Drama at Westminster is built on the intrinsic value of the centuries-old theatre tradition, and this is never more evident than when we perform or attend shows. Annually, the Adelaide Festival of Arts and the Fringe, the latter the second largest festival of its kind in the world, afford students fantastic opportunities to attend world-class shows that celebrate, question, reflect, challenge or affirm the human condition in all its manifestations.
Each year, Westminster Drama students come to appreciate that the Fringe was never intended to be a Comedy Festival. My friend and mentor, the late Frank Ford AM, founding Chair of the Fringe and founder of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, envisaged the Fringe as an open-access festival where performing artists from South Australia and across the nation could perform challenging, innovative work. The 80s saw this remit broaden to include international acts.
In recent years, this proved to be a mixed blessing with many local theatre productions struggling to compete with headline acts, often headline Comedy acts, that do not reflect the original spirit and intention of the Fringe. This year the program was unique because COVID-19 limited the number of interstate and overseas acts able to register in the program, resulting in increased opportunities for local artists, and our students enjoyed attending a great range of shows.
The Adelaide Festival of Arts’ season of Gravity & Other Myths’ stunning, The Pulse, and Fringe offerings Barberoi and Boss Squad gave Year 10s great insight into the possibilities of Physical Theatre and Circus, great inspiration for the work they have been doing toward devising a show with Ella Fenwick and I. Ella, a former Cirque du Soleil performer, is currently working as a stunt performer in NSW on a confidential Netflix project, and, unfortunately, will be unable to join us in class next term. However, I was fortunate to attend a Master Class in devising recently and worked with Jascha Boyce, one of the founders of the abovementioned Gravity and Other Myths. I am in contact with her to find a replacement for Ella.
Theatre provided the Year 11s and 12s with some real treats! The superb The Boy Who Talked to Dogs by Slingsby Theatre Company, presented in the Adelaide Festival program, and the Fringe’s The Third Reich is Burning, That Boy and Happy Go Wrong afforded Senior students phenomenal examples of how entertaining, powerful and deeply moving theatre can be.
We were also very pleased to support some Old Scholars’ new theatre company, The Comic Coterie, in their great adaptation of A Twelfth Night, which was a very accomplished production. One reviewer observed, “The Comic Coterie explode into the Adelaide theatre scene with a joyful and invigorating rendering of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.“ and “…this ensemble use their proficient understanding of Twelfth Night, their instincts for humour, and collective cohesion to produce a show of widespread accessibility and enjoyment, even for those most resistant to Shakespeare.” Fine praise, indeed!
Similarly, we attended Call of the Mallee Fowl, directed by Lani Gerbi (‘13) who has formed Bluestocking Theatre. One reviewer wrote,”Call Of The Mallee Fowl is a brilliant, thought-provoking piece of new theatre,” another, “The script, written by Adelaide playwright Charlie Kay, is exceptional and has been sensitively directed by another South Australian, Lani Gerbi.”
This festival season has, for me, highlighted the longevity, continuity and upcoming generation of theatre aficionados and practitioners arising from the strong Drama culture at Westminster School.
This is building on the remarkable achievements of Dana Cropley (’15), and Olivia Cromarty (’15). In 2016, their Fringe show Blackrock received the following praise, “The production company, ACJ appears to be relatively new on the scene …. Many of the cast appear to be current students of, or alumni to, Westminster School…There are strong performances by Josh Rayner (’15), as Jared, and Patrick Dodd (’15), as Ricko; a well measured and solid characterisation from Amy Bower (’15), as Tiffany Owens; and a considered performance from Matthew Cropley (’12) in the role of Toby. Brittany Matters (‘15) and Christina Devetzidis (’14) in the younger, key female roles take the honours with their standout performances as Cherie Milenko and Rachel Ackland.” Daniel Cropley, (’18), now based in the USA studying Acting, played Scabby. Pictured below are some of the Old Scholars' mentioned above in the 2015 Westminster production of Blackrock.
Let’s hope this remarkable culture continues to thrive at and out of Westminster School.
In closing, it would be remiss of me not to observe that Westminster School Drama students, past and present, feel great sadness about the passing of Vilmos “Vili” Milisits. Vili was very supportive of our work. We offer our sincere condolences to his wife, Rosemary, and the Milisits family.
Head of Drama