More than 380 actors have graduated from Toi Whakaari and around 80 per cent of them are still involved in the performing arts.
Here are some of our featured acting graduates:
- Simon Bennett – Head of Drama at South Pacific Pictures
- Kate Louise Elliot – former Artistic Director of Centrepoint Theatre
- Natalie Medlock – Silo Theatre Ensemble Project
- Emma Deakin – Founder of UK’s first NZ theatre company
- Robyn Malcolm – star of Outrageous Fortune and many other NZ television and film productions
- Dan Musgrove – Silo Theatre Ensemble Project
- Matthew Sunderland – star of Out of the Blue
“The vocational training and industry involvement provided by Toi Whakaari, gave me the best possible foundation for a career in drama. Nothing beats the ability to concentrate for an extended time exclusively on all aspects of the craft and business of acting – especially when the tutors are leading practitioners in their fields. I also know, from a Producer’s perspective, that the words ‘Toi Whakaari graduate’ on a CV give immediate credibility to a candidate for a role. A level of proficiency, flexibility, professionalism, and a vocabulary of performance is a given. Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School is a national treasure.”
Simon Bennett has an extensive directing and producing career in New Zealand television drama and theatre. After graduating from NZ Drama School in 1988, Simon was involved in re-launching Wellington’s BATS Theatre and gained a reputation for directing exciting, eclectic, and energetic theatre productions throughout New Zealand. Favourite productions include Ken Duncum’s Jism, Blue Sky Boys and Flipside, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, King Lear, Titus Andronicus and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as the Sondheim musicals Into the Woods and Assassins at Auckland’s Watershed Theatre.
In 1995 he moved from theatre to television in the first intake of the South Pacific Pictures’ TV directors’ training course. Following this he began work on Shortland Street as a director. He was promoted to Producer in 1997 and then Executive Producer. He also worked as a storyliner and director on Mercy Peak.
In 2000 Simon left Shortland Street to return to stage work. He co-founded the New Zealand Actors’ Company, a national touring company, which toured successful productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Roger Hall’s A Way of Life, before crashing and burning with the notorious production of Leah.
Simon returned to South Pacific Pictures as Head of Drama in 2004, where he is responsible for overseeing all film and television drama projects. Since then he has been involved in the development and production of Maddigan’s Quest, Outrageous Fortune, Go Girls, and Diplomatic Immunity.
“Being an actor, writer, director, producer, designer in NZ is incredibly demanding and making a living can seem very daunting. At Toi you are given challenges and taught the discipline and skills that allow you to develop your talent with support and knowledge that you simply can’t get at the same level anywhere else in this country. Being a graduate of Toi Whakaari is an entry ticket into the dramatic industry of the world.”
Kate Louise Elliot is a former Artistic Director of Palmerston North’s Centrepoint Theatre – NZ’s only professional theatre outside the four main centres. She’s also a well-known television and theatre actress – she’s played Monica Judd in three of the four seasons of Outrageous Fortune, had duel roles as April / Bernadette in Shortland Street and appeared in many other NZ TV shows. Much of her early professional theatre work took place at Centrepoint, but since 2004 she has appeared in a variety of roles in Auckland Theatre Company productions.
“Looking back on the highlights I would say that the body of work taught by Tom McCrory was one of the gifts. The level of expertise and depth of practice taught is simply world class. Alongside this and excellent vocal training I learned to make theatre. I learned to use language that is generous and specific (an ongoing lesson) and to build work around earnest questioning. Though my training was bittersweet, Toi Whakaari provided the support to deepen my questioning and grow both as a person and an actor – to weather the storm. Most importantly Toi gave me a whakapapa and it gave me invaluable colleagues.”
Natalie Medlock graduated from the acting course in 2007. She is currently part of Silo Theatre’s Ensemble Project and appeared in both Life is a Dream (directed by Michael Hurst) and Back Story (directed by Oliver Driver). She also appeared on our television screens as Grace in Diplomatic Immunity.
She spent much of 2008 touring the self-devised work Blinkers & Spurs with fellow graduate Dan Musgrove around festivals in Melbourne, Auckland and Wellington, but found the time to write and appear in Songs of Hollow Hills at Happy. She also played Comet in The Basement Theatre’s production of Reindeer Games. Natalie was seen on screen in Shortland Street in 2012.
“What I love most about this wicked world of theatre is the infinite creative possibility, the friendships formed, knowledge gained & shared, and how ruthlessly challenging it all can be – it’s really quite fabulous!”
Emma graduated from Toi Whakaari in 2002. After working for a short time in NZ she moved to London, and in 2006 founded the UK’s first New Zealand theatre company, Shaky Isles Theatre. Based in London, the company is a platform for NZ playwrights and performers in the UK. Shaky Isles Theatre has successfully run dozens of monthly play-readings and two rehearsed play reading seasons. In 2007 the first productions were staged; Lorae Parry’s Eugenia and Kikia te Poa by Matthew Saville – which received 4 Stars in London’s Time Out Magazine. 2008 saw the company’s first multi-arts festival Shaky Isles Festival of Aotearoa. Emma is co-producer and performer with the company.
