.
Josh: It is, it is. But it's such an important one, it was one when we when we really started becoming close friends or colleagues or peer with companies like Australian Theatre for Young People, that was the first thing they said. You need to get your charity status because then you've got people, you've got people in the communities who come tax time. They want to, you know, right some money from the tax that they really happy to do for young people. They can going, cool, young people want to do a show great, here's the money.
Rob: Well, I mean, even if they're happy to do it, but the tax deduction means that they can give you twice as much or 30 percent greater. It's all the same to them. But,
Josh: Yeah, and that for us is gonna be the biggest thing for us because we're at the point now, so. And again, I don't mind saying is that two years ago. Four years ago, when I thought of the company, I said for five years I would do this without, without a salary. So I, I have a whole bevy of other artistic endeavours that I do to to pay the bills. But this particular organisation, we pay our creators, we pay our commissionees, we pay our directors, but we don't pay me and we don't pay our, to other management staff. We all agreed that we wouldn't be salaried so that we could build a company to a point fast enough to help the community, because that's what it is, it's about no one, until we stepped in, it sounds a little bit egotistical till someone stepped in. No one was treating the young people as equal creatives in our company. They were going, yeah. You okay? If you come and pay your dues and work on every show we have the three years we might chuck a show you way one time. Whereas we would like cool let's do 10 shows a year and let the young people. We've had young becoming say hey I want to do it on the show. And within 30 seconds myself, my deputy have gone, cool, here's the budget we'll see you in three months. And you know, that's the kind of things where decisions where able to have and we, we're really glad we can.
Rob: I mean, it's what your company sound, you know, it sounds anchored around is that inclusiveness and all the rest. And I think especially in the arts sector, it's you know, if it's salaries first and production second, well, then it's, you know, maybe an easier industry to try and achieve that in.
Josh: Yeah, I think also. Like, I mean, look at the, the arts funding in this country is insane. Like, you know, we've just had the the shock of the four year, the four year funding rounds come out from the Australia Council. And, you know, we've talked about Australia Theatre For Young People. Company that's been funded for close to thirty five years, just lost their funding. So it's so volatile. So we had some people earlier in the early days who are saying, no, you need to make sure you pay your staff. But I went but if I as an individual, know, I can support myself in other means in the arts. Why shouldn't I just not take a salary from this company. Because it changes everything you have to do. We have to charge the young people more money. We have to charge more for ticket sales. Whereas if I don't take a salary and my other deputy doesn't take a salary and we work because we are passionate, you know, as far as the sector is concerned, we are classified as professional theatre company, where we're members of Theatre Network Australia, we're members of NAVA. But we do it because we can then, we still do have to sometimes charge young people, you know, a small fee to be in the show just to cover things like toilet paper and script printing and biscuits at break time type thing. But we don't have to charge them exorbitant rehearsal fees or commission, production fees like some of the companies have to do because they also pay their staff, which, you know, it's a win and it's win/lose. And I wouldn't it's not sometimes, I mean, I wouldn't recommend to everybody, but it's something that's worked for us to a point now where we know we've got five years of productions and quality behind us, that we can start going to organisations like the Australia Council for the Arts and saying, hey, we'd like a hundred thousand dollars for project please, and we can back up what we have done in a different way to others. How others have achieved it.
Rob: I mean, it's also like that resistance that people have giving to, you know, certain charities where they know that 48 percent of the donations go to fund corporate, you know, corporate operations. And while I understand that they all have an element of overhead and that sort of thing. There is a threshold where people can sort of lose a taste for it. And then I think with the approach that you've taken, it does keep that door open for a broader donation or broader support, because they know that it's going into production and not into, you know, someone's pocket.
Josh: Yeah. And yet you're completely right there is there is not those overheads and not saying there isn't you know, there's still rent of a facility, I've still got to pay from my printer. You know, all of those things have to happen. But the fact that we can go. Well, for example, with grants, we can always go will that X amount of dollars is going into these productions and we can show how that's happening. And there's very there's never been salary for artistic director. It's always been this young artist whose fresh out of university, of fresh out of college, fresh out of school, they're getting X amount of dollars. You know, last year we spent twenty one thousand dollars on new works and that all went towards young artists from not just the coasts, from across the country. And we created five new shows from that. And this year, I mean, this year it's changed a little bit. But we again, we're doing the same. We've got three new shows coming out this year because that's we've invested that money, which would have gone into a salary for me into those young people.
