Meet Sarah Vickery, Master of Directing for Performance student, University of Melbourne

Master of Directing for Performance student Sarah Vickery. Image by Giulia McGauran.
Master of Directing for Performance student Sarah Vickery. Image by Giulia McGauran.

Directing plays for Mardi Gras, tackling the challenge of academic study, and developing work that tackles provocative social issues – for Victorian College of the Arts student Sarah Vickery, theatre directing is much more than a job.

I first began directing theatre by falling into it, when asked to direct a play by some eager actors. It was a terrible play, but the experience made me fall in love with directing and I haven’t looked back. After that, I directed indie theatre on and off over a period of eleven years.

My educational pathway to directing started when I got asked to direct Pinball by activist and playwright Alison Lyssa for Mardi Gras Festival in Sydney in 2014. I found myself faced with a play that contextually and personally held such an important lesbian narrative, that was rich in political and historical facts as well as metaphorical meaning. Working on that play made me realise that I didn’t have the knowledge and methodology to draw from to support the play, and I didn’t have the language to communicate to my actors effectively.

I auditioned for NIDA over the years. After my third rejection at NIDA they called me to ask if I would be interested in doing their Directors Studio course. I did it, and the exposure to knowledge only made me want to learn more.

Soon after, I moved to Melbourne and found myself in a vibrant creative scene – I wished I’d moved here sooner. I kept on making indie theatre here, but it took me a good two years before I got the courage to apply for the VCA.

I don’t have an undergraduate degree so applying to one of the most prestigious arts colleges in the country was daunting. Getting into the VCA has quite literally changed my life. I couldn’t be happier to be here.

I’m a deep thinker, so you’ll quite often see me almost walk into the walls at the VCA, deep in thought over something.

I think what inspires me most is the qualities of the human spirit and the ‘body’ that expresses that. The expression of this in performance art moves me greatly. The work of Kate Bush, Olwen Fouéré, Marina Abramović, Pina Bausch, Yayoi Kasama, Martha Graham, Yoko Ono, and Erica Schreiner are women to me whose work holds qualities that are unique and specific. Their abstractions from life speak to my human spirit and inspire me often. Their lives and art inspire my work.

The challenges for me in my first year were things like, “What on earth’s a footnote?!” Never having prior academic learning that heavy academic first year challenged me intellectually on a minute-to-minute basis. I could quite literally feel my brain shifting in my skull. I fought hard in my first year. I really had to push myself, but I loved every minute of it.

What I enjoy most about my study is having the space mentally and physically to investigate what my practice is and what kind of director I really want to be. To have a cohort of exceptional people who are all in the same boat as me has been invaluable. The sense of community has been a priceless part of being here.

My internships have been a highlight and a huge achievement. I have had the honour of working with Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw, aka the iconic lesbian company Split Britches, in New York. These women have carved the way for lesbian theatre, and they continue to do so. Interning with Alyson Campbell on Lachlan Philpott’s play Colder at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre was also a highlight – such incredible women making such powerful work in the world. I hope I can one day be counted amongst them as a leading practitioner in lesbian and queer theatre.

Over the next few years I will be pursuing my directing both here in Australia and in New York, working towards making work that spins on the axis of lesbian and queer work. I’m starting a new activism theatre company with a London-based producer friend of mine, developing work that talks about provocative social issues and ideas that challenge the isms in our world. My connection with New York has been a long love affair and I feel ready to navigate my way through the industry there. Melbourne is definitely home though, and I plan to make the most of the opportunities that come my way.

To anyone wanting to pursue a career in directing, I’d say you have to want it, obsessively. It has to run through your veins. Being a director is being a facilitator to something bigger than all of us. Your life shouldn’t be separate from your art. If you’re after a life of security, theatre directing probably isn’t for you.