Vale George Whaley

8 August 2019

Above: NIDA's former Head of Acting, George Whaley © NIDA 1976.

Australian stage, film and TV director, actor, playwright, teacher and former NIDA Head of Acting George Whaley has died, aged 85. During his long and distinguished career in the performing arts, Whaley worked as an actor and director with all major Australian theatre companies, collaborated with many leading practitioners in both theatre and film, and served in executive positions with several high profile theatre and film educational institutions.

George Whaley was NIDA’s Head of Acting from 1976 to 1981, taking over from Alexander Hay. During his time at NIDA George was based at the school in the White House and Old Tote Theatre Building, the former Kensington racecourse buildings on High Street within the University of NSW.  While there he taught successful Australian actors such as Mel Gibson, Judy Davis, Colin Friels, Hugo Weaving, Philip Quast, Steve Bisley, Tom Burlinson, Linda Cropper, Penny Cook, Anne Tenney, Heather Mitchell and Di Smith.

His first production at NIDA was at Jane Street Theatre in 1976, Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted by Peter Kenna.  He went on to direct On Our Selection for the Jane Street Season in 1979, designed by Kim Carpenter, which transferred to the Nimrod Theatre and then to a major feature film in 1995, starring Mel Gibson, Leo McKern and Joan Sutherland. The film won an AACTA Award for Best Original Music Score.

Photo: The 1979 Jane Street production of On Our Selection. Photograph courtesy Robert Walker Archives © 1979.

Productions for NIDA also included The Hostage 1977 with Mel Gibson and Steve Bisley,  a smash hit version of Waiting for Godot with Mel Gibson and Geoffrey Rush and design by Lyn Ford at Jane Street in 1979, The Threepenny Opera in 1978 and The Women Pirates in 1980. He helped to consolidate the change in the Acting course from a two-year to a three-year course, where it remains today as a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting).

One of his students at NIDA at the time, actor Di Smith remembers George with extreme fondness, ‘I was lucky enough to be in the class at NIDA when George became Head of Acting at NIDA. He was without a doubt a strong influential person on quite a few careers from that era. He was an extraordinary actor and director and teacher. He was charismatic and had a great knowledge base that he passed on to us. And he had a fantastic sense of humour!’

Photo: The 1978 production of Threepenny Opera. © NIDA 1978

After NIDA, Whaley became a directing consultant for the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS), and was later AFTRS Head of Directing until 2002.

Among other career highlights, George wrote and directed the miniseries Harp in the South in 1986 and Poor Man’s Orange in 1987. He co-founded Theatre ACT (Canberra), was founding Director of University Theatre at Melbourne University, and Resident Director at the Old Tote in Sydney.

George continued to act throughout his career, with appearances in television series, tele movies and feature films. In over 180 productions his prime roles were primarily as actor and director or associate director but he also worked as writer, adaptor, producer, fight director, set designer and designer.

The complete and impressive list of productions and roles he was involved in is here. https://www.ausstage.edu.au/pages/contributor/1837