The revitalisation of Flinders University’s Drama program is being marked by two significant public events within the next month – a new Australian production by graduating drama students under renowned Theatre director Wayne Harrison AM, and a landmark public lecture addressing radical change sweeping through Australia’s performing arts sector.
The performance of Coming of Age in Australia, a new work comprising an innovative anthology of coming-of-age experiences from key Australian plays, is being performed in the Matthew Flinders Theatre at Flinders University’s Bedford Park campus from July 25-29.
This showcase for Flinders’ graduating Drama students is the result of inviting Wayne Harrison to be the University’s current Teaching Artist in Residence. Described as one of the nation’s greatest practitioner-experts on the history of Australian playwrighting, Mr Harrison is also a former Artistic Director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Creative Director of Spiegelworld Las Vegas, Sydney New Year’s Eve and the Melbourne Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony.
Also timely is the biennial Wal Cherry Lecture, presented by Flinders University’s Assemblage Centre for Performing Arts on Tuesday August 2, where Mr Harrison will be guest speaker, discussing change and renewal within the performing arts sector. Soon after providing this critical big-picture assessment of contemporary performing arts, Mr Harrison will head to the United States and Canada for further work commitments.
Such timely and relevant presentations are positive outcomes from Flinders University’s review of Drama, which has resulted in a heightened commitment to drama and the performing arts.
When Flinders University announced a review of Drama in 2020, and paused the intake of new actors, the media and many students incorrectly declared that this signalled an imminent ‘axing’ of the Drama Centre.
Instead, Flinders revised its curriculum to respond to the changing needs of the sector in light of emerging trends, technologies and platforms. It has also appointed four new permanent academic staff – with Dr Christopher Hurrell, Dr Renato Musolino and Dr Tiffany Lyndall-Knight being actor-training specialists with a dual professional practice and research background.
A new cohort of acting and directing students began at Flinders University in 2022.
“In a challenging period throughout the performing arts sector, Flinders has actually re-invested in Drama with a renewed and ongoing commitment to playing a part in the professional performing arts sector through the training of actors and directors,” says Dr Hurrell.
After an international search, Flinders has also appointed Dr Chris Hay from the University of Queensland, as a new teaching-and-research Professor of Drama, due to commence in October.
As an emerging intellectual leader in the academic field of Drama, Dr Hay will help rejuvenate Flinders Drama’s long-held reputation for its unique combination of discipline-leading research with rigorous professional practice training.
“Opportunities for full-time tertiary training for actors and directors in South Australia has been saved thanks to the revived Drama focus at Flinders,” says Dr Hurrell.
“I know the benefit of that. I trained at Flinders as an actor and director in the 1990s, and it led to my career in theatre that has given me national and international opportunities.
“Flinders’ unique research-and-practice approach, pioneered by Professor Wal Cherry in the 1960s and 1970s and Professor Julie Holledge in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, has been revived and secured for the next generation of South Australian emerging artists.”
Flinders University has taught drama as a separate discipline since the school of humanities was first established in 1967, with professional acting and directing programs at Flinders Drama Centre introduced in 1975.
Flinders graduates include award-winning actors, animators, directors, cinematographers, editors, producers, and writers – including Noni Hazlehurst, Scott Hicks, Douglas Gautier, Robyn Archer, Steven Mayhew, Rachel Burke, Annabel Matheson, Cameron Goodall, Ksenja Logos, Jude Henshall, Elizabeth Hay, Ellen Steele, Nick Pelomis, Geoff Revell, Gale Edwards and Caleb Lewis.
Alumni making an impact on Drama locally and internationally include Helpmann Award winner Benedict Andrews (Director – The War of the Roses, A Streetcar Named Desire, Seberg), Helpmann Award winner Amber McMahon (Actress – Girl Asleep, School Dance), Nescha Jelk (Director – Euphoria, co-founder of Rumpus Theatre), James Smith (Actor – Hibernation, Euphoria), Xavier Samuel (Actor – Twilight, Tell Me Your Secrets), and Anthony Nicola (Director, Resident Artist – State Theatre Company South Australia).