In Hugh Jackman’s footsteps

Superstar Jackman is giving students the chance to learn where he did, at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).
In Hugh Jackman’s footsteps

Jack Thompson and Hugh Jackman at the JFFPA launch at WAAPA. Image by Kathy Wheatley

In a corner of the foyer of the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts hangs an honour board listing the year's ''Most Promising Newcomer''. The entry for 1994 is Hugh Jackman, who went on to become one of the most sought-after musical theatre performers and actors in the world. In 2014, Jackman, along with his wife Deborra-Lee Furness, founded the Jackman Furness Foundation for the Performing Arts (JFFPA) to give back to the university that kickstarted his career.


Nichola Zed is the Executive Officer of JFFPA. She told ArtsHub, ’Our mission is to support WAAPA and give students and teachers access to the best education and opportunities.

‘We focus most of our funding on the Visiting Artists Program. We are guided by the university when accessing visiting artists, so we can invite the most relevant and inspiring professionals. Both teachers and students benefit from leading industry professionals, from both Australia and overseas, sharing their expertise and skills.’

WAAPA has a wide range of courses on offer

Visiting artists range from actors to stage combat specialists and conductors to choreographers. Legendary Australian actor Jack Thompson is visiting this year to teach two weeks’ worth of screen acting masterclasses to performing arts’ students.

Thompson told ArtsHub, ‘This is the second time I’ve done the masterclass. I find it very rewarding and the students find it valuable too. Many years ago when I was working on the film Wake in Fright, the great Donald Pleasence overheard us young actors talking about the difference between stage and screen acting. He walked over to us and simply said “Feed the camera!” and that is what I’ve been doing since. I call the WAAPA class ‘Feed the Camera’, as that is what we, as actors, have to do. Seeing the students learn their craft and recognise how to “feed the camera” is very rewarding.’

The Visiting Artists Program receives funding from both the JFFPA and the Minderoo Foundation, a philanthropic group founded by Andrew and Nicola Forrest, to facilitate the travel and accommodation of the visiting professionals. This allows WAAPA to access a huge network of leading artists to showcase their talents and share the knowledge and expertise with students. Upcoming visiting artists include Russell Bolam, Assistant Director for The Royal Shakespeare Company; Hugh Hodgart, Director of Drama, Dance, Production and Screen at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland; Joe Windley, Lead Voice and Dialect Tutor at RADA; and internationally renowned, American bass clarinetist, Michael Rowenstern, amongst many others.

‘The Visiting Artists Program offers our students an added dimension to their studies,’ said WAAPA’s Associate Dean Leisa Landre-Ord. “Not only is it incredibly beneficial for students to gain insights and experience from those actively involved in industry, it also opens up pathways to work secondments and future employment opportunities. In 2013, visiting British director Mathew Dunster directed the third year acting students in Dennis Kelly’s Love and Money. He was so impressed by the set design of Patrick Howe, and the performance of Grace Smibert that he offered them both work at the Young Vic in London." 


Andy Paris from Tectonic Theatre Company teaching students at WAAPA 

Thea Young from the Minderoo Foundation told ArtsHub, ‘The Minderoo Foundation supports the Visiting Artists Program by providing funding, promoting productions and offering in kind support.  We work closely with the Academy to leverage additional resources and maximise opportunities that can be offered by the visiting artist. Exposure to high calibre visiting artists is invaluable for students and the broader Australian arts scene.’

WAAPA is a veritable star factory: many well-known actors, dancers, musicians and music theatre stars including Jackman, Frances O’Connor, William McInnes, Lisa McCune, Eddie Perfect and Tim Minchin, have called WAAPA home. A recent graduate is Ben Kindon, who is about to hit the small screen in a central role in the ABC’s new drama Barracuda, written and produced by Christos Tsiolkas and the team behind The Slap.

Ben told ArtsHub, ’ I didn't even know what acting technique was when I was seventeen years old and doing the audition rounds for the higher institutions. Before, I had always prided myself on being untrained; I believed that it just came naturally to me, but it wasn't until I had an analytical understanding of what I was doing that I was able to harness it, and it also teaches you what to do on those days when maybe it isn't coming naturally.  

‘The visiting artists program is great. You do ten plays during your time at WAAPA, and chances are that seven of them will be directed by artists from all around Australia and sometimes even the world. You feel like a professional actor, and it brings so much diversity into the course. You also make contacts and friendships that can really help you when you get out into the real world.’

WAAPA offers courses in all aspects of the performing arts

Gaining a practical and relevant arts education is becoming increasingly important as arts practitioners are looking for real-life experience in their industry. WAAPA offers a wide range of courses and study areas, from Aboriginal Performance and Acting through to Costume, Design and Composition. The courses on offer range from Certificate, Diploma and Advanced Diploma qualifications offered under the Vocational Education and Training framework through to Bachelor, Masters and Doctoral degrees. Admission to courses is by audition or interview.

Landre-Ord highlighted the diversity of the courses on offer. ‘We are the only performing arts training institution in Australia that offers specialised courses in all performing arts disciplines and production and design under the one roof. The busy performance slot system and our mix of venues and state-of-the-art facilities, means that all our students learn their craft in a hands-on, industry simulated environment, which is the best way to learn.’

Many mid-career arts professionals are turning to WAAPA for further study. Marketing Manager Anton Mazandarani said, ‘Many of our students come back to WAAPA mid-career. We have had musicians study acting, ensemble musicians study arts management and ballet dancers study broadcasting and go into arts reporting.’

View WAAPA’s courses

A major drawcard for prospective students is the annual WAAPA graduate showcase, which sees the graduating acting and musical theatre classes perform in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne to an audience of the country’s top casting agents. ‘Because WAAPA has supplied the industry with so much talent over the years, the casting agents know that they will find talent at the Showcase. There is a 90% uptake, with the vast majority of graduates walking away with professional representation,’ said Mazandarani.

Emma Clark Gratton

Tuesday 19 July, 2016

About the author

Emma Clark Gratton is an ArtsHub staff writer.