Boutique performing arts school punches well above its weight

Richard Watts

Performing arts education at primary and secondary levels equips students for life in the arts, and life in general.
Boutique performing arts school punches well above its weight

The McDonald College students in a production of Grease. Image supplied.

Based in North Strathfield in Sydney’s inner west, The McDonald College is a specialised performing arts school where creativity is given equal value to a traditional academic education. For over 33 years (and with a heritage that stretches back to 1925) The McDonald College has nurtured the artistic and academic development of young people whose passions and commitment to dance, ballet, theatre, music and music theatre may not be met with the same level of attention at other educational facilities. 

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‘It’s a boutique school but that allows us to really tailor-make the courses for the individual students’ needs and ambitions,’ explained The McDonald College’s Head of Acting, Peter Eyers.

The success of the school’s approach is demonstrated by its standing, with The McDonald College ranked in the top 15% of all schools in NSW based on the HSC results of 2017.

Its alumni – including actors Bojana Novakovic (currently staring opposite Alan Cumming in the TV series Instinct) and Mojean Aria (the recipient of the 2017 Heath Ledger Scholarship, who can currently be seen in the SBS crime drama Dead Lucky) and ballet dancer turned Logie-winning actor Kip Gamblin (Home and Away, The Bodyguard Musical) – are in high demand in the performing arts industry.

‘Obviously we pursue excellence in the performing arts but the academic rigours are also considered to be a priority,’ said Eyers. ‘As a performing artist, we venture into industries which don’t guarantee ongoing employment all the time, so we all need to have second strings to our bows to enable us to support ourselves and survive in the world.’

Equipping students with life skills

Importantly, The McDonald College’s graduates are better equipped than most students for whatever career they eventually choose, thanks to the school’s artistic focus, which instils in them the creative, flexible thinking that is increasingly valued in the workforce.

‘An arts education teaches our young people problem solving skills, collaboration and confidence-building, which equips them to take on the world more proficiently,’ Eyers said.

Students in Years 3 through to 12 attend the College, where they participate in their chosen performing arts discipline daily.

‘The primary students have 4 ½ hours per week and in the secondary school the students complete two hours a day, which could be in acting, musical theatre, ballet, dance or music.’

Junior School Music at The McDonald College. Image supplied.

Regardless of which artistic discipline the students have chosen, all benefit from the school’s hands-on approach to arts education, Eyers explained.

‘We very much believe that you learn by doing, so in each semester we have a performance outcome, so students are in rehearsal three times a week for a production which will take place at the end of every semester. It’s very hands on, right through from audition to closing night,’ he said.

‘Students learn about all of the processes and procedures which take place along the way – navigating a script, creating a character, technical rehearsals, rehearsal room etiquette, performance and how to maintain a performance and build a performance during a season – so it’s very much hands on with that production element.’

Similar attention is paid to process and production across all aspects of the school’s arts training, whether in dance, ballet, music or music theatre.

‘There’s a performance outcome for all of those disciplines as well, whether that be a concert or a performance or an in-house presentation to fellow students.’

Find out in person

Parents and children wishing to know more about The McDonald College’s unique approach to performing arts training and education may wish to attend the upcoming Open Morning on Thursday 18 October, or book a tour of the school. Students who already have their hearts set on the College may have already pencilled in an audition on 17 August or 26 October.

‘One of the most impressive things that a lot of the parents at our Open Days do comment on is the confidence, the self-belief and assuredness of the students who show them around the place,’ Eyers said.

‘They’ll also be exposed to various performances, so they can see the calibre of the ability of the students in their various disciplines. They’ll also see the facilities at the school – our rehearsal studios, our production rooms, we even have a black box theatre – all of the spaces in which students will be taking their education.’

Visit mcdonald.nsw.edu.au to learn more about The McDonald College.

 

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves on the Committee of Management for La Mama Theatre, on the board of literary journal Going Down Swinging, and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel. He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts