Launching Australia’s newest Diversity Fund

On Tuesday, 17th March, it was a great honour to help launch Australia’s newest Diversity Fund, founded by Pearl Tan (Pearly Productions) and Jessica Symes (Symes Group).



Pearl Tan is the director of Pearly Productions, creating independent films and producing videos for businesses and arts organisations. Her work focuses on diversity, as the creator of YouTube series ‘Minority Box’ and as co-chair of the Equity Diversity Committee. She graduated from the NIDA Acting course in 2005. Originally from Western Australia, she also holds a Communications degree majoring in Media Studies from Edith Cowan University.



Jessica Symes has been a corporate trainer/ facilitator for the past ten years working with CEO’s, CFO’s, Executives and Politicians. She’s an experienced coach and facilitator, training 1.1 as well as small and large groups in the areas of Communications, Leadership, Team Building, Public Speaking, Corporate Presentations, Voice, Physical Impact/ Body Language, Media Training and Women in Business. In her earlier career has taught at all the major Drama and Acting Schools in Sydney. She is the CEO and Founder of the Symes Group which is a collection of Creative enterprises focused on empowering individuals and their orginisations to identify their goals and reach their full potential.


Together, Pearly Productions and Symes Group launched the Independent Theatre Diversity Fund.  “The main goals of this fund are to give talented independent producers a way of putting on a show with more ease. The fund will provide a small cash budget, rehearsal space, a video trailer, stills photography, marketing and social media strategy advice and anything else that I can think of and can find support for!” says Pearl Tan.

There are wonderful examples of great indigenous work being produced (Sapphires, Redfern Now, Black Comedy etc) that are a result of financial support and mentorship from places like Screen Australia and the Australia Council. Learning from this model, Pearl says, they would love to support diverse work in a more general way to allow more opportunities for development of these unique storytellers. It also aims to bring awareness at a grassroots level, as it will encourage independent producers seeking financial and in-kind support for their show to analyse whether their production includes diversity.

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Augusta Supple was the first speaker in a line up of incredible speakers talking about the importance of diversity in art and business. Other amazing speakers included Alana Valentine, Anthony Skuse, Glen Boreham and myself. The vibe was electric with everyone excited to support diversity in the arts. Together we spoke how diversity has helped our business to grow and connect with the wider community. I hope this fund will also open the eyes of TV networks, film and theatre producers across our nation, so they can see the value and importance of diversity.



It’s a great honour to be here today for the launch of Symes Group and Pearly Productions’ new Diversity Fund. I just wish there was something like this when I first started in the industry.

When I grew up in Australia there were very few people of colour in theatre, TV and in Film. No one I could identify with or look up to. I vividly remember my first day at school, I realized I was the only Chinese girl and at lunchtime, I watched & wanted to play basketball with the year six boys. I seized the moment when their basketball rolled out of the court and I quickly grabbed it and threw it back to them, hoping they’d ask me to join in and be their friend, but instead, they shouted, “Hands off our ball you bloody ugly JAP!” I paused and thought – Jap? But I’m an Aussie, an Aussie-Chinese?

If there was only representation of people looking like myself in theatre, TV and in film, with every day multicultural stories without stereotypes, perhaps that incident wouldn’t have occurred because acceptance was naturally portrayed. Also perhaps if there was diverse representation maybe people would be able to tell Chinese and Japanese people apart instead of thinking we Asians all look the same and we’re all related to each other!

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Australia is a diverse country with 1/3 of the Australian population born overseas. One in five Australians has a disability and three percent have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage. So we are a diverse society and this must be reflected, not only in the arts but in business too, because everyone needs to feel that they belong.

Theatre, film and TV are powerful mediums where this positive change can occur. Who would have thought that my experiences of racism were the driving force for me to want to work in the arts industry? It wasn’t until university when I was on prac, that an Aboriginal boy and a Chinese girl came up to me and told me that they wanted to work in the performing arts industry but they said, “You don’t see anyone looking like us on TV, so why should we even try?” I then blurted back, “Oh I’m going to be first Asian presenter on Play School and if I can achieve this you can too.” They both rolled their eyes and said, “Yeah right!”

B_Joy Hopwood-Play School

Those two kids were the driving force for me to sell everything I owned in Perth and move to Sydney where I bought a video camera and wrote my own Play School scripts and sent it to the ABC. After two attempts of auditioning, I won the role which was a breakthrough for Children’s TV. It’s not until many years later that I soon discovered the after effect it had on the next generation. It was only a month ago in my book club that a new member, a young Chinese girl came up to me and said, “Joy you got me through my school years because there were hardly any Asians at my country school. You made me feel that I was OK.”

After Play School I started up my own business Joy House Productions, where I produce the yearly Joy House Film Festival. This is a positive film festival showing short films with the theme of joy and diversity where we award a cash prize for not only best film but the best Diversity film too. Thanks to our sponsors like the Symes Group, as my festival would not be possible without them.

Joy House Film Festival crowd final

Also my other project The Wong Side of life, a theatre play about bullying and racism with puppets and actors playing alongside each other, for children. It’s now in video form thanks to Pearly Productions who I collaborated with. This is now in schools and is most rewarding when a child comes up to me and says, “I always thought it was me with the problem!” and I always reply, “No it’s the bully or the racist with the problem, not you!”


Both projects are equally important to me because of the “diversity” element.

Today we’re celebrating building communities, networking, supporting each other so together we can be a united force and a voice for diversity in the arts and in business. This Diversity fund is a step forward and has a positive snowball effect, paying it forward for a better future for a more inclusive society thanks to Pearl and Jessica. Thank you.

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