Imagine coming in to class for a mock audition and seeing Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush as your guest tutor for the day. Or Dean Bryant, Esther Hannaford and Christie Whelan-Browne. Then there are the people who just happen to be in town and call in for a visit – like David and Lisa Campbell. They’re just some of the people who have been guest teachers at Showfit.
The list of regular teachers is just as impressive: Helpmann Award nominated Scott Johnson (Jersey Boys) is the Director of Acting and multiple Green Room Award winner Matthew Frank is the Director of Music. If that’s not enough, add in mentoring and singing tuition by double Helpmann Award winner Verity Hunt-Ballard (Mary Poppins, Sweet Charity).
This is what awaits the students of Melbourne’s Showfit course. Showfit is a one year, full time course with the option of an additional second year. It provides an opportunity for students to understand what it would be like to work in the industry full time and help them decide if it’s the right career choice. However, the Showfit course is not necessarily in competition with full degree courses. It’s the perfect bridging course for school leavers who want a one year immersion in the music theatre industry before deciding to enrol in a three year degree course at institutions such as WAAPA, VCA, NIDA and Federation University.
Hunt-Ballard explains, “We don’t want to compete with other schools, we want to work with other schools … and to make Australian music theatre the best that it can be.”
What makes Showfit different to other courses is the immersion into the industry. The regular teaching staff and guest teachers are all actively working and well connected into the theatre industry. Matthew Frank has just commenced rehearsals, as Musical Director, for Jerry’s Girls. After a successful return season of Sweet Charity, Verity Hunt-Ballard is about to give birth to her second child and alternates teaching Showfit students with singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to her daughter, while her partner, Scott Johnson, is cast in the upcoming tour of Little Shop of Horrors. This regular exposure to some of the best in the industry is what makes Showfit unique in comparison to other courses.
“The usefulness of a musical theatre degree is only in the training,” says Frank, adding the fact you can’t simply walk into an audition with a degree in your hand.
Hunt-Ballard and Frank were both trained at WAAPA, while Johnson was trained at NIDA. Together, they bring years of experience and training, but more importantly a great love and passion not only for musical theatre and performance, but also for teaching and the passing on of their skills and wisdom to a new generation. They bring to Showfit the same fundamental training they received in these courses, but the difference is the regular exposure to the industry through guest teachers and attendance at theatre performances.
“(Showfit) is very much an immersion into the theatre world,” said Johnson.
“We’ve been really careful to assemble people that are qualified, really. There’s a lot of grey area when it comes to teaching music theatre. A lot of people can call themselves a teacher when really they don’t have the skills to express to a new student exactly what they need to learn,” explained Hunt-Ballard.
Showfit enables participates to decide if professional musical theatre is the right choice before making the huge step of moving out of home to attend somewhere such as WAAPA or NIDA.
“A life in the performing arts is a huge commitment and it’s a huge choice to go down this path,” commented Frank.
Students who complete the one year program at Showfit are very well prepared to take on a full degree in music theatre, however for the graduates who feel ready, the course is enough to move immediately into full time professional work in the entertainment industry.
Talking to Johnson, Frank and Hunt-Ballard about the Showfit experience, I asked if the students get star-struck during their classes. The answer: “Yes!”
The first time Hunt-Ballard took a class, the students asked all about winning her Helpmann Awards for Mary Poppins and Sweet Charity. Hunt-Ballard said she then had to do a lot of safe and trust exercises with the class, but acknowledges this experience is a good thing to better prepare the students for the reality of auditions for professional work.
What is very apparent, is that Showfit participants will be taught by not only some of the best in the industry, but by people who are passionate about teaching.
“I’m interested in the art and the craft of acting. It’s very clear in our course that we’re very passionate about it,” commented Johnson.
“I love teaching probably more than I love musically directing. Well I like doing both, but I love being able to teach and musically direct together, which is a great thing. The best part of the course is seeing the development of students through either a year or two years and just encouraging them and getting the best out of them. I went to WAAPA and taught at VCA and BAPA but this is such a different energy at this place. It’s so lovely and open and free and creative,” added Frank.
Both Johnson and Frank are selective in the professional work they take. When they do accept work in a show, they ensure their classes are covered by another suitable teacher and include their students in their work wherever possible. When Frank was musical director for A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, his students attended a cover rehearsal and for Pirates of Penzance he had them participate as extras in the choir loft.
The first round of auditions for the 2016 Showfit course are taking place this week on November 5th and 6th. Full details can be found on the Showfit website. In terms of who should apply, Hunt-Ballard suggests anyone who has studied VCE drama, theatre studies, music or dance and are wanting to test it out as a possible career pathway. It’s the perfect bridging program for anyone who misses out on a place at WAAPA , VCA or similar institutions. It’s also a great one year course for those simply love music theatre and perhaps are already involved in amateur theatre.
For more details go to the Showfit website. http://www.showfit.com.au/
Details of any further auditions will be announced when they become available.