New Zealand Drama School
Toi Whakaari was established in 1970 by the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council and is still the premiere training ground for entertainment professionals in New Zealand. To date nearly 500 graduates have gone on to successful careers in theatre, television, film, radio and events, both here in New Zealand and all over the world.
In 1970 the QE II Arts Council established a one-year course for the training of professional actors under the directorship of Nola Millar. The school, initially called the New Theatre Arts Council Interim Training School (1970-1971) and then the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council Drama School (1972-1973), was based at 127 Cuba Street in the New Theatre and started with 8 students, one full-time director and four part-time staff tutors.
In 1974 the school was completely reconstituted as the New Zealand Drama School to offer a two-year full time certificate course under the directorship of George Webby. The QEII Arts Council funded the operation of the school, and NZ Dept. of Education provided the salaries for the director and senior tutor. This school opened in temporary premises at the Wellington Savage Club in Kent Terrace (above BATS Theatre), and in 1975 shifted to 172 Taranaki Street (now the Royal Forest and Bird premises). The two year training course started with 14 students, two full-time tutors (including George) and four part-time tutors (one of whom was also full-time administrator).
In August 1980 a move was made to 5 Vivian Street into what was hoped to be permanent premises. Early in 1984 two fires severely damaged the building and another temporary home was found at 76 Kent Terrace. Four years later, in April 1988, the school moved yet again into 36 Vivian Street.
In 1988 they moved to a more bicultural way of working and were gifted the name Te Kura Toi Whakaari O Aotearoa: NZ Drama School by Te Puni Kokiri. Annie Ruth (now their Director) joined the staff in 1990.
After 14 years at the helm George Webby retired in 1988 and Andrew Noble was appointed as director. In June 1989, Andrew returned to the USA and Sunny Amey came into the school as acting-director until April 1991 when Robin Payne became director.
In 1991, under the provisions of the Education Amendment Act 1990, the school was registered and accredited as a Private Training Establishment, and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority approved the two-year diploma course. Also in 1991 the school’s association with the QE II Arts Council ended, and it came under the funding umbrella of the Ministry of Education.
In 1994 Bill Guest joined the School and introduced a two year technical diploma (now called the NZ Diploma of Entertainment Technology).
After many years of fundraising and planning Toi Whakaari and the New Zealand School of Dance moved together into Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre (the old show buildings) in Newtown in 1997. These facilities were purpose designed for the Schools and are among the best in the Southern Hemisphere. In the same year the acting course became a three year Bachelor of Performing Arts (Acting) degree. Two years later Miranda Harcourt joined the School as Head of Acting.
In 2000 Toi Whakaari joined with Victoria University of Wellington to offer the first ever Master of Theatre Arts in Directing in New Zealand under the direction of Christian Penny. Then in 2002 they partnered with Massey University to offer the Bachelor of Performance Design – this country’s first design degree specifically for the performing arts. The first students of this course will graduate in 2006 under the guidance of Penny Fitt.
Also graduating for the first time in 2006 are Bachelor of Performing Arts (Management) degree students under the tutelage of Bill Guest, who has also introduced a new two-year Diploma of Costume Construction course this year.