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Initial Stages students learn from Zoom classes with NIDA actor

By Charmayne Allison

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.

But students from Shepparton's Initial Stages Theatre Company will be a cut above the rest thanks to online training from a National Institute of Dramatic Art actor.

Australia's leading centre for performing arts training, NIDA, has produced acting royalty such as Cate Blanchett, Mel Gibson and Hugo Weaving.

And now, alumnus Timothy Walker will be sharing his knowledge with local students via Zoom tutorials.

“This is pretty exciting for country kids, they're blown away,” Initial Stages director Helen Janke said.

“NIDA actors are like celebrities in the performing arts world. This is a touch of the professional world for them.

“Because of COVID-19, local students have lost school productions, they've lost annual productions. But Zoom has given us a way to keep them motivated and inspired.”

Before studying at NIDA (graduating in 2018), Mr Walker spent four years in Los Angeles working in film, TV and theatre after winning a scholarship to study acting abroad. He has also studied writing and film-making, with his 2016 short film Dark Chocolate premiering at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival.

Starting this week, Mr Walker will be sharing his expertise with 38 Initial Stages students, running online classes each Monday.

He will be walking them through the Shakespeare audition technique, which is the entry requirement for anyone looking to get into NIDA.

“Timothy will run students through warm-ups and work with them one-on-one on Shakespeare monologues — the language, delivery and body movements,” Ms Janke said.

“About eight of our students are hoping to audition for NIDA at the end of the year, so this is perfect timing. I keep thinking, ‘What have we done to deserve this?'”

Ms Janke first contacted NIDA after she saw how Initial Stages graduates were struggling in the performing arts industry amid the pandemic.

“One of my past students, Jessica Parris, was accepted into NIDA this year. They only accept 20 people from across Australia each year, so it was unbelievable,” she said.

“But I've seen her heartache as she was only a month in and had to be sent home because of coronavirus.

“So I got in touch with my NIDA contact and said I really wanted to support actors who were out of work.”

That's when they had the bright idea to run virtual classes.

“I realised, Zoom has opened up a whole new world for kids. They can learn from anyone, anywhere, at the moment,” Ms Janke said.

“So my contact sent out an email and Timothy responded immediately.”

Hailing from the rural Victorian town of Portland, Mr Walker is passionate about bringing performing arts to the bush.

“This is a chance for the children to hear from someone from the country who's made it,” Ms Janke said.

“It shows them their dreams are achievable.”