According to Michael Turkic, university is a gladiatorial environment. It will break you down and build you up anew – and it may even change the course of your life.
The accomplished actor and director studied theatre arts at Curtin in the 1980s when it was named WAIT. It was here he developed a passion for ‘rattling the cages’ that helped spur him on to become a mentor, educator and advocate for marginalised groups in film, music and theatre.
“Universities are tough places. They are places to test your ideas about life, your profession and your identity. You find oppositional views and learn to question everything,” Turkic says.
“If you want to be a performing artist, you need to get rid of those assumptions and affectations, get right down to your core as an artist and build yourself up from ground zero.”
While Perth in the ‘80s enjoyed a “relatively relaxed political environment,” Turkic remembers a number of teachers who challenged the status quo and influenced him as a student.
“Many of my tutors came from the ‘60s and ‘70s. They had protested about the Vietnam War and were incredibly radical.
“We were encouraged to go out into the world and make a difference. I thought: If I’m not radical about my politics, I can be radical about my field of expertise – the theatre. I wanted to tell stories that are uncomfortable for the audience to listen to.”
After graduating, Turkic performed in a number of theatre productions that pushed the envelope, including Corrugation Road, a play about an Aboriginal man living with mental illness.
One of Turkic’s proudest achievements is co-founding the Australian Musical Foundation at NIDA, which gave awards scholarships and performance opportunities to young musicians until 1994.
Turkic has taught at various institutions, including the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and the Central Queensland Conservatorium of Music, and currently lectures at Federation University Australia. The ability to pass on his knowledge to up-and-coming actors, musicians and filmmakers is particularly rewarding for the industry veteran.
“Knowledge is a gift. You have to get out there and pass it on because it’s useless knowledge when you go,” he says.
In 2013, after a hiatus from the industry, Turkic and his partner William Le founded interCulture Casting and Management (iCCAM), an agency that promotes performing artists of non-Anglo heritage, those living with disability and those who identify as LGBTIQ.
“I always wanted to return to my career in theatre, but on the other side – in a mentoring capacity and developing younger people because I know what it was like to be in that position 25 years ago, starting out,” Turkic says.
“We were inspired to set up iCCAM by the lack of diversity in Australian film and theatre. Too many artists from different backgrounds have been subjected to discrimination at one time or another, whether that discrimination is overt or covert, unintentional or worse.”
iCCAM is still the only agency in Australia that exclusively represents performing artists who lie outside the mainstream industry.
Turkic recently received the Curtin Alumni Professional Achievement Award, Humanities for his tireless work in this area and his significant contribution to the creative industries.
“In my career, I have always attempted to make each moment change lives in a positive way,” he says. “As communicators and facilitators and idea-makers, I believe we can really knock down barriers and be agents of change.”