Highly Commended 2021
Category: Performing Arts
Specialisation: Stage Managing & Video / Lighting Design
The performing arts industry is a vast and resourceful place with a bespoke approach to every different form of performance, whether it be a small community theatre production of Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ to huge-scale events such as the Opening Ceremony of Olympic Games. Each and every production has its own way of Stage Management and Technical processes that I want to learn from and use to inform my practice and my peers.
As a NIDA student, I continue to learn throughout my entire education but have the opportunity to return and pass on my personal knowledge to the forthcoming cohorts. I particularly engage with the alumni who return to teach as they provide real-world, practical examples of how Technical Theatre & Stage Management is applied. Alumni who have worked internationally have provided great insight into how the industry works outside of Australia, and I hope to continue this by passing on the knowledge I gain through a BBM Global Industry Scholarship.
International live performance companies are constantly finding new ways to showcase their productions. Franco Dragone’s ‘House of Dancing Water’ is a key example of innovation within the performing arts industry. A 250 million-dollar, custom-built 2000 seat theatre, surrounding a 14 million litre pool is the definition of the undefinable innovation. This production in Macau is one of the thousands of examples of large-scale innovation within the performing arts. However, on smaller scales – innovation is still prevalent. Broadway’s ‘Mean Girls’, based on the well-known film of the same name, uses video as a major set element. Although video has been used in live theatre for decades, ‘Mean Girls’ uses it as its primary mode for portraying setting and advancing the plot. The innovation is not necessarily the technology, but the way that it is used the key plot device, as opposed to scattered throughout to enforce existing set design. Both ‘House of Dancing Water’ and ‘Mean Girls’ are two productions involving different types of innovation that have already influenced my practice whilst still studying.
Sustainability has long been argued as the key momentum for innovation. In the performing arts industry, Europe’s innovation has been driven by sustainability and had profound impacts on the international industry already. The European Commission introduced a regulation titled ‘Ecodesign Working Plan’ which requires all lights to meet new goals of energy efficiency. Although initially, uproar was prevalent in the industry about the forced obsolescence of traditional bulb-powered lights, the increase in innovation around LED and low-discharge lamps increased by an incredible amount. This produced sustainability to multiple aspects; environmental sustainability and cost reduction through sustainable practices. LED bulbs require significantly less amount of power to operate and have a greater life expectancy which helps theatres to keep a small eco-footprint and decrease their costs. Europe has been leading the way in sustainability for decades, and as a part of a BBM Global Industry Scholarship, I would aim to learn about their methods to achieve this and present these findings to NIDA. As NIDA is the key training institution for Technical Theatre practitioners, these findings will be passed on into the industry through graduating students and will help to make Australia’s theatre more sustainable.
Dragone’s ‘House of Dancing Water’, ‘Mean Girls’ and Europe are three key examples of innovation and suitability within the international performing arts industry. By using the BBM Global Industry Scholarship, I hope to learn from these examples, and more, to inform my professional practice but also to pass on to my peers and theatrical practitioners of the future with the support of NIDA.
Among the places I would like to visit to gain global experience are;
Cirque du Soleil’s ‘O’ ‘Las Vegas, Nevada
Cirque du Soleil’s resident productions are truly one-of-a-kind. ‘O’ is housed in the Bellagio Hotel in its own, custom-built theatre. The production is written and directed by Circus great Franco Dragone and features up to 90 performers jumping, swimming and performing tricks in and around a 1.5-million-gallon pool. During my time with the Stage Management department of ‘O’ supported by the BBM Global Industry Scholarship, I will learn about techniques for calling a show of such high risk, the way that a line-up is created per performance and the innovative and world-class technology used both within the stage management department, and the high scale hydraulic set pieces. ‘O’ is a world-class show that is a feat of Stage Management to ensure the safety of performers and to produce a high-quality show that engages the audience nine times a week.
FRAY Studio (Finn Ross & Adam Young) – London, England
FRAY is a Video Design studio for Live Performance created by TONY Award Nominees Finn Ross & Adam Young. Ross & Young have designed on the West End, Broadway and multitudes of touring artists across the world. Their credits as FRAY Studio include Mean Girls and Frozen and for touring artists Liam Gallagher, Two Door Cinema Club and a museum installation for The Rolling Stones. FRAY is one of the leading video design houses in the world, who pride themselves on not seeing video as screens, but stages. This allows for video to integrate seamlessly into live performance and creates an experience that is uncommon in the live performance industry. FRAY is one of the front runners in creating video content that is used both as a key plot device, but also an element that is undisguisable from real-life set pieces. During my time with FRAY, I will get practical experience with content creation, implementation and video systems and learn from the world’s best video designers about from the conceptual stage up to performance. FRAY is a company that is innovating every day and will teach me skills that will help video become a strong part of my practice, and influence Australia’s performing arts industry.
