Heathdale flower 13th May 2021

Encouraged to Act Out

Self-professed drama nerd, Matthew Packham, was one of 16 students across Victoria chosen to be a Melbourne Theatre Company Ambassador.

Heathdale flower

Year 9 students aren’t really built to play grey-haired ageing fathers. Young princes, sure. Thigh-slapping yokels, no worries. But 60-year olds? It’s out of the normal wheelhouse.

Not for Matthew Packham, though. His portrayal of Maurice in Heathdale’s 2019 production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, was one of many highlights as he managed to take the bumbly old character through an arc of affable charm to credible distress. It requires a real level of commitment and skill not often seen in young actors. Matthew has both, and it shows in his passion for drama. “I’m a big drama nerd. I was in the chorus for ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, then I had a lead part in ‘Beauty and the Beast’,” said Matthew. “That really opened me up to getting into drama, and I hope to get involved in ‘The Sound of Music’ when we do it. Drama for me is about connecting with other people. I’m at my happiest when I’m on stage and performing for people, to inspire them and make them feel. The program at school helps aid my interest.”

Heathdale’s VCE drama teacher, Mrs Kylie Cox, saw Matthew’s growing passion and nominated him for the Melbourne Theatre Company Ambassador program. After a full application process, Matthew was one of only 16 Year 11 VCE drama students across the state to be selected for the program.

This year, the MTC Ambassador program will include a mix of online and in-person meetups. “We discuss theatre and tips and tricks for how to go about doing VCE drama because everyone is in the same boat,” explained Matthew. “We have guest speakers, each session — we had an actress last time, and this time a screenwriter will visit — to teach us about the industry, because we’re passionate about it and enjoy it. We get the insider info. We’re going to see four MTC plays this year, and afterwards we meet with the cast and crew to discuss the plays.” It’s an incredible opportunity for students to be exposed to the elite end of dramatic performance.

For Matthew, it’s where he’d like to be one day, and this program has kept his eyes open to the realities of pursuing a creative career. “I would like to be an actor, but the possibility of that is so slim that it’s like a side hustle,” he said. Like the MTC actors before him, Matthew is putting in the work. He runs the school’s Theatre Sports team, that compete in CSEN competitions. “We meet Monday lunch times and I’ve been doing it since 2017. We have 11 students across Years 7-12 that have been selected to compete. It’s a great group. Everyone commits, most start at Year 7 and finish at Year 12, which is really nice.”

In VCE Drama, the students have to write and perform a 15-minute ensemble piece, then work on their solo piece. The class recently went on an excursion to see the musical ‘Come from Away’, and the follow-up analysis helps students develop their own productions. For Matthew, his love for drama and the work behind it spills over into his other subjects. “I’ve grown up loving drama and let it affect the way I approach other subjects. In English, for instance, I love doing analysis and creative writing.”

Matthew’s passion is well-supported by his family, friends and school. “I have very supportive parents. I go and see theatre with my parents all the time and my mum takes me to all the musical rehearsals. In school, the drama department is very accepting and inclusive, there’s a lot of team-building. From doing theatre sports, I’ve made a lot of connection with friends, and even though some have left school we still go and see theatre outside of school together. It’s long-lasting, this connection with people who share similar interests.”