posted 14 August 2002
What better invitation could you imagine? Until, maybe, you remember the tv makeover: backstage at NIDA seemed pretty daunting.
And, of course, you can’t forget that your invitation has about a 1% chance of getting you into the party. Is it really possible to get into NIDA? Two Canberrans are there now, so I asked them how they did it.
Just to begin with a downer for drama teachers, neither Alex O’Lachlan or Gordon Rymer beavered away at drama through high school and college. Gordon did all the right things, like study hard across the normal range of subjects, until he started to seriously worry his parents at the beginning of Year 12. Who said he could act? What about his nice career, as an accountant or something? Help!!
Well, Gordon found indeed that he wasn’t a great actor, or likely ever to become one, but he became fascinated with the way theatre production works. So even more horrors – he became stage manager for the bloodthirsty story of Sweeney Todd with a collapsible barber’s chair on a truck. In Semester 2, Year 12! Oh, what will become of him?
He’s actually a calm and sensible lad who now praises the drama teacher who left him to face up to solving problems like what to do when the wheels literally fell off the truck, on which most of the set was built, as it was being shouldered on for final dress rehearsal. He took a year off after that, went travelling to Europe, worked as a dishwasher in a large hotel for 10-14 hour days, and thus proved to his parents that he was able to look after himself, and proved to himself that he could work the long hours that NIDA now demands of him. Only then did he take up the invitation to apply, built a set model with lighting, sound and costume design for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which he claims was “not very good”) and wrote some 3000 words about why his design was eminently workable. Phew!
Now in Second Year, Gordon recently was deputy stage manager for NIDA’s Third Year production of Country Music by Nick Enright, in which Alex O’Lachlan was a leading actor. Wheels falling off trucks was nothing, says Gordon, compared with a 4 hour long play being written in the wings, with pauses for writing lighting plots extending technical rehearsals over a whole week. Both Gordon and Alex seem to have revelled in the challenge.
But how did Alex get there, via a story which could be entitled, How Not To Get to NIDA? He was the bad boy of high school and college that many teachers would recognise. Actually, they won’t because his name is not in the records, not just because he often wasn’t in school (and never did drama past primary). Alex needed to escape a Canberra which did nothing for him before he changed his life, and his name.
Perhaps the first solid book he read was AB Facey’s A Fortunate Life, when he was 19. Here he discovered a common spirit in touch with humanity, a kind of innocence, and a person of honesty who would not deceive another. Facey was a model for a new life, and as Alex travelled, also in Europe, he watched films with an ache which he finally recognised. He wanted to perform with the same commitment and honesty he now saw in so many great actors.
Back in Australia, but in vibrant Sydney, not the cold Canberra of old, he says he literally woke up one morning and knew he must apply for NIDA. They didn’t invite him: he invited himself, at the age of 23.
As soon as his real life began, commitment to the work has led to an avid interest in theatre history covered in essays which would surprise his earlier teachers. He told me he is an “instinctual actor – I feel my way through it” but very soon was explaining detailed techniques of characterisation. He seems to have just the right mix of method and emotion, and control of his life, for us to sincerely hope for professional success.
Alex is the one with the photo, but Gordon will be there in the backstage gloom, making sure all the calls are spot on. He didn’t mind not having a photo, he said. That’s not his role.
For NIDA, ring the Admissions Officer on (02) 9697 7600 or at www.nida.edu.au, but if you may not be in that particular 1%, don’t forget all the other drama and theatre courses available after Year 12. You can find them all on university websites.