For Joy Chayna, finding a college or university that was community-focused and backed by strong Christian values was very important to her when deciding on where to study. After finishing her New South Wales Higher School Certificate (HSC) in 2016, Joy didn’t have her heart set on a particular course. ‘I was never the person who knew what I wanted to do post-school,’ Joy explains. One thing was certain though, music was in her blood. Growing up with a musical mother, both Joy and her brother were enrolled in piano lessons from a young age. Later, as a teenager, Joy was involved in school bands, jazz improvisation, and various ensembles at the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music. ‘Those were my extracurricular activities and I thought that was the natural pathway because that was my thing.’ Sadly, Joy’s mother passed away when she was in Year 11 but her death was the catalyst for Joy deciding to carry on her mother’s love for music and all the hard work her mother had invested in her.
Joy also didn’t have her heart set on a particular place of study. ‘I was weighing up whether to attend my local uni, the University of Wollongong, to study a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Music or audition for the Australian Institute of Music (AIM) or The Conservatorium of Music (both located in Sydney).’ In 2016, after attending an Excelsia College open day, Joy found what she was looking for. ‘I noticed that everyone was so nice and seemed to know one another and it was a homely environment. Community is my big thing, and I love people and intentionality, so seeing a college that stands for that is something I wanted to be a part of. That was my process of thinking around Excelsia.’
After successfully being accepted into a Bachelor of Music (Classical piano), Joy decided to defer to do a gap year with Morling College. ‘I wanted to be a year older and have a bit more maturity before I came to Excelsia,’ Joy explains. In 2018, Joy joined the Excelsia community and cemented her Christian faith in the process. ‘I’ve always been part of a really strong Christian family and grew up in a very protective and sheltered Christian bubble.’ Excelsia played a key role in contributing to Joy’s personal faith. ‘Moving out of home as an 18-year-old, I found meeting new people at Excelsia was really formative for me in being more concrete in my values and for standing up for what I believe in … Excelsia really helped me to form my identity and was a safe space to express my values … The lecturers were always up for a chat.’
During her studies, Joy was also working part-time at a music school where she taught piano. With her years of experience performing to crowds, it’s a surprise to hear that performance anxiety plagued Joy, stripping her of completely enjoying music. Thankfully, Excelsia was able to help Joy overcome these anxieties. ‘I had performance anxiety and it was very debilitating, I wouldn’t be able to move. But I had a really nurturing piano teacher who was relational, so we almost had mini counselling sessions in our lessons. It was really helpful to understand how deeply music is not just a physical thing where I play; it’s an emotional thing as well.’ The performance degree also allowed Joy to discover who she was as a person. ‘When you’re forced to work in group situations to do assessments and encouraged to come to different events, you’re constantly being forced out of your comfort zone. It’s almost like you can’t feel isolated going to the College because you’re surrounded by community and events.’
Excelsia’s creative and performing arts programs expose students to a variety of front of house roles, as well as behind-the-scenes work. ‘Because of its size, Excelsia enables you to do things in a way that a big college couldn’t do. Because you’re known by everyone, you can get involved in more unique ways,’ Joy explains. ‘We got to be stage manager one week or pack down equipment another week and I feel like these tasks encouraged a sense of ownership. You get to do every job at least once, so it gives you a taste of it all.’ Joy also had a strong work ethic instilled in her from the teaching staff. ‘The lecturers went above and beyond. I think they really encouraged a system of “this is your responsibility, and we won’t baby you”. They treated us like adults and taught us good life lessons on learning to be responsible for ourselves. It was a balance of tough love but a really kind way of doing it.’
For Joy, the live performances were a highlight of her time at Excelsia. ‘The music students got to perform in classical concerts where we would dress up in fully Shakespearean costume; it was the best thing in the world for the classical buffs! I remember we got to do a porch concert on our teacher’s terrace in Newtown to random people in the street and gigs in Marrickville at cool bars. Those experiences really shaped my time at Excelsia. The campus was also a warm and inviting environment and I honestly just really enjoyed being in the student lounge space and hanging out with people,’ Joy explains.
Since finishing at Excelsia in June this year, Joy has been busy undertaking wedding preparation and continuing to tutor piano at a local music school. Within the next six months, Joy hopes to complete her Early Childhood Education Certificate, and later a Master of Teaching to enable her to teach in schools. As for her long-term goals: ‘I want to create my own music school business to encourage kids in their musical pursuits, but which is also a space where my employees love coming to work. I want the parents of my students to feel known and I want to create a community where people feel safe, accepted, and valued. If I can do that through my musical gifts that would be a fun medium, so I am working towards that. I need a lot of money to start that up – to buy a place, buy some pianos and resources and employ teachers – so that’s a long-term goal,’ says Joy.
