Churchill Fellowship winner Dianna Nixon gains wealth of experience from European tour
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Churchill Fellowship winner Dianna Nixon gains wealth of experience from European tour

In one of his speeches, to Harrow School in 1941, British prime minister Winston Churchill said, ''Never give in.''

Dianna Nixon followed his advice, appropriately enough, in applying for a Churchill Fellowship, which provides an opportunity for Australians to travel overseas to conduct research in their chosen field that is not readily available in Australia. She received one in 2012 on her fifth attempt since 1999.

Dianna Nixon, left, receiving a Churchill Fellowship from Governor-General Quentin Bryce.

Dianna Nixon, left, receiving a Churchill Fellowship from Governor-General Quentin Bryce.Credit:The Winston Churchill Memorial T

''I think I hold the Australian record for most attempts,'' she says.

Her persistence paid off and she travelled to Europe in August and September last year - the delay caused by first attending the Pan European Voice Conference at the Rudolfinum music auditorium in Prague and at the Prague Conservatory, which is held every two years.

Nixon - a writer, performer and director with her own company, Wild Voices Music Theatre - also visited Edinburgh and London to investigate approaches to supporting the developing voice, the subject of her research and report, which can be read online at wildvoicesmusictheatre.com

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The conference and interviews provided, she says, ''a chance to look at best practice in areas of developing the voice''.

Among her dozen interview subjects was Simon Sharkey, director of the Learn Program at the National Theatre of Scotland. One of the things she loves about the company is its lack of boundaries, exemplified in its slogan ''Theatre without walls''. This is both figurative - it doesn't divide its work into categories like music theatre and physical theatre - and literal: it has no home base and works all over Scotland. including outreach programs with schools.

''There are things going on in Scotland we could benefit from,'' she says, referring to the integration of culture and education and using both to help define the country. ''That's interesting for me.''

She also talked to operatic tenor Dominic Natoli, vocal coaches Janice Chapman and Mary Hammond and Professor Graham Welch, chair of music education at the Institute of Education, University of London.

Veteran writer and performer Steven Berkoff was another, ''an out-of-the-blue thing''.

Nixon saw one of his shows, An Actor's Lament, at the Edinburgh Fringe and got to talk to him.

''He's very much a self-propelled artist and it was interesting to get his point of view on how artists are being trained, that sort of thing.''

Nixon says the trip was ''a very affirming experience'', the people she interviewed supported her own views on developing voices, in particular ''the need to use the body correctly''.

Welch, for example, talked about how vocal training is far more effective if teachers know how the body and the brain work and are able to integrate this into how they teach students.

The Churchill Fellowship funded five weeks of the trip and Nixon spent another four weeks in Europe at her own expense.

While she does not have any particular project imminent, Nixon says she has many in various stages of development including a music theatre piece.

And the experience of the trip will help her develop her teaching artist practice and feed into the works in development.

■ For more information on Wild Voices Music Theatre, visit wildvoicesmusictheatre.com

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.