National Institute of Dramatic Art – Final Director’s Cut

NIDA_Directors 2014 Productions1

Photo: Don Arnold (L to R), Heather Fairbairn, Alastair Clark, Jessica Arthur, Samantha Young, Katie Cawthorne, Zebastian Hunter, David Burrowes courtesy ©NIDA

The arts and creative industries in Australia have built worldwide reputations for innovation, talent and energy. In all fields of endeavour, creative people inspire discussion about our national identity. Their activities showcase the vital importance of encouraging self-expression and emboldening community engagement.

Being a ‘creative’ is all about social and economic innovation, inspiration and imagination and very definitely about thinking outside, and beyond the box.

The culture of ‘theatre’ and performance art has been flourishing for a very long time in human terms and its good to see it still scaling the heights of excellence in Australia. Based in Sydney, an innovative spirit of engagement with the arts prevails at NIDA, the National Institute of Dramatic Art

NIDA have established and maintain a very high level of excellence in education and training for theatre, film and television. They offer short courses and residencies for all levels of experience; acting, tv presenting, writing, directing, filmmaking and more…

Teachers are building on over five decades of experience, from when the original founders of this great institution decided to break clear of the ‘shadow to English understatement’ that prevailed at the time.

NIDA_Directors 2014 Productions2At NIDA they challenge all their director, acting and production Master of Fine Arts student hopefuls to engage a live audience through a series of vibrant thought-provoking works.

With infinite variety and revealing their talents on stage and on film, a full ensemble of current NIDA graduating students, including NIDA alumni and guest artists are involved in bringing the stories to fruition.

This November at NIDA they will be showcasing diverse and daring works by the next gen wave of emerging NIDA directing students, those who have made the ‘final cut’. From 26-29 November NIDA‘s Master of Fine Arts (Directing) students will present seven short productions.

The Directors’ Productions 2014 provide a grand finale to the student’s year.

These are ‘fresh adaptations’ of classic works in history, as well as contemporary productions. They represent genres as ‘diverse as circus, film, cabaret and opera’.

Importantly, the public have an opportunity to attend and help support Australia’s finest creative emerging talent, as they embark on their career paths in the world of visual and performance arts.

Richly designed backdrops, colourful costumes and technical design will be a highlight of productions.

They seek to reflect the emerging NIDA Master of Fine Arts Director student as a creator, someone who with the ability to bring out the best in all around him and create a great triumph for all involved by revealing their combined strengths.

“These productions are a culmination of the student’s hard-work throughout the year and a testament to the broad range of skills they have mastered,” commented Dr Egil Kipste, Head of Directing at NIDA “….I can say with confidence that this group has passed with flying colours!” he said.


Becoming a Director whatever the performance medium, means taking on a huge responsibility, envisioning how a story line, a play or written piece of prose can be brought forward to become a work that will gain a following to ensure its success.

Directors need to be leaders; certainly multi-talented in terms of their intellectual prowess and practical and technical ability.

They need to to understand production challenges and have an ability to also gain the respect of a great variety of tech heads, without actually being one of them.

Above all they must exhibit the very generous ability it requires to embolden and empower actors in their individual performance.

This will help them as they successfully met morph into a character the audience will engage with, and importantly relate to.

On top of that each NIDA Master of Fine Arts (Directing) students need to be able to be across all the challenges of budgets, having an overview of the many and varied production requirements; insurances, workplace health and safety and the list goes on and on.

NIDA_Directors_Alastair Clark

NIDA Master of Fine Arts (Directing) Student Alistair Clark, courtesy ©NIDA

The ‘SPACE’ Theatre program, consists of a terrific trio of ‘classic works’, each of which are extremely challenging in their own right.

Antigone is a play by the renowned ancient Greek playwright Sophocles (c496 – 406 BCE) whose works today are treasured.

Sophocles responded well to the ‘dramatic needs of the moment’ and his last recorded act was to lead a chorus in public mourning for his deceased rival, Euripides, before the festival of 406.

This chosen work for graduating NIDA Master of Fine Arts Director student Alastair Clark relates a story about embracing and accepting civic responsibility, while dealing with the dynamics of personal loyalty, especially when held in tension with religious mores.