In terms of what advice Joy would give to future Excelsia students, she recommends going in with an open mind. ‘It enables you to make the most of the opportunity and meet people, and get involved in any activities. It’s up to you to fully enjoy the experience here. For me, I got to meet lots of students and, through my assessments, people in the industry, which was super formative not only for being in the industry but for life. You can sit back, complain and not do things but if you go in with an open mind and a positive attitude it can be a really enjoyable experience and you can learn tons and meet people.’
We can’t wait to see where Joy ends up using her musical gifts. If you feel inspired by Joy’s journey, why not explore Excelsia’s Bachelor of Music course
You never know the impact your actions and words can have on shaping a person’s future career. For Jenelle Magtibay, it was the nurture and encouragement of her Year 11 and 12 music teacher that led her to enrol in Excelsia College’s Bachelor of Music. The 21-year-old, who completed her course this year, chose to major in music performance, with voice as her primary instrument and piano and bass guitar as her supporting instruments. Jenelle is putting her training to good use and currently working as a music teacher at Real Rhythm Studio in Fairfield, Ignite Music in Dural and a private tutor at her own business, Jenelle’s Singing School. Outside of Excelsia, Jenelle is also involved in her local church community where she serves on worship band.
Music has played an integral part of Jenelle’s life, particularly during her high school years when she developed her passion for vocals and R’n’B, contemporary and soul music. ‘I pursued music all my way through high school from Years 7 to 12 and then chose to do Music 1 for my HSC (Higher School Certificate) course. Since Year 9, I knew I wanted to pursue music in some way. I always had the dream to study music therapy, and it was my Music 1 music teacher who encouraged me to consider enrolling in a music course. She was very much like a mum to me, and she’d always guide me and take care of me and make sure that I was doing my work.’
After reaching the end of her Bachelor of Music course, Jenelle became unsure about pursuing music therapy, based on the audition component. ‘I could do the singing part but wasn’t sure about the instrumentation to accompany myself so I was asking God, “What else can I do?” I felt teaching was placed back into my heart; it’s something I also wanted to do as a kid.’ Jenelle was also encouraged by her teachers at Excelsia College who saw traits in her that could complement teaching. ‘My teachers Dr Lotte Latukefu and Elizabeth Blackwood would always say that I’m a natural leader and good at helping people, so I guess those skills of leading people, helping people and teaching were honed more during my time at Excelsia.’
Now studying her Masters of Secondary Education and Training, Jenelle hopes to become a high school music teacher, specifically educating Year 11 and 12 students. In this role, she hopes to show the same nurture and support she received from her teacher to the next generation of music students. ‘Although I don’t know what kind of teacher I will be until I start teaching in the classroom, I know the most important thing is to have a student and teacher relationship. I want students to come to me and to be able to engage in a positive way.’ The Bachelor of Music prepared Jenelle not only with performance skills but also how to communicate with and teach people with disability, as well as how to navigate students with behavioral issues.
As a committed Christian, Jenelle sees music as a vocation where she can daily demonstrate her faith. ‘Even without saying the word “God”, you can show your Christian faith through loving your students, through caring for them, and even discipline is a way to show you care and love them,’ she explains. It is Excelsia’s Christian values that attracted Jenelle to the College in the first place. ‘I went to a Catholic high school, but reaching the tertiary education stage of my life, I wanted to choose a Christian college. I felt a calling from God to go to the College rather than a secular university. I felt that faith in my classes. Even in class God was there. Post-class we’d talk to the teachers or mentors about life, church, or God if we were struggling. We had a music coordinator who would sit down and have a chat with us and ask us what God would want us to do or what God is teaching us this time. It was really nice to have chats like that.’
It was these conservations and her Christian faith that helped Jenelle to become confident in herself. ‘I learned important life lessons during my time at Excelsia, including sticking to who I know I am in God. This helped me to not sway from my beliefs and I learned that I didn’t need to please other people.’
When asked about how she would describe Excelsia, Jenelle calls it a ‘cosy, friendly, inviting and a close-knit community. ‘I would sit on the couch and say hi to people walking past as they were going to class. I spent every weekday at Excelsia, that’s how much I loved being there and hanging out with my friends, practising and jamming.’
Getting to know teaching staff and students from different faculties opened up opportunities for the music student, who helped to promote the College as student ambassador. Jenelle was also able to put her voice to good use for Excelsia’s 2020 musical Songs From a New World. Due to COVID-19, the College’s drama department decided to produce its very first virtual musical and Jenelle unexpectedly found herself front and centre! ‘My thought was that I was going to help the drama students by singing in it but then the director was like, no, you’re the lead! It was a good opportunity to learn from the drama department before leaving my degree,’ says Jenelle.
