From radio plays to Netflix series– NIDA 60th anniversary flashback

12 March 2019

2018 NIDA production Ex Machina: Heidi May as humanoid robot Ava, Joseph Althouse as Nathan Bateman

With Netflix making news as the ‘ultimate winners’ of this year’s Academy Awards, we look back at how opportunities for NIDA graduates have changed since NIDA first opened its doors in 1959.

For NIDA graduates in the 1960s and ‘70s, ‘Any work was desirable because it was­– then, as now –so hard to get work,’ recalls actor and director Lyn Lee, who graduated from NIDA in 1965, ‘but the most prestigious [type of work to get] was theatre.’

Throughout the ‘60s in Australia, the stage was the ultimate goal of the trained actor.

‘In Australia at that time there were very few feature films being made, and a lot of actors earned their bread and butter by doing radio plays. Television was desirable but regarded as a sort of poor cousin of film.’

NIDA in 1975. Technical Production students Timothy Gow (l) and David Glover (r). Photograph by George Pashuk.

20 years later, for actors who graduated in the ‘80s and ‘90s, radio plays would no longer pay anyone’s rent, and the film industry was exploding– but the perception of television as hierarchically below theatre and film seemed not to have changed, a view stemming from the perceived quality of work on offer.

In an interview with Sydney Morning Herald, actor Susie Porter recalled that when she first graduated from NIDA in 1995, ‘I thought, “Oh, I'll do movies and I'll do theatre, but I'll only do television if I need to.” Whereas now the quality of television is on par with what we're seeing at the cinema.’

Star of Netflix series Secret City, Anna Torv, who graduated from NIDA in 2001, also noted this difference.

In an interview with Sydney Morning Herald, Anna said,‘You can’t compare television series where the showrunners and writers used to have to quickly breakdown and prepare 22 episodes in succession to a room that now sits down and fine-tunes an episode… That’s not just in Australia, that’s everywhere: the quality of what’s on our screens is just better and better.’

NIDA graduates from the ‘00s and 2010s have been finding great success in front of global audiences on the new stage: the browser window. Four months after moving to New York City, 2006 graduate Yael Stone was cast in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black.

First a recurring guest, Yael was made series regular by season three. Orange is the New Black went on to become Netflix’s most-watched original series– a hefty statistic for a platform with over 139 million paid subscribers worldwide.

2013 graduate Devon Terrell found fame playing a young Barack Obama in Netflix film Barry in 2016.

This week, he has been announced in the cast of upcoming Netflix original series Cursed, alongside Katherine Langford and Gustaf Skarsgård.

2009 graduate, Ryan Corr, stars in Stan’s latest original drama series Bloom, released on January 1 2019, and Mia Healey, who graduated from NIDA’s Diploma of Stage and Screen Performance [10196NAT] in 2018, is currently working on Amazon pilot The Wilds, alongside James Fraser.

Mia Healey (background) during her time as a student at NIDA, 2017.

Of course, it is not just NIDA’s actors, but all NIDA graduates who are finding work in the new gigabyte theatre. 1986 Design graduate Tess Schofield, winner of four AFI Awards and known for her role as Costume Designer on films The Water Diviner and The Sapphires, was chosen as Costume Designer on Australia's first Netflix original series, Tidelands.

Tess Schofield in her first year as a Design student at NIDA, 1984.

Released in December 2018, two NIDA alumnae worked for Tess on Tidelands– 2018 Costume graduate Marnie Perkins (who was still a student when she worked on the series), and 2016 Design for Performance graduate, APDG Award-winner Charlotte Mungomery.

Marnie said, ‘It was really exciting to be part of the first Australian-produced Netflix series, as Netflix has become such an important platform for film and television viewing.’

Not only Netflix and Stan, but independently released works for the ‘internet browser’ are also becoming a path to success. In 2018, two NIDA Acting students collaborated with their pal at AFTRS to create the runaway hit web series, Dave & Theo.

Laurence Boxhall and Nicholas Burton, 2018 NIDA Acting graduates, who co-created Dave & Theo while still at NIDA.

In its first few weeks online, the trailer for Dave & Theo garnered over 100,000 views, its Facebook page over 33,000 followers, and they were interviewed by FilmInk and The Daily Telegraph.

In NIDA’s 60th anniversary year, we celebrate the new opportunities and platforms in the performing arts, and continue to nurture the storytellers of the future.

Visit NIDA on 15 June for 2019 Open Day. There will be performances, workshops, tours, talks and more.

Registered Training Organisation: 90349