NIDA celebrates 60 years with Alumni Reunion

30 July 2019

Photo: NIDA alumna Di Smith (Acting, 1978) proposed the toast to NIDA's 60th birthday. (Photo: Patrick Boland)

Photo: NIDA third year BFA (Acting) students Tadhg Lawrence, Jazz Laker, Thomas Russell, perform 'Old Friends' from the Sondheim and Furth musical Merrily We Roll Along accompanied by NIDA Head of Music Andrew Ross. (Photo: Patrick Boland)

NIDA celebrated 60 years of outstanding performing arts education with a glittering Alumni Reunion. Over 350 former students and staff mingled with the current staff and students to create a special event in NIDA's Nancy Fairfax Foyer.

Check out the Alumni Reunion gallery of photos here.

NIDA Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Bott AO welcomed everyone to the event, beginning with an acknowledgement of country of Bidjigal and Gadigal land, adding that 'at NIDA we honour Indigenous traditions and customs and thank them for the care of our land.'

Jenny went on to reflect on NIDA's history in a passionate and inspiring speech, saying that 'Sixty years ago we began in an unheated tin shed across the road with 23 students and a two-year acting course. From those early days, we grew up – not without teething difficulties and tantrums as you would expect. But we have always had our eye on the prize, to fulfill our mission of creating extraordinary opportunities for talented students to learn from great teachers, and to develop the performing arts in Australia through Australian stories and Australian voices and images.'

'When so much of university life today is transactional, we passionately embrace intense work as collaborators, learning from those talented teachers for who we are so grateful.

'We now have a suite of Bachelor of Fine Arts courses across all performing arts disciplines – in Acting, Design for Performance, Properties and Objects, Costume, Scenic Construction and Technologies, Technical Theatre and Stage Management. We have Master of Fine Arts courses in Cultural Leadership, Costume, Design for Performance, Directing, Voice, and Writing for Performance. And we have our Vocational Diplomas in Live Production and Technical Services, Musical Theatre, Specialist Make Up and Stage and Screen Performance.

'We have a budget of over $17 million that is 34 per cent government sponsored and 66 per cent earned by us. We have 120 permanent staff and 630 casuals. I know some of you feel our culture has changed. It has, we have. We are much bigger, and we are much more regulated in a much more competitive space. But our dreams our heart and our ideas are very familiar and always aspirational: to be the best we can be.

'It is through your work and creativity that NIDA is the place that people look to for the future direction of Australian performing arts – the iconic, the long-running, the ground breaking, the controversial and the award-winning, the visionary, the out of the box inventive, the emerging, the new and the tried and tested.

'Now we are globally ranked in the top ten schools of dramatic arts, the only non-UK or American school in that list. As a graduate of NIDA you are deeply woven into the fabric of that picture. We are proud that the very essence, the passionate centre of NIDA, is still very much the same. Yes we grew up and expanded – but at the heart of NIDA beats a community that has dedicated its life to a vibrant and innovative Australian performing arts industry.  You are that heart - and we wouldn’t be where we are today without you.'

Photo: NIDA Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Bott AO. (Photo: Patrick Boland)

Photo: Acting graduates from across 60 years were present at the Reunion, including Remy Hii (Acting, 2011) recently appearing in Spider-man: Far From Home. (Photo: Patrick Boland)

Photo: Graduates from all NIDA courses were present including: theatre, film and television actors, set and costume designers, costume makers, properties and objects makers, staging construction professionals, technical theatre and stage management professionals, lighting and sound designers, writers, directors, and cultural leaders. (Photo: Patrick Boland)

Photo: The Reunion provided a once in a decade chance for groups of students to catch up: the Acting cohort from 1980. (Photo: Patrick Boland)

Photo:  Producer of Barbara and the Camp Dogs Vicki Gordon with Helpmann Award winner Alana Valentine (Playwrights 1989). (Photo Patrick Boland).