Excelsia College is delighted that Jenelle has been able to develop her inner confidence, flourish and continue to grow in her Christian faith. We can’t wait to hear where her voice takes her next! If you feel inspired by Jenelle’s story, why not explore Excelsia’s Bachelor of Music course?
Alongside hospitality, air travel and tourism, and sports and recreation, the creative arts and entertainment sector has sadly been a directly hit industry that was forced to cease operations throughout COVID-19 restrictions (Wilkins, 2021). Throughout 2020, the Sydney Theatre Company’s operating revenue dropped by $17.8 million compared to 2019, with 7 out of 12 scheduled productions cancelled (Litson, 2021). For some artists like Miriam Green, lockdown has been a time to show creativity and innovation and literally think outside the box! The third-year Bachelor of Dramatic Art (Performance) student will be one of 20 female artists participating in a virtual arts festival with The House That Dan Built, a not-for-profit, female-focused arts association.
Miriam will perform a poem and movement segment about a woman losing connection with herself in Whispers and Roars – The Festival in a Box. Due to the pandemic, there isn’t a live audience, so instead audience members will be shipped their entertainment within a box. The box will include items, artworks, activities, and links to performances that they can watch and experience from the comfort of their own home.
‘A lot of people have created original music, artworks and inspirational quotes, performances, stand-up comedy – they’re all going to be packaged in a box and sent out to people and it’s quite incredible what they’re doing. Some people have their artworks that are being made into puzzles so the audiences will receive it and then get to put it together themselves,’ Miriam explains. ‘When you go to the theatre, all the senses are heightened. You’re not just watching something, you’re hearing it from behind and the reverberation around the room. You can feel the leather or felt of the seat and smell a random lady’s perfume from three rows back and it’s everything all in one.’ The theatre experience is what inspired Dani, creator of The House That Dan Built, to devise a show that engaged the different senses of an audience. According to Miriam, every piece presented will involve a minimum of two senses. ‘While you’re listening to the poem that I wrote and watching the movements, you get a bit of playdough and you mould it into whatever you’re feeling or wanting to do while you’re watching it. At the end, you take a photo and send it via messenger to The House That Dan Built’s Instagram and it becomes a part of the art. I thought it was a really inclusive way to bring all those senses in it,’ she explains.
While the pandemic has ironically halted the two things actors can draw inspiration from to develop their craft – seeing live acting and exploring the world – Miriam believes it has also caused actors to think outside the box. ‘The creative arts and entertainment sector has given performers a lot of opportunities to explore virtual performing and screen performing. Not everyone can make it to certain performances but now that this has been created, it can be a hybrid – people can enjoy the show at home with a cup of tea,’ Miriam explains.
In their audition call-out, The House That Dan Built talk about celebrating women in the arts to ensure female voices are being heard, which is an issue very close to Miriam’s heart. ‘There are so many beautiful female artists out there that I know can feel intimidated and shy to put out their work in fear of judgement. There’s a warmth and a comfort in other females supporting female voices. The name “Whispers and Roars” to me means your art doesn’t have to be loud and forthcoming, it can just be a little whisper of what you want to say.’
If Miriam’s story has inspired you to consider a career in the creative arts sector, why not take a look at Excelsia College’s Creative and Performing Arts courses?
Litson, J. (2021). Sydney Theatre Company posts a deficit for 2020. Limelight Magazine. https://limelightmagazine.com.au/news/sydney-theatre-company-posts-a-deficit-for-2020/
Wilkins, R. (2020). Who’s hit hardest by the Covid-19 economic shutdown? The University of Melbourne. https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/who-s-hit-hardest-by-the-covid-19-economic-shutdown
Excelsia Alumni Community
Welcome to your alumni community of more than 5,000 graduates. Your relationship with us continues long after your graduation day. Our alumni are incredibly important to us. As an alumnus, you are a vital part of ensuring our college continues to evolve and bring depth to the student experience. Excelsia Alumni Committee will provide all graduates of Excelsia College with opportunities to network, attend events, give back and stay connected.
How can Excelsia support you
Professional Development in Excelsia
Excelsia graduates are part of a diverse and talented global community rich with skill and expertise to tap into. We are here to help you develop the knowledge and skills you need to thrive in your career long after graduation.
Excelsia’s Professional Development online short courses are designed to enhance your skills and knowledge in the workplace and help you meet training requirements across a range of disciplines.
Learn more about these opportunities below:
Excelsia Alumnus: Lisa Champion
‘Studying online created a fantastic opportunity for me to study, work part-time and still be able to enjoy all aspects of family life. The workshops provided wonderful opportunities to meet other students, which resulted in ongoing collaboration and discussion through forums and personal communication.I chose to study at Excelsia College because I wanted a superior qualification and I could do this by incorporating my Christian beliefs and values.’
