Meet Claire Bird, Theatre student at the University of Melbourne

Claire Bird, BFA (Theatre) student. Photo by Giulia McGauran.
Claire Bird, BFA (Theatre) student. Photo by Giulia McGauran.

Claire Bird is studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Theatre). She talks about the moments of discovery while studying and the importance of failing gloriously.

I’m almost half way through the final year of a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Theatre), and I’m fortunate to have been one of the nine guinea pigs for the new course. I have relished working with such a small and mighty ensemble of theatre makers under a very passionate and hard-working course coordinator. We have been inundated with projects, new experiences, residencies, travelling and making new work this semester. We have focused on collaborating and performing as an ensemble and figuring out what it means to work non-hierarchically, without an outside director for the first time.

This year alone, we have had the chance to work on a commission for the Royal Botanic Gardens, spent a week with Arena Theatre Company and other children’s theatre makers from around Australia. We also spent three weeks in Berlin for a cultural immersion, delving into the arts and history of a culture other than our own and really unpacking the similarities and differences when it comes to theatre.

When I auditioned, I felt ready to move into a more body focussed practice, one that challenged me to work in different ways and also allowed me to really use my knowledge as a performer and maker. My previous degree was mostly critical theory and the philosophies surrounding theatre, live art and most other modes of performance. It taught me new ways of thinking about myself as an individual artist as well as the possibility of new artistic pathways. This is what led me to auditioning for this course.

I entered the course not knowing I would have the chance to pursue theatre making more deeply and although I took some convincing to stray from acting, I have had the most amazing time making and performing in my own work, as well as combining my knowledge from both degrees and pushing myself further than I thought I could.

I think moving to Melbourne from Sydney was an obvious choice for me and one that I would have made sooner or later. The cultural hub and network that Melbourne provides is exceptional and I was ready to move to a city that accommodates theatre and offers more choices for working  in and seeing independent theatre.

My first year involved a great deal of shaking, both literally and metaphorically (we did a lot of Fitzmaurice voice training and Kundalini) – shaking up a lot of preconceptions I had about acting, collaborating and devising as well as getting back in touch with my instrument and my tools.

The Clowning and Bouffon training we did in second year was phenomenal- there were moments of discovery, sensitivity, vulnerability and of course absurdity and hilarity. I also found working on the Melbourne Fringe Festival last year and putting on our show Children of Saturn was one of the highlights. We were lucky enough to work with John Bolton who was a masterful director and teacher.

One of the things I would go back and tell myself would be that if it doesn’t feel like enough, do more. Do more everywhere and anywhere you can get it. Take every opportunity, especially in those first few years because time and energy are precious the further along you get.

Don’t throw everything away and think of yourself as reborn when you enter drama school, you aren’t Nero spawning from the Matrix, you are a package of knowledges and experiences of the body and mind that can be harnessed in everything you do. All you need to be is malleable and open to change.

An oldie but a goodie and one of my personal favourites is to fail and fail gloriously. What better time is there than in the warm embrace of a university to fail and try again? There is so much opportunity to take risks and there will always be the support and ability to reflect.

Sleep. You won’t have time, but you need to.

Make your work in the form that most resonates with the idea. Don’t limit yourself by thinking you can only make one thing, because most of us come into university with varied skill sets and interests.

Since starting this journey, it is becoming more and more apparent that a company is forming out of my year group and I am keen to pursue it. I am ambitious for the future and am hopeful that we will continue to make work that really pushes the discipline, challenges us as a company, and also inspires others.

I am excited and terrified for what my path looks like and  am happy to push for what I want and see where it goes. We’re currently in the throngs of figuring out how to navigate our existence outside the comfortable womb of university. This semester we have taken an Industry Practise subject where artists working in Melbourne and surrounds have come in to chat to us about their journey. It is one of many opportunities we have had to work with some of Melbourne’s best theatre makers, directors and writers.

For more information about the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Theatre), visit the website.