Australia’s longest-running actor training program has been renewed

Dr Jo Loth, Director of Drama at The National Drama School, discusses her approach to actor training and the rationale behind the School’s new name.

Formerly known as the National Theatre Drama School, and resident at the heritage-listed National Theatre in St Kilda, The National Drama School was established in 1935 and continues its actor training for young actors, adults and aspiring professionals to this day.

Dr Jo Loth, Director of Drama at The National Drama School, sees the institution’s new naming convention as an important step towards building awareness of the School’s position as one of the nation’s leading actor training institutions.

‘We’re known as the National, whether that’s referring to the theatre, the ballet school or the drama school. We co-exist in a 102-year-old building that we’ve inhabited for almost 50 years. The schools themselves date back to the 1930s when they were established by Australian arts pioneer Gertrude Johnson OBE,’ she tells ArtsHub.

‘By removing “theatre” from each title and creating separate “brands” for each element, we remedy a potential identity crisis and give each pillar of The National Melbourne room to follow its own path,’ Loth adds.

The School’s flagship offering is the three-year, full-time Diploma of Acting. The National Drama School also offers a range of regular classes in acting techniques for young people and adults who aspire to the stage, as well as an upcoming school summer holiday program on the theatre’s main stage in January 2023. 

In addition, the School offers a special bridging program for aspiring professionals, the immersive Foundation in Acting course, which runs over two eight-week terms starting in Term Two next year.

Industry connections and authentic actors

Having joined The National Drama School earlier this year, Loth says it’s ‘fantastic to be part of this organisation that has this incredible history’. She’s already begun making several changes to the training offered at the National, while simultaneously honouring its history.

‘One of the things that is really important to me is developing strong industry connections, so that’s been on the forefront of my agenda,’ Loth explains.

‘We have recently established an exciting collaboration with CMC Talent Management, which provides industry talks and masterclasses. From 2023 they are sponsoring the Rising Star Scholarship, which covers the full tuition fees for one student in the first year of the Advanced Diploma of Acting.

‘The other thing, and it comes from my background, because I am a voice and movement specialist, is that I’m absolutely passionate about the Suzuki actor training method and Linklater voice work. Those are my two areas of expertise,’ she continues.

‘And so in First Year [of the Diploma of Acting], students train intensely in those two forms, which creates really strong, physically present, robust actors – courtesy of the Suzuki actor training method – who are then able to connect to their authenticity, their individuality and respond to impulse through the Linklater voice work,’ Loth says.

Supporting the next generation

Many of the students who pass through the doors of The National Drama School will attend short courses or the upcoming Summer School program, aspects of training that Loth is also deeply committed to supporting.

‘We offer courses for people from ages five and above at The National, and the young actors’ program has been a central part of the organisation for many years. I’ve come into an incredibly strong youth training program – I’ve been so impressed by what I’ve seen,’ she says.

The upcoming Summer School program sees ‘kids come in and work with devising experts to intensively create a show on the theatre’s main stage over five days. It’s incredibly exciting,’ Loth enthuses.

Together with her team, Loth is also focused on developing a stronger school holiday program throughout the year, with winter classes focused on screen acting, and the spring program exploring physical theatre.

‘We’ve been building on the strength of this existing summer holiday program, and then making sure that throughout the year people can return to experience different aspects of acting and keep building their skills and being challenged in new ways.’

Pathways to industry

Elsewhere, more mature students will rise to the challenges of the Foundation in Acting course, which Loth describes as ‘one of the existing programs that really impressed me coming into this job’.

She continues: ‘It gives people who are looking for that direct pathway into the industry a chance to really hone their skills over six months. We also have a range of introductory courses for people who have never done any acting before and want to have a taste.’

The National Drama School will soon be opening its doors to a fresh cohort of First Years undertaking the three-year Diploma of Acting. What advice does Loth have for young actors who may be thinking of auditioning?

‘We’re not necessarily looking for polished performers or people with a lot of experience. People may have a lot of experience, which is great, but we’re definitely not expecting a finalised performance in our audition process. We are looking for that spark, that commitment, that passion for what you’re doing. That’s the most important thing.’

Learn more about the range of courses offered at The National Drama School.    

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts