Boorloo is the proud home to the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, an institution known on a national, and international, level for producing the next generation of theatre makers. We get snippets and previews of the talent the academy is fostering during their regularly scheduled productions. However, until they make their own way onto the arts scene, there’s no knowing what goes on in the inner workings of these budding creatives mind’s and how they perceive the world of theatre.
I spoke with Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA) Students Holland Brooks (22, pronouns She/They) and Rhiannon Bryan (21, pronouns They/She), who both major in performance making, to hear their perspectives on studying at WAAPA and our local arts scene.
What led you to studying at WAAPA?
Holland: I started out as a singer, actually! I studied opera and music theatre for about 15 years before moving to WAAPA. I went to a selective performance high school for acting in Melbourne, where I found a real passion for innovative, contemporary art. I was fortunate to have whole units on devising theatre, acting in new Australian works, writing for performance- but I still really thought my future was in music theatre. When I auditioned for all the acting and music theatre programs in Australia straight out of high school, I didn’t get placed anywhere. All the feedback I got was that my height or my ‘look’ wasn’t right for the program. I was completely devastated. While I still thought I wanted to do music theatre, I was forced to look at my situation and make the best of it- instead of working to get an agent or auditioning, I decided to write, produce, and star in my own play at Melbourne Fringe. I had a few friends studying the BPA at the time who really encouraged me to audition for that course, given my instinct was to create, not to audition. When I went to my BPA audition, I was shocked to find that everyone on the panel was female identifying or nonbinary. Every audition I’d done for a university before was conducted by a massive panel of old white men- this was a game changer. The BPA panellists wanted to know what I was interested in and whether the course would work for me, rather than whether I could fit into some preconceived notion of what ‘type’ I was. I was so, so grateful to receive an offer and I’ve never looked back. Doing the BPA has really broadened my horizons in discovering forms of theatre I’d never heard of that have completely reshaped my understanding and drive to create. I’ve discovered a love for collaboration and experimentation that I never would have found if I didn’t pursue studying at WAAPA.
Rhiannon: I wanted to study theatre at a tertiary level and auditioned for all the relevant schools. I’m from Sydney and was intrigued by the idea of moving to Perth with the intention of studying. In such an isolated city, I saw it as an opportunity to focus on training without other distractions of city life. I liked the large interstate pool of students at WAAPA and saw it as an opportunity to collaborate with people from all around the country and make completely new connections with lots of different people with different experiences to me. I was originally auditioning for acting courses and was instead invited to re-audition for the BPA, which I quickly discovered was a better fit for me. WAAPA has a million one-of-a-kind courses, and I loved the intellectual stimulation I’ve fulfilled in this course as we generate new work that is informed by theatre history, philosophy and politics, as well as receiving solid performance skills training. BPA felt like a brilliant course to begin with and break into university education and then the industry, the training is multi-faceted and has a high focus on interdisciplinary art and encourages experimentation with new forms and ideas. I loved the idea of working in the industry in a multitude of different ways, so I accepted my offer and moved to Perth. WAAPA and BPA have pushed me to ask big questions of myself and the world, and I believe studying theatre has made me a better artist with a better capacity to make informed work.
Rhiannon Bryan [Left] and Holland Brooks [Right].
What do you love about our local art scene?
Rhiannon: I love the range of interdisciplinary art across Perth, with the Fremantle Biennale and PICA programming mixtures of visual art and theatre, as well as the range of selection in main-season programs at Black Swan and The Blue Room. The summer theatre festivals like PerthFest and Fringe are affordable and accessible and encourage an arts culture across Perth in the general, non-traditionally theatre-going public. I think there is a sense of community in the Perth arts scene that I love, and I think there is a sense of community at WAAPA.
Holland: Perth has one of the richest independent art scenes I’ve ever encountered. There is a massive counterculture of performance art, experimental work, devised theatre, controversial and provocative art that is so alive in its commentary on both the local and broader plane. Perth, more than anywhere else I’ve lived, thrives off this culture of artistic independence. I also love the level of collaboration that Perth fosters. It’s a small place, and the arts scene does reflect that. However, it encourages artists to reach around to every sector of the performance sphere and work with artists from every discipline. I’ve seen so many incredible works that are collaborative between visual and performance art, radio and music, dance, and multimedia- the list goes on. This culture of collaboration between emerging artists of different disciplines is completely unique to Perth.
What would you like to see more of in the arts scene?
Holland: There is an immense number of minority creatives that are flourishing in the independent scene, but I don’t see the diversity of Perth reflected in the mainstage theatre scene. When looking at Perth’s mainstage theatre, I feel that this lack of diversity is also felt through form. Mainstage art in Perth is still very traditionalist in its programming, its narrative, and its creatives. There is a need for urgency in the push to facilitate intersectionality in the arts, and this needs to be pursued with fervor and passion from mainstage production companies and the independent sector alike. There is also a huge disparity in funding and programming between mainstage and independent works that needs to be addressed. When independent creators aren’t afforded the funding or development opportunities to get their works to a mainstage audience, it limits the kinds of works presented by mainstage to the works presented by creatives who are generally older, wealthy, and often white. I would love to see more development opportunities that prioritize bringing the eclectic and experimental heart of Perth into the limelight- shaking up tradition and pushing the boundaries.
Rhiannon: I would like to see more performance venues emerge in the coming years across Perth. With the presence of WAAPA graduates, Perth is full of ideas and new budding theatre companies with so much potential. I think BPA is slowly resetting the culture of moving back interstate after the completion of your degree and I believe this is a really good thing. I would like to see more art that pushes the confines of capitalism and see new works programmed that are relevant to our political and social climate and have an urgency to be told. I would like to see more collaborative work that is informed from many different perspectives, work that pushes the hierarchy and bureaucracy of traditional theatre.