Rob: It's interesting that you say about not taking a salary can be a problem, and that's it, some people say we have to. The flip side of that, you know, and you guys are working in a very community driven sort of company and that entirely makes sense. Yet in the events industry, you have people who are charging 5000 dollars a ticket for 500 people to turn up in a boardroom or in a gala room, and they have 45 volunteers to come and work the event for them. And that's just classified as the industry and volunteering. And it does, it can be a little bit challenging because of the way that our labor markets and sort of workforce protections are put in place and for good reason. It can create challenges when you genuinely, genuinely just want to do something because you want to do it. But there's sort of this legal anchor that.
Josh: Yeah, it's interesting with us, so much of obviously we don't we don't have to abide by the LPA or the MEAA rates at the moment because obviously we don't. And, you know, when we we'd we do reference them in some grants, you know, sometimes we'll go, okay, well, that person's been commissioned for 100 hours. So they'll be paid the rate and that's the fee we put in for. But with us the biggest thing with us is that I don't like being told, or you're hearing the phrase because this is how it is. So when people told me this is how you start a youth company, or this how you start a theatre company, or this is how things are run but I'm going, but why? Unless you can give me a concrete reason why that's how things are done. I have no interest. Like, you know, there was in Tim Minchin's, beat poem Storm where he says about the knowledge, knowledge being so fluid. To know to use the door, not the second story window to leave your house. Where is that's a logical thing. So logically, you go and make sure you have a child safe policy. You make sure you got insurance to make sure you've got a risk assessment, but you don't need to have any other. Well, this is how the arts are done. It's like, well, the arts are free and fluid, so I just do it so. And that's the biggest thing I would talk about the salaries. It's like. I had a really big name person, friend of mine who is a dear friend of mine. Tell me what we needed to start the company. They said your board needs to have an economist, a doctor, a PR person. This this this is on your board. You need to go and find these grants, you need to do this and I went, but why? She went because that's how we did our company, I went cool. How long did it take you to get to where I want to be in five years? She went oh that was about 15 year journey, and I went cool so I'm going to go another way. So I'm going to cut this section out and try putting young people on the board and having a youth advisory team and try this and try that. And if it doesn't work we'll try it again. So this thing is it's you know, I have a really great example that I use for this as well. I did a production about eight years ago and I had a massive argument with somebody about the dressing rooms. And I was told this side of the stage was always for the men's dressing rooms and this was always for the women's dressing rooms. There was no gendered signs on the doors. And they went, oh, that's just how it's always been. And I went, well in my show, all of the men go that way and all the women go that way. So why wouldn't I switch the dressing rooms for convenience. So, yeah, it's we I know at Jopuka, we've reinvented the wheel. And now, you know my deputy and I and actually now talking about writing a book about how we did so because there's so many, even recently, like I was at this national conference last year, and I said, who wants to do a interstate co-pro And people like, oh, it's so hard to do I and went why the internet exists. They were like, oh, yeah. So now we have an interstate co-pro taking place and it opens next year. Another one was we I coordinated a.
Rob: I'm guessing that's co-production.
Josh: Co-Pro yeah, co-production, so I'm using lingo. I did a last year in May. In four days, I put together a joint statement from the youth arts sector. So twenty the twenty nine biggest youth arts companies in Australia, from Barking Gecko to ATYP right down to local companies, signed a statement in support of the climate strikes. Now somebody in the sector told me that I wouldn't be able to put it together that fast because some many would have opinions on the language and how it was put together and the graphic. And I went. Have you tried? Not for a few years, and I went cool, I'm going to try. So I sent out an email and within four days we had the twenty, twenty six, twenty nine signatures, whatever it was. And the statement was out, and there was a huge bit of PR about it. And then there was another set of strikes again in September and the signatures went from being those, those youth companies. And then we had Bell Shakespeare sign and we had Theatre Network Australia sign and the Blue Room sign. And we had all of these massive companies sign. And again, that was put together in a week because we tried, we just went. You're telling me these things don't happen or this is not how things happen. But you can't tell me why they do it. So I'm going to go and try them.
