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How studying at NIDA boosts this breakout star’s career in musical theatre

Ellis Dolan

We featured a story on Ellis Dolan (Diploma of Musical Theatre, 2017) and his role in The Rocky Horror Show playing his childhood hero Eddie. We had such a lovely response to the story that we just had to follow up with Ellis, who has been so gracious in answering interview questions and finishing it up by sharing more alumni in the industry news! Congratulations to all! We at NIDA are super proud of you!

NIDA: Where did you grow up?

Ellis Dolan: My family and I moved from Bishopbriggs, Scotland, when I was seven years old. We moved to Adelaide –Kaurna Country–where I grew up, did all my schooling and went to university.

NIDA: How did you get into musical theatre? Did it stem out from watching the original Rocky Horror Picture Show or was there something else that added fuel to the passion?

ED: I've always been interested in musicals — whether that be through Disney films or Rocky Horror —but the moment I knew that I needed to work in musical theatre was when I was 11. Seeing Reg Livermore play Max Bialystock in The Producers.

That production just blew my mind and set the fire that's been burning ever since. From there, Sweeney Todd got me into the works of Stephen Sondheim and I've never looked back.

NIDA: What does it feel like when you're performing on stage?

ED: Performing on stage just makes sense to me in a way that not a lot of other things do. It's an elation —a high—that I can't describe or find anywhere else. To connect with an audience, or with another performer on stage, is like magic.

Art—theatre, music, books, poetry, etc—is a universal language, and it can be a conduit of connection between people who would never otherwise be connected. I think that's so beautiful.

NIDA: Advice for anyone wanting to audition for NIDA?

ED: Be yourself. When you walk into any audition room, showcase who you are and the unique things you bring to that room. Of course, you want to transform yourself into your character, but at the end of the day, you need to be true to who you are.

NIDA: Why did you decide to choose NIDA as a place to learn musical theatre?

ED: NIDA has a great reputation behind it, with so many world-class artists coming forth, and I wanted to be in the mix of that. The Diploma course seemed perfect for me because I'd already done four years of university study beforehand.

It turned out to be the most important year of my life, thus far. The fact that I got to be taught by some of musical theatre's finest —Philip Quast, Mitchell Butel, Anne Maree McDonald, Luke Byrne—and learn with some of the best emerging talent Australia can offer was absolutely astonishing.

NIDA: How did it help you with your career post-graduation?

ED: It helped introduce me to my agent—Focus Talent Management—and gave me the opportunity to start auditioning for mainstage productions.

Through that, I got cast in School of Rock as the Dewey Finn understudy and have been working consistently ever since, give or take a global pandemic. But the main way it has helped me is by introducing me to my fellow classmates, who have become my family. To be surrounded by so many intensely talented and passionate people, to work with them every day for that year, inspired me to become a better performer and a better human.

Last year, I was having dinner with fellow Diploma (Musical Theatre) 2017 graduates Lincoln Elliott—who was touring the country with Sunshine Super Girl at the time—and Brianna Bishop—currently shining as Amber in Hairspray and I'd just been announced as Eddie/Dr Scott in The Rocky Horror Show. We just couldn't believe our fortune that we were all forging ahead in the industry, having been brought together by our NIDA course. Every single person in that course is such a talented and inspiring performer and I consider myself so lucky to be a part of their number.

Ellis gave us the following information on his fellow alumni of Diploma (Musical Theatre) 2017:

  • Jack Keen is currently performing in The Beep Test, touring the Adelaide Fringe.
  • Cara Bessey has been touring with Mary Poppins as ensemble/cover
  • Lincoln Elliott has just started rehearsals for Squabalogic's On A Clear Day, You Can See Forever
  • Rachel Tunaley is bringing her debut solo show 12 Lies I Told Before 21 to the Melbourne Comedy Festival, and has just opened new Australian musical Bearded
  • Olivia McLeod's show We Forgive You, Patina Pataznik will also be premiering at the Melbourne Comedy Festival
  • Brianna Bishop is currently in Hairspray as Amber

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