“Spending years working and training with others – where a huge percentage of what you achieve is a result of how you trust, work, play, negotiate, fight, love, understand, support and are supported by everyone else in your year – to me cuts to the heart of what this profession is about. It’s an intense cocoon of a place where extraordinary things can happen, and often do.”
Robyn Malcolm is one of NZ’s most loved actresses, currently gaining awards and rave reviews for her role as Cheryl West in Outrageous Fortune. Robyn graduated from Toi Whakaari in 1987 and has worked in television and theatre ever since.
As well as her starring turn in Outrageous Fortune, Robyn’s acclaimed television roles include Nurse Ellen Crozier on Shortland Street, Pauline in Serial Killers and Clare Matheson in the telefeature Clare. She was part of the New Zealand Actor’s Company that toured Aotearoa in 2001-2002, where her roles included playing Kent in Leah (the adaptation of King Lear), Jenny in A Way of Life and Titania in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Other theatre roles include Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Downstage), Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing (Downstage), and Emilia in Othello (Watershed), as well as many others.
“Toi Whakaari was a one-time opportunity to completely immerse myself in an acting ensemble for three years, to free my own creativity, to learn the technical elements of stagecraft, and experience the intangible elements of performance. Even if the rewards were simply limited to what the training can give you on stage it would be worth the three years. I use the skills I learned at Toi Whakaari on a daily, often hourly, basis; whether I am writing, devising, performing for stage or screen, or sitting in the audience myself, the learning I gained at Toi is always in play.”
Dan Musgrove is an award-winning writer and actor who graduated from Toi Whakaari in 2007. Since then he has written and performed two critically acclaimed two-handers with his collaborator Natalie Medlock. Their first show Blinkers had a sell-out debut season in the Wellington Fringe and went on to enjoy critically acclaimed seasons everywhere from Blenheim and Palmerston North to the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Blinkers, and its companion piece Spurs, were performed together at the Basement in Auckland in mid 2008, with the Herald naming the season one of the highlights of Auckland’s year of theatre. Dan is a member of the award winning Almost a Bird Theatre Company and most recently performed for the company in Angels in America at Downstage and Jeff Koons at Bats. He appeared onscreen in the series Time Hackers and Paradise Café as well as the tele-feature Piece of my Heart, directed by Fiona Samuel. Dan appeared in the Auckland Festival as part of the Silo Theatre’s Ensemble Project, directed by Oliver Driver and Michael Hurst.
“The training at Toi Whakaari provided me with complete immersion in my craft. I was given the freedom to explore and develop my craft, physically, vocally and spiritually, under the supportive eyes of NZ’s most experienced tutors and practitioners. The skills I learned then I now apply on a daily basis whilst working as an actor.”
Matthew Sunderland graduated from Toi Whakaari in 1997 and has concentrated on NZ film work with excursions into Auckland theatre. He played David Grey in the internationally acclaimed Out of the Blue and was nominated for a best actor award in the 2006 NZ Screen Awards for Nature’s Way, which appeared at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006. His other films include A Song of Good, Christmas, Stringer and Woodenhead as well as more than twenty short films.
He has appeared at the Silo (Fool for Love, Blasted), the Court (Peninsula) and the Herald (Trainspotting).
International screen recognition for Cliff Curtis (Blow, Three Kings, Bringing Out the Dead, The Insider, River Queen, Whalerider); Martin Csokas (XXX, The Bourne Supremacy, Kingdom of Heaven, Aeon Flux); Kerry Fox (Intimacy, winner 2002 Silver Bear at the Berlin Festival for Best Actress); Phillipa Campbell (Producer Rain, Director’s Fortnight at Cannes Film Festival); and Mark Ruka, Miriama McDowell, Tanea Heke and Nathan Meister (No.2, winner World Cinema Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival 2006).
Innumerable award winners at the NZ Film and Television Awards, including Robyn Malcolm, Nancy Brunning, Katie Wolfe, Cliff Curtis, Tim Balme, Miranda Harcourt, Rawiri Paratene, Phillipa Campbell and others.
More than 80 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards since 1995, including awards for Jacob Rajan, Katie Wolfe, Nathan Meister, Danny Mulheron, Malcolm Murray, Lauren Jackson, Rachel House, Carmel McGlone, Heather O’Carroll, Paul McLaughlin, Matt Wilson, David O’Donnell, Tim Balme, Tim Spite, Peter Hambleton, Michelle Amas, Victor Rodger, Mitch Tawhi Thomas, Miranda Harcourt, Ben Barrington, Nikki MacDonnell, Cathy Downes, Jane Waddell, Bill Walker, Grace Hoet, Danny Mulheron, Anna McPhail, Annie Ruth, Hone Katipa… and others.
Toi Whakaari has also produced great writers, including six Bruce Mason Playwright’s Fellowship Award winners – Mitch Tawhi Thomas, John Vakidis, Victor Rodger, Fiona Samuel, David Geary, Hone Kouka – and a Montana Book Award and the UK’s Geoffry Faber Memorial Prize for Emily Perkins.