Training versatile and self-sufficient actors by degree

The Bachelor of Performing Arts (Stage and Screen) at the Actors Centre Australia equips students with varied and versatile skills.

One of Australia’s leading performing arts schools, Actors Centre Australia (ACA), has recently opened applications for its Bachelor of Performing Arts (Stage and Screen) degree program, for entry in February 2023. International students will also be eligible to apply for the program.

Head of Acting at ACA, Adam Cook, says the program is designed to equip the students to be self-sufficient – helping them to build a set of versatile skills.

‘It’s a very practical course,’ he says. ‘From day one, students are creating their own work. The ACA culture encourages students not to be sitting by the phone waiting for an offer to come. In one of our subjects, the students produce an entire production, so that when they get out, they won’t be thinking, “Well, I don’t know how to put on my own work” – they know exactly how to do it.’

2017 graduate Ally Morgan agrees. ‘I have so many tools in my arsenal, because I did go through training. I feel like I’m quite versatile in what I can do in the industry.’

Morgan is putting this training into practice right now – her one-woman show Not Today, is about to launch its season at the Sydney Fringe Festival, at the Seymour Centre from 13–17 September and at Riverside Paramatta from 23–24 September, after a successful season at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. And it’s clearly succeeding. The show has received rave reviews, and led to Morgan being compared to ‘a young Tim Minchin’, by The Sydney Morning Herald, in 2021.

Morgan credits her experience at ACA in helping her finding herself as an individual and performer.

‘At ACA, we put on a cabaret and I wrote parody songs for it – and I didn’t realise that was the start of me finding my comedic voice. I’ve definitely used all of the skills I was taught – stage craft, improv, and being able to come up with ideas quickly – this was really useful when it came to writing my own show.’

Morgan particularly relished the screen-based acting modules at ACA.

‘Screen is my first love because it was always a bit more accessible for me to go to Video Ezy than it was to like go to Belvoir [Theatre, in Sydney]. When I graduated ACA, I immediately worked with other ACA grads, Olivia Aleksoski and Hew Sandison, who were in my year, and we made a short film called Her Own Music [2021] which did really well – it screened at the Sydney Film Festival, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, the Mardi Gras Film Festival, and it won a number of awards at MQFF [Best Performance, Emerging Filmmaker, Audience Choice].’

‘From there, I have also made a pilot for web series, which I wrote and acted in, called How To be Queer, which I’m also developing into a full series. So, I’m always still dabbling. I think it’s good to have many hats, in this industry.’

The collegiate ACA culture, which has led to Morgan’s continued collaboration on artistic projects with fellow graduates, was evident to Morgan from the first day of her audition – a welcome relief for what she considered a ‘gruelling’ few years auditioning at different drama schools.  

‘After we auditioned, everyone applauded each other for our efforts. That was really nice. Because it was like: Hey, you just did a thing that was hard to do.’

So, what is ACA looking for in its students?

‘A readiness to be trained,’ Cook says. ‘We’re looking for people who have some measure of experience, who have a good level of skill, but are ready to take on a three-year intensive program like this. We do want to attract people who are finishing up at school, as well as people with a bit more life experience. It’s a very exciting place to come and train.’

Applicants will be asked to prepare an audition, which could be a classical, Shakespeare or a contemporary piece, and present the work in front of a panel.

But prospective students shouldn’t be fearful, says Cook. ‘It’s a really fun place to be. It is a vocation, it is a discipline. But it is a lot of fun. Sometimes I’ll pinch myself and say, you know, what a joy to be in an industry where you get paid to enjoy yourself, to live inside your imagination, create pleasure for the public.

‘It’s a lot of fun and you meet new communities, new people, and you might just make some friends for life.’

The Bachelor of Performing Arts (Stage and Screen) at the Actors Centre Australia is now open for applications for 2023, with auditions starting on 21 November. Applications close 28 October. The ACA also offers part-time programs in acting and directing. For more information, visit the Actors Centre Australia website.

Kate Mulqueen is an actor, writer, musician and theatre-maker based in Naarm (Melbourne). Instagram: @picklingspirits Facebook: @katemulq Twitter: @katemulqueen