Excelsia Alumnus: Sophya Spann
‘The Excelsia College Master of Counselling program was a rich learning experience that grounded me in the skills that I needed to advance my counselling career. The best things about the program are its diversity and small classes, which allow for a personal touch, a better perspective and an interactive way of learning.’
Excelsia Alumnus: Nigel Vaux
‘After many years after working for a church and another Christian organisation, I came to the realisation I’d like to become a school chaplain. As I looked around I saw that Excelsia offered the best degree to achieve my goals and equip me for teaching primary students.’
We are so proud of your achievements!
Awards fOR OUR alumni
Excelsia College is delighted to announce that internationally recognised director Michael McLennan’s short film, A Tea Party for Sad People, was awarded the prestigious prize of Best Comedy at the Italian Assurdo Film Festival. Assurdo is an international cinema festival celebrating alternative and independent cinema.
Excelsia College is delighted to announce that Michael McLennan’s short film Standby was awarded the prestigious prize of Best Drama Film at the European Cinematography AWARDS (ECA) this August.
With intelligence, thoughtfulness and a strong sense of self, Monique Warokka’s distinct creativity and drive has helped her carve out her own identify in the music industry. Since graduating from Excelsia with a Bachelor of Music, Monique set up her own business ‘Roar Music’.
More stories from our inspiring alumni
You are in great company as an Excelsia graduate. Our alumni networks include successful people working in an array of sectors, professions and careers across the world. Hear their inspirational stories below:
Alumni Profile – Alison Evans
Do you have a story to share?
We love hearing what our graduates are up to. Wherever life takes you, be sure to let us know where you are and what you’re up to. Use Excelsia as a resource for connecting with fellow classmates, growing your career network, and helping others.
Join our Alumni Community
Get involved! All our graduates are invited to join Excelsia’s Alumni Engagement Working Group. The purpose of this group is to connect recent graduates with each other and former students with valuable work and life experiences.
Join our Alumni Committee
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With her mum a music teacher, and having spent her early years honing her craft in dance and music, Georgiane Deal’s path to a career on stage had a great foundation. The artist is a woman of many talents, and her passion for stage management may be the most interesting of all. She graduated from Excelsia with a Bachelor of Dramatic Art and has since climbed the competitive ladder of the arts, working across a range of productions in both Australia and abroad.
‘I really enjoyed my time at Excelsia,” she explains. ‘It was such a buoyant, vibrant, tight-knit community with lots of energy and empathy. I dedicated a lot of time and effort to my studies. I put my hand up for every opportunity there was to be a part of a show or event. The lecturers became my friends, my friends became my family, and the stuff we put on (and pulled off!) was brilliant and incredibly rewarding.’
Deal is a woman who exudes a very grounded, down-to-earth, honest, and brave approach to her work. She began working on very small-scale independent productions in makeshift theatres and spaces in Sydney. Much of this was for very little pay or on a profit-share basis – opting to work in hospitality and retail at the same time. Deal earned her stripes doing this for a while before being offered better contracts by generous producers who gave her a chance at bigger, longer-running, more technically advanced shows, including a few small tours.
“After a few years, I came into contact with mainstage state theatre companies and worked with some of Australia’s best theatre makers on some very cool shows for people such as Bell Shakespeare, Belvoir St and Sydney Theatre Company,‘ she explains. ‘In the last year or two I’ve moved into a commercial theatre environment, meaning big-budget, large cast and crew, and larger capacity venues.’
Deal is currently putting her deep love for the arts to good use – working as a professional stage manager for the award-winning production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in Melbourne. A gig Deal calls a dream come true.
‘It was a very daunting, very exhausting transition into working in this capacity, but I haven’t looked back since,’ she says. ‘I still have lots to learn and perfect on this show and that will take a while! It is a five hour play, after all.’
With a true talent for managing mainstage production, Deal has caught the attention of the theatre world. It’s fair to say that she is having a moment. When you sit down with the talented professional, you quickly learn that she isn’t afraid of hard work or real talk.
‘I’ll accept that I am in an incredibly enviable position with a very cool job title, working alongside some of the best, most talented people in this industry,” she says. “Particularly in a post-Covid world, where I’m lucky enough to be back at work in a theatre on a large-scale show, I just feel immeasurably grateful for the people that have offered me opportunities and vouched for my skills and ability to get me to this place. I also feel very humbled by the job and its demands in the sense that I’m constantly learning new things about theatre by encountering unique challenges every day.’
The future appears bright for Deal, who has several projects in the pipeline. So, what does she wish she had known before learning it the hard way?
