Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Indigenous Performing Arts Training in Australia

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Indigenous Performing Arts Training in Australia

Article excerpt

Liza-Mare Syron, in conversation with Geoffrey Milne

Liza-Mare Syron has been Theatre co-ordinator since 2000 in the Centre for Visual and Performing Arts at Eora College of Aboriginal Studies, Redfern, Sydney. She is a descendent of the Birripi people of Tuncurry Forster, northern New South Wales, and a graduate of Acting from the Victorian College of the Arts (1990). After that, she acted in various stage and television shows in Melbourne, like Lift Off anà Chances, before moving to Sydney in 1993, appearing there in various shows focusing on aspects of Indigenous culture and stories. She also holds a Masters in Creative Arts Research from the University of Wollongong as well as a Masters of Adult Education (University of Technology, Sydney). She is presently completing a Doctorate in the University of Sydney's Department of Performance Studies.

For the past seven or eight years at Eora, Liza-Mare has taught the Theatre course and - more recently - a Music Theatre course. The Theatre course was Certificate III and there was nothing for students to return to in order to continue developing their skills, so Eora established a Certificate IV course in Music Theatre, catering to actors who had not previously sung and singers who had not previously acted. Eora has had - like most arts and artstraining organisations - a rich and diverse history. In its current form it has existed since 1994, in a former shoe factory in Abercrombie Street, Redfern; before that, it was for about ten years a community college and men it goes back further to its days as the Black Theatre Cultural Arts Centre, so it has had thirty-odd years of existence in one form or another. As such, Eora is the oldest and most evolved Indigenous-identified theatre-training school in Australia and, in this interview, Syron talks - sometimes critically but mostly optimistically - to theatre historian and ADS general editor Geoffrey Milne about her work at Eora and about pedagogical practices and structural concerns in Indigenous performing arts training in Australia more generally.

The Indigenous-identified schools and programmes referred to here are defined according to the following criteria. They are those programmes and institutes that are based on the principles of self-determination and selfmanagement and tiiey have often emerged from Aboriginal colleges that were run by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people; they are primarily focused on Indigenous students. 'Identified' programmes generally have core subjects based on Indigenous culture, history and values and they are governed by an Indigenous board or are closely monitored by an Aboriginal advisory body. The institution aims to employ a significant number of Aboriginal teachers and lecturers.

Geoffrey Milne: Now, you're also currently researching Indigenous-identified Australian acting schools and their programmes. Is that for your Doctorate or also for wider purposes?1

Liza-Mare Syron: It is for a Doctorate - not a PhD but a thesis based on practice; you qualify [for candidature] if you've got five years or more in your professional practice, and then you write on it. Really I wanted to do this, because I wanted to look at how 'mainstream' Acting/Actor Training programmes engage with Indigenous students as well [as Identified organisations]; and how they engage with notions of Culture2 and Indigenous theatre performance practice. It's to compare them all; what they do differently and what they do that is the same.

GM: And you're principally interested in Actor Training, or with other performing arts areas like Dance, Music, Writing, Design and so on?

L-MS: No; Actor Training, as that's really my field.

GM: So why have you decided to investigate these kinds of Actor Training programmes?

L-MS: Because it's the world I live in and have lived in since I moved back to Sydney in 1993, and because there's not really a lot that's been written in the literature that's available on [Indigenous] actor training in Australia and on theatre practice. …

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