NIDA acknowledges the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the lands on which we learn and tell stories, the Bidjigal, Gadigal, Dharawal and Dharug peoples, and we pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present.


NIDA Acting students perform in Penrith and Fairfield high schools

On the eve of the 455th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, NIDA’s second-year Acting cohort gave its first public performance of his works to high schools in Penrith and Fairfield.

NIDA second-year Acting students Alan Zhu and Nathaniel Langworthy in Two Noble Kinsmen, performing in the gymnasium at Penrith Selective High School.

On the eve of the 455th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, NIDA’s second-year Acting cohort gave its first public performance of his works to high schools in Penrith and Fairfield.

It was a special occasion for both the NIDA actors and the high school audiences.

‘For many students it was their first time seeing a live performance,’ the Creative Arts teacher at Penrith Selective High School, Anthony Vassallo, said.

‘Most of our students are from Iraq’, the Head of English at Fairfield High School, Martin Bianca, explained. ‘Many students who would have been unable to access live performance have now had that opportunity.’

NIDA second-year Acting students warming up before their performance of A Comedy of Errors at Fairfield High School.

NIDA’s Director, Centre for Acting, John Bashford, said this was precisely his reason for initiating the school performances, which he hopes to make a permanent part of the Acting curriculum. ‘We set up the project to take our work out into the community… and for the actors, to have the opportunity to learn how to work with a live audience.’

The NIDA actors performed Shakespeare’s final play, the tragedy Two Noble Kinsmen, to 150 year nine students at Penrith Selective High School, and his well-known A Comedy of Errors to 150 year nine, year 12 drama and support class students at Fairfield High School.

Mr Bianca said, ‘The experience was invaluable. For some students, it was their first and probably last opportunity to engage with such a well-performed play and the feedback they provided afterwards was very positive. Every student engaged with the play at some level, and they found themselves enthralled by at least one aspect of the story.’

NIDA second-year Acting students in costume in the Fairfield High School hall before the performance.

The NIDA actors also benefited from the experience. Leinad Coulthurst, who performed at Fairfield High School, said, ‘We found them to be a great audience – very honest as well, which was good for us… A live audience brings a different dimension to the performance that you don’t get in rehearsal. It was a good experience.’

Visiting director Sean O’Riordan, who worked with the NIDA actors on shaping Two Noble Kinsmen for a high school audience, has been directing Shakespeare in schools for almost a decade. When asked about the appeal of Shakespeare for high school students, Sean said, ‘It’s very much like the world of Marvel comics when they put on a big feature film. It’s got superheroes, supervillains, comedy, character, relationship, drama, action.

‘Shakespeare does have an extra bit – poetry; there’s not a lot of Spiderman poetry, or Ironman poetry, but everything else is exactly the same. It’s a very dynamic world where one minute you’ve got wrestling, singing, a dance, a fight.’

NIDA second-year Acting students (L-R) Mantshologane Maile, Rebecca Attanasio and Philip D’ambrosio performing Two Noble Kinsmen in the gymnasium at Penrith Selective High School.

When asked why we continue to give young people the challenge of engaging with Shakespeare’s works, Sean countered, ‘Why do we go into anything that’s older? Why do we look at paintings that are hundreds of years old? Why do we read books that have been passed down from the 19th or 18th century?

‘I think it’s because there’s a quality there. Generations and generations of people have said, “There’s something in this.”

‘For 400 years people have been interested in it enough to want to see it or perform it or read it. It’s not only contemporary stuff that has the answers, classical work has answers too, and it’s another way of looking at who we are.’

NIDA second-year Acting students Ryan Panizza (left) and Patrick Mandziy (right) in the Fairfield High School hall before their performance.

NIDA’s Director, Centre for Acting, John Bashford, added, ‘The English of Shakespeare’s plays is that of a time when the language was flourishing; it was young and vigorous: our present day English is old to it.

‘For actors, these plays teach them how to be alive and present; to express what they think and feel through words and action. The richness of possibility threads through these works and despite being written over 400 years ago can still elicit responses in today’s audience.’

Or, as NIDA actor Luke Visentin succinctly put it, ‘I loved it. I find the language so juicy and fun.’

NIDA second-year Acting students in the Penrith Selective High School gymnasium after the performance of Two Noble Kinsmen.

For the high school students, there were additional benefits and learning outcomes- even for those who were not interested in theatre or literature.

Speaking of his high-achieving, academically inclined students at Penrith Selective High School, Mr Vassallo said, ‘Although our context isn’t focused on the performing arts, this gave our students a unique learning experience…

‘It helped our gifted students see that giftedness takes on many different forms rather than a clear linear narrative.’

See the many different opportunities for giftedness available when NIDA opens its doors to the public on 15 June for 2019 Open Day. There will be performances, workshops, tours, talks and more.