Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production) - Performance Technology graduating student Thomas Dahlenburg. Photo by Giulia McGauran.

Flamingos, giants, and School of Rock: backstage with VCA Production students

Without sound designers, stage managers, and set and costume designers, many stage, screen and music performances would never get off the ground. We spoke to three graduating Production students about their profession, philosophies, favourite projects, and what’s on the horizon for next year.

By Susanna Ling

Thomas Dahlenburg, Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production – Performance Technology), now the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Design and Production)

I’m really proud of the work I did this year on the musical Into The Woods [see picture gallery], directed by Gary Young. As I’d been placed on the major musical the year before within the sound department, I looked forward to the challenges both the performance space and the piece inherently created for a sound system designer and sound designer.

A major challenge I faced in this production was conveying a character – the giant – only by sonic reinforcement, while the rest of the characters were played live onstage. By having access to the Brian Brown recording studio and with the help of a Music Theatre lecturer, I was able to produce a high-end result. From there, with careful placement of the sound within the performance space, I successfully created a large, ominous character that the giant represented.

Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production) – Performance Technology graduating student Thomas Dahlenburg. Photo by Giulia McGauran.
Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production) – Performance Technology graduating student Thomas Dahlenburg. Photo by Giulia McGauran.

The highlight of my three years completing Performance Technology was the opportunity to travel to Taipei, Taiwan for the World Stage Design conference in 2017. This gave me the opportunity to attend world-class lectures, workshops and meet some of the leading technology-in-theatre makers. Since that trip I have worked with two Melbourne-based lighting designers and I look forward to nurturing these relationships in the future.

After I graduate I look forward to continuing my practice in using the limits of  technology today to enhance performance art and multimedia-based installations. I recently secured a full-time job at the National Gallery of Victoria in the Multimedia department after having worked at the gallery throughout my degree, and am looking forward to hitting the ground running. As an audio-visual artist, I have the unique opportunity to utilise visual, aural and kinesics to create memorable sensory experiences, and I look forward to pursuing this further.

Blaze Bryans, Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production – Stage Management), now the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Design and Production)

The project I’m most proud of from this year was working as the Assistant Production Manager on Into the WoodsIt truly gave me the opportunity to work with all the different departments and get a strong sense of Production’s function as a whole. The fabulous team I worked with really amplified the experience, allowing us all to gain a sense of what working in a professional environment might be like.

Stage manager BLaze Bryans. Photo by Giulia McGauran.
Stage manager Blaze Bryans. Photo by Giulia McGauran.

The highlight of my three years studying Stage Management was when I fulfilled the role of Back of House caller for the 2017 Victorian State Schools Spectacular. Working with over 8000 cast and crew in Hisense Arena is an experience that I could only have dreamed about upon starting a degree at VCA.

A career in production presents lots of challenges. I would say that the biggest one throughout this degree has been finding the perfect work-life balance. Over the course of the Into the Woods season, there were times where I was working the show, attending classes, working a part time job and also doing an internship. With the amount of time productions require, you really are forced to prioritise and have your whole life working like a well-oiled machine.

Into the Woods, presented by graduating Music Theatre and Production students. Photo by Drew Echberg.
Into the Woods, presented by graduating Music Theatre and Production students. Photo by Drew Echberg.

Luckily for me, my post-university journey has already begun. After completing my internship with GWB Entertainment’s School of Rock, I was offered a position within the props department in preparation for their international tour. Hopefully, with the incredible opportunity I have been given, I’ll be able to snowball into a fruitful career. I hope someday to work within a stage management team on a commercial scale, but I am so grateful for the kick-start I have been given.

I believe that life as a stage manager can be really rewarding, but equally demanding. Something I have learnt over the past three years is that the most successful people in this field are the ones that truly want it, and therefore put in the hard work. Much like a “real” artist, those who facilitate art are often very passionate about their jobs. So to someone thinking about pursuing a career in stage management, I’d say: don’t be ashamed of loving what you do, just balance that with professionalism and drive.

Alia Syed Rose, Master of Design for Performance

As a set and costume designer, I am constantly confronted by the environmental impacts of set design. Design can be a very wasteful practice so it is particularly confronting when making work about issues like climate change and pollution. It is a challenge to negotiate artistic choices with sustainable ones, to tell a story and get a message across without being part of the problem you’re critiquing.

Master of Design for Performance student Alia Syed Rose at the VCA Production Graduate Exhibition. Photo by Giulia McGauran.
Master of Design for Performance student Alia Syed Rose at the VCA Production Graduate Exhibition. Photo by Giulia McGauran.

My favourite project and the one I’m most proud of from the past two years would definitely be Featherstones, a collaboratively-devised theatre piece that charts the rise and fall of consumerist society through the story of Don and Nancy Featherstone, the inventors of the pink plastic lawn flamingo. We were inspired by the pair’s unapologetic weirdness, set against a backdrop of the 1950s plastics revolution.

Featherstones was created through a non-hierarchical devising process where we all contributed material and opinions outside our roles and expertise which resulted in a truly collaborative process. Together, we created a piece that is kitsch and sweet and explores artifice, consumption and the concept of human connection in a world of mass production.

Production designer Alia Syed Rose. Photo by Giulia McGauran.
Production designer Alia Syed Rose. Photo by Giulia McGauran.

In this industry, you can’t be too precious about your ideas. Theatre is a team art so you have to be prepared for your offers to be interrogated, rejected or changed for any number of reasons. It’s important to have conviction in your ideas, but equally important to let them go.

The Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production) will be replaced in 2019 by the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Design and Production).


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