Why the best learning is hands on

Richard Watts

Rather than spending most of their time learning theory in the classroom, WAAPA students explore a practice-led education all year round.
Why the best learning is hands on

Image: WAAPA's 2017 production of 42nd Street. Photo credit: Stephen Heath. 

As the stellar careers of alumni including Hugh Jackman, Frances O’Connor, Lucy Durack and Tim Minchin ably demonstrate, studying at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) is the ideal incubator for a prosperous arts career. What makes this environment so successful?

Commitment and self-belief play an important role in WAAPA students determining their future success, but the Academy’s hands-on learning environment and holistic approach to learning are equally significant, said WAAPA’s Head of Acting, Glenda Linscott.


‘Most students studying at WAAPA have travelled from interstate. In accepting an offer from WAAPA, they have made a huge decision to leave home, to leave family, friends, city life. And they have also left an ever present industry watching them “over the shoulder,” so to speak. So there is a genuine commitment and a palpable focus present amongst the students. People come to WAAPA and focus on the work. I think that’s very significant,’ she said.

A key aspect of WAAPA’s internationally recognised teaching methods is a focus on active learning. Academic rigour instilled by passionate teachers – including master trainers and guest directors drawn from the local, national and international industries and sponsored by Andrew and Nicola Forrests’s Minderoo Foundation – is matched with a year-round performance program, ensuring that students are constantly exposed to enriching arts opportunities, both as audience members and active participants.

‘The opportunity to be inspired by other artists is such a gift WAAPA can offer students. You walk down any corridor on any given day and there will be a ballet class in one studio, a musical being rehearsed in another, an Acting Masterclass in another and a Beethoven symphony in another. Then outside for a spot of lunch and you are serenaded with a lunchtime jazz concert! It’s so enriching! It builds an appreciation of beauty and excellence, fulfils the spirit and makes you realise that you can never, ever get a big head. It inspires staff and students to get back into the classroom and be better!’ said Linscott.

WAAPA’s practical approach to learning ensures that students are exposed to the broadest possible range of opportunities and experiences. In the Classical Performance – Instrumental course, for instance, students have the opportunity to play in a range of ensembles and orchestras throughout the year, but as the Academy also stages an array of musicals and operas annually, there’s the added opportunity to play in the pit for such productions.

Cross-disciplinary opportunities, such as the performance Original Blends on 26 April – featuring students from Classical, Jazz and Contemporary Music playing alongside one another – provide further opportunities for hands-on exposure to a wide range of repertoire.

Nor are such opportunities limited  to classical composition or jazz, with WAAPA’s 2018 performance program featuring everything from theatre and musicals, such as Roger and Hammerstein’s Carousel (16-23 June), through to a 20th anniversary homage to Radiohead’s landmark album Kid A, featuring performances by Composition and Music Technology students (10 May).

‘WAAPA is a Performing Arts Training Academy, a conservatoire training organisation specialising in the development of successful and employable professional performing artists, whether it be in  Dancing, Music Theatre, Aboriginal Theatre, Acting or Music in all its myriad forms. In order to train an artist appropriately, just like an elite athlete, you need to work with them on the floor, face-to-face with the student in class or productions,’ Linscott said.

Visit www.waapa.ecu.edu.au to learn more about WAAPA’s 2018 courses and performance program.


About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's Committee of Management and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel.

He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts