Come in as a student leave as a professional

Studying for an MFA in Dramatic Writing offered opportunities not just for work, but also for life-long friends and collaborators.
A headshot of a young man with wavy brown hair and a black top. He is grinning

‘It’s just the most phenomenal experience to be in the same building as so many other students working all across the creative industries, who are destined to become your future peers, collaborators and friends,’ says Xavier Hazard, about his studies at NIDA’s Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing.

Hazard is a 27-year-old queer writer and lawyer, whose writing for screen and stage, ‘explores the truth in hidden worlds, and often draws on the strange lines between queerness, masculinity and institutions of power’.

He tells ArtsHub of his time learning and honing the craft of writing for stage and screen. ‘My 15 months at NIDA were the best 15 months of my life,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘NIDA turned my dreams into a career. I came in with no experience in screen, only a hope that somewhere, somehow, there was a way to get into it. On our first day, Joe Hepworth, the Head of Writing, told us his goal was to teach us how to have a sustainable career. 

‘He immediately dispelled the myth of writer’s block, pointing to all other careers and noting the absence of doctor’s block, teacher’s block, builder’s block (well, kind of). He told us this course would take us from students with an interest in writing to professionals with a skill set and a practice that was sustainable and transferable to writing jobs across stage and screen. And it did.’

Hazard explains how students were taught by industry practitioners in all the courses proffered. ‘It meant that we were learning to write the stories we were passionate about at the same time we were learning how to pitch them, build our portfolio and navigate the Australian writing landscape.’

It’s an oft-repeated myth that arts graduates struggle to find jobs in their field of study, but Hazard has found his plate abounding with opportunities in the months since he finished the course. ‘I’ve been lucky enough to work in entry level roles (as notetaker and script coordinator) on television projects for production companies Easy Tiger, Warner Bros and Roadshow Rough Diamond. Many of those are traceable back to the skills I learned and the people I met during my time at NIDA.’

Asked to elaborate on some of the practical skills he learned there, Hazard mentions projects that involved developing a short- and long-form piece in each of the key dramatic writing mediums – stage, film and television. He also created a full-length horror film set in an all-boys school, Saints, where every student is haunted by a violent dopplegänger, and a second project, Judge, a TV piece set within the hidden world of judges’ associates.

‘We were also lucky enough to collaborate with other students at NIDA, studying directing, acting, props and sound design. Working with students from other disciplines was the highlight of the course for me. I met the most incredible people, who are now friends and collaborators for life.’ 

So much so, that one of his colleagues there, Mehhma Malhi, directed a reading of his play All Boys, supported by a group of students from the BFA (Acting) course, at Kings Cross Theatre in Sydney. 

‘The reading sold out and received such positive feedback that we were programmed for a full season at the theatre in September, which will run with almost all of the original NIDA team.’ 

Hazard also wrote a play, Seen, for directing student Jo Bradley’s graduating show, as part of the Festival of Emerging Artists at NIDA. 

The Dramatic Writing Course was a natural extension of his interest in creating stories with his friends, a passion that started in his undergraduate days when he was heavily involved with student theatre, even co-founding his own independent theatre company. ‘I came to NIDA with the dream of somehow turning my patchwork experience into a sustainable career across television and theatre,’ Hazard says. 

‘It is the most comprehensive dramatic writing course in the country. It’s tailored to people who don’t just want to write; they want to be writers. It’s a crash course in writing as a form and writing as a practice. You really do come in as a student and leave as a professional writer. 

Check out NIDA’s MFA for Dramatic Writing.

Thuy On is the Reviews and Literary Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her debut, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was released by University of Western Australia Publishing (UWAP). Her second collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Her third book, Essence, will be published in 2025. Twitter: @thuy_on Instagram: poemsbythuy