Actor / Teaching Artist
My name is Abbie Johnstone, I’m an Actor/Teaching Artist and I have just returned to Adelaide from New York City where I undertook an internship, supported by the Helpmann Academy.
Helpmann Academy has supported my career since I started studying acting at Adelaide College of the Arts in 2012.
In 2015, I studied at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York with the support of a grant from the Helpmann Academy. Every Monday, five ambassadors would head out to Rikers Island Correctional Facility and Phoenix House Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre to help teach acting workshops. The work was exciting, interesting, and extremely rewarding. I spent the next year and a half wishing I could go back to work with them again.
In 2016, I applied for the $10,000 Neil Curnow Award in the hopes of being able to intern under the director of Stella Adler Outreach, and learn how to create a prison program of my own here in Adelaide. Once again, Helpmann recognised that they could support a program to affect positive social change, and they granted me this award.
In February 2017, I left Adelaide for New York to work at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. I taught in four different facilities throughout the island, for two and a half months. Their acting was raw, honest, and beautiful. Every lesson I felt the cold, hard, grey coloured walls around us disappear. At the end of each lesson, the participants were asked to use one word to describe the class. They used words like, ‘magnificent’, ‘beautiful’, ‘home’, ‘grateful’, ‘hope’, and ‘family’.
I am now working with a South Australian Theatre Company in collaboration with Stella Adler Outreach, to create a free arts program designed for the incarcerated here in Adelaide. I hope to offer the program to the Department of Correctional Services for their ‘10by20’ initiative, which aims to reduce the rate of recidivism by 10% by the year 2020.
Without the assistance of Helpmann Academy, I wouldn’t have been able to find my passion for working in art based rehabilitation, or have been able to bring this knowledge back to Australia and help change the lives of those who need it most.
Helpmann Academy has assisted me, and so many other artists to pursue their passions but more importantly, has allowed us to make positive change in society. I cannot thank them enough for their tireless work in ensuring that South Australia has a thriving arts culture.
If you are in a position to, please donate to this wonderful organisation.
Actor / Teaching Artist
Photo: Abbie Johnstone at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. Photo by Tommy Demenkoff.
The Neil Curnow Award is presented in partnership with the Independent Arts Foundation.