Professional acting and directing graduates from Flinders Drama Centre have made a significant contribution to the entertainment industry both nationally and internationally since the centre began in 1971.
Think of feature film stars Xavier Samuel and Victoria Hill, acclaimed directors Benedict Andrews, Gale Edwards, Catherine Fitzgerald and Geordie Brookman, Tim Maddock and Corey McMahon, and acclaimed stage designer Richard Roberts.
Then there’s veterans of TV, screen, stage and broadcast of the calibre of Noni Hazelhurst, Melanie Vallejo, Cameron Goodall, Greig Pickhaver (HG Nelson), Nicholas Hope, Susan Mitchell, Geoff Revell, Wendy Strehlow, Caroline Mignone, Michaela Cantwell Eileen Darley, Amber McMahon, Nick Pelomis, Syd Brisbane and Jude Henshall, along with rising stars such as Jimmy Smith, Sara West, Lucy Fry, Lucy Lehman, Annabel Matheson, Antoine Jelk, and many more.
It’s a remarkable record of achievement, says Strategic Professor of Creative Arts Julian Meyrick.
He says Flinders creative arts graduates are considered ‘the intelligent alternative’, receiving a strong grounding in the humanities and critical scholarship, as well as a high level of industry skills.
“Flinders offers a balanced, rigorous and proven approach to creative arts training that is one of the best in the country,” Professor Meyrick says.
“Now I would say that – but it’s true. Look at our track record, and look at our courses. Other institutions have struggled to find a way to blend conservatorium-style training and University-style broader education. And it is hard. But at Flinders we do it consistently well.”
The mixed academic and conservatorium-style of the Drama Centre at Flinders not only equips graduates in acting, directing, playwriting and stage craft, but encourages them to “become agents for innovation and leadership in their field,” says veteran arts leader Rosalba Clemente.
As Head of Acting, she might be biased – but her arguments are backed by a long line of success stories over the University’s 50-year history.
‘Flinders University produces more than brilliant actors who sit by the phone waiting for their next paid role, she says.
‘The fact is that our students have always done incredibly well both as actors, directors, playwrights, decision-makers and industry leaders.
‘They often leave us with the ability to create ensembles, work consciously towards the evolution of our artform and create new and exciting contemporary works.’
The Border Project and Brink Productions are two such companies that have gone on to have national impact, she says.
‘We cater for a broad spectrum of talents and offer an intelligent alternative to gifted people interested in developing themselves deeply as actors and directors but also cultural leaders making changes to the performing arts landscape.
‘We also see ourselves as training protean artists, along with thoroughbred actors and directors.
‘We encourage and train our young actors and directors to develop themselves as conscious artists and change agents capable of executing their own work once they graduate.
‘It’s both practice and theory, not just in the studio but balanced with adademic work and research.’
Rosalba, the former artistic director of State Theatre Company (1999-2004), playwright and herself a NIDA acting graduate, has been around long enough to make assessments.
She cites the quality of this training in the recent success of Helpmann Award nominated Mothers and Sons, a work by actor and maker Alirio Zavarce; in the career progression of Caleb Lewis from talented actor to successful playwright; in Catherine Fitzgerald who went from acting to directing, artistic directing and creative producing; along with creative arts community leaders like David Mealor, Nescha Jelk, Stephen Mayhew, Douglas Gautier and Georgie Davill.
‘Our challenge, like all schools, is to stay in touch with the shifting landscape of theatre and film making.
‘We must remain responsive and to teach both high level skills and the ability to remain flexible, responsive and courageous in what is often a risk adverse climate in the arts.’
Ms Clemente says many teachers and support staff maintain the ‘tradition of excellence in training,’ including Professor Meyrick, department head Anne Thompson, (also Head of Directing), Richard Back (Head of Screen and Director of the Drama Centre), Tiffany Knight, Dawn Langman, Andrew Bailey, Maggie Ivanova and William Peterson. Many casual staff ‘work professionally in the industry so are well equipped to add to the centre’s deep, rigorous and relevant training program,’ she says.
A former Associate Director at the Melbourne Theatre Company, Professor Meyrick says the Flinders Drama Centre has a unique profile for performing arts, screen and media and digital media.
‘As well as some special celebrations with State Theatre Company and Adelaide Festival Centre for Flinders University’s 50th anniversary this year, we are also looking to the future,’ Professor Meyrick says.
‘While it’s challenging times for the creative arts, it’s not wall-to-wall gloom.
‘The different art forms are increasingly interpenetrating and collaborating.
‘It’s easier now to pursue your creative vision across different media, and there’s a wonderful freedom in that, as well as a mandate for future training and research.’
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