Rob: Yeah, and I think that's really what we have. Yeah, what we can see in anyone trying new things is that just because it was always done that way doesn't mean it's the right answer or the only answer. So we're coming up on time here. But I've got a few questions that I'd love to get out, and...
Josh: Quick fire round, I love it.
Rob: Yeah, I mean, I think the answers will be a little bit longer than quick fire but. But we'll get there. The, obviously, you've really mastered the art of getting the voice out and getting a bit of PR action. And for our audience in particular, we look at businesses who are not necessarily their in a similar state. Might they maybe doing it for business reasons as opposed to a community venture, but they don't have the budget of a big audience. If there was one or two tips that you had in order to get some PR and some free exposure, what would they be?
Josh: Oh PR, free exposure. Interesting. Social media is your best friend. Use it the best you can, hashtags are great. That sounds bizarre, but it really is. If you can find someone who has a link to somebody in the media, use it. You won't know until you've tried. I guess we've talked about that a fair bit until you've tried it and it's failed. You've never going to know it's going to work. So there was a of times like, for example, getting our patron where we just like knocked on the door and went, cool. That's how we did it. Also, don't write off those community newspapers. That's the big thing we did. There was actually a mistake we made early on. We were so focused on getting into the Centra' Coast Express Advocate and getting into that kind of stuff. We actually wrote off some of the local community newspapers. Now, the Express Advocate has dropped away. And it's the community newspapers who are really interested in those kind of stories. And just everything you put out, make it as professional looking as you can possibly do. Find somebody who knows how to use Photoshop. And make it look incredible.
Rob: And use it, yeah, use it brilliantly.
Josh: Because this thing is things thing is, you know, for the first two years at Jopuka, we had no money. We had nothing, like we had no PR budget. We just had my computer with Photoshop and we had a camera. So we made sure that every bit of PR we put out looked as close to SDC work. And as close to Belvoir and Australia Theatre Young People as we possibly could. You know, you know, it's. It's not that it's not
Rob: It's community production, don't make it look like it.
Josh: Yeah, well, it not even the community production, like for a long time, people thought we were an amateur theatre company. That was a big, big thing. We had the mindset. We had to change. And it's interesting as a mindset that happens in every region that has youth arts. People always assume youth arts and youth theatre is amateur theatre. It's not because all of our staff are theatre professionals. We've all worked professionally in the industry, and that's, we sit in a in a world that's sort of a pocket of the professional world, but yeah, it is it's about trying to present the best possible facade you can because people then take you more seriously. You can have a nice cool logo and some nice graphics you have. You're halfway there.
Rob: Sounds pretty good. So for someone who is working in a similar space in terms of creativity, maybe it's music, maybe it's, you know, they want to do a lighting installation in the middle of Gosford City. Where would they start in terms of getting funding and because there are a lot of grant programs and I don't think they're very well publicised and they can be hard to find. Where would you start?
Josh: Googling the words grants in your region is a great way, because that's again. It also says that's where the media falls down is because there is there is obviously rules about, publishing, to a certain extent, grants, but sometimes they're not as easy to navigate. Finding somebody who may be able to help you is always good you know, often you'll find with the arts, especially in the upper levels of the arts, from the independent professional. If you just ask people, actually will be willing to help you, like we've helped a few other youth arts companies across the country just with graphics and websites and grants and stuff like that, just reach out. Just ask. Finding them is always the hard one. Like even us, like, you know, the amount of times a friend of mine, like friends of mine on Facebook, will just say, have you seen this grant? I'll be like, no. But I guess I'm I guess I'm putting aside six hours tomorrow to put in this application like I got one sent to me last night, which I would not have found by myself but my mother of all people found it in a in an animal network that relates to the youth sector. And it's like, well, so, you know, if someone out there would like to set up a centralised website for grant access to find, lists of the grant, that would be great.
