The performing arts academy where participation is a part of life

At WAAPA, students don’t just learn; they perform in an eclectic array of concerts and performances throughout the year, alongside some of the finest artists in the world.
The performing arts academy where participation is a part of life

WAAPA's Head of Brass and Principal Trumpet at the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Brent Grapes. Image supplied.

As well as a passionate student cohort and access to some of the best educators in the country, one of the undoubted highlights of studying at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) at Edith Cowen University is the opportunity for hands-on learning through participation in the school’s annual performance and concert program.

‘Our productions and concerts are the very core of the students’ training,’ said Professor Julie Warn AM, WAAPA’s Executive Dean and Director.

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The performances they create are of the highest standard, she added. ‘Working with the finest international and national artists as part of WAAPA’s ongoing Visiting Artists Program, alongside WAAPA's dedicated staff, our exceptional students produce the most tantalizing variety of performances throughout the year.’ 

Opening in March with a new production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and concluding in November with a contemporary dance showcase, Verve, WAAPA’s 2019 performance season is packed full of exciting events. Here are just some of the highlights.

KATIE NOONAN IN CONCERT

Winner of five ARIA awards, singer-songwriter Katie Noonan performs the songs of Lennon, McCartney and more in April, accompanied by WAAPA's talented Jazz students. Think timeless classics brought to vivid life thanks to Noonan’s soulful voice – an instrument of extraordinary beauty and versatility – and the energetic, intuitive and highly skilled WAAPA students.

'To me, Katie is the highest example of a modern artist – she effortlessly crosses genres, tells unique stories and can hold anyone’s attention through her originality. I’ve known Katie a long time and there is not a single instance where I’ve seen her perform and haven’t been left absolutely spellbound,' said Jamie Oehlers, Coordinator Jazz, WAAPA

Catch Katie Noonan in Concert at the Geoff Gibbs Theatre on 11 and 13 April.

Katie Noonan's visit is generously supported by Brigid and Ronald W. Woss AM of the Woss Group of Companies.

ROMANTIC TCHAIKOVSKY

Brent Grapes is a busy man. Principal Trumpet at the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO), Head of Brass at WAAPA, and member of the Australian Brass Quintet, Grapes has nonetheless found time to play with the WAAPA Symphony Orchestra in May, performing two works by Tchaikovsky as well as Arutiunian's beloved Trumpet Concerto.

‘Tchaikovsky was a master of melody, which is why his music is so popular with audiences worldwide.’ Grapes told ArtsHub. ‘After a performance of any of his concerts you always walk away humming one of his beautiful melodies for days afterwards. The Aratunian Trumpet Concerto shares similar qualities, and whilst it is a showpiece of virtuosity for the soloist, the composer blends these musical fireworks with sweeping lyrical melodies and toe-tapping tunes.’

Grapes is full of praise for the WAAPA students who will be playing alongside him in the Romantic Tchaikovsky concert.

‘The students are incredibly enthusiastic and hard-working, just like in a professional orchestra. There is always boundless energy from the students and this youthful exuberance gives every concert with the WAAPA Symphony Orchestra a special quality,’ he said.

Romantic Tchaikovsky: All Saint's College Centre for Performing Arts on 11 May and 12 May at Churchlands Concert Hall.

RISE

WAAPA’s dance season kicks off in May with Rise, featuring four new works choreographed on the 2nd and 3rd Year Dance students. Among the artists who’ll be creating a new piece with the students is Melbourne-based dancer, teacher and maker Lauren Langlois.

‘I taught the students at WAAPA for one week during September 2017. I was immediately impressed with their technical ability, commitment and focus. I’m looking forward to working with them in a more creative setting where we can share thoughts and ideas in what I hope will be a collaborative process,’ Langlois told ArtsHub.

As an emerging dance maker who is still finding her own choreographic voice, Langlois expects to find the process of working with the dance students deeply rewarding.

‘Any opportunity for me to work with a group of people and practice my craft will be beneficial for my creative process,’ she said.