It has been translated by Robert Bagg.

Alastair Clark is a Director from Aotearoa New Zealand, currently based in Sydney. Before coming to NIDA, he was involved in the student theatre scene at the University of Melbourne where he was awarded the annual Robert McDonald MTC Award for Outstanding Contribution to Student Theatre.

This work was first performed 442 or 441 BCE and is all about Antigone, daughter of Oedipus the King (the subject of perhaps Sophocles most famous play). Antigone is challenged by events to balance reasons of state with family ties, a dichotomy many people face today in balancing their personal and professional lives.

A popular figure of his day with athletic prowess, skills in writing and music, Sophocles commanded the armed forces as one of the elite citizens of Athens (Top Ten).

As a playwright his artistic talents were much celebrated and admired. His characters all had finely drawn qualities or faults, as they struggled with truth as opposed to ‘ignorance, delusion and folly’. He particularly revelled in creating tension to highlight his use of ‘tragic irony’… so it’s a considerable challenge for its Director.

Alastair Clark explained “Our world is complex and evades a simple explanation. An artist must understand this and refuse to give one. My responsibility as a director is to articulate my worldview without dictating the response” he said.

NIDA_2Die Winterreise by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) is a musical feast produced in 1827 that was set to poetic texts by Wilhelm Müller.

Considered a ‘colossal peak in art song’, for this production the texts have been adapted by Heather Fairbairn and Krystal Sweedman and the play will be directed by Heather Fairbairn

Schubert’s marvellous music is as enchantingly naive, as is the poet’s way of expressing the emotions contained in his poems, which cannot help but deeply move and touch the heart.

These works combine dream and reality, while showcasing the romantic ideal of being a wanderer in life. That includes dealing with the pain of unrequited love, heartbreaking tragic tales of loss and ‘distillation of despair’.

A ‘classic’ work of modernity is Rausch (2012), by German Writer and Director Falk Richter (b.1969 –  ) whose fusion of modern aesthetics and performance principles will certainly challenge director Jessica Arthur.

Rausch has been translated by David Tushingham.

Richter’s impressive list of contemporary works provide intensive profiles of current mores and concerns, in his exploration of the psychology of modern man.

NIDA_Directors_Zebastian Hunter

NIDA Master of Fine Arts (Directing) Student Zebastian Hunter, courtesy ©NIDA

The ‘STUDIO’ theatre program will offer themes that challenge the NIDA Directing students and their teams to adapt and express their ideas to suit current philosophies, ideologies and audiences.

Le Portrait de Dorian Gray, originally written by the great Irish nineteenth century literary genius and playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) is of interest, with the production being bi-lingual (French-English)

It will explore the ideas behind the decadent philosophy that ‘truth is beauty, and beauty truth’, as relevant to today’s emerging generation.

A huge celebrity of his day, Wilde created the story around three main male characters; there was the decadent dandy with forceful opinions who abandoned all thoughts of morality, the artist who had a strong moral centre and believed in the intrinsic good of man, as well as the self obsessed ‘beautiful’ young man Dorian Gray, who earnestly wishes his commissioned portrait would age in his stead.

Wilde revealed the trio of personalities combined characteristics were meant to reflect his own; revealing what his private life was really like, his perceptions of ‘what the public really thought about him, as well as his own considered thoughts about what his future would likely be.

These are all ideas we can surely still relate to.

Wilde famously noted in his preface to the story that

“… art has no influence upon action. It annihilates the desire to act. It is superbly sterile. The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame. That is all”

The play itself, which became a famous Academy Award film when Hollywood told the story first in 1945 just at the end of World War II, highlighted the atmosphere of judgmental behaviour, which prevailed during the late nineteenth century in the so-called ‘beautiful era’.

La Belle Epoque lasted from c1890 to 1914 when England, France and its European neighbours were all at peace. This was also a time of great political and social contrasts, when art and design flourished and music became accessible to a wider audience than ever before.

The Industrial Revolution and individual great wealth had enabled the building of grand theatres, great concert halls and innovative public spaces.

