Students are finding that all the world’s a stage
20 May 2024

Taking part in performing arts at school helps to set the scene for success, writes Elissa Doherty.

It may be drawing to a close in Melbourne’s east end, but the acclaimed musical Chicago is about to blaze onto the stage in a hall nearby. Starry-eyed students at the Academy of Mary Immaculate have been rehearsing for their own production of the sizzling show, with the curtain set to go up on May 28. And the cast have an extra pep in their ball-change step after being given a masterclass by one of the Broadway hit’s best alumni.

In the early days of student rehearsals, Stephen Valeri, one of the principals in the Australian production, swung by the Fitzroy school to deliver an exclusive workshop. The experience was one of the highlights of cast member Zoe’s year. She says the cast “couldn’t contain their excitement” when Valeri arrived. “Stephen provided us with an insight into the process that he and the cast underwent when forming the show and informed us that even professionals can feel nervous on their first day of rehearsal,” says the year 10 student.

School performing arts leader Olivia Hamilton says the opportunity arose as Valeri is the singing teacher of one of their students. “The timing worked really well, as he came into our second rehearsal, and so we did a lot of characterisation and scene work, blocking and movement.” The workshop was followed by a question-and-answer session with Valeri, with the girls asking how to crack into the industry, and whether or not to hire an agent. “He had some great advice and said . . . they need to work on their craft, and take on any opportunity before they start looking for a professional gig,” Hamilton says. “It takes a lot of blood sweat and tears to get into the industry.” She says the benefits of being involved in performing arts at school go beyond developing stage skills. “It creates well-rounded students that will last well beyond the classroom,” Hamilton says. “It fosters creativity, teamwork and self expression, and even if they don’t want to be a performer, these skills are so valuable [in] the workforce.”

Across town, Westbourne Grammar School’s theatre bugs have just wrapped up their senior musical production of Heathers the Musical: Teen Edition, an adaptation of the cult 1980s film. The dark satire was retooled for a teenage audience, and the school’s head of choral, Belinda Rasen, says it explores important, complex issues that resonate with today’s students. “These are the real experiences that make up the joy and anguish of teenage life such as fitting in, peer pressure, bullying, relationships, and friendships,’’ she says. ‘‘It’s a time of finding their voice and figuring out who they want to be. “It has been a delight to witness students transform and blossom as their confidence grows. ‘‘The magic moments are in rehearsals when it all comes together and clicks for them – the music, dance, and acting – the stagecraft that delivers the thrill of, ‘Yes, we nailed that!’ They are the moments that keep them going – and setting the bar higher and higher.”

She says students have learned many important life skills as they discovered their creative potential, including juggling studies and other commitments while managing their physical and mental health. Billie, who plays Heather Duke – Shannen Doherty’s character in the film – says that balancing year 12 studies with rehearsals was challenging but rewarding. “My favourite part has been watching everything come together . . . the merging all of the parts, getting in costume and bringing the characters, stage, and props to life,” she says.


Source: The Age- Independent Schools Guide

Published: 18 May 2024

Words by: Elissa Doherty