Patrick Studios aims to meet the growing demand for performers for Australia’s musical boom.

Tucked away in a leafy street at the funky end of Chapel Street lies a black and green building that houses a thriving dance studio that is about to make its most ambitious leap forward to date. Actually, dance studio is far too simple a term to describe what goes on at Patrick Studios Australia. As well as teaching all facets of dance there are acrobatics classes, yoga, drama and vocal lessons as well as an associated talent agency and production company.
Studio director Todd Patrick founded the school with unique insight into Melbourne’s needs. Touring Australia with Countdown – the Arena Spectacular in 2006, Patrick sampled dance teaching in every state and noticed characteristics that were distinctive to each. This led to his decision to open the studio in Melbourne and in only five short years his drive and high standards have positioned the school as the largest fulltime dance-based performing arts institution in Victoria.
Starting from a primary school hall in St Kilda, the company soon moved to the current premises in Green St, Prahran, former home of Bartuccio’s. Clover Agency was added and is now in the experienced hands of Simone Goodwin, recently back from seven years in New York. This year, Kissing Bee Productions premiered Ooh La La, a European style cabaret that toured Victoria.
The next phase became clear to Patrick and his associate Andrew Hallsworth at the midyear vocal showcase when they realised that all the numbers they had prepared were from music theatre. From 2011 the school will offer a one year full time Music Theatre Course. Entry is by audition only, with the 25 selected students to have an equal mix of males and females.  
The day I visited Patrick studios was chilly but sunlight was pouring in through the windows in the welcoming foyer and each of the studios. The students were returning from lunch and the atmosphere was decidedly upbeat. Rehearsals were being held for a Victorian Racing Commission function at Crown, one of Clover Agency’s regular clients. Four jockeys had been chosen to take part and Patrick smiled as he showed me the Lady Gaga costume that one was to wear. Another function that weekend was Tuxedo Junction, a charity ball for Cancer Council Victoria, where Patrick’s dancers were to share the stage with Sylvie Paladino and Chelsea Gibb.
With the high standard expected, I asked Patrick whether they are looking for fully formed performers at the auditions. Patrick explained that this is not the case: ‘I look for potential. One of our current Performing Arts students was a gymnast, one was a hip hop dancer. Kids who want it the most are usually the ones who turn out the best’.
With dance and vocal training already firmly in place, the faculty of teachers has been expanded to allow for further drama classes, accent training, fight training, music theory and motivational lectures. Staff are all industry-based professionals, who often come to class from rehearsals so they expect the same standard from the students. Teachers include Collette Mann, Christen O’Leary, Melissa Langton, Emma Callaghan and Andrew Hallsworth.
Auditions on Sunday 15 August will start with vocals in front of Hallsworth, Callaghan, Dean Bryant and David Wisken before a dance audition with Patrick and Yvette Lee. Members of Patrick Studios’ Elite Squad’ who wish to take enroll in the Music Theatre course are accepted and many students graduating from the fulltime Performing Arts course are planning to audition.
Performance feedback will include two vocal assessments per ten week term, with those from term two being held in front of the class. Mock auditions at the end of the year will give students direct feedback from visiting industry professionals. There will be a mid-year vocal showcase and an end of year musical production. When asked about potential directors for the musical, Patrick easily comes up with suggestions: ‘Robyn Arthur, Matthew Robinson, Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank… With my dance contacts and Andy’s music theatre contacts we are well covered’.
Acclaimed choreographer Hallsworth took time out from rehearsals for The Production Company’s The Boy from Oz to speak about his role as director of the new music theatre program. ‘I am so passionate about starting the course. There is a real hole in Melbourne, especially with changes happening at the VCA. I had spoken to Todd about for the last couple of years, then this year we both said ‘let’s do it now’’. Hallsworth has an incredibly busy year ahead. ‘I leave the weekend after Boy from Oz opens for Priscilla rehearsals in New York’. Priscilla will have an ‘out of town try out’ for 12 weeks in Toronto then Hallsworth will go back over to prepare for the Broadway opening. Another show on his slate for next year is the Gordon /Frost production An Officer and a Gentleman.  
I asked Hallsworth about the structure of the music theatre course across the year. ‘It’s arranged around four terms. First term will be about technique, skills like reading music, dialect, stripping everyone down to basics. Then I will progressively add layers’ ‘Second and third terms we will workshop material then at the end of third term we will audition for the end of year musical production’. Hallsworth is referring to one of the exciting ideas for the course, which is the plan to bring in new writers to workshop their material with the students. ‘It’s win-win, the writers get paid and the kids get experience with new work’.
Hallsworth continues, ‘I also want 2-3 people a term to come in a talk on a motivational level, talk about what they have done right and wrong. For term one I have Robyn Arthur, who is very involved with Actors Equity, and Alex Rathgeber, who is having a very interesting career’.
With high numbers of students already being snapped up for professional work, chances are that audiences will see even more Patrick Studios graduates on stage from 2012 and beyond when their Music Theatre course produces even more success stories.

Photos: Simon Parris