Theatre, narrative and putting diversity centre stage

With a dynamic career history across Melbourne and Sydney, Melbourne Theatre Company Executive Director, Virginia Lovett, shares anecdotes on the arts, culture and connectivity. As one of our Outstanding 50 LGBTI Leaders of 2018 Virginia explains how storytelling plays a critical role in bringing to life the LGBTI issues of today and tomorrow.
A lot of people today are trying to navigate their careers. Any advice?

From arts to government to the zoo and more, I’ve been fortunate to have a very diverse career. Throughout these experiences it means I have developed a connectivity across many different industries and if I need to solve a problem, I know someone who might know someone. It’s that web of referrals. I am not afraid to ask for help and I think it’s important to help others along the way. Building your peer network as you build your career, and speaking
up when you need a hand, is something I encourage.

Here at Melbourne Theatre Company we run a national Women in Theatre Program and one of the key pieces of advice I give them each year is, be yourself. Be authentic as people see right through you if you are not, and people respond when you are.

Sometimes the drive to the top can be myopic, like an Uber GPS, but if you use your gut instinct – go sideways or take a left – then you may find yourself in a truly rewarding career on a forward trajectory. Take risks and don’t be too hard on yourself if there are some failures because everyone takes a bit of a knock at some point.

How have you found your LGBTI experience and the notion of visibility?

Going to Sydney from Melbourne in the early ‘90s was an epiphany. I was young, just coming out, and Sydney was like a different world. Here was a tribe that I belonged to – queer, artistic and proud! Coming out to my family was very difficult so going to another city was a solution to a problem many young people face. The acceptance, particularly across my industry, with the support of so many good friends made it very easy to be visible. When you get to a certain age you just don’t care. I am very lucky to work in the creative industries, it is a sector that has a big heart, values difference and I have felt very supported throughout my career. I now feel a deep sense of responsibility to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity in our industry.

If you had to look back, what advice would you give to your 10 year old self?

Well, I would say just be yourself and be kind. Be who you want to be and don’t be scared of that. Take risks and be curious and don’t think you have to be one thing. You are constantly evolving so just be you, make lots of friends and don’t worry too much about making decisions. And don’t throw out the vinyl, it will come back, and that new computer they just got at the school – buy shares in the company! 10 was so good!

What role does theatre and storytelling play around LGBTI acceptance and representation?

It plays an important role. You just need to look at shows that have redefined the LGBTI community like Fun Home, Gertrude Stein and a Companion!, The Normal Heart, Angels in America, Holding the Man, Priscilla, and Torch Song Trilogy to name a few.

Many first introductions to live performance is often before people are 10 through schools, or through that wonderful aunt or uncle. This can lead to a life-long learning and curiosity. Theatre or live storytelling opens up our imagination, breaks down barriers and fosters tolerance, understanding and empathy by presenting stories and cultures of other people.

Our society is made up of so many wonderful stories, triumph and tribulations, laughter and larrikinism. Stories inspire us and it is very much our responsibility to keep commissioning plays that represent our ever-changing world.

What does it mean to you to be a part of the Outstanding 50?

Very proud, especially in this 40th year of Mardi Gras and the same sex marriage vote. When we look back at what people fought for, the challenges and discrimination that people have faced, it’s great to be able to stand up and be who I am. If that changes someone’s life then I am proud to do that. Many have fought a long battle of inequality and discrimination for me to enjoy the many freedoms I take for granted today.

What’s your favourite song and why?

I bore everyone at dinner parties because I go into the ‘80s mix and lip sync. To get through the heartbreak of a first love I played I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor on rotation, it’s such a great empowering anthem.

Dinner party. Three guests. Who would they be?

I like my dinner parties to be fun so it would have to be Bette Midler, Adele and David Sedaris.

 

Virginia is one of our Outstanding 50 LGBTI Leaders of 2018 – a list that recognises and celebrates the many LGBTI role models in business. For more on our inspirational LGBTI leaders visit our Outstanding 50 webpage, or read more interviews in the series here.


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