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On stage with Dame Miranda

A Greytown teenager has spent a week of the school holidays immersed in screen acting classes under the tutelage of New Zealand acting guru Dame Miranda Harcourt.

Alex Walsh [17], a student at Wairarapa College, was selected by Dame Miranda for drama workshops at Rātā Studios, based in the performing arts centre at Scots College in Wellington.

Alex, who has Down Syndrome, was challenged to learn 20-minute monologues to deliver onstage and in front of the camera, with acting professionals and fellow drama students watching.

“I was worried that would be too much for him,” mother Heather Walsh said. “But the motivation of being onstage with the cameras on him meant Alex independently read and committed his monologue to memory.”

Alex was one of the first young people with Down Syndrome to complete the Professional-Level Teen Acting course, which ran for five full days. He was partnered with a drama aide, and all participants left with a showreel for future auditions.

Dame Miranda was “the most inclusive person I have struck in 17 years of attending events and courses with Alex”, Heather said.

“The other students were eager to work with Alex and were inspired by Miranda’s enthusiasm. She has a close friend in Sydney who has a child with Down Syndrome – she is such a treasure to have here in New Zealand.”

Alex regularly attends the Silver Noodle Soup Theatre Company and Wellington Integrated Dance. He caught Dame Miranda’s eye during a performance at the Disabled Artists’ Festival of Theatre and, more recently, a group performance at the CubaDupa Festival.

Rātā Studios offers children and adults courses in drama, music, visual art and creative technologies, enhanced by “strong relationships” within the industry. Graduates have been cast in TV shows and films, appeared on the professional stage, and been accepted into Toi Whakaari — NZ Drama School.

Alex is a student at Solway Dance in Masterton, under the guidance of Lisa O’Connor, “who has been a significant influence in developing his dance and performance skills”, Heather said.

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