Chris Hay – Hello, Training: Early Misfires in Australian Actor Training

Presentation

Chris Hay

University of Queensland

Hello, Training: Early Misfires in Australian Actor Training

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the establishment of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) on the campus of the University of New South Wales in 1958 marked the beginning of institutional actor training in Australia. Even the multiple distractions on this path – the last-minute renaming, the relocation from Melbourne to Sydney – are oft-cited. But like all origin myths, the fabled story of NIDA has grown in stature to obscure the many mis-steps that led to establishing “a training school where new talent can be developed” (AETT, 1954). 

In August 1947, the University of Melbourne officially approved the development of a Diploma of Dramatic Art under the leadership of Keith Macartney, now best remembered for founding the graduate Tin Alley Players. The Diploma was a truly unusual development for the time, as the Board of Studies mandated the inclusion of practical work – including speech training, choral speech, movement and mime, acting class, make-up, and practical work in the history of drama. “The policy,” according to Bernard Heinze, “is to encourage a professional habit of thought by training students to carry out their responsibilities to their fellows (in the preparation of productions) as they would expect to in the professional theatre”. 

The University’s courses in Dramatic Art, though, never came to fruition. Throughout their development, those involved stressed that “this is a novel venture for an Australian university” (J. T. Burke, Professor of Fine Arts), and indeed its novelty may well have been its downfall. In this paper, I will use the mis-steps of the Dramatic Art model at the University of Melbourne to complicate the pre-history of institutional actor training in Australia. In so doing, I hope to present the story of NIDA’s foundation as less linear, less of an inevitability, and it instead as a refined compromise. 

Chris Hay is a Lecturer in Drama and ARC DECRA Fellow in the School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland, Australia. He is an Australian theatre and cultural historian, whose work examines the rise of live performance subsidy and the institutionalisation of culture between 1949 and 1975.

Donna Abela and Alison Lyssa – Writing outside the circle of rightness: two incursions into the mainstream Australian repertoire

Presentation

Donna Abela and Alison Lyssa

Writing outside the circle of rightness: two incursions into the mainstream Australian repertoire

Serendipitously, in 2014, productions of Alison Lyssa’s Pinball and Donna Abela’s Jump For Jordan offered Sydney audiences one of the first, and the latest, lesbian-themed plays to make incursions into the mainstream Australian repertoire. As Duck Duck Goose Theatre Company’s production of Lyssa’s internationally-celebrated Pinball – first produced by the Nimrod Theatre Company in 1981 – took over the Tap Gallery, the Griffin Theatre Company’s premiere of Abela’s award-wining Jump For Jordan packed out the nearby Stables Theatre. Written thirty years apart, each play moved the margin to the centre, claiming the main stage for lesbian bodies and narratives, feminist-informed forms, female subjectivities, and work authored by female playwrights. In this paper, Lyssa and Abela discuss the strategies they employed to write about people held outside of established circles of rightness, and subject to “The Great Silence” (Greenaway 1990) or the erasure of lesbian women and experience from mainstream history and culture. 

Donna Abela is playwright, dramaturge, and creative writing lecturer. She serves on the board of PYT Fairfield (which she co-founded), and along with Vanessa Bates, Hilary Bell, Noëlle Janaczewska, Verity Laughton, Ned Manning and Cath Zimdahl is a member of the alliance 7-ON Playwrights. While at the University of Wollongong, Donna completed her practice-led doctoral thesis titled Dialogic Interplay: a Strategy for Representing Difference and Cultural Diversity on Stage. Jump For Jordan, the creative component, won the 2013 Griffin Playwriting prize and the 2015 AWGIE Award for Stage, and is included in the 2019-2022 HSC Drama Syllabus. 

Alison Lyssa is a playwright and poet, teacher and mentor. As a writer-in-residence at Nimrod, 1982, she discovered dramaturgy’s uncanny ability to ask the right questions. Alison’s first two plays, Pinball, 1981, and The Boiling Frog, 1984, are now online in Australian Plays’ NIMROD 50 Collection, 2020. Pinball was previously published in Michelene Wandor (ed.), Plays by Women vol. 1V, London and New York: Methuen, 1985, and in Bruce Parr (ed.), Australian Gay and Lesbian Plays, Sydney: Currency, 1996. In 2019 she work as dramaturge on Catherine Zimdahl’s brilliant new play Gifted, supported by Playwriting Australia’s Duologue program. Alison has served on the Advisory Boards of Playworks Women Writers’ Workshop and Women Playwrights International. Her play, Who’d’ve Thought?, created with Women and Theatre Project, Telopea, was nominated for the 1991 AWGIE Award for Community Theatre. She has a PhD in creative writing, a certificate in screenwriting from AFTRS and has taught Writing for Performance, Creative Writing and Screenwriting. In 2019 she was a playwright-in-residence at Currency Press, writing a new play, Hurricane Eye.

Neil Anderson – Rudolf Steiner’s Theatre of Spiritual Realism

Presentation

Neil Anderson

University of Sydney

Rudolf Steiner’s Theatre of Spiritual Realism

Although Rudolf Steiner’s work is well-known across a wide number of fields, particularly in education (Waldorf schools) and agriculture (Biodynamic farming), it relatively unknown in the context of actor training. When it does surface in actor training, it is either studied as a contributing part to the in-house performance of Steiner’s own Mystery Dramas for his followers (Chamberlain, 1992; Gordon, 1978; Lingan, 2014, p. 309), or as a background influence on the Michael Chekhov technique, appearing in the Chekhov secondary literature (Byckling, 2013; Chamberlain, 2004; Cristini, 2015; Kirillov & Chamberlain, 2013; Pitches, 2006). To avoid these different imbalances, I would like to critically evaluate some new scholarship into Rudolf Steiner’s theatre impulse as a useful ‘way in’. In particular, I want to focus on Christian Clement’s Weimar Classicism and Modern Spiritual Drama: Rudolf Steiner’s Theatre of Spiritual Realism (2011). Clement draws a strong line from Steiner’s early career as a Goethe scholar, leading the reader  through Steiner’s years as an art/literary/drama critic, to his later esoteric research and initiatives, arguing that Steiner’s aesthetic work with theatre is the ‘Golden Thread’ which binds the whole of Steiner’s work. 

Neil Anderson is a Phd Candidate in the Performance Studies Department at Sydney university. He trained as an actor at Harkness Studio, Ecole Phillipe Gaulier and Chrysalis Theatre School and has directed and acted in productions by Harken Theatre.