As a teenager growing up in the ’80s, I was hugely inspired by the TV version of Fame, a fictional show about teenagers attending a performing arts high school. Oh, how I would have loved to have gone to a genuinely performing arts-focused high school. I had read about The McDonald College and wondered if that would be anything like the “High School of Performing Arts” pictured in the TV show. Like the characters in Fame, students at The McDonald College do regular academic subjects, but they get to do a minimum of two hours each and every day on their chosen art. They get to be part of performances on and off campus, and they are supported to indulge in their passion for performance.
Alas, I never even took this dream as far as looking at auditioning. But Australian dancer Lachlan Monaghan went a lot further than dreaming about auditioning there. Having auditioned and been accepted, he then went through the school, performing in its youth ballet company, and now enjoys the role of First Artist with Birmingham Royal Ballet, one of the three major ballet companies in the UK.
A nurturing place to start an arts career.
The McDonald College holds auditions four times each year, with the next one coming up on 6 April. As a primary and secondary school, the dancers are often very young, and so the idea of auditioning can be intimidating, but in the audition setting, the College strives to mirror the nurturing and creative environment that students can experience each day when they study at the school. This warm environment during the audition was one of the reasons Monaghan chose to study at the College.
“It was quite a scary thought for me when I went to audition for The McDonald College,” he recalls. “At a young age, auditions and a complete change of environment can be a very scary prospect, but the minute I walked onto the premises and saw the fantastic facilities on offer at the school, I knew I had to study there. There was an instant buzz and community feel. I knew that I could learn so much, and I was excited at being pushed to become the best dancer I could be.”
It’s the people that make all the difference.
As it turns out, Monaghan’s first impression of what the College could offer him was spot on. And it was the people there that were the highlight of his time studying there.
“The highlight would have to be the teachers and staff,” he says. “Each one of them had so much to offer, and there are so many things I still use today that I got taught there. I can’t remember a moment when I wasn’t inspired and being encouraged to be creative. That, for me, is the secret of success at the College. An environment that not only nurtures creativity but also encourages it. There were so many opportunities to perform, choreograph, compose or direct for every student, and that is what would stand out as the highlight of my time at the school.”
He continues, “I can’t not mention performing on the Sydney Opera House stage in An Evening of Classical Ballet each year, though. I was blown away by how lucky I was to have that opportunity.”
Plenty of practice at performing.
By Monaghan’s account, the people and facilities at the College were outstanding, but it was the performance opportunities that really helped his career as a dancer.
“Performing in Premier State Ballet, The McDonald College’s youth ballet company, would be one of the things that has made the most significant impact on my professional career,” Monaghan shares. “It was simply amazing to have the chance to rehearse in a theatre for a week and then perform full-length ballets with their original choreography. Each stream at the College has opportunities like this, and all are so invaluable to moving forward to having a profession in the arts.”
A supportive network to strengthen young artists.
Of course, the quality of training, the facilities and performance opportunities are all key to creating successful professional dancers. But something that is perhaps overlooked is an environment that keeps young dancers dancing. There are so many who enter professional training with stars in their eyes, only to stop dancing, burnt out and disillusioned. But that certainly wasn’t Monaghan’s experience at The McDonald College.
“The friendships I made at The McDonald College are very close to my heart,” he says. “Going to school with other like-minded people who understand and love the arts was a very comforting and supportive environment. Unfortunately, as a boy, bullying was always a bit of an issue for me, and it still is for young students, especially at schools where this is a minority of dancers, but coming to the college, I instantly felt accepted and, therefore, was able to really give everything to my studies without holding back or feeling insecure in any way. It is only in a comfortable environment like that, that young students can really thrive.”
From Sydney to the world stage.
In 2009, at age 17, Monaghan went on to study full-time at the Royal Ballet School in London. Now, as First Artist at the Birmingham Royal Ballet, he tours the UK and the world performing.
“I have incredible opportunities of performing lead roles, and it’s thanks to my performing experience at The McDonald College that I feel so comfortable on stage now,” Monaghan assures. “I love my job, and it’s thanks to The McDonald College for giving me an environment I could be inspired in.”
Monaghan’s advice to anyone thinking about auditioning for The McDonald College is grounded and simple.
“Firstly, be versatile and open-minded,” he suggests. “Don’t be afraid to push yourself to try new things you may not have done before. Secondly, be brave. Approach the audition with a ‘just go for it’ attitude. You’ll enjoy yourself more, and I guarantee the panel will enjoy watching you more, too; smile and have fun. And lastly, be yourself. It’s so important to show what you and only you has to offer. Don’t try to be anyone else, and simply be the best you can be in that moment.”
The McDonald College is holding auditions in April, June, August and October in 2018. Registrations for the audition on April 6 are now open. Visit www.mcdonald.nsw.edu.au/enrolments/auditions for more information and to register interest in auditioning for acting, ballet, dance, music, musical theatre or technical production.
By Jo McDonald of Dance Informa.