'Be relentless, be true'

9 January 2019

Each month, we're catching up with one of NIDA’s creative leaders, to show you the artist behind the educator. This month we sat down with Dr Egil Kipste, the Director of the Centre for Creative Practices.

Dr Egil Kipste brings a wealth of theatre and performance experience to the strategic role of Director for Creative Practices at NIDA, across the postgraduate disciplines of Directing, Writing for Performance and Cultural Leadership.

Charismatic, quick witted and with a sharp sense of humour, Egil was marked out at a young age as a potential director. From early beginnings in Latvian theatre and psychology counselling, he graduated from NIDA (Directing, 1983) and worked as a freelance director and dramaturge for 15 years with most of Australia’s major theatre companies. After teaching Theatre Studies at UNSW he worked as Casting Director at Sydney Theatre Company for six years and with Disney Theatrical in Australia and New York as Global Casting Associate.

‘The role of casting director can be creative or not, depending on where you work,’ he reflects. ‘At STC and Disney it was a creative role, and very much about your relationship with the Director. My job at Disney was to keep the casting constantly up to date for the 10 productions shown all around the world. In both roles I worked with scores of top level Australian and international directors and had the privilege to see them at work in a variety of ways in the rehearsal room,’ he said.

Above: Lulu: A Modern Sex Tragedy, directed by Claudia Osborne (Directing 2018) and designed by Kelsey Lee (Design, 2018)  (Photo: Patrick Boland).

Invited to return to NIDA as a Guest Director, Egil was inspired to pass on his knowledge within an education setting. ‘In some ways, there was a tacit understanding in the profession at that time that you couldn’t really “teach” directing,’ he said. ‘My only key to acquiring a directing process at theatre school had been a two-week course led by visiting Russian actor and director, Yevgeny Lanskoy from the Maly theatre in Moscow. He brought with him an orthodox and Soviet view of Stanislavski’s system.’

‘I have always been very much influenced by Eastern European and German theatre, which is still today regarded in the Western world as the most cutting edge, innovative and notable,’ he said. ‘I spent a lot of time in Berlin and my time there was an eye opener. The combination of Stanislavskian and Brechtian theatre was so strong both performatively and cognitively, while at the same time intellectually interesting and taxing for the audience.’

‘This combination of intellect and heart, idealism and politics is what I found particularly interesting. The high level of visuality in gesture, sets, costumes and lighting was used to make very bold non-naturalistic statements to support both the emotion and ideas of a production.’

Above: Ah Tuzenbach, A Melancholic Cabaret. NIDA Acting students worked with Guest Director Oleg Glushkov from Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS) (Photo: Patrick Boland).

Appointed as a Head of Directing at NIDA in 2008, Egil decided ‘we needed to teach a methodology in directing.’ For his Doctorate at Queensland University of Technology he researched what could be called Stanislavski’s ‘Active Analysis’ methodology which he discovered was not well-known in the English-speaking world. He was inspired to build his Directors’ training model on Active Analysis. He wrote a comprehensive director’s handbook which became the basis of teaching directing at NIDA.

Egil is quick to point out that not all students follow this particular model. ‘After foundational study you have to let people do their own thing and not interfere,’ he said. He remembers current Sydney Theatre Company Artistic Director Kip Williams (Directing, 2010) and his graduating production Not I by Samuel Beckett – ‘it was one production I had the least to do with!’ he laughs. ‘I had supreme confidence in him – I then thought OMG I hope this turns out well! Of course it ended up being fantastic. Kip found his own voice as a director.’

Above: Not I, directed by Kip Williams at NIDA.

Looking to the future, Egil said that he wants to ‘develop and expand the dialogue between different artforms, theatre companies, technology and international partners.’ Egil has taught at the national theatre schools in Russia, Germany, Vietnam and China. NIDA’s Active Analysis directing course is now part of the ‘Alexandria Nova’ group of schools teaching this methodology (including schools from Germany, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Finland).

Any advice for current and potential students? ‘Be relentless in the pursuit of what you want, do everything with everyone no matter how small or big and be true to yourself’ he said. ‘And keep learning!’

Above: Video of development work of NIDA’s Guest Director Oleg Glushkov from Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS) and his production of Ah Tuzenbach, A Melancholic Cabaret in 2018. Read more about the final production here.

Egil’s handbook, Directing Experience, is available online here. To register your interest in studying Directing at NIDA, complete this form here.