'You left us here and flew - across the world - to explore and invent and express and create performing art in the most extraordinary places – in leading theatre companies, opera and dance companies, musical theatre, film and television and streaming companies, production organisations, festivals, staging and event companies, costume production companies, venues, museums and galleries, creative industries and cultural services organisations. From Berlin to Brisbane, from Singapore to Prague,  from Manchester to Melbourne, London, Los Angeles, New York and back again, you took the NIDA advantage and used it to the max. Which is exactly what we wanted you to do.

'And in your time here you made new friends, forged partnerships and collaborations, coped with and won the tests and trials to become your true creative self, and discover your authentic place in the world.

'We have with us today alumni from every decade of NIDA’s 60 years – 17 from the now iconic 1960s, 17 from the revolutionary 1970s, 73 from the glittering 1980s, 51 from the indie 1990s and 54 from the digital-age Naughties, and 38 graduates from this decade, including our most recent 2018 graduates. We welcome our third year Bachelor students and our MFA students and 21 staff and ex staff members. Everyone here can attest to the profound impact of the teachers, lecturers, directors, guests and other creative leaders who have taught here.

'We have alumni from all our courses – theatre, film and television actors, set and costume designers, costume makers, properties and objects makers, staging construction professionals, technical theatre and stage management professionals, lighting and sound designers, writers, directors, and cultural leaders.

'From time to time, we, like all universities and many schools, will ask you to contribute to our Student Fund to enable far-flung and disadvantaged young people to come to NIDA. You will choose whether you want to give or not – but we know you will understand our passion for wanting to offer these opportunities to talented students regardless of their background.

'For the next 60 years we want to broaden our support for all students to access NIDA -  no matter where they live in Australian and regardless of their economic background.

'We recognise Australia’s unique position as home to the world’s oldest continuous living culture and are particularly focused on enabling all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with the opportunity to learn at NIDA. We have scholarships to specifically support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with plans for many more. We want our graduates to reflect the great and diverse culture that we have and the world in which we live.

'NIDA is proud of the alumni who continue to return here to teach and share knowledge as staff and guest artists. We are aiming to build on the programs that welcome our alumni on campus to share knowledge with our students. Philip Quast, as a volunteer, has been hosting drop-in sessions for our recent Acting graduates, for example, as they deal with their first auditions. We are also looking at ways that we can continue to support you through your careers. We welcome your ideas.'

NIDA students Aislinn King (MFA Design) and Hannah Sitter (BFA Design 3) mingle with Design alumni. (Photo: Patrick Boland)

Jenny then handed over to NIDA alumna Di Smith (Acting, 1978) to propose the 60th birthday toast. In a humorous and moving speech, Di said that, 'I’m actually the same age as NIDA though clearly, I have not had nearly as much structural work done!'

She went on to talk about her own feelings as a NIDA graduate, saying that, 'Earlier this year when we celebrated the life of my classmate Penny Cook in the theatre just there, I spoke about the invisible titanium thread that binds you to your NIDA cohort, the lifelong bond of that intense shared experience when your creative soul was forming. It's palpable this room right now, and it’s rare.'

'Every single one of you have vivid memories of studying here, not all of it rosy I’m sure. It’s like when you think about your life as a Disney movie, and let’s face it, who in this room doesn’t do that from time to time! NIDA appears as a kind of stepmother figure, enormously significant, gorgeous and  charismatic, (probably played by Cate Blanchett, dressed by Catherine Martin, with a budget worthy of Baz). She headlines your professional bio and is normally given a great deal of status.

'Now you no longer live under her roof, she still insists you come for Christmas, and now her sixtieth birthday party, so you do. You gird up your list of career failures and take a deep breath in case there’s someone in the room you had a brief peccadillo with at 21 and have since forgotten. Then, as in any family event, you get swept up by the sheer joy of being surrounded by familiar laughs and faces, beautiful friendships, old adversaries and even older jokes. So, here’s to NIDA and happy 60th birthday!'

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Feeling inspired? Applications to study at NIDA in 2020 are now open and close on 30 September 2019. Visit apply.nida.edu.au