‘I wish I had learned about balance,” she explains. “I’m still learning about balance! This means saying no to offers that your gut is saying aren’t right for you or your situation. It means choosing to make time for things and for people that make you happy but might have absolutely nothing to do with theatre or your work. I wish I’d learned not to take criticism so personally. And I wish I’d learned to laugh at my mistakes and stuff ups. It would have made the whole journey a lot less fraught! Only now am I feeling really affirmed in my ability and carefree when I make earnest, one-off errors.’
In the fickle world of theatre, it can be hard to stand out. Deal has some solid advice for aspiring stage managers who want to make sure people know they are seriously committed to making this a career.
‘See lots of theatre, get familiar with the industry, write a good CV and then apply for internships and secondments’, she advises. ‘Nothing compares to real-life rehearsal room exposure as a learning environment. Also, realise that there is no ‘model’ stage manager personality. Successful stage managers come in all different varieties. There is no better or worse approach to stage management when it comes to your natural way with people. But you do have to have a way with people – just be friendly and you will be halfway there.’
Meet Kristelle Zibara, the Sydney actor set to hit the big time. Every so often a certain type of person crosses your path that mesmerises with their talent and gusto. Take Bachelor of Dramatic Art graduate Kristelle Zibara. She approaches her work in a refreshingly frank and brave way. Empowered, resilient, and yet still happy to be vulnerable, Zibara is a breath of fresh air.
This year saw the actor make her stage debut as Fatima in James Elazzi’s sold-out show Queen Fatima. The high energy comedy directed by Paige Rattray played at the Riverside Theatre last month as part of the Sydney Festival and received glowing reviews from major mastheads such as the Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News. Zibara admits she was drawn to playing someone who was not the conventional image of beauty.
‘Stepping into this role has felt like trying on a dress for the first time and it being tailored to your every curve,’ she explains. “In reading the script, I found myself relating to Fatima on more levels than one, and in parts of her story I felt like I wanted to be as strong and as confident as Fatima. When playing her, I felt just that. I was able to embrace my body and my culture for what felt like the first time. Fatima gave me the strength to listen to myself, and my heart, rather than the ridiculing mouth of society, or other people’s ideas of who I should be.’
Zibara has never been one to shy away from speaking up about topics that matter to her most. Last month, she told ABC News, ‘So much of the time bigger girls have to be down on themselves because of the way they look, and how they’re perceived.’ Zibara’s personal take on female empowerment and representation in general is both refreshing and inspiring.
‘People of any gender, age, cultural background, weight or sexuality can relate to feeling societal pressures when it comes to how people should act, look and be, and I feel as though this play turns those standards on their head,’ she explains. ‘For a character to be bigger and confident is a rare find. I’m hoping that people walk away from this play loving themselves and feeling empowered to take on anything.’
Zibara graduated from Excelsia College back in 2016 and partook in three months of study in the United States with Excelsia’s exclusive OZ to LA program. Since graduating, she has had an impressive and steady career, though she argues that Australia is not quite there yet when it comes to achieving true diversity and representation in performing arts. ‘In some cases, a production’s definition of ‘diversity’ would be casting a person like me (a white passing, half-Lebanese, half-Australian actress), as the most diverse cast member, which to me is a shame,’ she says.
‘The arts still whitewash to some extent and don’t always give opportunities to disabled performers, larger people, or persons of colour in general. In saying this, I have seen a shift in the arts as of late, especially during 2020, beginning with the Black Lives Matter movement starting in America, and spreading to our own backyard, with First Nations and people of colour living in Australia. I feel like it’s just the beginning, but I’m very hopeful for permanent change in our industry.’
Zibara believes casting directors can play a role in encouraging authentic casting and believes Australia must eliminate disparities in the wider culture that result in already marginalised groups having a much harder time breaking through. ‘I have always felt comfortable with my Australian heritage, but initially, I was nervous to tell people of my Lebanese heritage, because of some of the negative portrayals of Middle Eastern people in the media or the stereotypical roles seen in the arts,’ she explains.
‘Seeing the different sides of people of my Lebanese heritage slowly being represented in the arts and other medium has helped me to accept and embrace that culture. When securing the role of Fatima, it was extremely special to be surrounded by a cast all being of Middle Eastern background. That almost never happens, and it’s important for younger Lebanese people to see themselves being represented on stage in a positive way.’
Dedicated to her craft and devoted to making an impact, Zibara is as empathetic as she is funny, and Australia is responding in kind. ‘Theatre will always have my heart, so I would love to continue to perform in and create works that push the boundaries,’ she says.
In the fickle world of the arts, Zibara has proven herself to be both adaptable and astute, realising the power she has to make a difference in the industry through her work. ‘I would love to become a triple threat in the professional world. Be it stage or screen. I see myself working worldwide and producing many different works that show different bodies, cultures, relationships, and I would like to be a voice for people who may not have the opportunity to be heard,’ she says.
Zibara tells it like it is. She is a woman on a mission making the most of her success and we are all along for the ride.
