APO Music Theatre – Paying it Forward

APOAPO Arts Academy at Dance World Studios has been well known in Melbourne since its inception in 1987 as a training platform for young dancers. Over the last few years, the school has begun to receive national and international acclaim in other arts disciplines also, including Music Theatre.

In 2009, Nick McMahon and Directors Chris and Pamela Apostolidis, created programmed and ran an accredited Certificate Music Theatre course through the Academy and now as 2012 approaches word has spread that this course is the one to watch.

In 2012, APO will offer a Foundation course in Music Theatre (Associate in Music Theatre – 1 Year) and an Advanced Associate in Music Theatre (2 years) allowing a full 3 years of study in acting, vocal studies and dance if students so desire.  McMahon, a graduate of the coveted B.A. Music Theatre course at WAAPA, has based much of the course structure on the WAAPA Music Theatre curriculum with students of both streams studying accent and dialect, basic keyboard skills, voice work, singing techniques, scene study and all disciplines of dance.  Hailing from a family of old school performers (his great Aunt was on the Equity Board who fought for actors to be paid in rehearsal periods), McMahon feels that his position at the Academy is a way of “Paying Forward” the knowledge and understanding he has gleaned over the years, through study and work in the professional industry, to the fresh talent in our ranks.

“With the help and support of Pamela Apostolidis and the Dance World studios, we established the Foundation Course in 2009. It was around the time when first year the VCA were about to stop the foundation program to turn it into the degree”, said McMahon.

“We don’t spoon feed our students – they are not cotton-wool-wrapped at all. We say to the students in the first week ‘we are here to support you, but we are also here to teach you’.

Everything we do has a focus towards the way it works ‘in the business’. It’s fast, rigorous and a lot of it is similar to the WAAPA approach. But this course is tailored to what we (the teachers) have experienced in the industry.”  

He explains that David King [head of Music Theatre at WAAPA] planted the seed for Hendry, Wheat and McMahon to set up the program. The 3 day per week Foundation Course proved so successful that the Advanced Associate was created as a full time, 2 year course due to demand. “DK told us ‘you should set something up in Melbourne’, and so we did.

Now it works as a feeder for the WAAPA course, and the new VCA course” he said.  While some graduates have gone on to higher education studies in Musical Theatre at institutions including WAAPA, others have worked, or are currently working professionally in: Wicked, High School Musical, Mary Poppins, Rock of Ages, Love Never Dies, Kismet, The King & I, The Ten Tenors, Cats, Guys & Dolls, Chicago, Anyone Can Whistle, Hello, Dolly!, Sugar and Hairspray.  With an emphasis on industry focused study, the students of the APO Music Theatre Courses are well trained in many facets of the arts, and the high standard of dance training from APO give the Music Theatre students a real boost.  

“The trend in the industry for artists to be very strong dancers as well as singers and actors, and this is a great thing for our students” he said.   

“We have an advantage in this Academy because the dance stream is so strong here – all the music theatre students are treated the same as the full time dance students and they are really pushed to be the best they can be.”

The Foundation and the Advanced courses both enable students to study keyboard and music skills and in 2012, the programs will be aligned with the AMEB syllabus so at the end of the 2 year course, the students have the equivalent of 4th grade musicianship knowledge. Having studied classical music at the Conservatorium of Music (University of Melbourne), McMahon understands the need for young artists to read and understand notes and rhythms, and it is with pride that he speaks of these courses.

“I love walking into the studies and seeing students who came into the course with no keyboard skills, sitting at the piano, note bashing a song”, he said.

Among the other courses offered are Voice, Acting, Accent and Dialect, Film and TV, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais History of the Arts/History of Theatre/Dramatic Literature/Contextual studies units.

“I think these are all really beneficial areas of study for anyone wanting to make their way in the music theatre, theatre or cabaret worlds”, said McMahon.

Coursework aside, the students are also exposed to a wide range of performance opportunities, which aids in developing showmanship and stage presence.

APO Production Shot“We do 2 musical theatre mainstage shows, and in first year the students perform a cabaret in September. In second year we will do a formal concert – a la corporate events – because that’s a platform that is often overlooked in terms of developing showmanship”, McMahon explained.

“We tour every year, interstate and sometimes internationally, to give the students an insight into working in different cities, different theatres, with different audiences for different sorts of events. That’s how you learn. By just doing it”.

Auditions for the Music Theatre courses at APO Arts Academy are underway, with an open call in Melbourne on December 4 (this weekend). Auditionees are required to perform 2 contrasting songs and a contemporary monologue.

Nicholas McMahon, along with the team at APO Arts Academy, is changing the face of Music Theatre training in Australia and Melbourne is very lucky to have such a passionate and talented leader running and programming this course.

If you wish to audition for this Academy and can’t make it to the open call, audition times can be obtained by contacting APO directly. DVD submissions are also accepted.

To download the audition form, click here  For more information, visit apoartsacademy.com

The Musical Theatre & Acting Showcase – Rich & Happy – is on Friday and Saturday 9th & 10th December at 8pm, at Gasworks Theatre, Albert Park. 

For a copy of the 2012 Course Prospectus, contact the academy directly: T (03) 9696 2943 or [email protected]

Erin James

Erin James is AussieTheatre.com's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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