There is a new player on the university theatre scene….

For many years university based theatre companies have provided a fantastic opportunity for students to get creative and socialise away from the sterile environment of the lecture theatre. Year after year in amongst the drain of long study hours, endless lectures and tutoriasl and constant assignments, university based theatre groups have been there as an outlet for overworked and over caffeinated students. That is of course unless you attended the Australian Catholic University…


Melbourne’s newest university theatre group ACU Performing Arts is launching onto the university theatre stage and the man with all the info is inaugural director James Wood.

TP: Godspell seems like the obvious choice for a Catholic University to produce as their premier production. How has ACUPA come to exist and why do you think it was important to run with Godspell as your intitial production?

James: Australian Catholic University (ACU) is both Catholic, and a public University. Choosing Godspell as the inaugural production was a natural step for us to take. However what appeals most about the show is that it can be also taken from a non-religious perspective because essentially the story is about a charismatic leader and how he forms a community. Further, I think the show highlights the challenges that working together in a community presents. This is a theme that resonates not only with Godspell, but also in other shows such as Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story and Rent.

We formed ACUPA in 2010 with the broad aims of providing opportunities for members of the ACU community to engage and explore their passion for the performing arts in a variety of forms.

TP: We have seen a long history of successful musicals produced by other universities. Why has it taken ACU so long to get on board?

James: ACUPA was formed at the beginning of 2010 in line with ACU’s renewed focus on the student experience. We have a strong tradition of producing music graduates particularly in the classical field, however never had an avenue for those who were engaged in Musical Theatre and other dramatic forms,. The formation of ACUPA was really an obvious move for us.

TP: Godspell is a production that has been produced with endless different interpretations. How have you chosen to interpret the piece? Have you had to make artisitic compromises to keep in touch with the Catholic values of the university?

James: As a public university, we are certainly not bound to the doctrinal views of the Catholic Church. We have attempted to stay as true as possible to the script and also to the life of Jesus as recounted in scripture.

We have taken some artistic licence in terms of bringing the show a bit more up to date with and use a Gen Y theme throughout the piece. Godspell has an interesting narrative. Act 1 does not follow a linear story line when compared with Act 2 which focuses on the last days of Jesus’ life.

TP: University theatre is often a breath of fresh air as we have the opportunity to witness many new performers on stage. How have you found the cast dynamic?

James: Essentially the show is about the formation of a community. From the first rehearsal we have emphasised the importance of mirroring this in the company. As with all new shows there is a general excitement and enthusiasm that comes along with working through rehearsals. Come show time I think the friendships and relationships off stage will only better the performance on stage.

TP: You are a first time director, how have you found it?

James: I have been on the stage for a number of years, but have always maintained an interest in stagecraft and the elements ‘behind the scenes’ that make shows come together. I think I am extremely lucky to have the opportunity to direct and am very grateful to the support around me from other members of the production team, in particularly Margie Dimech as Assistant Director.

TP: Sounds like you are the perfect man for the job and that ACU runs through your blood?

James: Well I studied at ACU and now work there within Campus Life in the student services division which is called the Office of Student Success. Part of my role is to assist students in the development of Clubs and Societies and I also work on first year experience initiatives, such as mentor programs, student leadership development and other student support activities.

TP: The show is being performed on campus at the central hall. What is the venue like and how are you using the space to your advantage?

James: Central Hall as a performance space has been challenging! The hall is over 100 years old its history includes being a premier live music venue in the 1970’s. These days the venue’s primary purpose is as a lecture theatre for the university. Transforming the space into a performance venue has required us to bring in lighting and sound and also consider staging in order to provide the audience with the best experience possible.

TP: Godspell Highlights?

James: I think that there will be many highlights throughout the show, including the choreography of some of our big numbers by Katie Franzone, who is the choreographer and playing Sonia in the show. You can be assured of a standout performance by Timothy Barsby in the role of Jesus who is very ably supported by Brendan Hyde playing Judas, who is a Religious Education lecturer at ACU.

TP: What’s next for ACUPA?

James: Our next venture is still to be decided, but we can confirm we will definately be doing a yearly Gala Performance showcasing the talents of the ACU community, plus at least one major production in the second half of the year. We hope that this is the start of a great tradition at ACU, and one that continues to grow from strength to strength.

ACU Performing Arts Presents


Limited Season:
8pm, Wednesday, 6 October 2010
8pm, Thursday, 7 October 2010
8pm, Friday, 8 October 2010

Check out our ‘What’s on’ section for more details