Peter Fearnside and Nick Wollan

Donor Stories: Denis Irving

The greatest legacy you can leave behind is a future for someone else. Denis Irving may not be a household name, but his impact on Australian theatre will be remembered for many generations to come. An accomplished lighting designer and technical all-rounder, Denis designed the lighting effects for the 1955 premiere of Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll back in the days of the Union Theatre Repertory Company with John Sumner. He became one of Australia’s first theatre design consultants, and was actively involved in the design and technical specification of many theatres, concert halls and performing arts centres, including Arts Centre Melbourne and Southbank Theatre.

When Denis became sick and was unable to work, long-time friend and business associate Peter Fearnside, Managing Director of international acoustic engineering consultancy Marshall Day Acoustics, acquired Denis’s theatre design company Entertech. Following Denis’s death in 2008, and as part of his will, Marshall Day Entertech (MDE) in conjunction with MTC established an annual award to encourage students to follow in Denis’s footsteps in the pursuit of a career in theatre technical production, or performance venue design.

Awarded annually to an outstanding graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts Production Course, the beneficiary of the scholarship receives two months paid employment shared between MDE and MTC’s technical production department.

Nick Wollan was awarded the Denis Irving Scholarship at the conclusion of his VCA Production course in 2011 and accepted placements in 2012. Having specialised in Stage Management during his course, the placements gave Nick invaluable hands-on technical experience.

‘It was handy doing the work at MDE,’ Nick says ‘because I was constantly getting a preview of theatre technology trends and how theatres are built. And because MDE are so connected with the theatre development and construction industries, it gave me a glimpse into the whole industry. Then spending a month at MTC, I was able to see how Southbank Theatre works and learn about putting all that technology into practice.’

During his time at MTC, Nick shadowed Technical Manager of Light and Sound Kerry Saxby during production week for Queen Lear and The Golden Dragon, assisting in the bump-in of the shows, as well as learning about wiring up stage lighting.

‘A lot of lighting technicians miss out on actually getting inside the equipment and rewiring it, and that experience was fantastic. It reinforced that equipment doesn’t just come to you as a finished product, you can play around with it to suit the needs of the show, and Kerry is the master of that.’

Nick found a role with his passion for stage management using knowledge gained from his degree and the technical skills required, he successfully managed MTC’s 2014 Season Launch at Hamer Hall.

‘It’s really great that Denis thought about the people coming after him and recognised it can be difficult to get a leg up. He provided that opportunity for me, and I’m very grateful.’

Published on 12 August 2013