WAAPA Acknowledges Its Past While Looking to the Future


Confirming the excellence that the arts industry has known of for years, the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) has been officially ranked in the top 100 globally for the Performing Arts in the QS World University Rankings.

The ranking places Edith Cowan University (ECU) equal first in Australia in the Performing Arts category. For the Executive Dean of WAAPA, Professor David Shirley – who trained as an actor in London in the late 70s/early 80s and has taught drama and conducted research around the world ever since – the achievement feels well deserved.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that I feel immensely privileged to work at WAAPA,” he enthuses.  “I have been an actor or an actor-trainer all my working life and have been extraordinarily lucky to work alongside some remarkable colleagues – students, teachers and other actors.  WAAPA stands out as exceptional. The commitment and passion shown by all of the staff, and the dedication and tenacity shown by all of our students is extraordinary. 

“The creative atmosphere and energy that I experience every day at WAAPA is awe inspiring and I feel very lucky to be part of something so special. This ‘specialness’ is reflected in the warmth and enthusiasm shown by our audiences, partners and in the generosity and faith shown by all who support us. This includes the industry itself who have always been hugely supportive and enthusiastic about the School and its work.”


“I came to WAAPA after a few years of messing around, not really sure what I wanted to do for a career. I knew my life belonged to the arts; I just didn’t know exactly what my future was. When I discovered Stage Management, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head. Studying at WAAPA was like someone saying, ‘Yes, this is what you’re meant to be doing.’ I made lifelong friends, had some incredible experiences, laughed until I cried and cried until I laughed. But above all that, I found a vocation. I think that’s a very rare thing.”

Rebecca Dilley 

Bachelor of Performing Arts (Stage and Production Management) 

Currently touring with Opera Australia and recipient of the inaugural Peter Hurford Award for Excellence (P&D) in 2022



Professor Shirley credits the support of “the extremely dynamic and forward-thinking” Edith Cowan University and its staff, students and alumni for WAAPA’s standing as one of the world’s leading centres of excellence for training in the performing arts.

WAAPA is the only school of its kind in Australia, offering training in all aspects of performance as well as production and design skills (lighting, set design, sound, stage management, prop-making, costume making and more) plus Arts and Cultural Management. Alongside its diploma and undergraduate courses, the School also has a thriving research culture offering a range of postgraduate courses including PhDs.   


“My WAAPA experience was above all inspiring and this was because of the incredible staff. Each teacher was so passionate and mentored us from their unique perspective and practice as an artist. This meant that we were exposed to a myriad of perspectives and therefore gained a holistic understanding of the industry. As a theatre maker and director who needs to understand the whole process, this has been invaluable to my career.”

Amelia Burke  

Bachelor of Performing Arts, Performance Making Graduate 

Acting Artistic Director, Western Australian Youth Theatre  


The opportunities for exchange and collaboration continue outside the School and into strong industry links with the likes of Black Swan State Theatre Company, West Australian Ballet, West Australian Symphony Orchestra, West Australian Opera, Strut Dance, Co3 Dance, the Blue Room Theatre, Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, and more. WAAPA also enjoys collaborative relationships with internationally renowned companies and practitioners including the Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal, Cheek by Jowl, and Lloyd Newson.

“All of this means that the School never stands still,” Professor Shirley explains. “We are always moving, developing, collaborating and learning from each other, our students and from the industry of which we are a part. WAAPA is a richly creative and energetic environment that provides a platform for new generations of artists and industry leaders.”


“The most important things I took into my costume career from what I learned at WAAPA was definitely a work ethic and the appreciation of working in/with a team. Knowing the course and what it provides to the students also means that I seek out WAAPA graduates when I am looking to put together a team for each job. I find that graduates from the Costume and Production Design streams have a lovely eye for detail, excellent practical skills and are great humans.”

Lien See Leong

Bachelor of Performing Arts: Production and Design Graduate

Costume Design for Crazy Rich Asians, The Railway Man, Paper Planes, Deadloch, The Heights



The standouts for Professor Shirley during his time working at WAAPA have been plenty and diverse. Watching students learn and develop confidence in their training is always a highlight and seeing them make an impact in their various fields as they venture off into the industry is incredibly gratifying. He also cites WAAPA’s preparations for the move to a state-of-the-art city campus, which will take place in early 2026, as both a new highlight and a great step forward for the School’s future and its international profile.

“The sense of community and shared vision that everyone at WAAPA has brought to this project has been a pleasure to behold,” Professor Shirley says. “As a team we have worked collaboratively and imaginatively together with other colleagues across ECU, to realise what is going to be an extraordinary City Campus facility.  It will be truly shape-changing for the city of Perth, the arts and cultural community, and the education sector; the new facility will mark an important stage in WAAPA’s development as a school. 

“Given what has been achieved over the last 40 years, the future promises great things both for WAAPA and for ECU as a whole.”


“I think the nature of training in one of the most isolated major cities in the world, away from any casting directors, theatre companies or agents allows the students to train without industry pressures and therefore without fear of failure. It means you can knuckle down and fail gloriously and figure out where you need to grow and expand and what kind of artist you want to be before you enter the industry as a fully-fledged and trained actor. I do feel that WAAPA graduates are team players. They’re trained to work as an ensemble for three years and so they’re more empathetic, compassionate actors. They’re sensitive listeners, they’re engaged with their industry, and seek out quality in their work, and as a result that leads to careers with a focus on longevity.”

Claire Lovering

Bachelor of Arts (Acting) Graduate

Actor – Gold Diggers (ABC), Class Of ‘07 (Prime), North Shore (Paramount+)