Criticism ... Chris Puplick (left) opposed the appointment of Lynne Williams (right) at NIDA.

Criticism ... Chris Puplick (left) opposed the appointment of Lynne Williams (right) at NIDA.

A DRAMA of Shakespearean proportions has embroiled Australia's leading acting school, with arguments about strategic and artistic direction, mass departures of staff, unhappy students and a teaching reputation in tatters, according to a former board member.

In a coming essay, the former Liberal senator Chris Puplick criticises the National Institute of Dramatic Art's director and chief executive, Lynne Williams, who, he claims, has ''no appropriate experience'' to head the school.

Plays and external directors were being chosen without sufficient consultation with the acting staff, and ... students were being pushed into public performances too early. 

Mr Puplick says she has ''a Thatcherite style honed after a quarter of a century in the UK''.

<i>Illustration: Cathy Wilcox</i>

Illustration: Cathy Wilcox

''Williams has never directed a significant theatre performance; taught acting students; supervised theatre training or auditioned students for placement in a training institution, or ever earned a living in the professional theatre,'' writes Mr Puplick in his essay Changing Times at NIDA.

Mr Puplick twice served on the board of NIDA, before falling out with Ms Williams and the chairman of its board, Malcolm Long, in 2010. The essay will be published in the October issue of Platform Papers, a quarterly series on arts and entertainment.

He says Ms Williams's appointment in 2008 and tenure split the board and, in his view, led to the departure of almost all senior artistic staff. Mr Puplick criticises new arrangements that place teachers on short-term contracts without secure tenure.

NIDA has produced some of Australia's finest actors, including Judy Davis, Mel Gibson, Toby Schmitz and Cate Blanchett.

But in a chapter titled Acting Wars, Mr Puplick repeats his claim that the acting course is being diminished, and denied resources: ''Plays and external directors were being chosen without sufficient consultation with the acting staff, and … students were being pushed into public performances too early.''

He also says Ms Williams has harmed relations with private benefactors. ''I am also aware of at least four people who have, as a result of NIDA's regime change, written the school out of their wills. In some cases the sums were substantial,'' Mr Puplick says.

Last year a survey of students revealed deep resentment, with 64 per cent claiming a lack of confidence in the leadership and 84 per cent expressing fear about NIDA's reputation.

Mr Puplick writes that hiring out NIDA's theatres to commercial operators has sometimes taken precedence over the students' need for rehearsal space.

The actor Schmitz said the friction between nurturing students and making a profit was worrisome but suggested students would always find something to complain about.

''I've had problems with every institution I've ever attended and all of them have set me up for a wonderful career,'' he said.

Mr Puplick also lamented the lack of indigenous representation on the board or senior staff. He called on the federal government to instigate a review of the school and its practices.

Ms Williams declined to comment and a spokeswoman for NIDA said management was preparing a response to the essay.