Critically-acclaimed 'Chimerica' nurtures NIDA students and underpins longstanding relationship with STC
Photo by James Green
Sydney Theatre Company’s latest production, Chimerica, opened on 4 March and is quickly generating a formidable reputation off the back of glowing reviews from critics and the public alike.
Written by British dramatist, Lucy Kirkwood, the play is brought to life by the company’s new Artistic Director and NIDA Master of Fine Arts (Directing) graduate, Kip Williams (2010).
The production begins with a re-enactment of one of the most iconic images of the late 20th Century – a lone man standing in front of a column of tanks during the Tiananmen Square massacre, before flowering into a journey of discovery. The focal question being: ‘What if Tank Man were still around today?’
Aside from the presented on-stage aspect, behind the scenes this play is providing something extra special to NIDA students: a taste of the big time.
All 20 NIDA Diploma of Musical Theatre students have been called upon to help deliver Williams’ aspirations for the play.
‘Kip had a vision for his production that was very people focussed,’ commented Mark Gaal, Director of Vocational Studies at NIDA. ‘So he came to talk to us and we believe that this collaboration between professional artists and our students is a great outcome. It means we can give our students a rare and exceptional opportunity.’
‘Opportunities like this don’t come around too often for students, and it’s usually industry professionals that come into the NIDA classrooms to work with the students to give the courses a real and immediate sense of what happens in the profession.’
With Chimerica, the roles are reversed – it’s the students entering the professionals’ domain to assist.
‘It’s very uncommon that as a student you get the opportunity to watch and talk to actors in a real life environment, about how they learn their lines and analyse their characters,’ commented Grace Stamnas, one of the 20 students involved. ‘We’re really lucky to have that experience behind us so early on in our development.’
Another of the NIDA students, Harrison Sweeney, added, ‘We’re picking up tips from actors along the way and learning on the job. They’re telling us things we need to know and that will help in our development. It’s pretty awesome watching these actors rehearse, seeing the way they work with the director, as well as being able to talk to them about their process.’
For many years, NIDA has had a strong and enduring relationship with the STC and this is evident from the way the company is nurturing NIDA students.
‘We’re there with the understanding that we’re students, but we’re not treated like students. They’re treating us like actors,’ said Sweeney. ‘However, they’re also making it known to us that they fully understand that we are not professionals, as it’s our first professional show. Usually, you don’t get to do this sort of thing until you are no longer a student and are out on your own in the real world. So we have a kind of safety net in that we are still students.’
What’s more, the STC has gone to great lengths to ensure NIDA students are getting the most from their time working on Chimerica. The company is giving them the space and time on its premises to continue their courses, in between their performance duties to reduce the stress of getting to and from the venue and to ensure their study time is maximised.
‘Because the students are participating in the show so early on in the year, we wanted to ensure that about half of the week was spent in skills development and the other undertaking rehearsals,’ said Gaal.
‘STC very generously made available a second space which meant we could bring in dance tutors, singing tutors and acting tutors. And when our students weren’t in rehearsal, they were undergoing specific skills development classes. How amazing for them that they’re at the STC, at the Wharf, and they can go from a NIDA class in one room, straight into the rehearsal room?’
Chimerica includes NIDA Acting graduates Matthew Backer (2010), Jason Chong (1996), Monica Sayers (2004), Charles Wu (2014) and Jenny Wu (2010), as well as Design graduates David Fleischer (2009) and Renée Mulder (2008) as set designer and costume designer respectively.
With the play – which has also graced theatre stages across London’s West End – meeting success after success, Kirkwood is adapting it into a mini-series but with a twist. The new iteration will have elements of the 2016 US election (the current version focuses on the 2012).
Chimerica is showing at the Roslyn Packer Theatre until 1 April 2017. Tickets to the show are available here.