Griffith performing arts students are getting all-access passes to the country’s top performers, casting agents and musical directors, thanks to a series of online workshops and masterclasses with key industry players.

Musical theatre and acting students have benefited from feedback and advice from industry heavyweights like musical theatre star Lucy Durack (The Wizard of Oz, Wicked), producer Michael Casssel (The Lion King, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and casting agent Natalie Gilhome (Matilda The Musical, School of Rock).

Preparing students for the new normal

Queensland Conservatorium Head of Performing Arts Professor Paul Sabey said it was inspiring to see staff and students adapt in challenging times.

“It’s been fantastic to see our teachers and students adapting to the demands of digital learning,” he said.

“We’ve managed to keep our students engaged, and they’ve been able to keep developing and honing their skills.”

Professor Sabey said the online workshops were helping prepare students for a new reality.

“We’ve pulled in a lot of favours from our contacts within the industry, so the students have had two or three sessions per week, with a whole range of leading professionals giving them individual feedback and advice,” he said.

“As the industry recovers, we are making sure our students are ahead of the game. We’re preparing them for the new normal, where they are submitting video auditions and collaborating with other creatives online.”

Industry workshops ‘a gift’

Bachelor of Musical Theatre student Jake Tolich

Final year Bachelor of Musical Theatre student Jake Tolich said the online workshops provided unprecedented access to industry mentors.

“This has been a definite highlight for me,” he said.

“We’ve been getting feedback on our self-takes and audition pieces, we’re able to ask questions and introduce ourselves to people at the top of their game – it’s been such a gift.

“The future of the industry is hard to predict, but Griffith has really made sure we’re in the best possible situation – we’re ready for anything.”

Honing new skills

Bachelor of Musical Theatre student Paris Valentino

Fellow Bachelor of Musical Theatre student Paris Valentino said online learning had given aspiring performers the chance to build new skills.

“The silver lining to all of this has been the chance to develop new skills, from lighting and editing a showreel to writing grant applications and creating a presence on social media.

“I feel we’re in a very lucky position, because we’re still studying, and we have that safety net and support.

“We have the advantage of being able to get ready for what may be the future of the industry.”

Nurturing the next generation of performers

Award winning musical director Luke Hunter (Jersey Boys, The Addams Family) acted as an industry mentor – offering students insight into preparing for auditions.

“It’s so important to help foster the next generation of our industry, especially now,” he said.

“I love working with a cohort that is hungry for information and keen to learn and grow. It’s inspiring to be reminded that our industry is incredibly passionate about what we do and the work we create.”

“We know the industry is good at bouncing back. In the meantime, we do what we can to maintain our skills and be ready. We’ve been forced to accelerate our take-up of digital transformation, and perhaps this is the one positive of the experience we’ve had in lockdown.”

Making an impact online

Natalie Gilhome, a casting director and choreographer who has worked on blockbuster shows like Matilda The Musical, School of Rock and West Side Story offered students advice on online auditions.

“It was a fantastic chance to workshop ideas, expectations and experiences around performing and auditioning on video and all the challenges that this raises,” she said.

“It was incredibly rewarding. I finished the session and felt invigorated and inspired myself.”

Alumnus pays it forward

Musical theatre alumnus Tony Byrnes offered advice to final-year students on employment opportunities in the industry.

“Hearing about how someone has achieved what you are striving and working towards is always inspiring and motivating as a student – especially during these unprecedented times,” he said.

“I could see myself in so many of them and know what it’s like to feel anxious for the next step. The industry will kick off again and they will be ready when it does.”