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Legendary actors share their craft with budding stars through Unitec’s bridging education programme

  • Legendary actors share their craft with budding stars through Unitec’s bridging education programme

Some of the country’s leading lights in screen arts and acting are behind a Unitec bridging education programme designed to support students into a pathway of learning.

Led by producer and actor Will Wallace, famed for his role in TV series Shortland Street and Orange Roughies as well as international films including King Kong and The Vector File, the 16-week long Bridging Education Creative Industries (BECI) programme introduces students to the basic principles of production, acting, theatre technologies and design, moving image study, as well as collaborative project-based learning. 

Students are encouraged to tap into the industry knowledge and expertise of their course tutors, who bring real-world experience to their teaching and learning. 

Will, who started his professional career 30 years ago with a guest role on the British TV series Soldier Soldier, has overseen the certificate course for the past five years alongside his role as a lecturer in Unitec’s School of Creative Industries.

“The course is designed to help those students who want to go on to higher-level study in performing and screen arts, or who may not be sure which area they want to focus on,” he says.

“It’s important that they bring an open mind, a sense of play, imagination, curiosity and a real desire to have fun – but also to be challenged and questioned.

“We have a very healthy percentage of BECI students who make it through to degree level, so the course is great preparation for those who want to further their education,” says Will, who himself is a graduate of Unitec’s Screen and Performing Arts programme

All students need to do a performance at the end of semester for teaching staff, friends and whānau, with some never having performed on stage in front of an audience before.

“It’s very good for their growth by giving them resilience and confidence to get up in front of an audience and perform,” says Will. 

“It helps them be a better version of who they are and who they want to be, and to understand more about themselves.

“It’s also a very good training ground for some of our new tutors who can gain valuable face-to-face experience with students, and in return can provide aspirational role models for them.

“It’s important that our students can see themselves reflected in our tutors, who come from a diverse range of backgrounds and disciplines and who bring a wealth of industry experience and expertise to the classroom.”

Students can learn from some of the best in the business

Celebrated New Zealand actor and Unitec lecturer Elizabeth Hawthorne makes her debut on the certificate course this year, joining five other tutors who each specialise in a range of practical and theoretical modules.
Elizabeth, who’s recognised for her wide range of roles in Aotearoa’s film, TV and theatre industry, was honoured in 2001 for her services to the theatre, being made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queens’s Birthday Honours.

She has appeared in many of the country’s iconic TV series, including Xena, Hercules, Nothing Trivial, 800 Words, Filthy Rich, Shortland Street, Outrageous Fortune and My Life is Murder.

Her film credits include Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners, Disney Pictures’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Light Between the Oceans, Baltasar Kormakur’s Adrift, Netflix’s The Royal Treatment and Amazon Studios’ Don’t Make Me Go.

Elizabeth will join Unitec graduate Tane Patterson in coaching character acting and script analysis, using her wealth of industry experience and expertise to help students understand how to communicate and articulate an idea.

“There’s no one method with acting,” says Elizabeth. “Each student is an individual and the way they approach a role is different. As tutors, we can offer certain guidelines that have been tried and tested by professional actors.

“Our job is to lead knowledge out of our students – often that involves reassessing habitual ways of doing things that might be getting in the way of true expression.

“We need everyone to be educated according to their ability and their desire.”

Originally trained as a primary school teacher, Elizabeth has also taught Speech and Drama at one of the country’s top independent girls’ schools, St Cuthbert’s.