The creative and performing arts industry is one of those fields which requires a combination of passion, persistence, and dedication. Enter Talia Chenaye. Since graduating from Excelsia with a Bachelor of Dramatic Art, the actor has developed a reputation as a force to be reckoned with.
Chenaye is currently playing Frenchy in So Popera’s recent production of Grease. The upcoming performer admits she was, understandably, nervous to play such an iconic role.
‘When I got the call from Amy, our Director at So Popera Productions, asking me to play Frenchy, I was so overwhelmed with excitement, but I also felt my heart drop, knowing I had big shoes to fill,’ says Chenaye. ‘Frenchy is such a well-loved character, and I couldn’t wait to start character development on her to create her voice and little quirks.’
Chenaye’s role as Frenchy has seen her reunited with Excelsia’s Acting for Screen Lecturer and acclaimed actor Jay Laga’aia. Working alongside Laga’aia was a special experience that allowed her to learn from one of the best in the business.
‘Jay is very well-versed in theatre and screen, so it was a privilege to work together,” she explains. “He was really invested in the story we got to tell together in ‘Beauty School Dropout’. It was great to collaborate to see how much of a story we could portray in one song! (even if it involves being hit on the head with a beauty school diploma).’
Chenaye’s success is proof that perseverance pays off. What keeps her on a path of continued growth is the ultimate ingredient – persistence.
‘No matter what the industry throws at you, keep going,’ says Chenaye. ‘There is lots to learn and many obstacles to overcome. It takes time and nothing is an overnight success. Be patient, ride the ups and downs and when opportunities arise, trust yourself and do the best you possibly can in that role.’
The arts community was hit early and hard by the COVID-19 crisis. Despite this, Chenaye is ready to live intentionally in 2021 and make her dreams a reality.
‘At the moment I’m loving musical theatre and voice-over acting so I’d like to keep progressing in those streams of the industry. With the industry being shut down during COVID-19 it was tough at times, but my goals for 2021 are to act in more film projects, keep expanding my industry network, create a structured client base as a voice-over artist and take up defence/stunt classes.’
Chenaye is deeply, honestly engaged in the world around her, realising the power she has to make a difference in the industry through her work.
‘I’d love to somehow increase the funding for the arts so aspiring actors and performers can be paid for their work,” she explains. “There is a huge gap in the industry between study and professional theatre/productions and it would be nice to be an ambassador for the smaller artists who would also like to make a living doing what they love.’
With intelligence, thoughtfulness and a strong sense of self, Monique Warokka’s distinct creativity and drive has helped her carve out her own identify in the music industry.
Since graduating from Excelsia with a Bachelor of Music, Monique set up her own business Roar Music. The talented entrepreneur was recently chosen as a finalist for a Performing Arts Local Business Award competition in the Northern Beaches. A band director and music educator, Monique’s love for God is so strong, she doesn’t mind what unprecedented challenges life throws at her. Most importantly, Monique believes everyone has something worth saying and believing in.
We sat down with Monique to talk about her experience of studying a Bachelor of Music at Excelsia, why her most defining moments have been the seemingly small ones, and her key piece of advice for those wishing to pursue a career in music.
Why did you choose to study a Bachelor of Music?
I dreamed of studying a Bachelor of Music as I planned my high school subjects. Combined with difficult personal/family circumstances, I doubted my ability could match what was required for the ‘streamlined’ path to tertiary music education. However, God showed me a way through. I began studying music as an Advanced Diploma of Christian Ministry (Songwriting) which I then used to transfer to the Bachelor of Music at Excelsia College in 2015.
What was your experience being a Bachelor of Music student at Excelsia?
It was a combination of joy, personal fulfillment, hard work and days I wanted to give up because I was challenged way beyond my ability in some disciplines. I loved the content of each lesson. I was inspired by passionate teachers. Some of the best days of my life were spent in those lectures and tutorials. Juggling other areas in life made studying more challenging, but also more rewarding.
After graduating, how did your career path evolve?
My career path started before I commenced studying but evolved to being qualified to conduct bands in schools after I completed my studies. This opened up a whole new world to me professionally. Now I conduct five bands across two schools and run my music business in one school which employs six other tutors. We are now growing to offer music education to our broader Northern Beaches community, specialising in the tuition of many instruments and disciplines.
You were recently chosen as a finalist for a Performing Arts Local Business Award competition in the Northern Beaches. How does it feel to be selected for such a prestigious award?
Receiving the call that I was a finalist in this year’s Performing Arts category was just the encouragement I needed to keep going through a challenging time. The COVID restrictions in schools placed an unprecedented strain on our music programme. It filled me with so much hope knowing the community believed in our service when things were so uncertain. Receiving this nomination felt like God was saying, ‘keep going, I believe in you!’