Rob: Someone's listening.
Josh: Somebody listening. Please do it. Yeah, it's. I'm not gonna say it's easy because it's not. And there's no quick way to fix it. You know, local councils, great. Create New South Wales or Creative Victoria. Checking all of those places first, but also knowing that, those applications, those specially other ones, are always hard and forming partnerships with other organisations, because especially, again, in my sector, we're always quite happy to try and work with each other or help each other out. But finding other writers, you know, a grant application looks better if you've got six artists going, hey, we'd like to put on a small festival or we'd all like to work on this project then just one person going, hey this is my idea. Unless you're lucky, like Central Coast Council, they do have the Create brand of Central, Art Central. I've never applied the one, apparently I get in trouble every time that I haven't applied for what I'm like, but I apply for everything else. Like some, they're going to leave, I have to leave funding for somebody somewhere. But yeah, it's there's no simple answer to where to find grants. It's just a welcome to the Labyrinth.
Rob: And search hard.
Josh: Scream if you need help.
Rob: Yeah, it sounds pretty good. So what's next for Jopuka?
Josh: So what's next? We have a bit of digital content at the moment. So we've got two projects, an audio drama of a play we commit, or the first show we ever commissioned called Because There Was Fire. You can access that via our website or our Facebook. It's just a pay what you can feature so you can pay anywhere from a dollar to ten thousand please pay ten thousand.
Rob: Maybe someone will.
Josh: And we'll send you the link to the audio drama and you can download it, you can put it on your iPod and you can listen to it. We also, we've released a live filmed version of a production that we commissioned last year called Under the Blue Blood Moon. That's going to be also appearing in the Adelaide Fringe's digital programming. And then which is taking some time to do all those like, you know, charity status. And we're getting a new constitution and a whole bunch of stuff because like like the entire art sector, we're shut down.
Rob: Got a bit at home.
Josh: Yes. So we're not sure, like, at the moment, the current rumour is that September is when we can go back to stage. So we've sort of planned what shows we can continue with this year. So that any shows that it will in rehearsal will make it to stage at some point this year. Next year, our fifth birthday season. So we'll, decide what remains, what sadly has to be cancelled. But, yeah, just sort of keep an eye on our socials. And that's the best. The biggest tool for us is social media, because young people. But, yeah, it's. Digital content and a question mark on everything else until they let more than a, more than five people in a room together at once.
Rob: Bit of housekeeping until things open up again.
Josh: Yeah, look, look, the costumes are so well sorted right now, the building looks great. It's just.
Rob: Alphabetical and colour coded.
Josh: Yeah. No, it's getting to the point where we've started a register of our costumes and, you know, so young people can come and borrow them. Every year we have HSC kids come and borrow costumes and props for their HSC's. We just let them do it because where like, Why would we charge for those kind of things.
Rob: Why not?
Rob: And so we'll put him in the show notes. But the socials for anyone listening.
Josh: Yes. So it's just Jopuka Productions are pretty much on everything. Just don't follow us on Twitter because we don't use it. I use it, but they don't. But it's so it's Jopuka Productions on Facebook, Instagram. I think it's all we got. They've been my young board members have been trying to get us on Tik Tok. I'm like, no. I don't know what Tik Tok is.
Rob: Maybe just not yet.
Josh: I just I feel like sometimes I'm just on to feel like I am actually aging. Like when I'm like, I don't understand what that app is and why we need it. So.
Rob: And none of us are the cool kids anymore.
Josh: No. And also, you know, I mean, Me I'm just Joshua Maxwell on everything as well. And I also have my own podcast. So
Rob: And what's I called.
Josh: It's called Been Dead, Done That.
Rob: Been Dead, Done That. Amazing. All right. Well, Josh Maxwell, I really appreciate your time and I wish you all the best with Jopuka Production.
Josh: Thanks so much for having me.
Rob: Thanks for having the chat.
Rob: There you have it. I hope you really enjoyed this episode. And if you did please like it, share it or leave us a review on your favourite platform. It helps us show more of this content to people just like you.