Belinda Lemair talks about her upcoming productions

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Belinda is using her extensive career experience in performing arts to promote youth theatre locally. She is staging productions of Peter Pan & A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Botanic Gardens on December 8 & 9.

Belinda, you’ve had an interesting career. Tell us about your background?

I guess performing is in my DNA. At the age of 3 years, I attended my first dance class, and from then on I haven’t wanted to do anything else but be on stage. As a youngster I trained in RAD Ballet through to Solo Seal, Contemporary, Jazz, Modern, Tap and Hip Hop. I attended Bodenweiser Dance Centre, Brent Street Studios and the David Atkins School Dynamite Dance Studio.

On weekends, I attended the Sydney Dance Company, where later I become a resident teacher. In 1990 I auditioned for Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, doing Years 11 and 12, majoring in Dance and Drama. After schoo, I toured and performed in many professional productions; Mighty Morphine Power Ranger Show performing along side Todd McKenney (Boy from Oz) and Jason Coleman (Judge from television dance competition, So You Think You Can Dance) was a favourite. But, I longed to pursue acting, so I auditioned and was accepted into The Actors Centre course ‘The Journey’, acquiring a Diploma in Theatre/Camera Studies.

I continued my studies at the Queensland University of Technology, where I graduated with a BA in Acting and Dance, completing my final year with the acting strand at the University of California, Los Angeles. Once graduating, I was lucky enough to work professionally on numerous theatre and television productions – the television series All Saints being one of my most memorable.

I completed another BA in Secondary Education Drama/Dance at University in 2002 and started teaching high school the same year at Reddam House in Bondi, were I directed/choreographed numerous productions: The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Guys & Dolls to Twelfth Night – the list goes on. It was during this time that I had the opportunity to travel and teach at Reddam House’s sister school in Cape Town, South Africa. In 2006, I was very pleased when one of my HSC groups and an individual performance piece were selected from entries across NSW for ‘On Stage’ from that year’s Higher School Certificate Drama Curriculum.

Since moving to Coffs Harbour in 2008, I have been teaching Drama/Dance for a number of high schools and at the Julie Ross Dance Studio. I run Kids Church at Harbour Church, and I launched the Young Actors Studio in 2009. It’s been an interesting journey.

How long have you lived in Coffs? My young family and I moved to Coffs in 2008 to be closer to my parents and extended family. It is such a wonderful place to live and bring up children. As long as I can pop on a flight back to Sydney or Melbourne occasionally to keep in touch with the industry, see a show and catch up with my best friend, I am happy. I have the best of both worlds.

Tell us about your latest project: Peter Pan and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

This year with so many actors enrolled, and no script for a cast list of 65 students aged 4 – 18 years, I decided to do two plays. In the beginning, the idea of doing two productions was a little overwhelming, but I knew the risk would be worth it and a great opportunity for the young actors involved.

I decided on two perfect age appropriate plays: Peter Pan for the younger actors, because I knew they could do it justice; and something I knew my older students would find challenging, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’ll never forget the faces of the older students when I told them what they would be undertaking; they were horrified. Most said they didn’t understand Shakespeare, which is representative of most teenagers. Well, I was determined to make these kids fall in love with Shakespeare. Auditions took place for both productions, an experience in itself for each of them, and now we are in the last few weeks of rehearsals. I am blown away with the level of maturity and confidence these young actors display. Their grasp of the story in both productions will be magical and exciting for the audience; however, it is the magic I have seen in the rehearsal space that will be truly memorable to me.

I have the best job in the world. I want to thank all the parents – especially those who have helped and supported me personally. I also want to thank Ian Corbett, Eve Colley and the Botanical Gardens for being so supportive of this creative venture of Youth Theatre!

What are some of the challenges that the youth arts scene is currently facing?

Creative arts in all its forms is one of the main ways that humans define who they are. They often express a sense of community and ethnicity. The challenge is to provide the right environment, support and opportunities for our young people to explore the possibilities.

Locally we have a wealth of young talent and some very supportive teachers, organisations and educational institutions all doing their bit to support these kids in their pursuit of a career in the performing arts. However, when they reach a certain age, staying in Coffs Harbour is not an option and they move to the capital cities to further develop their talent. Sadly for some, it’s not financially viable. I’d like to see us ask how can we retain our talented kids and give them the opportunity to develop their creative gifts right here in Coffs Harbour. Of course, I couldn’t conclude my reply to this question without commenting on the recent alarming decision by the NSW State Government to cut $1.7 billion from education, particularly when the Federal Government is saying we should be spending more. The challenges and impact of this decision across the education sector and for our youth cannot be over emphasised.

What changes would you like to see implemented?

It’s well documented that participation in performing arts experiences can provide a number of benefits to the individual. Apart from being an incredibly enriching experience, recent educational studies have emphasised the benefits that involvement in the performing arts can have in facilitating proficiency and achievement in mathematics, reading and cognitive development and developing skills for second-language development. Performing arts improve students’ ability to collaborate and to apply higher-order thinking skills. Given this, I’d liked like to see a change in attitude locally for performing arts to be a specialised high school course and not just something to do as a side interest. I’d like to see the city develop its own specialised educational institutions, programs and touring companies. Imagine Coffs Harbour having its very own NIDA.

How can people get involved with your Young Actors Studio?

2013 enrolment day is on Saturday 26 January, 2pm – 4pm, at the Coffs Harbour Golf Club. Classes are available for 4 years to adults. To be selected for our senior Acting Ensemble, ‘The Actors Bench’, which is open to 15 years and up, you are required to audition and will need to prepare a monologue. Auditions for ‘The Actor’s Bench’ will be held on enrolment day, 12pm – 1.30pm.

This story was published in issue 27 Coffs Coast

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