Reflecting on what audiences can expect from the work, Langlois added: ‘I am really interested in how a large group of dancers can work together to create energy and texture in the space. Working with 18 students will be an exciting challenge for me – how can I direct them to move together as one organism, but at the same time find the individual amongst the many?’

Rise will be performed at the Geoff Gibbs Theatre from 4-10 May.

Lauren Langlois’ visit is generously supported by the Minderoo Foundation.

Upcoming WAAPA production The Hope Fault. Image supplied.

THE HOPE FAULT

A story about family connections and fault lines published by Fremantle Press, Tracy Farr’s second novel, The Hope Fault, has been widely praised. West Australian writer/director Andrew Hale has subsequently adapted the book for the stage and will direct its world premiere season – presented with the support of the Minderoo Foundation and Fremantle Press – at the Enright Studio in October.

The production will be performed by WAAPA’s 2nd Year Acting students, who are already familiar with the script, having workshopped an earlier draft with Hale last year.

‘I was in Perth last November when Andrew and the then-First Year students spent a full week workshopping The Hope Fault at WAAPA,’ Tracy Farr explained.

‘That was an absolute trip, and a privilege: to be in a room with 19 talented, engaged people, all of them absorbed in this beautiful new artwork that has come from my novel. So much of it was deeply familiar to me, words and characters I’d conjured in my mind, but made new, made flesh and blood, moving around in physical space. It was – still is – thrilling, exhilarating.’

The novel’s exploration of both physical and interior landscapes was fascinating, said Hale, and were among the many factors that excited him about adapting it for the stage.

‘The book has a phenomenal sense of time in it. It covers the whole sphere; geological time, structured time, personal time, private time, dream time. The beautiful challenge in adapting it to the stage is the essentialising out of a thread that ties that all together. Tracy's beautiful book gives us a family in flux,’ he said.

What works on the page – explorations of the difference between our interior and exterior lives, narrative shifts in time and place – can be challenging to recreate on the stage, but Farr is confident that Hale’s adaptation is a successful one.

‘The prospect of Andrew adapting my novel had me delighted, curious, and genuinely eager to discover what he would make from it, because I knew it would need to be made into a new shape to work on stage,’ she said.

‘When I wrote the novel, I often had a sense of the chapters as scenes in a film or play. I’d consider who was in shot or on stage, who was waiting just off-camera or in the wings. But my focus was always on making the novel work on the page, with all the tools and tricks of the novel to play with. You have to be so much more inventive with a play.

‘I read about Andrew’s work, particularly his adaptation of Patrick White’s The Cockatoos, and knew The Hope Fault was in good hands ... I trust him with my novel, and honestly I’m most interested in seeing what it can become with fresh eyes and minds and voices, in this very different medium,’ Farr told ArtsHub.

Hale is full of praise for the WAAPA Acting students who’ll be bringing the script to life, and itching to get back into the rehearsal room with them.

‘The amazing thing about working with WAPPA students is how switched on they are,’ he said. ‘You must always bring your A-game to the rehearsal room. In the rehearsal room you need to be open and relaxed, ready to ask deep questions of yourself as a person and performer. You are attempting to make a whole world sing.’

The world premiere season of The Hope Fault runs from 11-17 October in the Enright Studio.

Guest Director Andrew Hale’s visit is generously supported by the Minderoo Foundation.

STRICTLY BALLROOM – THE MUSICAL

In June, Subiaco’s art deco gem, the Regal Theatre, will host one of WAAPA’s most ambitious productions of the year: Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom: The Musical. Based on the 1992 film of the same name, Strictly Ballroom: The Musical adds dramatic dance numbers to the heart, comedy and drama of the original movie, as well as a range of chart hits and thrilling original songs. Premiering in Sydney in 2014, the most recent production of Strictly Ballroom was staged at London’s Piccadilly Theatre in the West End.