Can you give us a bit of background on Roar Music and the concept behind your business?
I started as a sole trader, tutoring piano and songwriting in other music schools in 2010. From there, I built my student base by word of mouth until I had enough students to “go out” on my own. The Holy Spirit gave me the name, Roar Music and I registered it. The concept behind Roar Music is that we would not only help our students discover their unique voice, but Roar in their chosen discipline, making their dreams become a reality.
You’ve had such an incredible career already, but can you talk us through some of the key defining moments since launching Roar Music?
The most defining moments have been the seemingly smallest ones. Big doors swing on little hinges. I had one student who just seemed to cop the brunt of my silly timetabling mistakes. It was always this one mum I was apologising to. She was so gracious and since, our relationship has grown beautifully. She put my name forward for the new extra-curricular music contract at the school I now run my business through. I was hired! This one hinge opened up the door to a 200% sales increase in one year.
If you could give other artists advice about getting started in their career, what would you say?
God wants you to achieve your dreams. He will help you and make a way. Believe in yourself and how much he digs you. You have something worth saying and delivering. Don’t give up because of mistakes, big or small. Also, upskill so you can make money from multiple income streams (all within your field). With the people that you see rock in an area you want to improve in, hire them to teach you!
It’s no surprise that Excelsia Bachelor of Music graduate, Ella Sterland, is at the top of her game. With a stellar music career that has spanned over five years, she has repeatedly smashed career goals. With an easy-going, warm and refreshingly down-to-earth approach to the industry, she proves that a fierce passion for her craft underlies everything she does.
Since graduating from the College, Ella has gone on to become an outstanding musician, including getting one of her songs played on one of Australia’s most popular alternative music stations Triple J.
Our Music Program Director Dr Christine Carroll recently sat down with Ella to talk how her professional life has gone from strength to strength, why she chose to study at Excelsia and why having a product to show is crucial to industry success.
C: Can you give me a quick snapshot of what your work in music has looked like to date?
E: Sure. Before studying it, I wasn’t really doing anything in music, I just liked it at school. And while I was studying, towards the end of my degree at Excelsia, I decided I wanted to do some of my own original music. So, I pulled some resources and recorded a six track EP at the end of 2017, just to really put myself in that world which I hadn’t really done before.
I then moved to Melbourne at the beginning of 2018 to study Audio Engineering, because I was doing all that for myself with all my own music, and I thought, well if I could get paid for this, that would be really fun. But I found that wasn’t really my passion. It was more about me studying it for my own music, and not to outsource that for other people. I found that I have more of a creative mindset, rather than the logistical mindset…that gets all the cogs working…I wanted to create the music, not just put it together.
C: It sounds like you are a self-produced singer songwriter type of musician.
E: Yeah! I find if you invest yourself in a lot of different facets of the music industry, it makes you better at a lot of different things for your own music. So, I’m very comfortable performing, and I’m very comfortable writing my own music and producing it. Because I’ve written for other people, and because I’ve performed for weddings, and I did a lot of cover gigs just before the pandemic happened. I was doing that two or three times a week. That was my main source of income.
So now, I’m able to bring those different skills into the music that I am making for myself…which is cool.
C: And right now?
E: Since the pandemic happened, I’ve been at home a lot more. I’ve been doing a lot more writing and figuring out how writing can be a source of income, but also a source of fulfilment, and just a way to keep doing music especially when I can’t be out there performing.
C: Great, well this next question might take you right back…Why did you choose to study music? Did you have a lightbulb moment, or did you just go…eh, why not?
E: I think for me I knew that I would enjoy music, and that the process of learning it and studying it would make me better at it. And even though I knew it would not be easy to get work, I knew it would be fun. I guess it’s just one of those things, you just decide on something, and then hopefully that will work, but it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t.
C: So, taking you back to when you first started in 2015, why did you choose to study at Excelsia?
E: I got a sense that the place was not only filled with people who were wanting to enjoy music, but who were also great at what they do. I think that was the environment that I wanted to be around…to be around people who had a sense of community in what they do, but who also excelled at what they do.
C: Are there any career defining moments to date you can describe?
E: I think a lot of musicians’ experience this…you enter this thing called ‘music’ and you don’t realise that there are so many branches of what that means. And I think the career defining moments have been the times when I’ve felt a sense of validation in what I’m doing, So, one of those moments was when I was invited to go to the APRA songwriters camp hub week in Box Hill last year, an event that is curated by a musician. In my case, it was curated by Chris Walla from Death Cab for Cutie, and he’s someone who I look up. The band is amazing, and I’m a big fan of theirs.