The National Theatre – London, England
England’s National Theatre is at the forefront of sustainable theatrical practices in the UK and across the neighbouring countries in the European Union. The National Theatre Environmental Policy creates a culture within the company to work together to protect the future of the industry and the world. In collaboration with Julie’s Bicycle, the National Theatre is working towards creating a certification for touring productions that assess their sustainability practices. In addition, a target for 2020 of 75% of all production resources is an incredible initiative that Australia must learn from. Australia can learn about the reuse system that the National Theatre currently uses on its productions. Furthermore, their staff work to keep theatre sustainable through emerging technology, in particular digital prompt copies for the Stage Management department. A prompt copy is a show’s important documentation and the script that the Stage Manager will use to call the show. It is often upwards of 500 pages. A digital prompt copy is challenging to create, and the National Theatre uses innovative technology to ensure that less paper is used and to help achieve their suitability goals. During my time with the Stage Management & Scenic Construction departments with the National Theatre, I will learn first-hand about innovative, sustainable practices to producing theatre. I will present to NIDA ‘ Australia’s premier theatre educational institute – strategies to decrease their eco-footprint. NIDA students will take this information into the industry as graduates and will influence Australia’s sustainability within theatre.
My career goal is to be a Stage Manager for musical theatre and large-scale productions such as circus and events, or as a Video & Lighting Designer for live performance. I am also interested in telling Australian Stories on both local and global stages and working with communities closely in portraying these stories. One of my passions is passing on the knowledge that I have learnt to others and do this through my work with Shore School in North Sydney as a Theatre Technician and working closely with the current students.
I have worked as a theatrical freelancer working on bump-outs such as ‘Bring It On: The Musical’ at the State Theatre in 2019. I work at Shore School as a Theatre Technician and Venue Supervisor and have casual employment at NIDA as a theatre crew. Annually, I work as a Stage Manager on Link Event’s ‘Carols by the Lake’ in Narrabeen attended by upwards of 10,000 people. In an education setting I have been a Deputy Stage Manager on musicals such as ‘Oliver!’ and ‘West Side Story’ at Shore, at NIDA on MEAT EATERS directed by Kate Champion (Assistant Stage Manager), ‘Twelfth Night’ directed by Jim Sharman (Assistant Stage Manager cover & Mechanist) and most recently as Video Designer on ‘A Respectable Wedding’. Upcoming roles include Deputy Stage Manager on NIDA’s musical ‘Next to Normal’ directed by Darren Yap.
I am currently the president of the Student Council of NIDA (SCON) whose aim is to connect the student community with decision-makers as well as operating social events and fundraisers year-round. In 2020, SCON took on a new role due to the COVID-19 crisis by running student engagement activities online to boost the mental well being of students. Further, I was involved in various decision-making conversations about NIDA’s response to COVID-19 as the representative for the student body.
Before my education commencing at NIDA, I worked with Link Events on a twice-yearly basis for their community events; ‘Eggs by the Lake’ and ‘Carols by the Lake’ with the latter attended by upwards of ten-thousand people every year. Both events are co-operated by Link Community Care who provide much-needed resources to those struggling on the Northern Beaches.
Currently, I work at Shore School’s theatre which operates 50/50 between employees and students during external hires. I work closely alongside students and teach them through hands-on experience about all aspects of theatre including lighting design and programming, sound mixing and working with clients. The clients that hire Shore’s theatre are community dance schools for their end of year concerts or award presentation nights. Working with both Shore students and community clients is a very rewarding process, bringing professional level grade qualities to their theatrical tool-kits. I also work closely with a few high school students who wish to pursue a career in the performing arts as their mentor. This process involves being free to answer any questions, both work-based and career-based. Of all the work I do, this is easily the most rewarding, particularly when I see the work that they produce.
“Isaac is a strong leader and has done a lot of research. He is keen to find out about innovation in UK practices and to have an impact on local practices.” – BBM Industry Panel