Pearl Tan: From radio to podcasting – and guiding the next generation at AFTRS


Writer, actor, director, filmmaker, production company founder, occasional ABC radio host, podcaster, teacher, corporate speaker, PhD student …

It’s hard trying to keep track of all the different roles Pearl Tan holds down, let alone fit them all into one sentence.

As the radio industry continues to evolve, Pearl is living proof that multi-skilling is the way of the future, as she moves seamlessly between projects, whether it be on-screen, behind the scenes or behind the mic.

And as Discipline Lead, Directing at Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS), Pearl is excited to guide the next generation of storytellers.

“AFTRS is incredible,” says Pearl. “It really has its students and its alumni at its core. The building is just full of people who are so passionate, and really, truly care, both about education and industry.”

Pearl recently added yet another string to her bow with a fictional podcast called Diversity Work, which forms part of her PhD studies.

“It’s about a diverse group of writers who’ve been asked to tick all of the diversity boxes at once at a fictional network, Channel 8,” she says.

The podcast was co-created with nine other people, as part of a two day workshop.

“We created our own characters, shared stories of what we’d experienced and witnessed and heard of in the industry, and sort of came up with themes on the common things we’d all dealt with,” Pearl explains.

“Then we figured out a plot, in terms of how to put that all into one dramatic story.”

From there, a script blueprint was created. It was recorded using long form improvisation, which gives a documentary element to the performance.

“It’s like you’re really listening to a group of people having a conversation, because that’s exactly what we were doing.”

They recorded all over it over two days, and not without significant challenges – including a certain pandemic throwing a spanner in the works.

“It was right at the beginning of COVID, so we had one day, and then we had to postpone the next to a month later,” Pearl says.

Growing up in Perth, a career in the Arts was always the goal for Pearl.

“I think it’s almost a bit embarrassing as a child when you kind of go ‘I want to be an actor’ or ‘I want to do radio’ or “I want to be a filmmaker.’”

“I thought EVERYONE wanted to do that. But everyone was probably going ‘I want to be a vet,’” she laughs.

Pearl got an early taste of radio in WA, working as a Thunder driver at Perth’s 96FM, as well as an assistant producer for the Breakfast show.

Accepted into the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), Pearl packed her bags and moved to Sydney in 2003.

Understandably, relocating to the other side of the country took some readjustment.

“I hadn’t lived out of home before. I think Mum panicked and realised she hadn’t taught me how to cook.”

“She sent me across to Sydney with a rice cooker,” Pearl chuckles. “That was her way of showing me that she loved me. And didn’t want me to starve!”

Pearl began teaching acting and filmmaking around 2008, and found it complimented what she was already doing.

“My approach then was almost like seeing the students as co-collaborators.”

She landed a casual teaching role at AFTRS.

After one semester, a full-time role came up, looking after the Directing course and creating curriculum for around 270 students.”

Pearl successfully applied for the role, going on to do that job for five and a half years.

“Most of the AFTRS staff have really strong industry connections and are just really passionate about putting the students first,” she says.

Along with her AFTRS role, Pearl is the founder and director of Pearly Productions, a creative boutique with a focus on diverse stories.

She continues to be a driving force when it comes to seeing everyone represented in the media.

“We went through a stage in the industry where everyone was like ‘Why SHOULD we care? Why should we have diversity?’ And all kinds of reasons were given, in terms of ‘It should represent the taxpayers’ through to ‘It’s got an economic growth angle’ – and the Hollywood diversity report saying more diversity equals more diverse audiences, and more dollars – through to ‘It’s the right thing to do.’”

“I think for many people, it’s the basic fundamental of ‘I don’t see myself represented.’”

Pearl refers to the old catchphrase: If you can see it, then you can be it.

“I think it’s really important that there is art that represents us.”

*Group photo: Diversity Work co-creators: Top left to bottom right: Pearl Tan, Ana Maria Belo, Priya Roy, Moreblessing Maturure, George Coles, Maddison Coles, Jane Park, Amy Stewart, Suzy Wrong & Emily Dash.

Comment Form

Your email address will not be published.

Recent comments (0)
Post new comment


See all