How the right connections help build a career

Studying at NIDA provided director Carissa Licciardello with the skills and connections to thrive in the independent sector, and also opened the doors to Belvoir St.

‘When I first started training at NIDA, there was a former student who said to us, “You should enjoy being so busy, because you’re going to be lucky if, in your career, you’re ever this busy again.” And that’s the mindset that set me up to say I’m just going to make the most out of this,’ says Carissa Licciardello, a 2017 graduate from NIDA’s Master of Fine Arts (Directing).

It’s this intensity and variety that geared Licciardello up for a range of industry experiences, while also opening the door to positions within established theatre companies.  

In her first year after graduating, Licciardello was making independent productions with peers she had met at NIDA and, by the end of it, she was an Assistant Director at Belvoir St Theatre. Earlier this year, Licciardello was formally welcomed into the company as Resident Director and reopened Belvoir after the pandemic with her production of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which she adapted for the stage with Tom Wright.

Recounting her days at NIDA, she tells ArtsHub: ‘When I did the course we had a lot of people working in the industry coming in to teach us, and I still go back to those notes all the time. 

‘The classes are led by people like Tom Wright, who also came to see my grad show at NIDA and that was part of the reason that I was able to form a relationship with him at Belvoir.’

The classes, which focus on network building and professional development, can ‘really help you in that scary early stage of your career, when you’re not quite sure how to turn it into a professional practice,’ Licciardello adds. 

‘NIDA helps you get to know the people who may see some potential in your work and become champions for you in the industry. That’s certainly what it did for me.’ 

What NIDA’s students can gain

Now things have come back full circle, with Licciardello recently directing Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal at NIDA for the October 2022 season, with a cohort of current students. 

She says they displayed outstanding professionalism, a key attribute that she has seen across NIDA’s student group. ‘Some students who really stand out already have such a professional mindset, particularly the technical students – they’re looking ahead and actively problem-solving. 

‘The ensemble of actors have been excellent too because they are very supportive of each other,’ says Licciardello. 

It’s also those relationships that Licciardello was able to forge with her peers that helped to propel her career, especially in the independent sector. 

‘One of the most valuable things about training at NIDA is the relationships that you build with other students. Making independent, amateur work or even short films together, it helps you to continue developing your craft.’

Licciardello is also the 2020 recipient of NIDA’s Gloria Payten Foundation and Gloria Dawn Foundation Fellowship, which will allow her to travel to Europe this year and reinvigorate her practice. 

Her advice for NIDA’s prospect students? Licciardello says: ‘The thing that will allow you to survive in a very difficult industry is regularly reconnecting with why you want to do it. It’s reading great plays, seeing great films, talking to people who inspire you and imagining what you might make one day.’

NIDA is currently welcoming applications for its 2023 intake; find out more.  

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram @lleizy_