The originally ‘censored’ story has been adapted for NIDA ’s presentation by Stephen Sewell, and will be Directed by Zebastian Hunter who observed

During 2014 I have worked tirelessly to combine text and movement, to search for a way to amalgamate the exciting risk of circus with the dramaturgical foundations of theatre. NIDA has provided me with the opportunity to develop my practice in multiple mediums for cross-disciplinary art in order to formulate my unique vocational methodology” Zebastian said.

NIDA_Directors_Katie Cawthorne

NIDA Master of Fine Arts (Directing) Student Katie Cawthorne, courtesy ©NIDA

Prior to undertaking the Masters of Fine Arts (Directing) at NIDA, Zebastian was one of Australia’s elite circus performers, working all over the world including with Cirque Du Soleil.

As a Director his creation, DownPour, for A4 Circus Ensemble toured both nationally and internationally.

Zebastian currently has plans to develop numerous projects in 2015 stemming from work-collaborative relationships formed at NIDA.

Little Bitch, a contemporary work By Katie Cawthorne, Laura Lethlean and Debra Thomas will be Directed by Katie Cawthorne.

Katie has worked as a drama and dance teacher for the past 12 years in specialist performing arts schools in Victoria, the Northern Territory and Mexico.

During this time she directed over 15 productions, ranging from dramas to musicals to devised works and was part of the creative team behind SLIDE Youth Dance Theatre in Darwin, developing works around social issues specific to the territory.

Katie said

After losing the rights to my original play very late in the process, I had the difficult decision of how to proceed. I had been living and breathing the original concept for months and couldn’t entertain the thought of not giving it a voice. In its place, we have devised a new work along a similar theme which I believe will be even stronger” she said.

It’s all about the choices we make ‘…when we live in an ‘unsettling environment where every move is analysed and compared to an expectation‘ and how we deal with how they affect our life’s journey.

It asks do we have a choice of going against the status quo or norm in society, especially when peer pressure is applied?

NIDA_Directors_David Burrowes

NIDA Master of Fine Arts (Directing) Student David Burrowes, courtesy ©NIDA

David Burrowes has created a film, The Death of Abel, which he has also directed on a shoestring budget.

David noted that

“Low budget, independent filmmaking is about being adaptive. Your film can change in an instant – a location falls through or the weather changes and an alternative option has to be found. Without resources, the biggest challenge is maintaining the vision while making necessary compromises. The question always remains, how can you make it happen and still maintain the integrity of the work”  he said.

It encompasses the ideas inherent in the story of the biblical estranged brothers Cain and Abel, where one blames the other to avoid responsibility or to acknowledge their own failures and shortcomings.

Metaphors are often inadequate, although they are useful when reflecting the type of human behaviour that repeats itself throughout history, which cannot help but also reflect the biases of those who have recorded it.

The two brothers ‘… meet to mourn the death of their father, share a glass of whiskey and settle a score that dates back an eternity’.

David Burrowes is a born and raised Sydney director working for the stage and screen. He has directed a number of shorts and in 2013 he co-wrote and directed The Drive, a web series that was nominated for Best Comedy at the Australian Web Stream Awards and was included in the official selection at the LA Webfest in 2014.

David has also directed a number of short plays including Hamlet (working-title) at the 2014 Sydney Fringe, where it received the Festival Director’s Emerging Artist Award.

Samantha YoungHunger has been Adapted by Samantha Young from Erisycthon and Mestra by Tom Wright and will be Directed by Samantha Young.

Samantha Young is a Theatre-Maker and Actor who graduated from NIDA with Bachelor of Dramatic Arts in Acting in 2007.

She has since performed at the likes of The Royal Opera House and Sydney Theatre Company. Samantha’s first full length play To the end of reckoning.

It was shortlisted for the Philip Parsons Award at Belvoir and sold out its reading at the Darwin Festival in 2013. She is currently a producer on Platonov at ATYP and directed The Midwife to a sold-out season at this year’s Sydney Fringe.

She writes and directs short films for the Northern Territory Government and was a Tropfest Finalist in 2012 as well as the Northern Territory Young Achiever of the Year.