Crispin Taylor, WAAPA’s Resident Director (Music Theatre) has worked on a range of professional productions across his career, and can’t wait to work on the production with the 2nd and 3rd Year Music Theatre students and WAAPA Music students.

‘The greatest difference in working with these students compared to working professionally is that we have worked together as a company for some time. Most frequently in the profession, you work on a show-by-show basis with different groups of performers, although admittedly a director is always likely to include some he or she has worked with before. On Strictly Ballroom, we will have been working with the 2nd Years as a company for the last 18 months, and the 3rd Years for two and a half years. This thrilling opportunity shortcuts the “getting to know you” process – we’ve already shared successes together in both the classroom and performance environments, so there’s an existing level of trust and respect that allows us to dive into a bold and highly creative collaboration,’ Taylor said.

Like the 2017 London production, the WAAPA production of Strictly Ballroom will feature original music by Sia, David Foster and Eddie Perfect as well as some of the iconic pop numbers from the film.

‘In this version, director Drew McOnie engaged Eddie Perfect to do further work on the score, to create a true musical theatre construct on which all the other musical elements exist. Eddie, a WAAPA Music Theatre Graduate himself, is of course, busy in rehearsals for Beetlejuice on Broadway. The fairy-tale story has enduring universal themes but this will be an interpretation for today’s audience. The tickets for Strictly Ballroom are selling faster that any production we’ve ever mounted, and we’re more than hopeful that we will sell out,’ said Taylor.

Over a hundred students will work on the production, including the cast, musicians, production and design crew.

‘Helmed by a professional Creative Team (Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Lighting Designer) and performed at the 1000-seat Regal Theatre, it is effectively on the scale of a major commercial musical,’ Taylor explained.

‘This is an extremely important experience for the Music Theatre students, to learn to tackle the demands of such a big show. Although our graduates are trained to work in small-scale productions, cabaret, non-musical theatre, and screen, many of them are engaged into shows such as Book of Mormon, Aladdin, West Side Story, Billy Elliot and Chicago,’ he added.

Strictly Ballroom: The Musical runs from 15-22 June at the Regal Theatre, Subiaco.

Guest Set Designer, James Browne and Lighting Designer, Trent Suidgeest visit is generously supported by the Minderoo Foundation.

Upcoming WAAPA production Life on Earth. Image supplied.

LIFE ON EARTH

Since 2015, a flourishing partnership between WAAPA and Fremantle-based company Spare Parts Puppet Theatre has ensured that Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA) students have the opportunity to explore puppetry training as part of their course.

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s Associate Director, Michael Barlow, said the partnership was both fruitful and valuable.

‘It’s hard to overstate the value of the partnership. This year we are delighted to welcome two BPA graduates, Noemie Huttner-Koros and Timothy Green, into our in-house artist development program, FirstHand. Other graduates have passed through the program and become valuable company artists and performed in our works. We have a vision to be the place artists want to come to for training and development in puppetry. Working with WAAPA has given us the chance to directly influence a new generation of performance makers, plant ideas and deepen the skills pool,’ he said.

Later this year, 3rd Year Performance Making students will devise and create a brand new puppet show for adults, Life on Earth, under Barlow’s expert direction.

‘BPA Course Coordinator Frances Barbe and I want to give the students the opportunity to create a performance that at first glance won't seem like obvious puppet theatre material – and to make a work for adult audiences that shows how this art form can be thoughtful, rich, funny, beautiful and touching,’ Barlow explained.

He spoke passionately about the skills the WAAPA students develop in their puppetry unit.

‘The BPA students are skilful, resourceful and passionate artists who bring a lot into the room,’ Barlow said.

‘It’s exciting to work with them as they challenge me, themselves and each other, at every step. It’s a short amount of time to develop skills for a new art form but they work incredibly hard and it shows in their performances. It's thrilling when an artist grasps the concept of animating a puppet and brings it to life with intention and feeling.’

Life on Earth runs from 31 October – 2 November at Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Fremantle.

Learn more about these and other productions at www.waapa.ecu.edu.au.