Melbourne's Chris Baldock becomes co-director of The National Acting School

Melbourne's Chris Baldock becomes co-director of The National Acting School

Bobby Farquhar established The National Acting School in Canberra about 15 years ago after a long career in the arts that included working as a professional ballet dancer and acting, producing and directing in in theatre, film and television. His students in Canberra have included Cariba Heine, who starred in TV's H2O: Just Add Water and Cashelle Dunn, formerly on Home and Away.

Farquhar has run the school himself all this time - classes for children and for adults of different experience levels - but now, he's going to Ireland with his son Adrian, who's becoming a professional boxer, and needs to take on a co-director to run the place for the indefinite period he's away.

Theatre director Chris Baldock

Theatre director Chris BaldockCredit:Gavin Baker

Chris Baldock, it turns out, is that co-director. He arrives in Canberra this week having established a reputation as a theatre director in Melbourne.

"I'm looking forward to it," he says of the new challenge in a new city. He's already met the students so it won't come as a shock to anyone.

Guvnors Benjamin Watts and Catherine Jardine in <i>One Man, Two Guvnors</i>, directed by Chris Baldock

Guvnors Benjamin Watts and Catherine Jardine in One Man, Two Guvnors, directed by Chris BaldockCredit:David Belton

"I sat in on a class last year."

Just as importantly, Ba;dock and Farquhar have matching philosophies when it comes to acting. Farquhar says, "I believe acting is truth ... it's about the journey of finding different characters that wonderful writers have created " and about emotion, and Baldock agrees with him.

He says he was chosen by Farquhar because he was "very close to his standards, someone who could maintain them and look after the students and push them to be the best they could be".

Baldock says he has run his own drama class and done a lot of one-on-ones so he's had plenty of experience as a drama teacher as well as a director.

TwelveAngryMen Dylan Cole, left, ?and Soren Jensen in Twelve Angry Men, directed by Chris Baldock.?

TwelveAngryMen Dylan Cole, left, ?and Soren Jensen in Twelve Angry Men, directed by Chris Baldock.?Credit:David Belton

And he's no stranger to Canberra. Back in 2004 he brought a play, Out of the Flying Pan to a short-play festival here and won awards for best production and best director.

"That was my introduction to Canberra," he says.

Baldock, 50, was born in New Plymouth, New Zealand and began acting at 14 in the show Jack the Ripper.

"I had a wonderful teacher, Dawn Arthur, who was like a second mother and inspired me ... She taught me everything I know."

He joined New Plymouth Repertory and acted in many shows and when he was 24 began directing ("Everyone else thought I could it").Among his directorial credits was Chicago for Auckland Musical Theatre.

In 1992, seeking more opportunities, he came to Australia and "fell in love with Melbourne", basing his home and career there until the position came up in Canberra.

Over the course of his career, he says, "I've directed more than 60 productions.". His range is wide, encompassing comedy, drama, and musicals and plays old and new, and he's directed for his own company, Mockingbird Productions, as well as many others.

"I've just finished One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean in Melbourne for Heidelberg Theatre," he says. That 2011 British play is an adaptation of Goldoni's 1743 comedy Servant of Two Masters.

He's leaving Melbourne on a high note. 2016 was a busy and successful year for Baldock.

Early in the year, he designed the set and sound for a friend who was directing a February production of Killing Jeremy at STAG Theatre Company.

Then, he says, "I directed the Australian premiere of The Nance for Williamstown Little Theatre for an April/May production," he says. This comedy by Douglas Carter Beane recreates the world of 1930s burlesque.

"A week after The Nance opened, my production of 12 Angry Men opened at Heidelberg Theatre Company which I also directed for them. And yes, I was directing two shows at the same time!"

The production of Reginald Rose's jury-room drama starred former Canberran Soren Jensen as Juror Number Eight, the lone holdout against immediately convicting a defendant of murder,

"I then spent the winter in Canberra and decided, for something to do and to meet a few Canberra thespians, to direct something for the Canberra Short+Sweet Festival which was in July/August. The play was a one-man monologue called It's All The Rage by Melbourne writer Carl J. Sorheim and featuring CADA graduate Nick Steain."

The production won four of the six awards in the festival - best performance for Steain, best director for Baldock, best production AND People's Choice.

"I didn't have time for any Mockingbird productions last year!"

And Baldock left Melbourne with a swag of honours.

"The Nance won Williamstown Little Theatre's in-house Craven Award for best director/production. It also won best supporting performance and best Lead performance. They only have three awards so it won all three," he says.

"I won a special award for my direction of Twelve Angry Men and One Man, Two Guvnors at Heidelberg Theatre Company (they usually only have two acting awards nowadays). My main actor in One Man, Two Guvnors, Benjamin Watts, also won one of the two acting awards for his performance."

He also won best sound design at the Victorian Drama League (VDL) Awards for Killing Jeremy (also nominated for Best Set Design). It's his seventh VDL Award (the equivalent of the Canberra Area Theatre Awards).

Overall, he says, "I also have two directing (Old Wicked Songs and The Grapes of Wrath), one acting (best actor in a drama for Side Man) and three other sound design awards (Old Wicked Songs, Kindertransport and 33 Variations) from the VDL Awards from 14 nominations.

"Unlike the CAT Awards, each company can only submit one production each per year to represent them," he says, because there are so many productions. Still, he hasn't done badly: "My productions over the years have gained 71 nominations and 26 wins at these awards."

Baldock launched his company Mockingbird in 2013 with a new production of Moisés Kaufman's The Laramie Project, about the murder of Matthew Shepard, which had won a Green Room Award for best independent production in 2005 when he originally directed it for Act-O-Mactic 3000. Other productions for the company have included Peter Shaffer's Equus.

While in Canberra, Baldock will also be directing a production for Canberra Repertory Society, Arthur Miller's play A View from the Bridge, that will be on in May. He heard about the long-established company from Jensen. Although Rep's company-centred method of operation was different from the more director-oriented way of doing things in Melbourne, he liked what he heard about their organisation and sent his CV to them.

Rep sent him the list of plays they were going to present with the aim of having him make a submission for a couple he was interested in and he "put all his eggs in one basket" and pitched for Bridge, "a play I always wanted to do".

He had seen Canberra Rep's 2016 production of Macbeth at Theatre 3. directed by Jordan Best, and was particularly impressed by Jenna Roberts as Lady Macbeth. He also loves the size and shape of the Theatre 3 stage and its potential for A View from the Bridge: "It's fantastic, it gives great scope for the play I want."

Another play he hopes to direct at some stage is Andrew Bovell's When the Rain Stops Falling. Whether that will be in Canberra or not remains to be seen, but it sounds like he - and his students, and Canberra theatre - are in for an eventful time.

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