Victorian College of the Arts Celebrates 40 Years

A few years ago they were marching in the streets protesting against changes to courses at the VCA. Times have now changed. Earlier this year the Save the VCA group called its supporters to a street party to celebrate the survival of studio based training.

You’ll easily recognise the building on St Kilda Road – you can walk into the city to the theatre district from there. It takes about ten minutes, though for students it’s a longer trip; usually three years of intensive training to end up on the stage of one of those theatres, or on a film set or in a television studio. It’s all about the training and the commitment.

Art is the thing we all aspire to – but craft is the fuel we need to get there. VCA trains actors and directors, even musical theatre performers. You leave with a degree, if you work hard, but more importantly you leave knowing your craft, and with the ability to turn it into art.

Just look at the alumni. It includes arguably our finest theatre director Daniel Schlusser; Award winning playwright and actress Hannie Rayson; international actor Vince Colossimo; prolific television actress Alison Whyte; AFI award winning directors Gillian Armstrong and Tony Ayres and even a BAFTA winning producer in Jonathan M Shiff.

One of the newer crop of future stars is the fabulous flame haired Nikki Sheils, who is making her mark on stage in such plays as Top Girls – the MTC’s September offering, and on television in dramas such as Rush. Clearly destined to be a major force, she spoke to me effusively about her time at VCA.

Coral: Why VCA Nikki? Are you a Melbourne girl?

Nikki (laughing): No, I’m not. And when I was about 17 I did a year part-time at NIDA in Sydney and it just didn’t click with me. Then I auditioned for VCA and right from the start I knew it was where I belonged. The physical work was so important to me; I relate to it as a starting point for everything, and because I was honing different skills in different units, I had time to really work on things separately before bringing them all together.

Coral: And when did they come together?

Nikki: Well, hopefully before I graduated (chuckle) but I guess really when I worked with Daniel Schlusser in Peer Gynt. I was really stretched to my limits and it felt so great - an amazing Director whom some actors never get the chance to work with. I had the great Lindy Davies as my acting teacher, and access to so many professionals. The whole process was so rich and full.

Coral: What did you learn at VCA that you never expected to?

Nikki: Well of course I learned technique, and stamina and discipline, but more than that I learned things about myself, and I learned to trust my judgement and not be afraid to push myself. Above all I learned respect for other actors, and playwrights and directors. I’d always loved the theatre, but VCA taught me to respect it, and my choices, and so far that has helped me never look back.

Nikki graduated with a Bachelor of Dramatic Art. The course has changed slightly and that would now be a Bachelor of Fine Arts – Theatre Practice. This is because VCA has reinstated its Music Theatre course and currently has graduates in musicals all over the country. You can find more details on their website but, whatever the name, VCA is an inspiration to the Arts Industry.

Coral Drouyn