WAAPA celebrates 40th anniversary with epic performance program

From classical to contemporary, the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts’ 40th anniversary program showcases cutting edge talent from the institute’s students.

It’s been four decades since the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) was established at Edith Cowan University, in which time the institution has launched the careers of such world class entertainers as Hugh Jackman, Frances O’Connor, Tim Minchin and Eddie Perfect, among others.

With a focus on hands-on training taught by industry professionals, WAAPA’s annual calendar of events always features a range of performances by its highly skilled students, but for its 40th anniversary they’re pulling out all the stops.

Incorporating theatre, musicals, dance, opera and concerts, the 2020 program includes a number of classic and original productions from March to November.

The remount of lauded German choreographer Pina Bausch’s Tannhäuser Bacchanal as part of the quadruple bill Icon is set to be one of the year’s highlights.

Supported by the Minderoo Foundation and performed by WAAPA’s second and third year dance students, Tannhäuser Bacchanal will be taught by leading artist-in-residence Barbara Kaufmann, a long-standing member of Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal. The production will pair former Tanztheater Wuppertal company members, Meryl Tankard and Michael Whaites, with WAAPA’s Dance students, providing the students with a valuable opportunity to hone their craft alongside some of the dance world’s leading professionals.

‘We refer to the way we teach at WAAPA as “industry simulated training,”’ said WAAPA Marketing Manager Anton Mazandarani. ‘We have wonderful facilities that are as close to professional theatres, concert halls and music auditoriums that we can provide. The way that we run performances for the public is exactly as they would be structured within the industry.’

Theatre highlights in 2020 include the most recent adaptation of Bernard Pomerance’s multi-award-winning play, The Elephant Man, and The Wild Cherry Project, a powerful theatrical pairing that sets selected scenes from Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard against a performance of Wild Cherries by award-winning Australian playwright Daniel Keene. 

For music buffs there’s a celebration of Beethoven programming to commemorate the 250th anniversary of his birth; an ode to jazz greats with one of America’s most celebrated jazz pianists, Benny Green, collaborating with the WAAPA Jazz students to present Benny Green Jazz Messenger. Musical Theatre students will perform the classical work A Chorus Line, while Classical Voice students and the WAAPA Symphony Orchestra will perform Orpheus in the Underworld, an opera that descends into the cabaret underworld of the ‘city of love’. 

Students are involved in all facets of production, from designing costumes, props and sets through to lighting, and the skills they gain while studying are in high demand in the sector according to WAAPA Executive Dean, Professor David Shirley.

‘WAAPA’s performances establish the foundations on which our students build international reputations as musicians, actors, dancers, directors, designers, technicians, administrators and producers,’ Shirley said.

‘The training and education offered at WAAPA ranks amongst the finest in the world, so it is with immense pleasure and a real sense of pride that we offer the public an opportunity to sample the work of our extraordinarily passionate and dedicated young practitioners.’

Some students are so in-demand they will board a plane as soon as they finish their studies, as was the case with Kellan Starkie, who was immediately employed as a sound technician on Cirque du Soleil’s production of Corteo once he graduated from WAAPA’s Sound Production course. 

Mazandarani said WAAPA is well equipped to give students they very best chance within the industry. ‘We’re very much conscious of the fact that this is a very competitive industry and we prepare students as best as we can,’ he said.

‘By the time our students have left WAAPA they really are industry-ready and the feedback that we get from employers around the world is, “Your graduates are ready to start work on day one.”’