Dream Big: Mike Walsh on the Mike Walsh Fellowships

For the last twenty years, the Mike Walsh Fellowships have afforded many young Australian theatre artists the opportunity to enhance their skills and progress professionally within the local industry. Awarded to graduates of NIDA, WAAPA or the VCA, the fellowships aim to further the theatrical education of recipients who have the capacity to make a significant contribution to the Australian arts or entertainment business.

Mike Walsh
Mike Walsh

Following the announcement of eight awarded Fellowships in December 2015, we spoke to the man behind the awards – Mike Walsh himself – about supporting the next generation of Australian theatre makers.

That his career in the spotlight and behind the scenes of Australian film, TV and theatre has inspired him to ensure the arts industry is constantly evolving and accepting new generations and ideas is no surprise. Speaking to Walsh about the need for philanthropy and the importance of theatre education in Australia’s current arts climate, it is clear he is thankful for the opportunities given to him throughout his lifetime and now wants to offer a hand to those who make the difficult jump from study to workplace.

Mike Walsh Fellowships

On Walsh’s official website, it is stated that recipients of his fellowship may choose to travel abroad in order to

“obtain a wider knowledge and experience of theatre, perhaps through a formal course of study or by a self-devised program […]”.

Walsh believes there is virtue in learning from international professionals once local arts training has been undertaken, citing networking and stepping out of one’s comfort zone as important.

“My own career as a performer, producer, and theatre owner was enormously broadened by meeting people ‘in the business’ from various countries. Apart from actual knowledge gained it also gives confidence to find that you can converse with successful people with very different values. There is no doubt that the training in Australia […] is excellent by any standard, and has grown since the Fellowship was started. But to get out of your comfort zone is very important.”

Announced in early December of 2015, the most recent Fellowship recipients span a broad mix of theatrical specialities.

The major Fellows include:

Claire Lovering, acting (WAAPA); Anthony Taufa, acting (NIDA); Christiana Aloneftis, opera (VCA); Michael Hankin, design (NIDA).

And the minor Fellows are:

Nicola Gunn, performing (VCA); Matt Furlani, acting (VCA); Mark Pritchard, dramaturgy (VCA); Adam McGowan, producing (NIDA).

Offering financial assistance to such a broad spectrum of arts-based professions is an exciting prospect for Walsh, who believes all aspects of the arts should be nurtured. Performance, design, production and dramaturgy are all necessary aspects of the industry and each speciality needs fostering in its own way.

“We chose to limit the Fellowship to three of the major institutions that have varied courses for students of theatre disciplines, not just performing. It has been gratifying to see set designers, and others from these different disciplines get the chance to travel and work with people outside their own environment”, he said.

“We ‘go with the flow’ each year and do not feel a need to fill quotas – they seem to evolve naturally. It is exciting to see the opportunities people see and that they wish to pursue. This year was only the second one where we have had potential producers come forward, and also our first opera singer, now working in Germany and at La Scala. We have had many performers, and directors, and ‘backstage’ technical people too. It is a rich mix.”

Walsh also spoke about the necessity for more arts-based financial support to come from private entities and groups (rather than the government), as it “breaks the dependence” of the theatre industry on government scholarships.

“As a part of the thriving commercial music theatre industry, it is great to see the progress of Australian works. There are other fellowships [in Australia] that aim to back new endeavors. We don’t do that directly, but it is happening. Much of our thriving industry now is commercial-business based, and seems to be heading more that way.”

“When I was starting out in the late 50s and early 60s there was very little opportunity in theatre to make a living, so we went into radio and TV to make a name. I don’t perform these days, but my contemporary and good mate Bert Newton still does most successfully. If anyone told us that would be possible when we were young, we would have said, ‘You’re Dreamin’’.”

Moral of the story? Work hard and dream big. You never know who’s willing to lend a helping hand.

More information on applying for future rounds of the Mike Walsh Fellowships can be found here.

Maddi Ostapiw

Maddi is a performer who has been too scared to stand in the spotlight for the last few years, so she channels her need for love and appreciation into writing about the theatre instead. An energetic consumer of musical theatre, she is currently earning a degree in journalism and teaches voice in her small hometown. Maddi is normally covered in cat fur, has an opinion on everything, and in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, is not throwing away her shot.

Maddi Ostapiw

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