Meet Sherry-Lee, BFA (Music Theatre) student at the University of Melbourne

Sherry-Lee Watson performs at Fan the Flames 2019. Photo by Tiffany Jarvie.
Sherry-Lee Watson performs at Fan the Flames 2019. Photo by Tiffany Jarvie.

An Arrente woman from Alice Springs, Sherry-Lee Watson always wanted to perform. Now she's on her way to living her dream in Melbourne, studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Music Theatre) and excited to take the lessons she's learnt back to her hometown.

As told to Mireille Stahle.

Having an entire campus dedicated to the fine arts results in a haven for creative souls. I’ve always wanted to perform, and when it came down to figuring out what school was best for me, the VCA took the spot. You’ll find some of the most welcoming and kind-hearted people here, and as an added bonus, they all share the same interests as you.

In Music Theatre you don’t just learn the basics of singing, dance and acting, you learn how to look after your mind and body as well. It's difficult to pinpoint just one mentor because they all have so much to offer. We have great teachers here, each of them with their own expertise, whether that be looking at the work from an anthropological, holistic or practical approach.

Over the past three years we’ve been lucky enough to work with Andrew Byrne, who is one of the worlds leading voice teachers, based in New York . Andrew looks at using the voice for performance from a neurological perspective, which is revolutionary. We train our brains to help us become better singers – it's been pretty extraordinary to learn.

The University of Melbourne Southbank Campus is like a second home, which is fitting considering how much time I spend here outside of actual class. Your year level, known as your company, becomes like a family as you spend 10 hours a day, five days a week with the same 20 people.

My day usually includes an early wake up to get in prior to class and warm up before the day starts. Depending on the day,  we might have some for of dance (Jazz, Tap , Ballet) and then into another class like spoken voice, or acting through song, Shakespeare or an ensemble class.

In first and second year we study movement and its always nice to have that first thing in the morning – it really helps to ground me for the rest of the day. We also have our individual singing lessons once a week and will presentation class in second year and camera in third year.

I live in my head, and can be extremely analytical about my work, but studying here has taught me to how to access my body and utilise it in ways I didn’t think possible, physically and mentally.

The best part about all of this is that it's acceptable to be a deep thinker. I don’t think twice when I walk to the library at lunch and see someone rolling around on the grass trying to find a connection to their "will centre", or another practising their lines to a tree – that's just another day at drama school.

At the beginning of third year we went to London as apart of our global atelier subject. We got to work for two weeks with some of the industry’s top creatives including people currently working on shows in London’s West End! Every night after class we had the opportunity to see a show, and most of us ended up seeing a show a night. The amazing part was that we got to learn routines from the people we saw perform in class the next day. We worked with people like Gregory Haney, who is the dance captain of Hamilton in London, Ruthie Henshall, Neil Rutherford and many more. We also went out to Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace ,and got a tour of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Being in Melbourne in the heart of the Arts Precinct gives us the opportunity to be able to collaborate with a lot of local and international guests. In first year we got to collaborate with Bethany Caputo, who has taught at the Michael Chekov school of acting. Chekov being such a prominent technique taught in our studies, the benefits from this workshop were incredible.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t addicted to the pure thrill of performing. Who isn’t? If you want to be here, you have to enjoy it to a point where you’re okay with making some personal sacrifices for the sake of your craft. For me, one of those sacrifices was leaving my family and my home. I’m from Alice Springs and I often can only spend one or two months at home while studying. I’ve become incredibly independent since moving out of home when I was 14 for school. What inspires me is knowing that I can take the lessons I’ve learnt back to my hometown and start to make change there surrounding the arts.

I eventually want to become an academic and research the impact of the arts on Aboriginal communities and how to reestablish our connection to telling stories through song and dance. Aboriginal people are passionate and exciting storytellers as we have been doing it on the land for thousands of years. I want to work to make sure future generations will still have that opportunity.

In order to do that I need to get as qualified as I possibly can, so next year I will be studying honours. I then plan to study at NAISDA in NSW, which is a dance school for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people, to get a stronger foundation in different styles of dance.

Along the way I’d imagine I will do some auditioning for shows. My eventual goal is to open up a performing arts school for disadvantaged kids in the Northern Territory.

I was lucky enough to live most of my life on Country, and growing up in the middle of the bush without an internet connection tends to make you creative about how you spend your time. I love to read and write.

Music will always take up a large majority of my day even if it isn’t uni-related I can still spend my day locked in a room singing and fiddling around with new songs. I’m very keen to get into volunteering  for not-for-profit organisations next year when I have a bit more time on my hands.

If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be: give yourself love. Study isn’t the be-all-and-end-all. Put yourself first and always follow your gut because its probably right. Don’t define yourself by how high you can kick or what notes you can hit, there will always be someone who has had more training – what matters is how you tell a story, and why that story matters. Also, write everything down, your goals, your days, your fears, everything. Trust me.

Rules were made to be broken. Putting yourself in a box will never serve you as a performer, especially in Music Theatre, where versatility reigns supreme. Why stop there? You never know what part you might play one day and the more experience you have the better. Take advantage of the fact that art is everywhere, and you will never stop learning.