NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

ECU/WAAPA: Braving the Wave

Like most universities across the world, ECU has been forced to adapt in the face of the many and varied challenges presented by COVID-19. Notwithstanding the impacts of such challenges, the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), when compared to other conservatoire schools across the world has fared extremely well.

By Professor David Shirley

Like most universities across the world, ECU has been forced to adapt in the face of the many and varied challenges presented by COVID-19.

Notwithstanding the impacts of such challenges, the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), when compared to other conservatoire schools across the world has fared extremely well. Following the closure of the campus for a two-month period, when much of our provision moved online, the situation in Western Australia meant that we were able to resume face to face teaching, rehearsals and performances in the second half of the year.

The situation in Western Australia meant that we were able to resume face to face teaching, rehearsals and performances in the second half of the year … it was hugely beneficial for students to have been able to undertake a total of 18 live performances.

With live performance and production experience residing at the heart of our training and education, it was hugely beneficial for students to have been able to undertake a total of 18 live performances featuring students from Acting, Dance, Music Theatre, Aboriginal Theatre, Performing Arts, and Production and Design. Although the need for spatial distancing meant that audience attendances were restricted, it was nevertheless rewarding, at such a time, for students to be able to develop their craft and refine their skills in the presence of a live audience.

Thanks to innovative ways of using digital technology, WAAPA’s 2020 live streamed concert series – which included opera, contemporary and jazz music, classical music performance, and a collection of unique video performances created and performed by our Classical and Jazz students – reached combined audiences of over 320,00 people.

Whilst more generally application and recruitment rates for all of our courses remain stable, one of the consequences of the global pandemic will be its impact on WAAPA’s international recruitment levels.

Whilst more generally application and recruitment rates for all of our courses remain stable, one of the consequences of the global pandemic will be its impact on WAAPA’s international recruitment levels. Unlike other areas of academic provision, performance disciplines such as dance, acting, music theatre, production and design etc. do not easily translate into online modes of delivery. The live and embodied nature of performer training coupled with the need to offer bespoke pedagogical experiences designed to meet an individual’s developmental needs pose particular problems across the training sector.

Here at WAAPA – despite the challenges presented – we continue to foster strong international partnerships and associations that will lay the foundations for recruitment, exchange, collaboration and research in the future. Many members of staff have contributed to and presented at webinar events across the world during 2020.

As a direct consequence of the pandemic, there is no doubt that at WAAPA, we have developed a range of innovative approaches to teaching and learning through online/recorded resources. This has been particularly successful in music, where students have benefitted from input and contributions from some of the world’s most celebrated practitioners. Similarly, in our Acting programme, students have had the chance to work and perform online and to fine tune those skills that are pertinent to screen/recorded performance.

At the commencement of the pandemic, it was extremely beneficial to connect and liaise with colleagues working in the performing arts across Australia and we are particularly grateful to Barbara Bolt and Jane Davidson (VCA), Liz Hughes (NIDA), Gemma Carey (Griffith) and Andrea Moor (QUT).

As we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, it will be important for all conservatoire schools to work closely together to share best practice and exchange ideas. There are many challenges facing the arts in general and the performing arts in particular, but with combined effort and a shared ethos, we are well equipped to adapt to a new sense of “normality” without undermining the quality and integrity of the uniquely empowering and enabling training and learning opportunities we make available.


Professor David Shirley is Executive Dean at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), Edith Cowan University

More from this issue

More from this issue

By Dr Jenny Wilson — The events of 2020 have ushered in major change in the university sector and for creative arts in particular.

Although 2020 was a difficult year, both professionally and personally for all involved, I am pleased to report that the staff and students in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) achieved a great deal together and we have entered 2021 stronger than ever.

When the National Art School campus closed due to COVID-19 in March 2020, students, teachers and staff were not the only ones affected. We also had to shut the doors on the public to the NAS component of NIRIN, the 22nd Biennale of Sydney.

For all the storm clouds of 2020, there was also silver to be found. Many schools around the country commented on the incredible ingenuity of teaching staff, adapting to the online delivery of programs and courses in ways never before imagined.

The QUT School of Creative Practice offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, with majors in Acting, Dance, Drama, Technical Production, Music, Animation, Film and Screen, Creative Writing and Visual Arts. As a school that had previously taught only face-to-face, the last 12 months presented many challenges.

The ANU School of Music has been hit like much of the ANU by COVID-19. Our 2020 story was pretty similar to many other stories; finding ways to make remote learning possible; finding ways to bring our students back to campus in Semester 2; and then finding ways to make the savings envelope.

The primary impact of 2020/COVID-19 on the UQ School of Music has been increased pressure in all domains: change and adaptation in teaching, lost opportunities in research, and decreased engagement opportunities.

The most outstanding recollection of the ANU School of Art & Design (SOA&D) in 2020 was the increasing and incredible capacity of my colleagues to develop new ways to teach and make, adapting quickly to offer students truly imaginative learning experiences.

The dramatic effects on international student enrolments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are being witnessed in all our institutions. At Edith Cowan University the impact has not been felt as dramatically as in some Universities that have a greater reliance on international on-shore students as a major component of their income generation.

Here at Southern Cross University (SCU), like much of the tertiary sector, we find ourselves much changed. Being a regional institution, while SCU’s share of international students is small in comparison to larger urban universities, the loss of revenue has been commensurate with size and so has still had a profound effect.

For students and staff at Monash University, 2020 was a year of loss and learning. As for all Australian universities, the rituals of university life were reimagined in ways that previously were inconceivable.

Transforming the structure of a university in the middle of a pandemic might not be on the top of everyone’s wish-list, but this is what happened at the University of South Australia.