Vale John Saltzer, NIDA's first Head of Technical Production
John Saltzer graduated from NIDA's Acting Course in 1964. Working for several years in the profession, John discovered his true vocation was lighting, sound and stage-management. In 1973, when all the NIDA courses expanded from two to three years’ duration, John became the first Head of the Technical Production Course, responsible not only for teaching across all subjects, but supervising more than 12 play productions a year.
John was a demanding teacher. He was much loved by staff and students who met his high standards of professionalism, but gave short shrift to those who did not measure up. He was first to arrive at NIDA each morning and one of the last to leave each evening. He kept an eye on dress rehearsals and performances, shepherding students out of the building at 11pm, securing the equipment and locking all the doors with the huge bunch of keys that only he possessed.
John supervised the planning and the construction of Stage 1 of the new NIDA campus at Anzac Parade, which opened in 1987. He documented each staff member’s requirement for teaching spaces, including details of each rehearsal room, technical and design studio, with particular attention to the design and the safety of the new theatres. He prepared a detailed brief for the architect and minutely scrutinised each and every plan, ensuring there was no deviation from the brief. During construction, he kept an eye on the architect and the builder, demanding correction of even minor infringements. In conjunction with the staff, he purchased lighting and sound equipment, furniture and fittings and managed the move from the old to the new building.
The transition was seamless because the new building, including the theatres, worked exactly as we had planned. An early computer wiz, John then proceeded to introduce IT to NIDA and instruct the staff in its use. John Saltzer’s knowledge of theatre, his technical and organisational skills were unrivalled
John’s contribution to Australian theatre was not confined to NIDA. When the Old Tote Theatre Company went broke in 1978-79, the NSW State Government asked Elizabeth Butcher and myself to set up the Sydney Theatre Company. We invited John to become Production Manager of the first season of plays in the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre. We all returned to NIDA leaving the new STC in a healthy financial state.
After retiring in 1997, John moved to Singapore to work with Kuo Pao Kun, a fellow NIDA student in 1964. After graduating, PK, as he was known, returned to Singapore to commence his own theatre school. Unfortunately, his political views were at odds with government which led to four years in Changi as a political prisoner. After his release, the school prospered, and PK gradually acquired the title of Father of Singapore Theatre. John Saltzer became PK’s Technical Director, teaching students, designing and equipping new theatres and teaching facilities.
John Saltzer was not only a colleague, but a close a close family friend of many years. He was much loved by my three children who remember his culinary skills preparing exotic meals for the family at 41 Regent Street. After retiring from NIDA in 2004, I ran several acting workshops for PK in Singapore, as well as directing plays for another school, so John and I spent many happy and hot days exploring the island and enjoying its wonderful food courts. When John retired and moved to South Australia, we continued a long friendship my email. He was a passionate glider pilot and convinced my son that he knew more about cloud formations and weather patterns than any other human being. When eye problems put a stop to that, I exchanged theatre gossip for the latest update on his veggie garden.
So many of John Saltzer’s students and colleagues have be saddened by John’s passing. We have lost a great friend and an even greater theatre man.
John Clark AM, former NIDA Director from 1969-2004
John Clark served as president of the Producers and Directors’ Guild of Australia in 1983-84. He was on the Northside Theatre Company board from 1983 until 1989 and a member of the management committee of the Northern Territory Theatre Company during 1986-87. From 1976-1980 he chaired the NSW Government Advisory Council on Cultural Activities. He was the Artistic Advisor to Sydney Theatre Company in 1979. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1981 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to excellence in Australian live theatre. He served as president of the Producers and Directors’ Guild of Australia in 1983-84. In 2003 he authored a book about NIDA, published by Focus Publishing.