Another was when I got one of my songs played on national radio [Triple J]. I think I was really proud to have a song on the radio that wasn’t facilitated by me paying anyone, or trying to direct anyone to what I was doing, I just put it out there, and someone connected with that. That was exciting. The song is called Gone from my new EP Overdue. https://open.spotify.com/album/6aqKm9WU269kCbcwSVMqEx?si=opAXFS6ITaKMS8IPTAsx5A)
C: If you could give any advice to a young musician, what would it be?
E: My advice would be that honing your craft is genuinely step one. I think a lot of people, they see the industry, and it’s overwhelming, and they think… ‘how am I ever supposed to make it as a musician?’ But you can’t make it if you have nothing to show people. I have been saved so many times by having this EP on Spotify – the first one I did in 2017. If I was doing a gig, and I had someone come up to me and say, ‘oh, I really like what you’re doing, can I find you on Spotify’ – I have something that I can show them…I can say, ‘yes! I do have something on Spotify, and you can go and listen to that.’
In the fickle world of the arts, keeping yourself relevant while remaining true to yourself can be tricky to navigate, but Bachelor of Dramatic Art graduate Nicholas O’Regan seems to take it in his stride.
Since graduating from Excelsia, Nick has experienced almost a meteoric rise to success through hard work and determination. From establishing a small independent theater company, Matriark Theatre and studying Commedia del’ Arte in Reggio Emila Italy, Nick’s star is shining bright.
We caught up with the effervescent Nick, where he divulged all; from what it was like touring the world doing what he loves, the practice he recommends taking up before studying and what he wishes he had known before pursuing a career in theatre.
Why did you choose to study a Bachelor of Dramatic Art?
I chose to study a Bachelor of Dramatic Art, because I loved entertaining others and I wanted to learn how to do it better. As a young person, I’d always been interested in creating characters and improvising to make people laugh. I heard about the degree and thought it would be a good opportunity to hopefully make my passion a career.
What was your experience being a Bachelor of Dramatic Art student at Excelsia?
It was hard work. I remember being in first year and remarking that I spent more time on site at the College than I did in High School. I soon learnt, (then and now) that time and dedication was necessary if you wanted to make performing your craft and career. It was exciting, working alongside new peers who shared my ambitions, our common drive also providing for some healthy competition. I liked how the unit’s broke down the elements of performance into particular streams. It helped me identify, during and post studies, the areas of performance I was attracted to. I deeply valued the opportunity to learn from working industry professionals as our unit tutors.
After graduating, how did your career path evolve?
I was fortunate to have some close peers in my year group who were driven to continue creating work together after graduation. So we did, establishing a small independent theater company, Matriark Theatre, which kept us constantly engaging in making new works and building on our craft.
You have had such an incredible career already, working across a range of independent theatre projects. Can you talk us through some of your key defining moments?
The right place, at the right time, with the right preparation – and the courage to raise my hand. This is the formula that I’ve followed (instinctively and subconsciously), throughout my artistic career.
Choosing to study Commedia del’ Arte in Reggio Emila Italy has been a career highlight. After the three-month course, I had the opportunity to start a European theatre company I Naufraghi, and create a new work directed by Antonio Fava. We then toured it around Northern Italy, Holland and the next year, three months in Finland.
Last year you toured Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo to Abu Dhabi, Japan and the Sydney Opera House. You have also written some episodes for a Children’s animation called The Tui’s. How does it feel to have had these successes?
Working with Erth is a dream come true. In first year at Excelsia, myself and some peers were sent on an errand to collect a Leviathan puppet from Erth’s HQ for the Second-year production, Job. The puppets and people I saw at the studio were so exciting – I told myself, “one day I’ll work with them” – and it happened. Cliqued, but it was unbelievably satisfying having a 9-year long ambition come to fruition. It feels wonderful to have my practice and my person validated by a creative company I so greatly admire. I’ve always liked writing, choosing to write my IP in third year, so to be paid to write animated episodes, alongside another writer and peer I greatly respect (Another Excelsia alumni Murray Lambert), has been another deeply satisfying moment in my career.
The theatre and creative industry can be challenging. What do you wish you had known before learning it the hard way?
I wish I had known that I needed to be more proactive than I felt was comfortable, that I would need the ability to see myself as a product and learn how to market myself. I wish I had known that I would need to get used to putting my hand up for opportunities. I wish I had known to take all advice with a grain of salt. I wish I had a strong practice in yoga and meditation before the degree.
If you could give other artists advice about getting started in a career in theatre practice, what would you say?
Practice appreciation. This requires a conscious effort and enhances your mental health. It’s important to eat and sleep well, exercise, and water your garden (give yourself ‘me time’) if you want to sustain a creative career. Otherwise you will inevitably burn out. Trust your gut. Have something else you do, a hobby or other passion, wood carving, bush walking, play an instrument – anything that brings you joy and is a release from your intensive creative work. Turn up on time to rehearsals. Always.