|AADA Production, Tom Stoppard’s On The Razzle, director Andrew Davidson|
Course Coordinator and Voice Director Alistair Toogood spoke with me about the school, the Australian Academy of Dramatic Arts—AADA (pronounced, aptly, like RADA without the R), its origins and aims. “It sprang from the mind of Andrew Davidson, who’s the Head of Department. It has a long history going back some 20 years and was purchased a few years ago by the Australian Institute of Music (AIM). Andrew developed what had been a fairly standard acting diploma course into a Bachelor of Performance. The thrust of that was a course that is really built for the Australian industry in terms of creating something unique—that our students are trained in all the aspects of producing a theatre performance.”
The basis for the course is, says Toogood, “very strong acting training, very good acting teachers and our core units in acting, improvisation, movement and voice. Students also get training in how to think in terms of creating story— mythology, archetypes, dramaturgy and adaptation. Alongside there are technical units that enable them to become lighting and sound operators and designers.”
I assume the aim is to turn out actors who if faced with the need can self-produce without feeling helpless. “Yes,” says Toogood, “but it also means they’re ready for anything that might get thrown at the actor. The reality of the Australian industry is that you have to have a number of strings to your bow. So we cover directing, design, stage management, finances, producing, filmmaking, as well as film acting and promotion, on top of the strong core acting units. This all really comes together in the second half of their course where they devise works in groups, putting what they’ve learned into practice, guided by very good mentors. They might act in the production, or direct or design it. Our graduates, for the couple of years since we started, are already out there working—producing and marketing and acting in their own work.”
I ask if some students turn away from acting and take to another aspect of theatre. Toogood says that they all “arrive dreaming of acting but some discover a passion for costume design or voiceover work—and we do training in that. As soon as they start with us they’re developing technical and stage management skills—the first year students are the crew for the second year productions. That experience gives them some ideas about which direction they’d like to go.
“We have an industry placement program at the end of the course and have found that our students often have to step in and replace someone or otherwise help out. They’re always ready to step up.”
AADA’s staff includes a strong line-up of teachers who have worked at or graduated from NIDA, WAAPA and other institutions. Toogood tells me that “core staff studied postgraduate courses at NIDA—Andrew Davidson, myself, Stefanos Rassios. Anca Frankenhaeuser is a wonderful movement tutor carrying on the work of the late, great Keith Bain, employing his movement process throughout the course. Marcelle Schmitz who used to be my acting teacher at WAAPA comes over to teach acting in the foundation stage.” Other staff include Matthew Edgerton, Sean O’Shea, Lex Marinos, “who teaches audition technique and Lynn Pierse, the great impro teacher. Helmut Bakaitis, who taught directing at NIDA for many years now teaches it at AADA.”
Courses are conducted at Pilgrim House in the centre of Sydney utilising the Pilgrim Theatre and three workspaces. The computer lab, film facilities and green screen are located at the main AIM campus in Surry Hiils.
Recent graduates include Sepy Baghaei who won Best Production at the Short and Sweet 2012 Play Festival for the one man show he wrote and directed, Something to be Done, and Melissa Brownlow who has been accepted into Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Summer Residency Program in Chicago. Toogood says of the Bachelor of Performance degree courses that they’re “jam-packed, well structured and thought-out. The two-year degree is not a short-cut; the students are fully engaged and know at the end that they’ve done something special.”
RealTime issue #110 Aug-Sept 2012 pg. 39
© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org