Towards the Decentred Conservatoire: Case studies and examples of practice from VCA Theatre


NZ – 4.30pm | VIC/NSW/TAS – 2.30pm | SA – 2pm | QLD – 1.30pm | NT – 1pm
WA – 11.30am

Chaired by Kate Hunter

This panel is a reflective conversation with four staff working across the undergraduate Acting and Theatre Making degrees at the Victorian College of the Arts who invite you to engage with teaching practice that works to contextualise and critique established institutional conventions related to curriculum, student engagement and learning and teaching in a conservatoire-style model. Panel members have all taken teaching and research positions with VCA at the beginning of 2020 and represent expertise across discrete but imbricated aspects of the curriculum including movement, voice, acting and theatre-making. Focussing on specific case studies which include pedagogy, teaching and classroom culture (both online and in the studio) and audition processes, this conversation will provide an overview of the strategies we are using to meet the challenges of decentring and decolonising our pedagogy, within an undergraduate, vocational teaching environment.

Applying Papps and Ramsden’s (1996) concept of working in a manner that is ‘regardful’ of the unique intersections of individual identity, we will consider the implications of a significant shift away from more traditional conservatory training that fails to acknowledge these factors. Ruth de Souza and Robyn Higgins advocate for cultural safety practices on an individual level, charging us to “recognise the validity of beliefs and practices of people and communities that may differ from our own [and]… challenge(s) us to act to make spaces safer,” by “ensuring that we do not impose our own values and beliefs in ways that result in a loss of power for others”(63). They also argue the benefits of this framework at a systemic level, allowing us to “combat the effects of dominant culture bias in our institutions and identify how this impacts the diversity of the arts and cultural sector”(63). In this conversation, we consider these challenges to our pedagogical approach, and frame our emergent knowledge and how we are crafting conditions to build a more inclusive training and educational pedagogy,  which attempts to embrace cultural safety as a defining quality.

We invite you to join us for the discussion, engage in reflection on your own teaching practice in relation to ideas of cultural safety, and consider what it might mean to take up the challenge to work in a ‘regardful’ manner within your own institutional culture and context.

De Souza, Ruth and Robyn Higgins. 2020. “Cultural Safety: An Overview.” In The Relationship is the Project: Working With Communities, edited by Jade with Kate Larsen Lillie, Cara Kirkwood and Jax Jackie Brown, 62-67. Melbourne: Brow Books.
Papps, Elaine and Irihapeti Ramsden. 1996. “Cultural Safety in Nursing: the New Zealand Experience.” International Journal for Quality in Health Care 8 (5): 491-497.

Georgina Naidu is an award-winning artist and a Lecturer in Acting at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) at the University of Melbourne. Georgina works across theatre, film and television as an actor, devisor, writer, script editor, researcher, dramaturg, and cultural consultant. Georgina’s most recent screen acting credits include Spreadsheet– Paramount+, Fisk –ABC TV, Clickbait  Netflixand Rosehaven–ABC TV.Recent theatre acting credits are Dance Nation– Red Stitch Theatre, Feather in the Web – Red Stitch Theatre, and Minnie and Liraz –Melbourne Theatre Company. Georgina wrote and performed in her autobiographical play, Yellowfeather, which had its world premiere at the Sydney Opera House before touring nationally and internationally. It dealt with themes of cultural identity and pop culture. Other writing credits include her work on the writing team of the AWGIE award winning play, Yet to Ascertain the Nature of the Crime, an exploration regarding a spate of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne. Georgina was a researcher and cultural consultant on the recent season of the critically acclaimed Australian TV series Seachange, and script editor and researcher for ABC’s Newton’s Law. She is currently attached as a writer to three separate developments for the screen. Georgina is a passionate advocate for a just, inclusive, safe, collaborative, and joyful Arts industry. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Dramatic Arts Acting, from VCA. She also has a Bachelor of Laws from La Trobe University. 

Colin Sneesby is a Tutor in Movement at the Victorian College of the Arts. He worked as an actor, dancer, puppeteer, writer and theatre maker for twenty years, then he stopped. He then worked in Community Development for ten years with diverse populations including refugee communities, people with disabilities and young people. Now he is back in the arts wondering how these worlds fit together. He is interested in a teaching and learning that is horizontal rather than vertical and developing trust and confidence in spaces of unknowing.

Sarah Austin is an award-winning artist and researcher and a Lecturer in Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts who completed her practice as research PhD at VCA n 2020. Her research interests span contemporary practice/s in performance and theatre-making and she has specific expertise in working with children and young people and in inclusive arts practice. She has made theatre and performance for and with companies including Arts Centre Melbourne, Melbourne Festival, Malthouse Theatre, St Martins Youth Arts Centre, Melbourne Theatre Company, Melbourne Fringe, Next Wave Festival and Northcote Town Hall. Sarah was awarded the Veronica Kelly prize for Best Postgraduate paper in 2018, is Co-Chair for the Contemporary and Experimental Performance panel of the Green Room Awards and currently coordinates the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Theatre) at VCA. 

Amy Hume is a Lecturer in Theatre (Voice) at Victorian College of the Arts and a voice and dialect coach for theatre and television. Amy was previously voice teacher to BFA and MFA students at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA). Her research interests include decentring practices in actor-voice training, specifically in an Australian context, and teaching voice in a virtual studio. Recent voice and dialect coaching credits include New Gold Mountain (SBS), Six the Musical, Billy Elliot the Musical 10thAnniversary Tour(both Louise Withers and Associates), Cyrano (Melbourne Theatre Co), WhitePearl (Sydney Theatre Co) and Fangirls (Queensland Theatre/Belvoir). Amy is one of only a handful of Designated Linklater Teachers in Australia and currently serves on the Board of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association (VASTA), the international organisation for voice practitioners.