One of Victoria’s growing Performing Arts educators, APO Arts Academy, has recently appointed a new Head of Voice and Performance in the Music Theatre Department. He is keen to impart his own experiences and is dedicated to guiding students from ‘student’ to ‘artist & performer’.  We sent roving reporter, Kathleen Amarant to speak with the delightful man himself and find out more about his new role…

K:  Congratulations on your appointment of Head of Voice & Performance for the Music Theatre Department, Derek. You are also one of the Senior Vocal Coaches at APO, tell us a bit about both roles.

D: Thank you, I have been teaching singing at APO since mid 2010 and last year started more work running performance practice classes as well as directing the showcases started as a singing teacher but have increased my involvement. As a teacher, technique is very important to me and we are keen to encourage students to have good vocal tuition. Everything we teach is important however, though I may be a little biased being a voice teacher and singer more than a dancer myself in the professional work I’ve done, developing a technique that will potentially help students voices to last an 8 show week is very important.

K: How important is it to work closely with Pamela Apostolidis (Artistic Director)?

D: Since I’ve taken on more involvement in the course, Pamela and I liaise a lot more closely on everything from repertoire choices, showcases to concerts to seeing each others students perform so even though we cross departments. It’s important so that we are aware of where the students are going in all of those disciplines.

K: So what courses do APO currently have on offer for their students?

D: this year we have the Foundation in Musical Theatre Course, which is 1 year aimed at, not necessarily all beginners, but those that might have studied music, drama and dance at school and are either straight out of school or have been out of school a year or two now wanting to learn and study musical theatre and get a taste of what’s required to look at it as a career.

Then we have a Diploma in Musical Theatre, which is a two year course which essentially aims to get you ready, hopefully, for the industry or for the potential of further study. Sometimes the Foundation students are accepted straight into or Diploma as well, because it carries on conditioning to give them more performance opportunities working on their voice, acting and dancing and general industry knowledge at the same time.

So some students will have more experience being a few years out of school some will go straight into the Diploma and for others the foundation is a great introduction to realize how much dedicated work is needed to really make it in the industry, in such a competitive environment. Having worked in it or 25 years or so, I know they need to keep striving.

K: What does a typical day for you at APO look like?

D: Generally in the week I teach individual one-on-one singing lessons during the day, because the course runs of an evening (Mon- Thurs) as well as all day Saturday. So everyone’s individual singing lessons happen during the day in the week, which, I teach along with other private tutors. Once I finish that I would have a short break and off I go into either a practicing performance class or a vocal repertoire class, as well as coordinating vocal ensemble classes, sitting in on acting classes and dance classes. So, it’s a fairly busy day!

K: You have an impressive background in Performing Arts, as well as being a private singing tutor. Tell us a bit about your experiences and was there a professional highlight?

D: Probably the most exciting thing for me was back when I started I was in the original cast of Phantom of the Opera back in 1990. That for me at 23 was pretty exciting knowing they’d looked for the cast Australia wide and it was such a big show back then. At the same time I was in the ensemble back then and the next big milestone for me was Cats, Secret Garden and Grease. But then I had a highlight when I got my first principle role which was Tibias Ragg in Sweeney Todd for the Queensland Theatre Company. That was the big step into principle area for me which led to other roles one of which was Chicago as Mary Sunshine where I was then to be fortunate enough to be taken over to the West End in London where I played it there too, which was really lovely. The most recent performing I’ve done was actually back in Phantom of the Opera again, three years ago where I actually played one of the principle roles, Monsieur Andre, one of the two new theatre managers. So that was nice to go full circle in a way over twenty or so years. And recently I’ve been doing some directing for a pantomime for the Victorian Opera Company at Her Majesty’s Theatre. I have also directed and assistant directed for them before, so I’ve been able to go into some professional directing work as well. I feel very lucky to have had those opportunities. But, as I tell the students, only a certain section of it is luck and the rest is a whole lot of hard work!

K: Who is an artist/director/professional that you particularly admire and why?

D: That’s interesting, there are a couple of people. Many years ago I worked with Stuart Maunder who directed a couple of Opera’s I was in the chorus of in Adelaide, when I was about 19 or 20 years of age. Which was when I first started singing professionally. I always loved his enthusiasm and directorial ideas so he was probably a big influence, I really enjoyed working with him. The other person that I was just so delighted to work with is Harold Prince when he directed Phantom of the Opera originally, because he actually came out to Australia and of the six week rehearsal period he was here for four and to listen to him tell stories of Broadway back in the 1950’s and 1960’s and he has worked with so many people on Broadway and in the West End. To see how he directed, he was so calm and clear, it was really lovely to see. Those two, plus some of my teachers when I was younger really inspired me and I took from them some great things that I try to pass on to the students now.

K: What advice would you give anyone wanting to break into the Professional Performing Arts Industry?

D: Work hard. Go and do a good course and be prepared to take on information from those that have been there and done it and that have involved professionally. They can tell you we all have ideas in what way we think it might work, but, until you have been worked with people in the industry, that can be hard. I would just say work incredibly hard and be very motivated is the main piece of advice on all levels. Everything from being fit and healthy to working hard on music, to learning other things about the industry, not just about being on stage, learning about how backstage works, how crews work, how lighting works, sound works to give you a really overall knowledge, it just helps. Anything like that helps with getting Professional work I think.

Find out more about APO arts academy at their website