You know something that makes this world great? When we all treat each other with equal respect. Disability shouldn’t define a person. Or limit their opportunities. And that’s something Charles Sturt University alumni Angus Thompson and Nina Oyama are ready to shout from the rooftops.
Theatre media alumna and stand-up comedian Nina and public relations alumnus and cerebral palsy advocate Angus were both studying and living in Bathurst when they first met at a social event. Little did they know the thrilling adventures they would soon have – or that they would become catalysts for change.
They knew that wanted to take a stand and help people understand the challenges that people with disability can face – to show what it’s really like and help break any stereotypes. And through their groundbreaking TV show, The Angus Project, Angus and Nina absolutely smashed them. The show was the first of its kind to air on Australian television. It gave people who live with disability a voice on national television. And it gave all Australians a whole new outlook on the capabilities of people who have a disability and the value they add to our communities.
Nina and Angus teamed up to challenge societal norms and inspire others – all while making people laugh.
How did The Angus Project come to life?
Nina: Angus and I were good friends and then I became his carer. We used to always watch TV together and we thought let’s just make a show about us! We had all of the university equipment and friends that knew how to operate all the cameras and boom mics and all the fancy stuff. Plus, we had an editor and I’m a writer.
Once third-year was winding up I didn’t have that much left to do because my major work was writing and it had been written months previously. So we created the first version of The Angus Project, which was really sad and dramatic.
We found out about a comedy grant that was coming from Screen Australia and ABC Comedy. My friend, another theatre media student, and I cut together all the sad bits and put really upbeat music to it so that it was funny. The ABC was like, ‘Oh yeah, that seems funny enough,’ and they gave us some money to make a TV show.
What was it like to be in front of the camera?
Angus: I watched a lot of TV and movies and had done drama at high school. I loved acting and Nina and I had very good rapport.
Nina: We would joke around and be silly. When we decided to make a show we found that Angus was really good at acting – to the point it was unfair! I was shooting a show at the time called Utopia and I would come to Bathurst and Angus would pick his lines up really quickly while it took me ages.
Angus: Through The Angus Project I was put into contact with a Sydney company that puts together instructional videos for disability carers and they contacted me to be in the cerebral palsy videos.
Nina: And they contacted me to be the carer! Which is a very different role [to my character on The Angus Project]. I feel like on The Angus Project it’s the opposite – we show what not to do.
And how important was it to challenge society’s perception of what it means to have a disability?
Angus: I feel like society’s understanding of people with cerebral palsy is very interesting. Not many people have an idea of what people with cerebral palsy can accomplish. We all need to put this [their capabilities] out in the mainstream. It’s a physical disability – we’re not just wheelchair bound and at home all day. We can accomplish our dreams.
What was it like studying at Charles Sturt University?
Nina: I was already doing stand-up comedy when I came to Charles Sturt University and I already did a lot of comedy related things. I came to Charles Sturt to help hone it. I like to make people laugh. I ran a comedy club in Bathurst. I also got to perform in front of first-year students at orientation. It was a really nice introduction to uni.
I was involved in a lot of theatre media activities. I did BATS which is Bathurst Arts and Theatrical Society, and I went abroad with CSU Global to Prague, London and Moscow which was really cool. Not only that, I also went to the Prague Quadrennial which is a design festival where we were given a free pass to walk around the festival and watch heaps of different shows by people all around the world. It was really interesting and challenged what my notion of theatre media could be. It helped me come back and make awesome stuff for uni.
Angus: I lived on campus for three years and enjoyed campus life. It was really accessible for me in a wheelchair so I could easily go from my dorm room to my classes. I really liked hanging out with friends on campus. It was fantastic!
What did you learn that helped you in your career?
Nina: It taught me how to work with people. I was definitely a lone wolf when I entered the course and the course forces you to do a lot of group assignments and how to play to other people’s strengths and teaches you how to be a producer.
Angus: At the end of the course I had to do an internship and mine was at the Sprung Festival. I did the advertising at the Sprung Festival and it taught me how to run events and how to get people interested in coming to events.
Who inspires you and why?
Nina: We watched a lot of Always Sunny in Philadelphia which is a comedy show, High Maintenance which is kind of a more naturalistic comedy and Broad City which is about two girls that go around and wreak havoc around town. And that’s kind of what we wanted to show through The Angus Project – we wanted to give the characters of Bathurst a real presence. While a lot of people like to watch shows about people being glamorous and rich people doing rich people stuff, I think there’s something fun about two poor kids just trying to make ends meet and running around a country town.
What was it like coming to uni in the regions?
Nina: I lived in Sydney and came to Bathurst for uni. It was super jarring [coming to the country]. There were no 7/11s when I moved there! By my third year there were two 7/11s so I feel I manifested them with my wishes – you’re welcome Bathurst!
Nina: When I first moved to Bathurst it felt like time was slower which was such a good thing was. In Sydney if you want to go somewhere you’ve got to walk to public transport, catch public transport, you’ve got to get ready and I feel like at Bathurst you can kind of walk out of your house and be at a place – it’s very convenient! I love Bathurst, I think it’s very beautiful.
Angus: I would visit my friend’s house every morning and I’d be there in like two minutes! In Sydney you need to catch a bus and it takes an hour before you can get anywhere.
What’s your proudest moment – so far?
Both: The Angus Project!
Nina: If someone had told us when we first started hanging out that we would make a TV show for the ABC we’d be like ‘nah!’ The fact that it has happened has been a really proud moment for us. When we first made the show I just wanted to show our friendship and our relationship – disability awareness aside – I really felt it was about us. Back then the disability component didn’t seem to matter as much. Looking back now, we can see that it is a vessel for change and that’s really important to have in society. Even if people don’t think that we’re that funny, I think we’re allowed to consider ourselves breaking new ground and setting a new standard for Australian TV that has not been set before.
Angus: Being able to have such a severe physical disability and being the main character in the show felt amazing.
How do you want to change the world next?
Nina: I kind of like this imperfect world but the thing I would probably want to have an impact on is climate change denial. Climate change is one there where I really want to help this earth last a little longer.
Angus: I want to try and change the world in any way I can and try to change society’s perception of people living with cerebral palsy.
Create a world worth living in
What does a better world look like to you? Does it mean finding a cure for illnesses, improving education, making new discoveries, leading a movement or developing innovative technologies? Or is it about having an impact in your local community and making a difference to the little guys out there? If you’ve ever wanted to make a difference in a career you’re passionate about, you can with us.
Our wide range of courses will give you the skills and industry knowledge so you can be the change you want to see in the world. Follow your heart, get qualified and land a job that you’ll love with Charles Sturt. Let’s get to work!