Brodi Purtill decided in year 7 that she was going to be a drama teacher. Recently completing a Bachelor of Arts in Drama and Sociology with a Distinction and now midway through a Masters in Teaching at Deakin, she’s well on her way to achieving her dream. A proud Muti-Muti woman who grew up in Swan Hill, Purtill didn’t let her school’s lack of a drama program stop her. ‘My school didn’t have a drama program until I got into senior school and made us have drama,’ she says with a laugh.
The theatrical situation at her school was so dire that during a meeting with the careers advisor in year 11, Purtill was asked what her backup plan was while the aspiring paediatric neurologist beside her wasn’t questioned. ‘They asked me: what’s your backup if you don’t become a drama teacher? I said “I don’t have one, I’ll be a drama teacher.” But they didn’t ask the other girl, and she was like “you’re saying it’s easier for me to be a paediatric neurologist than it is for her to be a teacher?!”’
‘My school really didn’t want me to do [work experience] in Melbourne; they wanted me to do it in Swan Hill. But I was going to Melbourne, whether they liked it or not!’
Taking the first step towards making her dream a reality, in 2016 Purtill completed work experience with Melbourne Theatre Company. She initially applied without her school’s permission. ‘My school really didn’t want me to do it in Melbourne; they wanted me to do it in Swan Hill. But I told them that I was doing it!’ She bypassed the careers office when they queried her application, telling them she didn’t need their signature and going straight to the principal instead. ‘I was going to Melbourne, whether they liked it or not!’
Purtill spent her work experience week with the Company on Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men, directed by Sarah Giles. ‘That was really cool,’ she says. ‘I got to sit in on all the rehearsals for the week. I even got my own little mug – that I still have – with my name on it! I just got to see the whole experience.’
She enjoyed it so much that a few months later she returned to participate in the Betty Amsden Youth Scholarship Course, a week-long intensive drama workshop run annually by MTC Education for students with limited access to drama programs. The course is aimed at students aged 13 to 17, and Purtill was the oldest of her cohort – ‘I was only allowed in the Scholarship by one day!’ – but she’s still in contact with many of those she participated with.
Purtill also remains in contact with her peers from MTC’s First Peoples Young Artists Program (FPYAP), which she joined in 2017. Working with teaching artists Sermsah Bin Saad and Lenka Vanderboom, Purtill and seven other young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people devised and produced their own show, Darklight, which they showcased at Southbank Theatre’s Lawler studio. Purtill stage managed that production, and has since returned to do the same for the participants in both 2018 and 2019 as well. ‘I still see those guys a lot,’ she says.
From student to teacher
Indeed, the bonds forged through these programs have proved so strong they’ve carried over to Bark Theatre Company, a not-for-profit Purtill founded with a focus ‘on providing a safe space for young people to create, learn and network’. It’s testament to her belief that the benefit of these programs goes beyond education and experience and into creating networks and building a sense of community. ‘It’s really nice to have those connections with people who are similar to you and have similar interests to you, but have also had the same barriers as you getting into the arts,’ she says. ‘It’s good to have all that support from everyone. And having the other participants come and do stuff for my own theatre company, to make sure that we’re giving each other support and jobs when we have jobs to give – that is really nice.’
This year, taking the next steps towards making her drama teaching dream a reality, Purtill will help coordinate the First Peoples Young Artists Program. She has also started working casually for MTC’s Education Department. It’s clear that when Brodi Purtill decides she’s going to do something, she won’t let anything stand in her way.
MTC’s work experience program is supported by the Education Giving Circle. The First Peoples Young Artists Program is a partnership with the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development and YIRRAMBOI, and is enabled by The John & Myriam Wylie Foundation. The Betty Amsden Youth Scholarship Course is made possible with the support of the Betty Amsden Foundation.
Inspiring our youth through theatre
MTC Education seeks to create free, or affordable, meaningful access to theatre for all young people regardless of cultural, financial or geographical circumstances.
Time and again, we receive feedback that our award-winning programs have had a profound and lasting impact on the lives of the students who have been able to take part. Right now we have an opportunity to use the arts to help inspire and empower young Australians.
Despite the impact of the COVID crisis on arts and education in Victoria, MTC Education has continued to find imaginative ways to support Victorian students and young people in their learning and development, and to provide inspiring and nurturing theatre experiences remotely. This has included innovative learning activities enhancing the theatre experience, and an ever-expanding suite of digital content and virtual workshops which make MTC Education a world-leading program.
In response to demand from schools and requests from the Department of Education, we are constantly working to produce more online resources and create further opportunities for remote engagement. As a result, we are now able to reach more and more varied and isolated communities.
We cannot wait to welcome school groups back to the theatre, but for now our focus is on programs that will have the ability to work both in-person and digitally.
More so than ever, it is vital that MTC can use its education programs to reach the next generation of makers, writers, stage managers and audience members. It is only through donor support that this will be possible, ensuring the evolving needs of students, teachers and young people are met as they battle the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, inequality and isolation.
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Published on 28 April 2021