• Whitehouse
  • Old Tote Theatre 1968
  • NIDA entrance 1988

NIDA's story

NIDA was founded in 1958 as the first professional theatre training school in Australia. The idea of a national theatre training school was initiated by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust (AETT) in the mid-1950s. With the support of the then Vice-Chancellor (later Sir) Philip Baxter, NIDA was established in the grounds of the University of New South Wales.  Robert Quentin, later Professor of Drama at UNSW, was appointed the inaugural Director.

Teaching began in 1959 and in1960, the first 23 students graduated with a Diploma in Acting. Today, NIDA welcomes approximately 300 full-time students to the Kensington campus each year. More than 15,000 children, young people, adults, schools and teachers participate in NIDA Open part-time and short courses across Australia each year, and over 9,000 professionals benefit from NIDA Corporate’s training each year.

NIDA has always been more than just an acting school. From 1961 it offered both acting and production streams, and in the early 1970s design, technical production and directing streams were introduced. In 1991 NIDA expanded into the study of theatrical crafts – costume, properties, scenery and staging - and over the 2000s developed post-graduate courses in voice, movement studies, production management and playwriting. The current courses in six undergraduate, five post-graduate and four vocational diploma disciplines reflect NIDA’s ongoing responsiveness to industry demands.

To find out more visit the NIDA Archives

History of NIDA Courses


  • NIDA opens with a two-year course in Acting


  • A two-year Production course is added


  • Both the Acting and Production courses become three-year courses
  • A three-year Design course and a one-year graduate course in Directing are introduced


  • A two-year Associate Diploma Course in Theatre Crafts (specialising in either scenery, properties and costume) is introduced


  • Three one-year graduate diploma courses in Voice Studies, Movement Studies and Production Management are introduced


  • Bachelor of Dramatic Art replaces the Diploma of Dramatic Art for students of Acting, Technical Production and Design


  • Bachelor of Dramatic Art in Production Crafts replaces the Associate Diploma in Theatre Crafts
  • Advanced Diploma of Dramatic Art in Scenery Construction is introduced


  • Accreditation of a one-year Master of Dramatic Art in three streams: Voice Studies, Movement Studies and Directing (a Playwriting stream was accredited in 2006)






NIDA Initiatives

Wider community and theatrical engagement is an important part of NIDA’s story.  Since the early 1960s, NIDA has created opportunities for students and staff to engage in professional theatre and has promoted Australian drama through commissioning and staging works.

Old Tote Theatre Company

In 1963, NIDA established the Old Tote Theatre Company and provided opportunities for NIDA students to work with a professional theatre company. In 1969, the Old Tote became an independent organisation based at the Parade Theatre at the University of New South Wales. From 1973-78, the Old Tote was the resident theatre company at the Sydney Opera House and at the Parade Theatre.

Jane Street Theatre

In 1966, NIDA established the Jane Street Season of Australian and classical plays in association with the NIDA Advanced Course, staged in a converted former church hall in Randwick. The final season at the Theatre was in 1980, although two Jane Street productions were staged in the Parade Theatre in 1982.

The NIDA Actors Company

Arising from the NIDA Advanced Course, the NIDA Company was established in 1990 with the object of providing professional initiative and commitment to research and development through the provision of artistic opportunities for actors, playwrights, directors, composers and designers who were already working in the industry.  Performances were given in the NIDA Theatre until 2007.


The NIDA Open [link] program first began with a successful Summer School in 1990. It was formally established in 1992 to provide community access to NIDA expertise through short courses and workshops in performing arts. Since then it has continued to successfully engage the community by opening NIDA’s doors to the public through short courses, holiday classes and intensive Studio and residency courses around Australia.

NIDA Corporate

Since 1991, NIDA has offered practical skills-based training in professional communication, presentation and leadership for individuals and businesses in the public and private sectors. Drawing upon expertise in performance, NIDA Corporate delivers public and in-house courses, one-to-one coaching, online courses, group workshops, conference seminars and keynote speakers.

NIDA Buildings

For much of its first 30 years, NIDA was based on the UNSW Campus, in the White House, sheds and Old Tote buildings near Gate 4. In 1988, NIDA moved to its current location on Anzac Parade, Kensington, Sydney. The NIDA complex features five world-class theatres, including the NIDA Parade Theatre which was opened by NIDA Graduate Mel Gibson AO in 2002.

Old Tote Theatre

The Old Tote Theatre was an old army hut converted in 1962 by the UNSW on behalf of NIDA to house student productions and the early Old Tote Theatre productions. The theatre was in use by NIDA until 1987, when it was returned to the UNSW and renamed the Fig Tree Theatre.

Stage I and Stage II – Anzac Parade

In 1988 NIDA formally moved to the new purpose built administration, teaching and workshop buildings at 215 Anzac Parade, Kensington, adjacent to the Parade Theatre. The Stage 1 complex was designed by Peter Armstrong.

The Stage II Buildings opened on the 26 October 2001 funded by a Federation Fund Grant of $25 million from the Federal Government as  well  as generous donations from Mel Gibson, James Fairfax AO and Ben Gannon, and bolstered by financial support from the NIDA Foundation. The Stage II complex received the Sir John Sulman Award for Public Buildings from the NSW Chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.


The original Parade Theatre was a lecture theatre on the UNSW Western Campus, which was converted to a proscenium-arch theatre in 1969 to house the Old Tote Theatre Company until 1978. From the early 1980s NIDA used the theatre for student productions until 1999, when the theatre was demolished and rebuilt as a 730-seat horseshoe theatre.

On 23 April 2002 Mel Gibson opened the new Parade Theatre, having generously contributed to its funding, and was welcomed by the whole student body on stage. He declared himself 'gobsmacked' by the new theatre. Country Music, the first production in the new Parade Theatre, opened on 17 July 2002. This was the Australian premiere of a new play by Nick Enright workshopped with the graduating students and directed by Tony Knight and Julia Cotton with music composed by Wei Han Liao.

Graduate School

The Graduate School was officially opened by The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, MP Prime Minister of Australia and Mel Gibson AO on the 6 December 2015 providing a dedicated school for creative and cultural graduate study. It was built by Hassell Architects, who collaborated with the original architect Ken Maher to create two new levels above the Stage II complex, which complement Ken’s Sulman award-winning design.


The Melbourne complex is located in the heart of the arts precinct in Southbank and was developed in partnership with City of Melbourne, NIDA’s purpose-built teaching studios at Creative Spaces: Guild provide exciting opportunities for deeper engagement with local artists, businesses and communities.

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NIDA acknowledges the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the sacred lands, from the mountains to the sea, on which we learn and tell stories.

The lands of the Bidjigal, Gadigal, Dharawal and Dharug peoples. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present.