Leading artists challenge NIDA students to drive change in the arts

6 February 2018

Photo: (L-R) Kate Cherry, Jenny Bott AO, Jazz Laker, Mike Finch, Sigrid Thornton. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams.

The National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) this week proudly welcomed its new and returning Bachelor of Fine Arts and VET students, joining its Master of Fine Arts students who began last week.

The energy was palpable throughout NIDA’s Nancy Fairfax Foyer as fresh faces and returning students arrived to begin the next stage of their performing arts training. NIDA Director/CEO Kate Cherry, who was celebrating the completion of her first full year at the helm of NIDA, reaffirmed her vision for the institute with an inspirational speech to all the students in the Parade Theatre.

‘I want you to think of yourselves as having arrived at NIDA because someone here believes that you have the possibility of being a peak performer. In order to perform at a top level, you need focus on resilience, core purpose and the ability to work in teams, while knowing yourself incredibly well as an individual,’ said Cherry.

‘We are so diverse,’ she continued. ‘We have a massive diversity of talent and skills. People from different parts of the world, different belief systems. We are just very lucky that we get to come from a whole lot of different thoughts, ideas and belief systems, because that is what makes us strong.’

Photo: Kate Cherry welcomes all students to NIDA. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams.

Cherry was joined on stage by NIDA Board chair Jenny Bott AO and board member and award-winning Australian actor Sigrid Thornton, former Circus Oz director Mike Finch and head of NIDA’s student body, SCON, Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) year two student, Jazz Laker, as well as Donna Ingram, who welcomed the students to Bedegal land.

Finch had some timely and powerful words about diversity in the arts in Australia. ‘I challenge all of the women in the room to aspire to [top level] positions [in the arts],’ said Finch. ‘I challenge the men in the room to step aside and let the talented women have those positions and I challenge the white people in the room to make room for people of colour, and the straight people to make room for homosexual people.’

‘Work together and kindly with each other,’ continued Finch. ‘The world wants you to be in competition with each other, in a thing called “the industry”. The industry has 12 smoke stacks belching smoke and production lines where raw materials go in one end and sellable materials come out of the other. You’re not an industry, this is not an industry, you’re a community of people, of individual humans who all need to collaborate to survive.’

Finch implored students to think ‘about the bubbles that you’re in. The bubbles of designers, the bubbles of actors, the bubbles of technicians, the makers. And think about how you’re going to hop bubbles during this next three years. Think about how you’re going to work together as teams, because truly amazing things can happen when you get out of your own personal ghetto.’

From this week on, all the new students will become part of the nearly 60-year-old legacy of teachers, performers, designers, writers, producers and directors who have experienced NIDA. The students come from all over Australia with a wide range of experience in the performing and other arts.

Collaboration, diversity, integrity and resilience were consistent themes during the opening of Welcome Week.

Thornton discussed risk-taking and said that the perfect environment for that to happen is at NIDA. ‘Taking risks and failing in those risks will teach you another important lesson in resilience, which is one of the most important qualities an actor can have. You will find that out in your course at NIDA. And you’ll find it out even more keenly when you enter the wider world outside,’ she said.

‘Make work that makes the world better, make work that has heart, resist calling it industry, be open – say yes,’ said Finch. ‘You are the path to change in the arts, people in this room. Real success comes with the shine and good of others not just yourself,’ he concluded.