About her challenging contemporary work, Samantha said

“I realised very early on that I needed to work in the performing arts. It has served different roles for me throughout the years from giving me a voice to teaching me how to live in this world with all its quirks. I like to work across the roles of Director, Actor, Writer and Producer because I do not believe I am right for every role in every project. I like to facilitate ideas and depending on the production, depends on which role I best serve. Being a director is only as challenging as you are prepared to accept. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a considered and deliberate leader. People need a director to be brave, invested and to take responsibility – I aim for that” she said.

‘The king, in sleep, in imagination, dreamt of feasts, closed his mouth on vacancy,
Exercised his gluttony on insubstantial food,
And fruitlessly ate the empty air.
All nourishment becomes a reason for nourishment
And always by eating, he creates an empty void.’

Performances of all these wonderful creations will be held in the NIDA Theatres, Wednesday 26 November – Saturday 29 November at 7.30pm and on Saturday 29 November at 3pm.

They will be presented in two concurrent programs in the Studio and Space venues. Entry fees are indeed reasonable.

From page to stage and from stage to the varied visual mediums we enjoying sharing performance art on today, it will be interesting to follow the future of the class of ’14, those promising NIDA Master of Fine Arts (Directing) students who made the ‘final cut’ at graduation.

Being a ‘creative’ means much more today than just the term ‘art or artists’, most people’s understanding of the word creative previously.

It’s all about social and economic innovation, inspiration and imagination and very definitely about thinking outside, and beyond the box.

– See more at:

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015

National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA)

Student-ProductionsGraduating Class of 2014,

26TH – 29TH NOVEMBER, 2014

215 Anzac Parade, Kensington, Sydney




By Sophocles

Translated by Robert Bagg

Directed by Alastair Clark

Conflict has infected Thebes. A civil war marred by foreign intervention has devastated the city. Kreon, brother-in-law of the infamous Oedipus, assumes power in order to resist anarchy and restore peace. He demands that the body of the traitor Polyneikes is to be left unburied. A single voice – resolute and female – says ‘no’.


By Franz Schubert

Adapted by Heather Fairbairn & Krystal Sweedman

Directed by Heather Fairbairn

Through fragmented memories and dreams, an ageing poet recounts the mistakes of his youth. As a young man, he abandons his fiancée to venture into the winter’s night, driven by the fear that she has been unfaithful. In his isolation, he is plagued by hallucinations of his beloved traversing the icy landscape in search of him.


By Falk Richter

Translated by David Tushingham

Directed by Jessica Arthur

Intimacy is dead. Rausch is an exploration of the intoxication of emotions and how modern society is out of touch. We are losing the meaning of words, the meaning of touch and the meaning of reality.


Little Bitch

By Katie Cawthorne, Laura Lethlean and Debra Thomas

Directed by Katie Cawthorne

A pack of teenagers inhabit a blunt and unsettling environment, where every move is analyzed and compared to an expectation. One pack member is labeled and judged until they’re completely isolated. What does it mean if you’re a little bitch? What does it mean if you’re a dog? What does it mean if you’re a hoe, skank, mole, bush pig…girl? Can you choose not to be?

The Death of Abel

A film by David Burrowes

Directed by David Burrowes

Since the beginning of time man has killed man. On a night that’s been a long time coming, estranged brothers Cain and Abel meet to mourn the death of their father, share a glass of whiskey and settle a score that dates back an eternity

Le Portrait de Dorian Gray

By Oscar Wilde

Adapted by Stephen Sewell

Directed by Zebastian Hunter

This adaptation of Dorian Gray picks up the story after the suicide of Sibyl Vane, whom Dorian callously casts aside when his infatuation with her evaporates. Abandoning himself to hedonism under the decadent philosophy that ‘Truth is beauty, and beauty truth’, his life becomes increasingly unhinged and corrupt.


Adapted by Samantha Young from Erisycthon and Mestra by Tom Wright

Directed by Samantha Young

‘The king, in sleep, in imagination, dreamt of feasts, closed his mouth on vacancy,

Exercised his gluttony on insubstantial food,

And fruitlessly ate the empty air.

All nourishment becomes a reason for nourishment

And always by eating, he creates an empty void.’

Ref: Media Releases NIDA, Quotes, Student Bio’s and Images courtesy NIDA Director Students and the National Institute of Dramatic Art.

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