Working with industry mentors while studying a Bachelor of Acting

Ever wondered what it’s like to study a Bachelor of Acting at Queensland Conservatorium?

Liam Wallis shares his experience at the Conservatorium, the performance opportunities and working with directors from the industry as part of his degree.

Walk us through what a day is like studying at the Con.

There aren’t many moments in uni life when you can genuinely admit that you wake up at 6:00 am beaming with excitement about your “assessment”. It’s a particularly wonderful sensation when I remember that I get to study the craft that I love every day with such a tight-knit family of artists alongside you.

Each morning, without fail, I walk through our campus front door and am greeted with a smile and friendly “Morning!” from the wonderful Dominique Fegan at the front reception desk. Once inside, it’s a non-stop joyride of surprises and challenges.

Each class, whether it be acting, voice, movement, dance, theory or singing are taught by some of the greatest mentors in the business.

While some days will start at 9:00 am and end at 6:00 pm, you won’t want to leave. The training we receive at this institution is next to invaluable and leaves you craving more; it’s what brings you back the next day.

Every single one of these teachers cares immensely about the learning and development of their pupils and it is a privilege to learn and grow in their classrooms. Any future I have in the industry after the Conservatorium will be attributed to the teachings of the Performing Arts precinct. Their knowledge, care and respect for the craft and their students sets them apart from the rest. In particular, Jacqui Somerville (Senior Lecturer in Acting) and Dr Melissa Agnew (Voice and Speech) have nurtured and grown each of us in profound ways outside of just the excellent theory and practical training. Having such a close relationship with teachers allows us to learn about what we can really do with our discipline, how we can be better artists and people once we graduate, how we can stretch our voices beyond just “storytelling” and see the impact we can make in the world as truly great artists.

What do you love most about Queensland Conservatorium and why did you come here to study?

Honestly, my favourite part about studying at the Conservatorium is the connections with my peers and teachers. Each day is like coming to a second home where you can learn, grow and play with your second family. I can’t think of a better way to spend, sometimes, 8-hour days than with your closest friends, and the loving support that we shower each other with is really what makes our classes something special.

I wanted to study at the Conservatorium because I knew of the focus on excellence and development of its students in their chosen professions.

The teachers don’t see you as a number; they know you by your full name and are adamant about spending the time on making you the best actor you can be. There’s not a lot of institutions that can offer the intimate focus on individual students like the Conservatorium does.

Because of the incredible connections between teacher and student, there’s particular care and support for mental and physical health throughout this course which can sometimes be affected. There’s not just immense care about your success in the course, but also of your personal and interpersonal wellbeing during your time at the Conservatorium.

Tell us about some performances you’ve been a part of during your time at the Con.

Each year we have the privilege of creating 2 shows with our cohort and either an in-house director or external writers and directors. There have been many highlights thus far including working with Travis Dowling (Associate Director at Queensland Theatre) playing the role of Duke Orsino in a production of Twelfth Night. The Conservatorium has allowed us to work with and learn from many industry professionals coinciding with our studies in masterclasses and/or productions. Currently, it is particularly exciting to be working with Elise Greig who has written New Australian Play called Night Sky Over Our Town. On this project, we’ve been a part of the devising and dramaturgical research processes of a new piece of work and experienced what it’s like to collaborate and work with a living writer. The Acting class of 2021 will perform Night Sky Over Our Town in late October at Burke Street Studios.

What’s your advice for students who don’t get into the Con the first time around?

This is not the be-all and end-all. You can only do your best and that’s what matters.

If you don’t get a position, trust that it’s because there’s something else you need to do first. The outcome for this application doesn’t determine your place in the craft that you love, either. If you aren’t offered a spot, you shouldn’t take it as though you’ll never be good enough among the artists around the world. It just means you weren’t offered a place at this institution on this particular day. You can always continue to learn and grow in your own way and maybe even try again next year. By then, you’ll be a completely different person.

I didn’t get a first-round offer; I was offered in the second round. But I remember having that same existential crisis when I thought I “failed” … You can imagine how I would think that I’d exhausted all possible outcomes and opportunities; that I’d have to go back to Law School or something different. However, I persevered and even started working freelance.

Then, I got offered a position in the next round and I can tell you that that was a great day. Believe that anything can happen on a whim and never lose faith in yourself.

What advice do you have for future acting students?

Follow your passion. Believe the cliché. In addition, understand that your craft expands beyond just spouting lines on a stage or on screen. You’re the medium for story, character, life, empathy; what makes us human. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to do what we do, and every day should be treated like a blessing. Whatever your circumstances or outcomes in your journey, just keep swimming.

Despite what others might tell you, your development of your craft opens an endless stream of possibilities besides employment as an “actor” as well. This practice teaches you confidence, discipline, adaptability, perseverance, endurance and all manner of humanitarian insights from ultimately studying empathy.

You’re going to do great things!

What drew you to acting?

Acting was always just a “hobby” or a “vocation” when I was growing up. There were my classes which would count towards my future job prospects, then music and drama. I did what I had to do in order to broaden my opportunities in a “legitimate field” all through high school. However, nothing gave me more joy than partaking in plays and musicals as a kid. Whenever I was lucky enough with the opportunity to see a stage show or movie, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, those people do that for a job? I wonder if I could do that…” There are very few professions where your “job” is to amuse, thrill, entertain, melt and ultimately teach and show the world the lessons of empathy and humanity. Why do we cry in films? Why do we laugh at clowns? Why do we get angry at injustice for people who don’t even exist? It’s that responsibility of being the medium for stories about life, people and things which draws me to the craft of acting.

I ended up spending my first two years after high school at university studying science and law. It wasn’t until I finished the first 6 months of Law School that I realized I couldn’t sentence myself to the next 50+ years of my working life doing this job. It was my loved ones that convinced me to stop lying to myself and pursue the one thing I actually cared about doing: acting. It was never a realistic idea, but I had exhausted every other avenue for a future and decided that if I was going to do this, I needed to fully commit to it. What better way to prepare myself for the industry than to find an institution that would train me for the real world?

If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.