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Source: Ara Institute of Canterbury

This year, the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Arts (NASDA) at Ara is offering graduating students their most authentic end-of-year performance experience yet – a Hollywood classic of a musical, staged at The Court Theatre and helmed by internationally-regarded director Russell Dixon.
This advantageous arrangement stems from the start of a three-year formal partnership between Ara and The Court Theatre, which sees NASDA’s yearly graduation production being staged at The Court – in this case, the New Zealand premiere of the gloriously feel-good Holiday Inn, first made famous as a 1942 film starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby. The production opened on October 30, and has public performances on the 5th through 7th of November.
Director Russell Dixon describes it as the sweetest “candyfloss for the mind” and views it as the perfect antidote to a year filled with unprecedented angst and uncertainly. The film was originally conceived as a way for audiences to re-connect with the lighter side of life after the gruelling experiences of World War II. It features a glamorous show-biz love triangle, the members of whom have, despite their romantic trials, plenty to sing and dance about as they convert a rural Connecticut house and barn into a resort-style dinner theatre venue that only operates during the holidays.
Although Russell last enjoyed a white Christmas while working in London, (and admits that he’s come to enjoy the cold, dark evenings, steamy beverages and twinkling lights of the northern hemisphere festive season) he also points out, as a former TV3 Weatherman, that you can never be sure of when or where a snow storm might appear (even in New Zealand), so perhaps audiences should not give up on a real-life revival of Bing’s global hit White Christmas, which features in the show.
“Holiday Inn is a chance to sit back and drink in a wonderfully lavish spectacle and listen to Irving Berlin’s timeless classics. After emerging from COVID lockdown – here in New Zealand at least – what could be a better way to remind yourself that good things do happen, and good times are always just around the corner?” says Russell.
Russell has been working professionally as an actor, director and corporate communicator for over 25 years, contributing to major productions throughout New Zealand and Japan, as well as touring in British productions throughout the UK and the Middle East. Russell also recently appeared in London’s West End, leading the cast of the musical Top Hat as the comical Alberto Beddini.
As a professional director, Russell has been working to a hectic schedule, for which COVID is at least partly to blame. “Right now, New Zealand is possibly the only country that’s in a position to stage performances for substantial audiences, so this is where a lot of the action is focussed. It’s a great opportunity for home-grown talent – including directors – to shine.” Unsurprisingly, Russell has been busy working throughout the year on three productions; Wicked for Tauranga Musical Theatre; Blood Brothers for Taieri Musical Theatre and Mary Poppins for The Amici Trust in Auckland, which opened October 15.
During the final weeks of preparation for Mary Poppins, Russell was also collaborating with Musical Director Trevor Jones and Choreographer Kirsty Allpress – both Ara tutors – to start putting together the feel-good nostalgia-fest that is Holiday Inn. It was his long-term connection with both Kirsty and NASDA Operations Coordinator Simon Goudie that led to his being asked to direct NASDA’s 2020 end-of-year performance. Russell is extremely pleased to be bringing his international experience to NASDA, and has enjoyed working with Trevor and Kirsty, and with his third-year student cast, with every performer adding their own special flair and enthusiasm.
“This performance, which showcases the hard work of the NASDA cast extremely well, also features some innovative casting, so audiences can expect to see some changes from the original line-up.”
The Court Theatre has been hiring graduates and providing internships for students from Ara’s National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA) for a number of years, but the new partnership means that the connection between the two institutions is now even stronger, especially given that Court Theatre Artistic Director Dan Pengelly is an Ara graduate himself.
For Andrew Snell, NASDA’s Manager of Performing Arts, staging NASDA’s triumphant end-of-year performance at The Court Theatre is a perfect example of how the new partnership will benefit both parties.
“For our students to perform their major year-end performance within a full-time working theatre is just one example of how the partnership with The Court Theatre elevates the NASDA experience above any other performing arts programme in Aotearoa. Even before they stage their end-of-year shows in a professional venue, NASDA students are in a position to work closely with the artistic team at The Court through workshops, internships and masterclasses. This means that students are in a better position than ever to be considered for roles in Court Theatre productions, during and following their studies.”