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NIDA Alumnus Will Lewis: A Journey into the Technical Side of the Arts

NIDA Alumnus Will Lewis (Bachelor of Dramatic Art, Technical Production, 2002) has always been passionate about the technical side of the arts. He is telling about his incredible journey from school plays to working for Cirque du Soleil, detailing how he transitioned from Stage Management to Company Management and eventually became an Associate Producer.

Did you always want to pursue a creative career and how did you come across the technical side of the arts?

I discovered the technical side whilst at school, being a part of school plays. I remember the one time I was in the cast,I looked up to the grid and wondered what all that technical stuff was and wanted to be a part of it. Much later, when it came time to careers counselling, my school did not know what to do with my request of wanting to work in this industry. When I was the lighting designer for my Year 12 musical, the designer of the show, turns out, was actually a NIDA graduate. I remember talking to him about what I wanted to do, completely unaware of his background, and he suggested that I look into NIDA. I went along to an information night one evening in Melbourne, and the rest is history.

Can you tell us why you chose to do the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Technical Theatre and Stage Management at NIDA?

I had my heart set on it, without a doubt. I applied to the other drama schools but, after that information night, and a week’s worth of work experience at NIDA, I knew that was the place and what I wanted to do.

Can you talk about some of your highlights while studying at NIDA?

By far the highlight was in first year being seconded to the Stage Management team for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the Paralympic Opening Ceremony. I was fortunate enough to end up with a great role. We were seconded to the Ceremonies Stage Management team, and I was lucky enough to be paired with some awesome stage managers who quickly became friends and mentors. That was pretty amazing! That is an experience that I’ve never forgotten to this day. Another highlight was being the first group to use the, at the time, new NIDA Parade Theatre.

Will Lewis

Are there any skills you learn from NIDA that you still take into your work today?

A lot of what I do today has been as a result of good, solid stage management training at NIDA, and all those skills as a Stage Manager that you collect along your working life.

I’ve noticed you mostly specialise in production and stage management, has that always been your passion or was it something you developed throughout your studies at NIDA?

Originally, I wanted to get into lighting design, which I loved and learnt a lot during my time at NIDA, but then I discovered stage management, and fell in love with it. I loved being part of the core team who facilitated bringing a play/musical/event to life. Getting in and guiding/building/creating from the ground up gave me a great sense of fulfilment, and then managing the creation on a day-to-day basis keeping it fresh and alive for the season was also wonderful to see the creation grow and evolve.

What are some of your credits since graduating and what was the process in applying for them?

Every single job opportunity I have had to date has been as a result of one of my secondments in third year. This really shows the importance of secondments, and forging those relationships and getting the foot in the door of the part of the industry you want to work in. In so far as the process for applying for them, keep an eye on all the job boards – arts hub, Show Loop, and also on particular producers’ websites. Just keep your ear to the ground, ask the questions, listen to what’s happening around the industry and just throw your hat into the ring – you never know what can turn up.

Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil productions pictures: Kurios, picture by Martin Girard; Alegría, photo by Matt Beard; BAZZAR, photo by Rene Paciullo and Mystère, photo by Matt Beard.

Which one have you been most proud of?

So many different ones for so many reasons. I am really proud of my time at Cirque du Soleil – this challenge was immense in so many different ways, because Cirque is a totally different way of working compared to what I was used to in Australia and musical theatre. Once you learn how it all works and goes together, it really is incredible, and working with people who are athletes at the top of their game, and you are facilitating their circus acts/skills and fusing the technical with the creative and what they do acrobatically, is pretty amazing.

We pulled off some incredible experiences during my time at Cirque – one of which was performing at the 2015 Royal Variety Performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London – that experience will stay with me forever, as well as the 2016 season of Amaluna at the same venue.

One of the most rewarding things about Cirque is that each performance is completely different, so you are always managing many different versions of the show, and working with the coaching and artistic staff to evolve the acts and the show.

Even though these days I’ve moved from Stage Management to Company Management to Associate Producer, I still moonlight here and there in Stage Management – one of the most amazing experiences in the last two years was being the Calling Stage Manager for the two Mardi Gras parades that were at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

As a Company Manager, I was immensely proud of being part of the team of A Christmas Carol 2022, then moving straight into Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. These were very magical productions!

Mardi Gras Parade - Sydney Cricket Ground 2021

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival – Sydney Cricket Ground, 2021

Can you share an example of a particularly challenging production you managed and how you navigated through it?

I think with any challenge you just have to keep levelheaded, keep your emotions in check and communicate.

Can you elaborate on what your position as Associate Producer at GWB Entertainment entails?

My main job is to support the technical elements of our productions. I look after technical planning, freight, crewing, documentation/bibling of our productions, crew/creative contracting, supporting our Technical Directors, venue liaison, payroll, workplace safety, policies and procedures, and tour planning of returning productions. This is not an exhaustive list though! I also work alongside my other Associate Producer colleague to support her as well as required.

How do you approach the initial planning stages of a new production?

As early as I can! We lay out a timeline of key deliverables, so it keeps us on track for our various productions. As well as for me securing crew/staff as early as we can makes a massive difference.

What advice do you have for young students out there who might be interested in pursuing a creative career? Particularly those wanting to study at NIDA?

Do it. It is so rewarding; you can really make it whatever you want. As long as you love it, you’ll thrive. The hours can be long, but don’t be afraid of it. You’ll also make some amazing friends and have incredible experiences in whatever it is you choose to do. Just know, that it is a viable career option.