From theatre nerds boot camp to fully-fledged director

A NIDA alumnus returns to direct his third production.

‘It’s like boot camp for theatre nerds,’ Constantine Costi tells ArtsHub about his experiences at the creative institution. The recent graduate of the Masters of Fine Arts at NIDA is speaking during a rehearsal break for a show he says he is thrilled to be directing. The production is one of four shows scheduled during NIDA’s theatrical season in June – with a new program slated for October.

Costi has always been interested in theatre. A telltale sign of a latent love of drama is being a bit of a bossy-boots at a young age – which he certainly was, he says with a laugh. As an adult his innate bossiness was duly channelled into his desire to coordinate and finesse a constantly changing landscape of moving parts. ‘I really get so much pleasure from being behind the scenes and being able to guide the action on stage,’ he says. 

During winter, the NIDA team will be staging a seven-night run of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, with Costi steering the show. It’s his third time as director in a NIDA production since graduating in 2013, so he has had time to hone his craft. But what has he learned from his first two instances at the helm? ‘I think the trick is to the treat the actors not as students, but actually as the skilled artists they are. Even though, yes, this graduating show is a student showcase, a true creative collaboration and a home-grown effort across the board. .

‘Studying at NIDA has been great, because it’s so well-resourced a place, with so many people wanting to participate and deliver the results of their learning. Everyone is pulling together. For the third year student actors, it’s the first time they get to perform in public.’

The production features 10 principal singers and 15 musical theatre students, all plucked from various NIDA study sectors, as well as those from costume, set design, technical production, stage management, props and more. And the reason they chose Sweeney Todd? Costi, who incidentally has a background in opera, so perhaps has an affinity with melodrama, is emphatic about the decision to adapt this lurid story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. ‘It’s one of the greatest musicals ever written,’ he enthuses. ‘It has depth and complexity and an emotional bandwidth that rivals anything by Verdi or Puccini.’ 

More pointedly, Costi continues, ‘It’s an actor’s musical. It’s not just a fluffy and entertaining spectacle. Sure, it’s glamorous like most musical theatre, but it’s also a gritty psychological piece that these young actors and singers can get stuck into.’

In terms of future prospects, Costi is relieved to report that he has plenty of work lined up, but cautiously points out that, after three years of COVID, the theatre scene still has a lot of catching up to do. ‘I think Australian arts practitioners are world-class,’ he says. ‘But we need more stages and more spaces for theatre. Ideally, I would love it if we could create more work here, on home soil, and tell our own stories, instead of importing international shows.’ 

In the meantime, he is happy to put his own directorial spin on this horror classic, and is keen to return to rehearsals for Sweeney Todd.

NIDA Open Day is on Saturday 17 June, with the June production season running from 7-17 June 2023. Sweeney Todd can be seen on 17 June.

Thuy On is Reviews 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 first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press (UWAP). Her next collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Twitter: @thuy_on