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Shaping the next generation of performers

By Associate Professor Peter Morris and Ms Jacqui Somerville, Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University

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Live theatre can transform, transport and inspire.

It can lift spirits, bring groups of people together, hold a mirror up to society and be a catalyst for change. It’s for all these reasons that we see immense value in performance, art and creative expression.

At Griffith University, we are committed to transforming lives by adding to human knowledge and understanding in ways that create a better future all. For our performing arts students, that means exploring the power of theatre to transform lives through storytelling. With this foundation, our graduates confidently face the future with the knowledge and skills to make a lasting contribution to society.

The performing arts programs at Griffith develop both the individual and the performer. Students learn acting, voice and speech, singing, movement and dance from our internationally renowned teachers. They are also taught fundamental soft skills and business sense to prepare them for life as a working artist.

Students from our Bachelor of Musical Theatre and Bachelor of Acting programs feature in the Conservatorium’s annual in-house production program. They also have access to a range of exciting engagements with Queensland Theatre, providing opportunities to experience industry and expand on their tertiary learning and development.

Griffith’s partnership with Queensland Theatre began in 2002 and has seen much success in the years since then. We are honoured to support and celebrate their 2021 season of storytelling and delivering transformative productions.

It’s through partnerships like this one that we’re able to provide these unique opportunities to our students, to build in them the comprehensive skills and flexibility required when they graduate and join the wonderful performing arts communities across Australia and the world.

In 2021, the partnership between our organisations is set to be our strongest yet, with the joint production of The Laramie Project hitting the stage. Queensland Theatre has provided both the rehearsal and performance space (in the form of the Diane Cilento Studio) and the production’s director, with Artistic Director Lee Lewis at the helm. Moreover, the partnership sees Queensland Theatre also providing a stage manager, technical equipment and technical venue support for the show.

Co-productions such as this give students an invaluable chance to work alongside renowned artists, learn in a professional environment and hone their craft in world-class facilities. Having access to the technical and artistic support from the state’s major arts organisation gives students looking to forge their careers in the industry a head start.

When it comes to theatre that contributes to the global conversation, few productions have the transformative power of The Laramie Project. Created in 2002 by Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theater Project, this piece of verbatim theatre explores the reactions to the 1998 murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. Denounced as a hate crime, Matthew’s murder put the lack of laws in the US relating to hate crimes firmly in the spotlight.

This play does not pull punches. It draws on hundreds of interviews conducted by the theatre company with inhabitants of the town, company members' own journal entries, and published news reports. Actors on stage speak the words of the townspeople verbatim, in moving speeches and interviews that run the gamut from heart wrenching to hopeful. Through the play, both the “characters” and interviewers themselves become part of a story about pain, injustice, healing, and forgiveness.

When it first premiered, The Laramie Project became part of a movement that led to states reevaluating and overhauling their own manifestly inadequate laws on hate crimes. What happened in Laramie, Moises Kauffman later said, was a “watershed moment in for the country”. And, as it turned out, for the rest of the world, too.

Today, it’s estimated that 10 million people have seen this work across 20 countries in 13 different languages. It’s frequently taught in schools as a way of teaching tolerance and addressing prejudice. It’s an astounding legacy for any play, but especially one that has done so much to promote social change.

Despite perceived progress on several social fronts, the play—disappointingly—remains relevant as ever. Sentiments such as bigotry and parochialism have been stirred into fever pitch in recent years and serve as a timely reminder of why artistic works such as this need an audience.

It is in this vein that our partnership with Queensland Theatre is so vital; with the talent and resources of this world-class institution, we can ensure the issues in our artistic works are amplified through our joint audiences. We can reach a wider spectrum of theatregoers and impact society through art that truly matters and has the power to create real and lasting change.

Not only can our partnership give the next generation of performers the edge they need to stand out in their future workplace, but we can undertake artistic endeavors such as The Laramie Project that hold that mirror up to society. Productions that can make people think, talk and, hopefully, act. It is partnerships such as these that are helping us produce graduates that are ready to take the stage and shape the future.

Production Partner

Queensland Conservatorium at Griffith University invites anyone wishing to study with us to visit our website for information on degrees and specialisations. You can also visit our concert website to find out more about the many productions we hold at our campus in South Bank each year, many of which are open to the public.